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MY OWN TIMES
The Victorian age-Modern pessimism-Life without living-Sixty years ago and now-Increase of amusements and of sport-Anecdotes -The Press-Toby, M.P.-The "Keepsake "-A letter from CarlyleDemoralizing literature-Social progress-A worthy use of artillery— Beneficent capital-Anecdotes-The Crimean campaign-A public scandal-The Victoria Cross
O deplore change and disparage the present has ever been considered as the privilege
and appanage of old age; indeed, in former days, almost without exception, all who were able to number their years as three-score and ten were confirmed pessimists; to-day a more just outlook prevails amongst a great proportion of old people, who recognize that, whilst human nature remains what it is, the world, though it may not get much better, does not change for the worse.
Let pessimists say what they will, there has been much real progress during the last seventy years.
In all probability no era has so profoundly affected humanity and contributed so much to civilization—as that word is generally understood -as the reign of Queen Victoria, which gained such lustre from scientific research and mechanical inven
tion. From quite another point of view no age can boast such a variety of range and richness in personality. Tennyson, Swinburne, Browning, Fitzgerald, and the Rosettis have bequeathed to us much verse which will survive; whilst in prose Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, the Brontës, Stevenson, Meredith, Thomas Hardy, and others have done work which will continue to delight thousands of readers for ages to come. The historians Carlyle, Froude, Freeman, and Green have left no successors approaching them in brilliance of style. Though in the main the Victorian era was, as regards England, at least fairly peaceful, it is interesting to recall that modern Imperialism really dates from the first Jubilee of 1887 when the country began to show so much enthusiasm for the colonies. From that period also dates the somewhat bellicose spirit which was more or less quenched in the none too glorious South African campaign.
Since this deplorable contest there has arisen a greater tendency than ever to declare that we are all going downhill.
The English, it is declared, have lost many of the splendid qualities which served them so well in the past. The luxuriousness and extravagance of the richer classes are bitterly denounced. This, however, is a very old cry.
In the "Memoirs of Lord Gambier," for instance, by Lady Chatterton, we find Hannah More writing of an entertainment given by a certain lady of fashion
THE IDLE RICH
whereat the strawberries alone cost £400; elsewhere this writer says: "I saw so much of the shocking way of going on in the short time I was in the town, that I must acquit myself to my conscience on this momentous subject before I before I die. Dancing and music fill up the whole of life, and every Miss of Fashion has three dancing, and a still greater number of music, masters."
The real trouble of the leisured classes is their inability to make good use of the time which now so often hangs heavily on their hands. No individual without interests or occupation can really enjoy life, for, by the inexorable decree of nature, the only real happiness lies in useful or interesting work of some kind, either of the hand or the head, so long as overexertion of either is avoided. It should be the aim of every one to be constantly employed. If all men and women were kept at some useful employment there would be less sorrow and wickedness in the world ; and if so-called "reformers" would spend their time in efforts to make people more intelligent, they would be doing much more good than by agitating the many vexatious questions and impracticable theories which cause so much trouble and confusion without producing any real or lasting benefits.
On the other hand, a number of rich people are the victims of their own wealth and, as it were, go through life without living-for the mere lapse of years is not life. To eat, and drink, and sleep; to be exposed to darkness and the light; to pace round
in the mill of habit, and turn thought merely into an implement of moneymaking, is but a poor existence. In such people merely a small fraction of the consciousness of humanity is awake, whilst the realities which make it worth while to be still slumber. Knowledge and intelligence alone are able to give vitality to the mechanism of existence.
On the other hand, a life of mere luxurious laziness is even more unsatisfactory, and, in the case of women, I believe, often makes them prone to indulge in imaginary ailments, an obsession chiefly caused by lack of occupation and weakness of mind. It is a pity there is no Abernethy alive to deal with these modern malades imaginaires.
On one occasion a lady, who had received a severe bite in her arm from a dog, went to this great doctor, but, knowing his aversion to hearing any statement of particulars, she merely uncovered the injured part and held it before him in silence. After looking at it an instant he said, in an inquiring
Bite," replied the lady.
"Dog," rejoined the patient.
So delighted was Abernethy with the brevity and promptness of her answers, that he exclaimed— "My dear madam, you are the most sensible woman I ever met with in my life."
A sick glutton sent for this doctor. "I have