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Speeches, assures us that the writing of his History is the occupation and the happiness of his life.
12. Well, I am glad to hear it. Ordinary mortals cannot sympathize with the feeling. To them, composition is simply hard work, and hard work is pain. Of course, even commonplace men have occasionally had their moments of inspiration, when thoughts present themselves vividly, and clothe themselves in felicitous expressions, without much or any conscious effort. But these seasons are short and far between ; and although while they last, it becomes comparatively pleasant to write,—it never becomes so pleasant as it would be to lay down the pen, to lean back in the easy chair, to take up the Times * or Fraser,t and enjoy the luxury of being carried easily along that track of thought which cost its writer so much labor to pioneer through the trackless jungle of the world of mind.
13. Ah, how easy it is to read what it was so difficult to write! There is all the difference between running down from London to Manchester by the railway after it has been made, and making the railway from London to Manchester, You, my intelligent reader, who begin to read a chapter of Mr. Froude's eloquent History, and get on with it so fluently, are like the snug old gentleman, traveling-capped, railwayrugged, great-coated, and plaided, who leans back in the corner of the softly-cushioned carriage as it fits over Chat Moss; while the writer of the chapter is like George Stephenson, toiling month after month to make the track along which you speed, in the face of difficulties and discouragements which you never think of.
14. And so I say, it may sometimes be somewhat easy and pleasant to write, but never so easy and pleasant as it is not to write. The odd thing, too, about the work of the pen is this : that it is often done best by the men who like it least and shrink from it most, and that that is often the most laborious writing along which the reader's mind glides most easily and pleasurably. It is not so in other matters. As the general rule, no man does well the work which he dislikes. No man will be a good preacher who dislikes preaching. No man will be a good anatomist who hates dissecting. Sir * A newspaper in London.
† An English magazine.
Charles Napier, it must be confessed, was a great soldier though he hated fighting ; and as for writing, some men have been the best writers who hated writing, and who would never have penned a line but under the pressure of necessity.
15. There is John Foster : what a great writer he was. And yet his biography tells us, in his own words too, scores of times, how he shrunk away from the intense mental effort of composition ; how he abhorred it and dreaded it, though he did it so admirably well. There is Coleridge : how that great mind ran to waste, because Coleridge shrank from the painful labor of formal composition ; and so Christabel must remain unfinished : and so, instead of volumes of hoarded wisdom and wit, we have but the fading remembrances of hours of marvelous talk. I do not by any means intend to assert that there are not worse things than work, even than very hard work ; but I say that work, as work, is a bad thing. • 16. It may once have been otherwise, but the curse is in it now. We do it because we must: it is our duty : we live by it; it is the Creator's intention that we should; it makes us enjoy leisure and recreation and rest; it stands between us and the pure misery of idleness; it is dignified and honorable ; it is the soil and the atmosphere in which grow cheerfulness, hopefulness, health of body and mind. But still, if we could get all these good ends without it, we should be glad. We do not care for exertion for its own sake. Even Mr. Kingsley does not love the north-east wind for itself, but because of the good things that come with it and from it.
17. Work is not an end in itself. “The end of work,” said Aristotle, “is to enjoy leisure;" or, as The Minstrel hath it, “ the end and the reward of toil is rest.” I do not wish to draw from too sacred a source the confirmation of these summer-day fancies ; but I think, as I write, of the descriptions which we find in a certain Volume of the happiness of another world. Has not many an over-wrought and weariedout worker found comfort in an assurance of which I shall here speak no further, that “there remaineth a rest to the people of God”?
XCVI.—THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
1. And so, my reader, if it be true that nobody, anywhere, would (in his sober senses) work if he could help it, how especially true is that great principle on this beautiful July day! It is truly a day on which to do nothing. I am here, far in the country, and when I this moment went to the window, and looked out upon a rich summer landscape, everything seemed asleep. The sky is sapphire-blue, without a cloud ; the sun is pouring down a flood of splendor upon all things; there is not a breath stirring, hardly the twitter of a bird. All the air is filled with the fragrance of the young clover. The landscape is richly wooded ; I never saw the trees more thickly covered with leaves, and now they are perfectly still.
2. I am writing north of the Tweed, * and the horizon is of blue hills, which some Southrons † would call mountains. The wheat fields are beginning to have a little of the harvesttinge, and they contrast beautifully with the deep green of the hedge-rows. The roses are almost over, but I can see plenty of honeysuckle in the hedges still, and a perfect blaze of it has covered one projecting branch of a young oak. I am looking at a little well-shaven green (I shall not call it a lawn, because it is not one), it has not been mown for nearly a fortnight, and it is perfectly white with daisies. Beyond, at a very short distance, through the branches of many oaks, I can see a gable of the church, and a few large gravestones shining white among the green grass and leaves.
3. I do not find all these things any great, temptation now, for I have got interested in my work, and I like to write of them. But I found it uncommonly hard to sit down this morning to my work. Indeed, I found it impossible, and thus it is that at five o'clock P. M. I have got no further than the present line. I had quite resolved that this morning I would sit doggedly down to my essay, in which I have really (though the reader may find it hard to believe it) got something to say ; but when I walked out after breakfast, I felt that all nature was saying that this was not a day
* A river in Scotland. † A name applied in Scotland to the English.
for work. Come forth and look at me, seemed the message breathed from her beautiful face. And then I thought of Wordsworth's ballad, which sets out so pleasing an excuse for idleness :
“ Books ! 'tis a dull and endless strife,
Come, hear the woodland linnet !
There's more of wisdom in it.
“ And hark ! how blithe the throstle sings !
He, too, is no mean preacher :
Let Nature be your teacher.
“She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
“ One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Than all the sages can!”
5. Just at my gate, the man who keeps in order the roads of the parish was hard at work. How pleasant, I thought, to work amid the pure air and the sweet-smelling clover! And how pleasant, too, to have work to do of such a nature that when you go to it every morning you can make quite sure that, barring accident, you will accomplish a certain amount before the sun shall set; while as for the man whose work is that of the brain and the pen, he never can be certain in the morning how much his day's labor may amount to.
6. He may sit down at his desk, spread out his paper, have his ink in the right place, and his favorite pen, and yet he may find that he cannot get on, that thoughts will not come, that his mind is utterly sterile, that he cannot see his way through his subject, or that if he can produce anything at all it is poor miserable stuff, whose poorness no one knows better than himself. And so, after hours of effort and discouragement, he may have to lay his work aside, having accomplished nothing, having made no progress at all-wearied, stupefied, disheartened, thinking himself a mere blockhead.
7. Thus musing, I approached the roadman. I inquired how his wife and children were. I asked how he liked the new cottage he had lately moved into. Well, he said ; but it was far from his work: he had walked eight miles and a half that morning to his work; he had to walk the same distance home again in the evening after laboring all day; and for this his wages were thirteen shillings a week, with a deduction for such days as he might be unable to work.
8. He did not mention all this by way of complaint; he was comfortably off, he said ; he should be thankful he was so much better off than many. He had got a little pony lately very cheap, which would carry himself and his tools to and from his employment, and that would be very nice. In all likelihood, my friendly reader, the roadman would not have been so communicative to you; but as for me, it is my duty and my happiness to be the sympathizing friend of every man, woman, and child in this parish, and it pleases me much to believe that there is no one throughout its little population who does not think of me and speak to me as a friend.
9. I talked a little longer to the roadman about parish affairs. We mutually agreed in remarking the incongruous colors of a pair of ponies which passed in a little phaeton, of which one was cream-colored and the other dapple-gray. The phaeton came from a friend's house a little way off, and I wondered if it were going to the railway to bring some one who (I knew) was expected; for in such simple matters do we simple country folk find something to maintain the interest of life.
10. I need not go on to describe what other things I did; how I looked with pleasure at a field of oats and another of potatoes in which I am concerned, and held several short conversations with passers-by ; but the result of the whole was a conviction that, after all, it was best to set to work at once, though well remembering how much, by indoor work in the country on such a day as this, one is missing. And the thought of the roadman's seventeen miles of walking, in addition to his day's work, was something of a reproof and a stimulus.