My love of country grew recently after reading a short fictional story titled, A Man Without a Country, by Edward Everett Hale (Atlantic Monthly, December, 1863; the same year President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of every November as Thanksgiving).
Edward Everett Hale (1822 – 1909) enrolled at Harvard at the age of 13, the youngest in his class, and graduated second in that class. He hailed from a family of famous men (Nathan Hale and Edward Everett; both uncles) and married Emily Baldwin Perkins whose uncles included Roger Sherman Baldwin (Connecticut Governor and U.S. Senator) and Henry Ward Beecher (renown preacher). Her aunt, Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), was more famous than them all. Edward and Emily had nine children. Opposition to slavery ran thick in their blood and Hale was active in anti-slavery causes. He was the proprietor and editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser and later served as the pastor of several churches in Massachusetts. In 1903, he became the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. He is best known for his story, The Man Without a Country (1863), a patriotic tale that helped promote the Union cause in the North.
Hale’s main character in this popular story was a dashing US Army Lieutenant named Philip Nolan who took his country for granted. In fact, he was tried as an accomplice to treason in 1807. His loyalties were conflicted and in a fit of frenzy under questioning, he yelled; “D–n the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”
The court granted his wish.
Nolan was sentenced to sail the high seas on warships as an officer, but under strict terms that would never permit him to see his homeland or hear of her again! Even his buttons, inscribed with the initials “U.S.,” were removed.
At first, Nolan was brash. He regarded his sentence as a farce and took a devil-may-care attitude. He served well in battle, dined with fellow officers and read ancient classics, like Hesiod, the Bible and Shakespeare. But all talk of home was cut off.
The point when Nolan’s braggadocio melted away came while reading Sir Walter Scott aloud with shipmates. Scott’s classic poem, “My Native Land,” began like this:
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d…
The pain of Nolan’s loss gripped him and he tossed the book into the sea. He secluded himself for months alone with his burning heart, painfully humbled. Over time, his fate as a man without a country left him sadder but wiser. It became too heavy to shake off with arrogance. He repented of his folly but manfully submitted to his fate realizing he had asked for it. From then on, there was no greater advocate of patriotism to the younger soldiers than Philip Nolan. He learned the worth of a homeland the hard way—by losing it.
From 1807 to his death in 1863, Nolan heard nothing about the United States. But on the brink of death, a sympathetic officer spilled out America’s long unheard story over the last half-a-century to him. Nolan hung on every word as the young officer strained to recall details. Then, he died contented and was buried under a stone that read; “He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.”
Would that we craved to hear and tell our nation’s story so passionately. Taking one’s country for granted is as common as it is ungrateful. On yet a deeper level, we have even greater cause to hear and tell the greatest story of all; that of God’s love for us through Jesus. As with Nolan and his native land, we also love God knowing how little we deserve at His hands. May we so crave the hearing and telling of the old story of God’s love anew every morning—a love for those who are dying, including those who may have renounced it brashly in the past. It is one thing to lose your homeland, and yet another to lose God. No lesson is worth losing God to learn. No story is more worth telling than God’s unfolding plan to call us home.
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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.