« PreviousContinue »
ily vexation, some neglected duty, some social or political grievance, when they ought manfully to look full at it, to see it in -its true dimensions and colors, and to try to mend matters. They cannot truly forget the painful fact. Even when it is not distinctly remembered, a vague, dull, unhappy sense of something amiss will go with them everywhere—all the more unhappy because conscience will tell them they are doing wrong. It is so in small matters as well as great. Your bookcase is all in confusion; the papers in your drawers have got into a sad mess. It is easier, you think, to shut the doors, to lock the drawers, to go away and think of something else, than manfully to face the pigsty and sort it up. Possibly you may do so. If you are a nerveless, cowardly being, you will; but you will not be comfortable though you have turned your back on the pigsty: a gnawing consciousness of the pigsty's existence will go with you wherever you go. Say your aftairs have become embarrassed ; you are living beyond your means; you are afraid to add up your accounts and ascertain how you stand. Ah, my friend, many a poor man well knows the feeling! Don't give in to it. Fairly face the fact: know the worst. Many a starving widow and orphan, many a pinched family reduced from opulence to sordid shifts, have suffered because the dead father would not while he lived face the truth in regard to his means and affairs! Let not that selfish being quote my essay in support of the course he takes. However complicated and miserable the state of the factsmaybe—though the pigsty should be like the Augean stable—look fairly at it; see it in its length and breadth; cut off your dinner-parties, sell your horses, kick out the fellows who make a hotel of your house and an ordinary of your table; bring your establishment to what your means can reach, to what will leave enough to insure your life. Don't let your miserable children have to think bitterly of you in your grave. And another respect in which you ought to carry out the same resolute purpose to look the pigsty full in the face is, in regard to your religious views and belief. Don't turn your back upon your doctrinal doubts and difficulties. Go up to them and examine them. Perhaps the ghastly object which looks to you in the twilight like a sheeted ghost, may prove to be no more than a tablecloth hanging upon a hedge; but if you were to pass it distantly without ascertaining what it is, you might carry the shuddering belief that you had seen a disembodied spirit all your days. Some people (very wrongly, as I think) would have you turn the key upon your sceptical difficulties, and look away from the pigsty altogether. From a stupid though
prevalent delusion as to the meaning of Faith, they have a vague impression that the less ground you have for your belief, and the more objections you stoutly refuse to see, the more faith you have got. It is a poor theory, that of some worthy divines; it amounts to just this: Christianity is true, and it is proved true by evidence; but for any sake don't examine the evidence, for the more you examine it the less likely you are to believe it. I say, No! Let us see your difficulties and objections; only to define them will cut them down to half their present vague, misty dimensions. I am not afraid of them; for though, after all is said, they continue to be difficulties, I shall show you that difficulties a hundredfold greater stand in the way of the contrary belief; and it is just by weighing opposing difficulties that you can in this world come to any belief, scientific, historical, moral, political. Let me say here that I heartily despise the man who professes a vague scepticism on the strength of difficulties which he has never taken the pains fairly to measure. It is hypocritical pretence when a man professes at the same instant to turn his back upon a prospect, and to be guided by what lie discerns in that prospect. But there are men who would like to combine black with white, yes with no. There are men who are always anxious to combine the contradictory enterprises, How to do a thing, and //••,"• at tht same time not to do it.
In brief, my limitation is this: Do not refuse to admit distressing thoughts, if any good is to come of admitting them; do not turn your back on the ugly prospect, so long as there is a hope of mending it; don't be like the wrecked sailor, who drinks himself into insensibility, while a hope of rescue remains; don't refuse to worry yourself by thinking what is to become of your children after you are gone, if there be still time to devise some means of providing for them. Look fairly at the blackest view, and go at it bravely if there be the faintest chance of making it brighter.
And, in truth, a great many bad things prove to be not so bad when you fairly look at them. The day seems horribly raiuy and stormy when you look out of your librarywindow; but you wrap up and go out resolutely for a walk, and the day is not so bad. By the time your brisk five miles are finished, you think it rather a fine breezy day, healthful though boisterous. All remediable evils are made a great deal worse by turning your back on them. The skeleton in the cioset rattles its bare bones abominably, when you lock the closet-door. Your disorderly drawer of letters and papers was a bugbear for weeks, because you put off sorting it and tried to forget it. It made you unhappy—vaguely uneasy, as all neglected duties do; yet you thought the trouble of putting it right would be so great that you would rather bear the little gnawing uneasiness. At length you could stand it no more. You determined some day to go at your task and do it. You did it. It was done speedily; it was done easily. You felt a blessed sense of relief, and you wondered that you had made such a painful worry of a thing so simple. By the make of the universe every duty deferred grows in bulk and weight and painful pressure.
It may here be said that when a worry cannot be forgotten, and yet cannot be mended, it is a good thing to try to define it. Measure its exact size. That is sure to make it look smaller. I have great confidence in the power of the pen to give most people clearer ideas than they would have without it. You have a vague sense that in your lot there is a vast number of worries and annoyances. Just sit down, take a large sheet of paper and a pen, and write out a list of all your annoyances and worries. You will be surprised to find how few they are, and how small they look. And if on another sheet of paper you make a list of all the blessings you enjoy, I believe that in most cases you will see reason to feel heartily ashamed of your previous state of discontent. Even should the catalogue of worries not be a brief one, still the killing thing—the vague sense of indefinite magnitude and number— will be gone. Almost all numbers diminish by accurately counting them. A clergyman may honestly believe that there are five hundred people in his church; but unless he be a person accustomed accurately to estimate numbers, you will find on counting that his congregation does not exceed two hundred and fifty. When the Chartist petition was presented to parliament some years ago, it was said to bear the signatures of five or six millions of people. It looked such an immense mass that possibly its promoters were honest in promulgating that belief. But the names were counted, and they amounted to no more than a million and a half. So, thoughtful reader, who fancy yourself torn by a howling pack of worries, count them. You will find them much fewer than you had thought j and the only way to satisfactorily count them is by making a list of them in writing.
Yet here there is a difficulty too. The purpose for which I advise you to make such a list, is to assure yourself that your worries are really not so very many or so very great. But there is hardly any means in this world which may not be worked to the opposite of the contemplated end. And by writing out
and dwelling on the list of your worries, you may make them worse. You may diminish their number, but increase their intensity. You may set out the relations and tendencies of the vexations under which you suffer, of the ill-usage of which you complain, till you whip yourself up to a point of violent indignation. In reading the life of Sir Charles Napier, I think one often sees cause to lament that the great man so chronicled and dwelt upon the petty injustices which he met with from petty men. And when a poor governess writes the story of her indignities recording them with painful accuracy, and putting them in the most unpleasing light, one feels that it would have been better had she not taken up the pen. But indeed these are instances coming under the general principle set out some time since, that irremediable worries are for the most part better forgotten.
So much for the first limitation of my theory for the treatment of worries. The second, you remember, is, that we ought not to give in to the impulse to turn our back upon the ugly prospect to such a degree that any painful signt or thought shall be felt like a mortal stab. You may come to that point of morbid sensitiveness. And I believe that the greatest evil of an extremely retired country life is, that it tends to bring one to that painful shrinking state. You may be afraid to read the Times, for the suffering caused you by the contemplation of the irremediable sin and misery of which you read the daily record there. You may come to wish that you could creep away into some quiet corner, where the uproar of human guilt and wretchedness should never be heard again. You may come to sympathize heartily with the weary aspiration of the Psalmist, " Oh that I had wings like a dove: then would I flee away and be at rest!" Sometimes as you stand in your stable, smoothing down your horse's neck, you may think how quiet and silent a place it is, how free from worry, and wish you had never to go out of me stalL Or when you have been for two or three day's ill in bed, the days going on and going down so strangely, you may have thought that you would stay there for the remainder of your life; that you could not muster resolution to set yourself again to the daily worry. You people who cannot understand the state of feeling which I am trying to describe, be thankful for it: bull do not doubt that such a state of feeling tfxists in many minds. /
Let me confess, for myself, tha(/for several years past I have been afraid^to read a good novel. It is intensely paiiw'ul to contemplate and realize to one's irofad the state ! of matters set out in most ,2itiiigs of the class. Apart from the question of not caring for that order of thought (and to me dissertation is much more interesting than narrative), don't you shrink from the sight of struggling virtue and triumphant vice, of cruelty, oppression, and successful falsehood? Give us the story that has no exciting action ; that moves along-without incident transcending the experience of ordinary human beings; that shows us quiet, simple, innocent modes of life, free from the intrusion of the stormy and wicked world around. Don't you begin, as you grow older, to sympathize with that feeling of the poet Beattie, which when younger you laughed at, that Shakspeare's admixture of the grotesque in his serious plays was absolutely necessary to prevent the tragic part from producing an effect too painful for endurance? The poet maintained that Shakspeare was aiming to save those who might witness his plays from a " disordered head or a broken heart." You see there, doubtless, the working of a morbid nervous system; but there is a substratum of truth. Once upon a time, when a man was worried by the evils of his lot, he could hope to escape from them by getting into the world of fiction. But now much fiction is such that you are worse there than ever. I do not think of the grand, romantic, and tremendously melodramatic incidents which one sometimes finds; these do not greatly pain us, because we feel both characters and incidents to be so thoroughly unreal. I do not mind a bit when the hero of Monte Christo is flung into the sea in a sack from a cliff some hundreds of feet high j that pains one no more than the straits and misfortunes of Munchausen. The wearing thing is to. be carried into homely scenes, and shown lifelike characters, bearing and struggling with the worries of life we know so well. We are reminded, only too vividly, of the hard strife of reduced gentility to keep up appearances, of the aging, life-wearing battle with constant care. It is as much wear of heart to look into that picture truthfully set before us by a man or woman of genius, as to look at the sad reality of this world of struggle, privation, and failure. It was just the sight of these that we wished to escape, and lo! there they are again. So one shrinks from the sympathetic reading of \a story too truthfully sad. I once read Vanfiy Fair. I would not read it again on any account, any more than one would willingly ;hrough the delirium of a fever, or rc.vive distinctly the circumstances of the occasionVm which one acted like a fool. The story wtas admirable, incomparable; but it was too\sadly true. We see quite enough of that sornpf thing in actual lite: let us not 'i it aga& when we seek relief from the
realities of actual life. Once you got into a sunshiny atmosphere where you began to read a work of fiction j or if the light was lurid, it was manifestly the glare of some preparation of sulphur in a scene-shifter's hand. But now, you are often in a doleful gray from the beginning of a story to its end.
It is a great blessing when a man's nature or training is such that he is able to turn away entirely from his work when he desists from actual working, and to shut his eyes to the contemplation of any painful thing when its contemplation ceases to be necessary or useful. There is much in this of native idiosyncrasy, but a good deal may bo done by discipline. You may to a certain extent acquire the power to throw off from the mind the burden that is weighing upon it, at all times except the moment during which the burden was actually to be borne. I envy the man who stops his work and instantly forgets it till it is time to begin again. I envy the man who can lay down his pen while writing on some subject that demands all his mental stretch, and go out for a walk, and yet not through all Ms walk be wrestling with his subject still. Oh! if we could lay down the mind's load as we can lay down the body's! If the mind could sit down and rest for a breathing space, as the body can in climbing a hill! If, as we decidedly stop walking when we cease to walk, we could cease thinking when we intend to cease to think! It was doubtless a great secret of the work which Napoleon did with so little apparent wear that he could fall asleep whenever he chose. Yet even he could not at will look away from the pigsty: no doubt one suddenly pressed itself upon his view on that day when he was sitting alone at dinner, and in a moment sprang up with a furious execration, and kicked over the table, smashing his plates as drunken Scotch weavers sometimes do. Let us do our best to right the wrong; but when we have done our best, and go to something else, let us quite forget the wrong: it will do no good to remember it now. It is longcontinued wear that kills. We can do and bear a vast deal if we have blinks of intermission of bearing and doing. But the mind of some men is on the stretch from the moment they begin a task till they end it. Slightly and rapidly as you may run over this essay, it was never half an hour out of the writer's waking thoughts from the writing of the first line to the writing of the last. I have known those who when busied with any work, legal, literary, theological, parochial, domestic, hardly ever consciously ceased from it; but were, as Mr. Bailey has expressed it, "about it, lashing at it day and night." The swell continued though, the
wind had gone down; the wheels spun round though the steam was shut off. Let me say here (I say it for myself), that apart entirely from any consideration of the religious sanctions which hallow a certain day of the seven, it appears to me that its value is literally and really inestimable to the overworked and worried man, if it be kept sacred, not merely from worldly work, but from the intrusion of worldly cares and thoughts. The thing can be done, my friend. As the last hour of Saturday strikes, the burden may fall from the mind: the pack of worries may be whipped off; and you may feel that you have entered on a purer, freer, happier life, which will last for four-and-twenty hours. I am a Scotchman, and a Scotch clergyman, and I hold views regarding the Sunday with which I know that some of my most esteemed readers do not sympathize; but I believe, for myself, that a strict resolution to preserve the Lord's day sacred (in no Puritanical sense), would lengthen m;m v a valuable life; would preserve the spring of many a noble mind; would hold off in some cases the approaches of imbecility or insanity.
I do not forget, in urging the expediency of training the mind to turn away from worries which it will do no good to continue to look at, that any thing evil or painful has a peculiar power to attract and compel attention to it. A little bad thing bulks larger on the mind's view than a big good thing. It persistently pushes its ugly face upon our notice. You cannot forget that you have a bad toothache, though it be only one little nerve that is in torment and all the rest of the body is at ease. And some little deformity of person, some little worry in your domestic arrangements, keeps always intruding itself, and defying you to forget or overlook it. If the pigsty already referred to be placed in the middle of the pretty lawn before your door, it will blot out all the landscape: you will see nothing save the pigsty. Evil has the advantage of good in many ways. It not merely detracts from good; it neutralizes it all. I think it is Paley who says that the evils of life supply no just argument against the divine benevolence; inasmuch as when weighed against the blessings of life, the latter turn the scale. It is as if you gave a man five hundred a-year, and then took away from him one hundred: this would amount virtually to giving him a clear four hundred a-year. It always struck me that the case put is not analogous to the fact. The four hundred a-year left would lose no part of their marketable value when the one hundred was taken away. The fact is rather as if you gave a man a large jug of pure water, and then cast into it a few drops of black
draught. That little infusion of senna would render the entire water nauseous. No doubt there might be fifty times as much pure water ns vile senna: but the vile senna would spoil the whole. Even such is the influence of evil in this system of things. It docs not simply diminish the quantity of good to be enjoyed: to a great degree it destroys the enjoyment of the whole of the good. Good carries weight in the race with evil. It has not a fair start, nor a fair field. Don't you know, reader, that it needs careful, constant training to give a child a good education; and possibly you may not succeed in giving the good education after all: while no care at all suffices to give a bad education: and a bad education is generally successful. So in the physical world. No field runs to wheat. If a farmer wants a crop of good grain, he must work hard to get it. But he has only to neglect his field and do nothing, and he will have weeds enough. The whole system of things in this world tends in favor of evil rather than of good But happily, my friend, we know the reason why. And we know that a day is coming which will set these things right.
I trust I have made sufficiently plain the precise error against which this essay is directed. The thing with which I find fault is that querulous, discontented, unhappy disposition which sits down and broods over disagreeables, and worries: not with the view of mending them, nor of bracing the moral nature by the sight of them: but simply for the sake of harping upon that tedious string :—of making yourself miserable, and making all who come near you miserable too. There are people into whose houses you cannot go, without being sickened by the long catalogue of all their slights and worries. It is a wretched and contemptible thing to be always hawking about one's
griefs, in the hope of exciting-commiseration, et people be assured that their best friends will grow wearied of hearing of their worries: let people be assured that the pity I which is accorded them will be in most cases mingled with something of contempt. There are men and women who have a wonderful scent for a grievance. If you are showingthem your garden, and there be one untidy corner, they will go straight to that and point it out with mournful elation, and forget all the rest of the trim expanse. If there be one mortifying circumstance in an otherwise successful and happy lot, they will be always reminding you of that. You write a book. Twenty favorable reviews of it appear, and two unfavorable: Mr. Snarling arrives after breakfast, sure as fate, with the two unfavorable 'reviews in his pocket. You are cheerful and i contented with your lot and your house: Mr. Snarling never misses an opportunity of pointing out to you the dulness of your situation, the inconvenience of your dwelling, the inferiority of the place you hold in life to what you might it priori have anticipated. You are quite light-hearted when Mr. Snarling enters; but when he goes, you cannot help feeling a good deal depressed. The blackest side of things has been pressed on your notice during his stay. I do not think this is entirely the result of malice. It is ignorance of the right way to face little worries. The man has got a habit of looking only at the dunghill. Would that he could learn better sense!
Let me here remark a certain confusion •which exists in the minds of many. I have known persons who prided themselves on their ability to inflict pain on others. They thought it a proof of power. And no doubt to scarify a man as Luther and Milton did, as Croker, Lockhart, and Macaulay did, is a proof of power. But sometimes people inflict pain on others simply by making themselves disgusting; and to do this is no proof of power. No doubt you may severely pain a refined and cultivated man or woman by revolting vulgarity of language and manner. You may, Mrs. Bouncer, embitter your poor governess' life by your coarse, petty tyranny; and you may infuriate your servants by talking at them before strangers at table. But let me remind you that there is a dignified and an undignified way of inflicting pain. There arc what may be called the active and the passive ways. You may inflict annoyance as a viper does; or you may inflict annoyance as a dunghill does. Some men (sharp critics belong to this class) are like the viper. They actively give pain. You are afraid of them. Others again are like a dunghill. They are merely passively offensive. You are disgusted at these. Now the viperish man may perhaps be proud of his power of stinging; but the dunghill man has no reason earthly to be proud of his power of stinking. It is just that he is an offensive object, and men would rather get out of his way. Yet I have heard a blockhead boast how he had driven away a refined gentleman from a certain club. No doubt he did. The gentleman never could go there without the blockhead offensively revolting him. The blockhead told the story with pride. Other blockheads listened and expressed their admiration of his cleverness. I looked in the blockhead's face, and inwardly said, O you human dunghill! Think of a filthy sewer boasting, "Ah, I can drive most people away from me!"
To the dunghill class many men belong. Such, generally, are those who will never heartily say any thing pleasant; but who
are always ready to drop hints of what they think will be disagreeable for you to hear. Such are the men who will walk round your garden, when you show it to them in the innocent pride of your heart: and after having accomplished the circuit, will shrug their shoulders, snuif the air, and say nothing. Such ore the men who will call upon an old gentleman, and incidentally mention that they were present the other Sunday when his son preached his first sermon, but say no kindly word as to the figure made by the youtb'ful divine. Such are the men who, when you show them your fine new church, will walk round it hurriedly, say, carelessly, "Very nice;" and begin to talk earnestly upon topics not connected with ecclesiastical architecture. And such, as a general rule, are all the envious race, who will never cordially praise any thing done by others, and who turn green with envy and jealousy if they even hear others speak of a third party in words of cordial praise. Such men are for the most part underbred, and always of third or fourth-rate talent. A really able man heartily speaks well of the talent that rivals or eclipses his own. He does so through tho necessity of a noble and magnanimous nature. And a gentleman will generally do as much, through the influence of a training which makes the best of the best features in the character of man. It warms one's heart to hear a great and illustrious author speak of a young one who is struggling up the slope. But it is a sorry thing to hear Mr. Snarling upon the same subject.
I have sometimes wondered whether what is commonly called coolness in human beings is the result of a remarkable power of looking away from things which it is not thought desirable to see; or of a still more remarkable power of looking at disagreeable things and not minding. You remember somewhere in the Life of Sir Walter Scott, we are told of a certain joyous dinner-party at his house in Castle Street. Of all the gay party there was none so gay as a certain West Country baronet. Yet in his pocket he had a letter containing a challenge which he had accepted j and next morning early he was off to the duel in which he was killed. Now, there must have been a woful worry gnawing at the clever man's heart, you would say. How did he take it so coolly? Did he really forget for the time the risk that lay before him? Or did he look fairly at it, yet not care? He was a kind-hearted man as well as a brave one: surely, he must have been able, through the jovial evening, to look quite away from the possibility of a distracted widow, and young children left fatherless. Sometimes this coolness appears in base and sordid forms: it is then the result