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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Altruistic Faith

By Rose Elizabeth Cleveland (1846–1918)

[Born in Fayetteville, N. Y., 1846. Died in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, 1918. George Eliot’s Poetry, and Other Studies. 1885.]

CADIJAH! What image does the name evoke? The image, I venture, if any, of a very distinct and magnificent face—of eyes dark yet glowing, like a midnight full of stars, of flowing, silky beard, of turban folded over prophetic locks—the face, not at all of Cadijah, but of Mahomet. There is no biography of Cadijah, and no portrait. All that we certainly know of her is that she was Mahomet’s first wife, a noble and wealthy widow, whom he wedded when he was twenty-five and she much older, and to whom he was singly devoted and faithful up to the time of her death.

How, then, may this woman, standing in the darkness which gathers around the vestibule of the Middle Ages, offer from her poverty of resource anything worth our while to consider, we

  • “The heirs of all the ages in the foremost files of time”?
  • Years after the death of Cadijah, when Ayesha, the beautiful girl, the pet child-wife of Mahomet’s old age, arrogant with the arrogance of a beauty and a favorite, attempted to rally her now illustrious and powerful husband upon his loyal love for his first wife, and said to him, “Was she not old? and has not God given you a better in her place?” Mahomet replied, with an effusion of honest gratitude, “No, by Allah! there can never be a better. She believed in me when men despised me.”

    “She believed in me!” From Mahomet’s own lips we have our question answered. Cadijah offers to us a splendid and immortal example of the effectual, fervent faith of one soul in another. And this it is of which I have to speak. Not of the Mahomets, except by implication, but of Cadijah, whose faith has wrought out Mahomet, since ever the world began—whose faith must still evolve him so long as the world lasts and Mahomets survive….

    By the term, abstract altruistic faith, I mean to imply that general attitude of mind which is hopeful and expectant of humanity; a faith in human nature’s intrinsic worth and capability; a faith which beholds man, as in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, sadly and mysteriously mixed of things precious and things base, but which beholds as clearly the head of fine gold and the breast of silver as the feet of iron and clay; a faith that the race is steadily gravitating toward a goal of final good rather than evil; a faith that, when the averages of the ages are accurately struck, the leverage will be found to be constantly upward, not downward; a faith that humanity is persistently electing itself to honor, glory, and immortality by a majority which secures to the same party all future canvasses; a faith which wavers not an instant before the question, however cleverly put by the pessimist, “Is life worth living?” but responds with an immediate and hearty, “Yes, a thousand times Yes! Life is infinitely worth living!” A faith which looks into poor-houses, and idiot-asylums, and penitentiaries—ay, and into the darkness of great cities by night, and still believes in humanity reclaimable, however marred or fallen, and infinitely worth saving…. But the abstract faith is subordinate—an effect rather than a cause. For generalities and abstractions do not demand our prolonged consideration. Our lives are not laid out in vast, vague prairies, but in definite domestic door-yards, within which we are to exercise and develop our faculties. Altruistic faith in the abstract is most valuable, but it is, at best, but a passive rather than an active possession. We cannot touch humanity at large except as we touch humanity in the individual. Altruistic faith must exercise itself upon concretions, not abstractions, if it be a real power for good. One may possess a whole Milky Way of vague general belief in humanity, and yet it may be of less avail to the benighted traveller than a single rushlight put sympathetically into his hand. We must focus our faith upon the individual in order to get or to give the good of it.

    This concrete altruistic faith does not require for its exercise that its possessor belong to the female sex. The contrary idea is, I fear, deeply rooted in the public mind. There is a very general impression that it is in the nature of things that woman should walk principally by faith, and that this faith should be principally altruistic. I myself confess to a lurking suspicion that it is oftener a woman than a man who is a Cadijah. It may be easier for a woman to believe in somebody else than for a man to do so. Men, as a rule, are very much occupied with believing in themselves. Woman is confessedly altruistic, but not exclusively so. Carlyle had his Cadijah in his wife; George Eliot had hers in her husband.

    But this faith, though not inconsistent with the estate of holy matrimony, is yet not dependent upon that estate. I use the name Cadijah to represent the character of an efficient believer in somebody else; but Cadijah could have exercised her faith in Mahomet to its full effect on his fortunes without having been his wife. The exercise of Mrs. Carlyle’s faith in her husband had nothing to do with the exercise of her hands and feet upon the Craigenputtock kitchen-floor. Cadijah may or may not have a passionate personal love for her Mahomet, but she will not be so “in love” with him as to induce the blindness of that undesirable condition. Pascal said: “In order to know God we must love Him; in order to love man we must know him.” I am not sure that all love for individual man depends upon knowing him; there is love and love, but the rational, lasting love must admit, at least, if not demand, for its persistence, some real acquaintanceship. To all love that rightly culminates in marriage there is, doubtless, an irrational phase, a normal abnormality that may or may not outlast the honeymoon, and then gives place to something better. In this period no Cadijah can flourish; indeed, the conditions of concrete altruistic faith do not demand the conditions of courtship or of marriage. Cadijah-ism is not necessarily connubiality.

    Nor is this faith hero-worship. We all have our heroes who are veritable heroes to us, frequently for no other reason than because we cannot be valets to them. And that is well and good. But the one to whom you are Cadijah will not be a hero to you. You will serve him, but you will not worship him. Cadijah never imagines, as do the worshippers, that her Mahomet can do or be anything he may please, or she may please. She perceives that he can do and be one thing, and possibly that this is the thing which pleases him not. She does not discover him to be a predestined prophet or a born poet because her love or ambition elects him to be such. It maybe, rather, that her faith discerns in him supreme capabilities for a dry-goods clerk or a ranchman. No. Though my Cadijah love me as her own soul, and have set her whole heart on me, she cannot, this clear-eyed Cadijah of mine, persuade herself that I can be what I cannot be. She can only perceive me to be what I can be. Cadijah is a seer, but she is not a visionary. She wields a diviner’s rod, but not a wizard’s wand. The historical Cadijah was, I venture, greatly enamoured of her young and handsome lord. But I am not sure she thought him a great prophet or a spotless priest. What I am sure of is, that this shrewd, devoted woman perceived him to be a born predestined leader, a man of destiny, one to sway multitudes with the mighty magnetism of his personality; a man to beckon and be followed; a man to speak and be believed; a man to command and be obeyed. She saw the oak in the acorn with this sixth sense of hers. She believed in him when all men despised him, but she did not give him hero-worship.

    It is clear that to Mrs. Carlyle her husband was not a hero. As an apostle of silence and several other things he was a great joke to her. But as a man of ideas, great, grotesque, forceful, propulsive, full of the vitality of immortal genius, worthy and destined to live in literature, as such she saw him when his fame was yet in embryo. And this faith of hers in his power to do never flagged until it became sight before all the world, a wisdom justified of her children. And this is not hero-worship. It is a far finer and usefuler thing.

    To speak affirmatively, this quality of the Cadijahs I define as that faculty in my friend by which he discriminates in me what I am good for—nay, what I am best for. That one who comes to me, resolute for me when I stand irresolute for myself, at that point in my straight turnpike where by-roads fork out from it—that one who comes to me while I waver in view of the old highway and cast lingering glances at the new by-ways, and who, with hand uplifted and with finger pointed straight before, says to me, with emphasis of unalterable conviction, “This is your way; this, no other, the path which leads you to your goal!” this man, or this woman, is my Cadijah. He may or may not have vehement love for me, but if he has vehement faith in me, and gives me the benefit of its momentum, he is my friend, and “there can never be a better,” for he believes in me when a worse than the despising of men has befallen me—the despising of myself!” Quand tout est perdu, c’est le moment des grandes âmes,” said Lacordaire. A grand soul is Cadijah; she comes to me when all is lost! How common to us all is the experience of meeting one who seems to have a peculiar insight into our character, so that we say, “He divined me.” How often do we hear it said, “He seems to understand me better than any one else.” “She appreciates me more truly than any one ever has.” This quality of divination is the intellectual element of altruistic faith. It is not the whole of it, for another element lies in the will and is essential; but it is the extraordinary element, and far from infrequent.