This is taken from A.K.H. Boyd's Recreations of a Country Parson.
There are some people whom all nature helps. They have somehow got the material universe on their side. What they say and do, at least upon important occasions, is so backed up by all the surroundings that it never seems out of keeping with these, and still less ever seems to be contradicted by these. When Mr. Midhurst [Footnote: See the New Series of Friends in Council.] read his essay on the Miseries of Human Life, he had all the advantage of a gloomy, overcast day. And so the aspect of the external world was to the essay like the accompaniment in music to a song. The accompaniment, of course, has no specific meaning; it says nothing, but it appears to accord and sympathize with the sense conveyed by the song’s words. But gloomy hills and skies and woods are to desponding views of life and man, even more than the sympathetic chords, in themselves meaningless. The gloomy world not merely accords with the desponding views, but seems somehow to back them. You are conscious of a great environing Presence standing by and looking on approvingly. From all points in the horizon a voice, soft and undefined, seems to whisper to your heart, All true, all too true.
Now, there are human beings who, in the great things they say and do, seldom fail of having this great, vague backing. There are others whom the grand current for the most part sets against. It is part of the great fact of Luck—the indubitable fact that there are men, women, ships, horses, railway-engines, whole railways, which are lucky, and others which are unlucky. I do not believe in the common theory of Luck, but no thoughtful or observant man can deny the fact of it. And in no fashion does it appear more certainly than in this, that in the case of some men cross-accidents are always marring them, and the effect they would fain produce. The system of things is against them. They are not in every case unsuccessful, but whatever success they attain is got by brave fighting against wind and tide. At college they carried off many honors, but no such luck ever befell them as that some wealthy person should offer during their days some special medal for essay or examination, which they would have gained as of course. There was no extra harvest for them to reap: they could do no more than win all that was to be won. They go to the bar, and they gradually make their way; but the day never comes on which their leader is suddenly taken ill, and they have the opportunity of earning a brilliant reputation by conducting in his absence a case in which they are thoroughly prepared. They go into the Church, and earn a fair character as preachers; but the living they would like never becomes vacant, and when they are appointed to preach upon some important occasion, it happens that the ground is a foot deep with snow.
Several years since, on a Sunday in July, I went to afternoon service at a certain church by the sea-shore. The incumbent of that church was a young clergyman of no ordinary talent; he is a distinguished professor now. It was a day of drenching rain and howling hurricane; the sky was black, as in mid-winter; the waves were breaking angry and loud upon the rocks hard by. The weather the previous week had been beautiful; the weather became beautiful again the next morning. There came just the one gloomy and stormy summer day. The young parson could not foresee the weather. What more fitting subject for a July Sunday than the teachings of the beautiful season which was passing over? So the text was, Thou hast made summer: it was a sermon on summer, and its moral and spiritual lessons. How inconsistent the sermon seemed with everything around! The outward circumstances reduced it to an absurdity. The congregation was diminished to a sixth of its usual number; the atmosphere was charged with a muggy vapor from sloppy garments and dripping umbrellas: and as the preacher spoke, describing vividly (though with the chastened taste of the scholar) blue skies, green leaves, and gentle breezes, ever and anon the storm outside drove the rain in heavy plashes upon the windows, and, looking through them, you could see the black sky and the fast-drifting clouds. I thought to myself, as the preacher went on under the cross influence of these surroundings, Now, I am sure you are in small things an unlucky man. No doubt the like happens to you frequently. You are the kind of man to whom the Times fails to come on the morning you specially wish to see it. Your horse falls lame on the morning when you have a long drive before you. Your manservant catches a sore throat, and is unable to go out, just when the visitor comes to whom you wish to show the neighboring country.
I felt for the preacher. I was younger then, but I had seen enough to make me think how Mr. Snarling of the next parish (a very dull preacher, with no power of description) would chuckle over the tale of the summer sermon on the stormy day. That youthful preacher (not Mr. Snarling) had been but a few months in the church, and he probably had not another sermon to give in the unexpected circumstances: he must preach what he had prepared. He had fallen into error. I formed a resolution never to do the like. I was looking forward then with great enthusiasm to the work of my sacred, profession: with enthusiasm which has only grown deeper and warmer through the experience of more than nine years. I resolved that if ever I thought of preaching a summer sermon, I would take care to have an alternative one ready for that day in case of unfavorable weather. I resolved that I would give my summer discourse only if external nature, in her soft luxuriant beauty, looked summer-like: a sweet pervading accompaniment to my poor words, giving them a force and meaning far beyond their own. What talk concerning summer skies is like the sapphire radiance, so distant and pure, looking in through the church windows? You do not remember how blue and beautiful the sky is, unless when you are looking at it: nature is better than our remembrance of her. What description of a leafy tree equals that noble, soft, massive, luxuriant object which I looked at for half-an-hour yesterday through the window of a little country church, while listening to the sermon of a friend? Do not think that I was inattentive. I heard the sermon with the greater pleasure and profit for the sight.
It is characteristic of the preaching of a really able man, preaching what he himself has felt, that all he says appears (as a general rule) in harmony with all the universe; while the preaching of a commonplace man, giving us from memory mere theological doctrine which has been drilled into him, and which he repeats because he supposes it must be all right, seems inconsistent with all the material universe, or at least quite apart from it. Yet, even listening to that excellent sermon (whose masculine thought was very superior to its somewhat slovenly style), I thought, as I looked at the beautiful tree rising in the silent churchyard,--the stately sycamore, so bright green, with the blue sky all around it,--how truly John Foster wrote, that when standing in January at the foot of a large oak, and looking at its bare branches, he vainly tried to picture to himself what that tree would be in June. The reality would be far richer and finer than anything he could imagine on the winter day. Who does not know this? The green grass and the bright leaves in spring are far greener (you see when they come back) than you had remembered or imagined; the sunshine is more golden, and the sky more bright. God’s works are better and more beautiful than our poor idea of them. Though I have seen them and loved them now for more than thirty summers, I have felt this year, with something of almost surprise, how exquisitely beautiful are summer foliage and summer grass. Here they are again, fresh from God! The summer world is incomparably more beautiful than any imagination could picture it on a dull December day. You did not know on New Year’s day, my reader, how fair a thing the sunshine is. And the commonest things are the most beautiful. Flowers are beautiful: he must be a blackguard who does not love them. Summer seas are beautiful, so exquisitely blue under the blue summer sky. But what can surpass the beauty of green grass and green trees! Amid such things let me live; and when I am gone, let green grass grow over me. I would not be buried beneath a stone pavement, not to sleep in the great Abbey itself.
My summer sermon has never been written, and so has never been preached; I doubt whether I could make much of the subject, treated as it ought to be treated there. But an essay is a different matter, notwithstanding that a dear, though sarcastic friend says that my essays are merely sermons played in polka time; the thought of sermons, to wit, lightened somewhat by a somewhat lighter fashion of phrase and illustration. And all that has hitherto been said is introductory to remarking, that I stand in fear of what kind of day it may be when my reader shall see this essay, which as yet exists but vaguely in the writer’s mind; and upon, four pieces of paper, three large and one small. If your eye lights upon this page on a cold, bleak day; if it be wet and splashy; above all, if there be east wind, read no further. Keep this essay for a warm, sunshiny day; it is only then that you will sympathize with its author. For amid a dismal, rainy, stormy summer, we have reached fair weather at last; and this is a lovely, sunny summer morning. And what an indescribably beautiful thing is a summer day! I do not mean merely the hours as they pass over; the long light; the sun going up and going down; but all that one associates with summer days, spent in sweet rural scenes.
There is great variety in summer days. There is the warm, bright, still summer day; when everything seems asleep, and the topmost branches of the tall trees do not stir in the azure air. There is the breezy summer day, when warm breaths wave these topmost branches gently to and fro, and you stand and look at them; when sportive winds bend the green corn as they swiftly sweep over it; when the shadows of the clouds pass slowly along the hills. Even the rainy day, if it come with soft summer-like rain, is beautiful. People in town are apt to think of rain as a mere nuisance; the chief good it does there is to water the streets more generally and thoroughly than usual; a rainy day in town is equivalent to a bad day; but in the country, if you possess even the smallest portion of the earth, you learn to rejoice in the rain. You go out in it; you walk about and enjoy the sight of the grass momently growing greener; of the trees looking refreshed, and the evergreens gleaming, the gravel walks so free from dust, and the roads watered so as to render them beautifully compact, but not at all sloppy or muddy; summer rain never renders well-made country roads sloppy or muddy. There is a pleasure in thinking that you have got far ahead of man or machine; and you heartily despise a watering-cart, while enjoying a soft summer shower. And after the shower is over, what fragrance is diffused through the country air; every tree and shrub has an odor which a summer shower brings out, and which senses trained to perception will perceive. And then, how full the trees and woods are of the singing of birds! But there is one feeling which, if you live in the country, is common to all pleasant summer days, but particularly to sunshiny ones; it is that you are doing injustice to nature, that you are losing a great deal, if you do not stay almost constantly in the open air. You come to grudge every half hour that you are within doors, or busied with things that call you off from observing and thinking of all the beauty that is around you everywhere.
That fair scene,--trees, grass, flowers, sky, sunshine, is there to be looked at and enjoyed; it seems wrong, that with such a picture passing on before your eyes, your eyes should be turned upon anything else. Work, especially mental work, is always painful; always a thing you would shrink from if you could; but how strongly you shrink from it on a beautiful summer morning! On a gloomy winter day you can walk with comparative willingness into your study after breakfast, and spread out your paper, and begin to write your sermon. For although writing the sermon is undoubtedly an effort; and although all sustained effort partakes of the nature of pain; and although pain can never be pleasant; still, after all, apart from other reasons which impel you to your work, you cannot but feel that really if you were to turn away from your task of writing, there is nothing to which you could take that you would enjoy very much more than itself. And even on the fairest summer morning, you can, if you are living in town, take to your task with comparative ease. Somehow, in town, the weather is farther off from you; it does not pervade all the house, as it does in the country: you have not windows that open into the garden: through which you see green trees and grass every time you look up; and through which you can in a minute, without the least change of dress, pass into the verdant scene.
There is all the difference in the world, between the shadiest and greenest public garden or park even within a hundred yards of your door; and the green shady little spot that comes up to your very window. The former is no very great temptation to the busy scholar of rural tastes; the latter is almost irresistible. A hundred yards are a long way to go, with purpose pretense of enjoying something so simple as the green earth. After having walked even a hundred yards, you feel that you need a more definite aim. And the grass and trees seem very far away, if you see them at the end of a vista of washing your hands, and putting on another coat and other boots, and still more of putting on gloves and a hat. Give me the little patch of grass, the three or four shady trees, the quiet corner of the shrubbery, that comes up to the study window, and which you can reach without even the formality of passing through the hall and out by the front door. If you wish to enjoy nature in the summer-time, you must attend to all these little things. What stout old gentleman but knows that when he is seated snugly in his easy chair by the winter evening fireside, he would take up and read many pages in a volume which lay within reach of his arm, though he would do without the volume, if in order to get it he had to take the slight trouble of rising from his chair and walking to a table half a dozen yards off? Even so must nature be brought within easy reach of even the true lover of nature; otherwise on a hundred occasions, all sorts of little, fanciful hindrances will stand between him and her habitual appreciation. A very small thing may prevent your doing a thing which you even wish to do; but which you do not wish with any special excitement, and which you may do at any time. I daresay some reader would have written months since to a friend in India to whom he promised faithfully to write frequently, but that when he sat down once or twice to write, and pulled out his paper-drawer, lie found that all the thin Indian paper was done. And so the upshot is, that the friend has been a year out; and you have never written to him at all.
But to return to the point from which this deviation proceeded, I repeat, that on a fine summer morning in the country it is excessively difficult to take to your work. Apart from the repellent influence which is in work itself, you think that you will miss so much. You go out after breakfast (with a wide-awake hat, and no gloves) into the fresh atmosphere. You walk round the garden. You look particularly at the more eminent roses, and the largest trees. You go to the stable-yard, and see what is doing there. There are twenty things to think of: numberless little directions to give. You see a weedy corner, and that must not be suffered: you see a long spray of a climbing rose that needs training. You look into the corn-chest: the corn is almost finished. You have the fact impressed upon you that the old potatoes are nearly done, and the new ones hardly ready for use. These things partake of the nature of care: if you do not feel very well, you will regard them as worries. But it is no care nor worry to walk down to your gate, to lean upon it, and to look at the outline of the hills: nor to go out with your little children, and walk slowly along the country lane outside your gate, relating for the hundredth time the legend of the renowned giant-killer, or the enchanted horse that flew through the air; to walk on till you come to the bridge, and there sit down, and throw in stones for your dog to dive after, while various shouts (very loud to come from such little mouths) applaud his success. How crystal-clear the water of the river! It is six feet deep, yet you may see every pebble of its bed. An undefined laziness possesses you. You would like to sit here, and look, and think, all day. But of course you will not give in to the temptation. Slowly you return to your door: unwillingly you enter it: reluctantly you take to your work. Until you have got somewhat into the spirit of your task, you cannot help looking sometimes at the roses which frame your window, and the green hill you see through it, with white sheep. And even when you have got your mind under control, and the lines flow more willingly from your pen, you cannot but look out occasionally into the sunshiny, shady corner in your view, and think you should be there. And when the prescribed pages are at length completed, how delightful to lock them up, and be off into the air again!
You are far happier now than you were in the morning. The shadow of your work was upon you then: now you may with a pleased conscience, and under no sense of pressure, saunter about, and enjoy your little domain. Many things have been accomplished since you went indoors. The weeds are gone from the corner: the spray of the rose has been trained. The potato-beds have been examined: the potatoes will be all ready in two days more. Sit down in the shade, warm yet cool, of a great tree. Now is the time to read the Saturday Review, especially the article that pitches into you. What do you care for it? I don’t mean that you despise it: I mean that it causes you no feeling but one of amusement and pleasure. You feel that it is written by a clever man and a gentleman: you know that there is not a vestige of malice in it. You would like to shake hands with the writer, and to thank him for various useful hints. As for reviewing which is truly malignant—that which deals in intentional misrepresentation and coarse abuse—it is practically unknown in respectable periodicals. And wherever you may find it (as you sometimes may) you ought never to be angry with the man who did it: you ought to be sorry for him. Depend upon it, the poor fellow is in bad health or in low spirits: no one but a man who is really unhappy himself will deliberately set himself to annoy any one else. It is the misery, anxiety, poverty, which are wringing the man’s heart, that make their pitiful moan in that bitter article. Make the poor man better off, and he will be better natured.
And so, my friend, now that our task is finished, let us go out in this kindly temper to enjoy the summer day. But you must first assure your mind that your work is really finished. You cannot thus simply enjoy the summer day, if you have a latent feeling rankling at your heart that you are neglecting something that you ought to do. The little jar of your moral being caused by such a feeling, will be like the horse-hair shirt, will be like the peas in the pilgrim’s shoes. So, clerical reader, after you have written your allotted pages of sermon, and answered your few letters, turn to your tablet-diary, or whatever contrivance you have for suggesting to your memory the work you have to do. If you have marked down some mere call to make, that may fairly enough be postponed on this hot day. But look at your list of sick, and see when you visited each last, and consider whether there be any you ought to visit to-day. And if there be, never mind though the heat be sweltering and the roads dusty and shadeless: never mind though the poor old man or woman lives five miles off, and though your horse is lame: get ready, and walk away as slowly as you can, and do your duty. You are not the reader I want: you are not the man with whom I wish to think of summer days: if you could in the least enjoy the afternoon, or have the faintest pleasure in your roses and your grass, with the thought of that neglected work hanging over you. And though you may return four hours hence, fagged and jaded, you will sit with a pleased heart down to dinner, and you will welcome the twilight when it comes, with the cheerful sense of duty done and temptation resisted.
But upon my ideal summer day, I suppose that after looking over your sick-list, and all your memoranda, you find that there is nothing to do that need take you to-day beyond your own little realm. And so, with the delightful sense of leisure to breathe and think, you walk forth into the green shade to spend the summer afternoon. Bring with you two or three books: bring the Times that came that morning: you will not read much, but it is pleasant to know that you may read if you choose: and then sit down upon a garden-seat, and think and feel. Do you not feel, my friend of even five-and-thirty, that there is music yet in the mention of summer days? Well, enjoy that music now, and the vague associations which are summoned up by the name. Do not put off the enjoyment of these things to some other day. You will never have more time, nor better opportunity. The little worries of the present cease to sting in the pensive languor of the season. Enjoy the sunshine and the leaves while they last: they will not last long. Grasp the day and hold it and rejoice in it: some time soon you will find of a sudden that the summer time has passed away. You come to yourself, and find it is December. The earth seems to pause in its orbit in the dreary winter days: it hurries at express speed through summer. You wish you could put on a break, and make time go on more slowly. Well, watch the sandgrains as they pass. Remark the several minutes, yet without making it a task to do so. As you sit there, you will think of old summer days long ago: of green leaves long since faded: of sunsets gone. Well, each had its turn: the present has nothing more. And let us think of the past without being lackadaisical. Look now at your own little children at play: that sight will revive your flagging interest in life. Look at the soft turf, feel the gentle air: these things are present now. What a contrast to the Lard, repellent earth of winter! I think of it like the difference between the man of sternly logical mind, and the genial, kindly man with both head and heart!
I take it for granted that you agree with me in holding such to be the true type of man. Not but what some people are proud of being all head and no heart. There is no flummery about them. It is stern, severe sense and principle. Well, my friends, say I to such, you are (in a moral sense) deficient of a member. Fancy a mortal hopping through creation, and boasting that he was born with only one leg! Or even if you have a little of the kindly element, but very little when compared with the logical, you have not much to boast of. Your case is analogous to that of the man who has two legs indeed, but one of them a great deal longer than the other.
It is pleasanter to spend the summer days in an inland country place, than by the seaside. The sea is too glaring in sunshiny weather; the prospects are too extensive. It wearies eyes worn by much writing and reading to look at distant hills across the water. The true locality in which to enjoy the summer time is a richly-wooded country, where you have hedges and hedge-rows, and clumps of trees everywhere: where objects for the most part are near to you; and, above all, are green. It is pleasant to live in a district where the roads are not great broad highways, in whose centre you feel as if you were condemned to traverse a strip of arid desert stretching through the landscape; and where any carriage short of a four-in-hand looks so insignificantly small. Give me country lanes: so narrow that their glare does not pain the eye upon even the sunniest day: so narrow that the eye without an effort takes in the green hedges and fields on either side as you drive or walk along.
And now, looking away mentally from this cool shady verdure amid which we are sitting, let us think of summer days elsewhere. Let us think of them listlessly, that we may the more enjoy the quiet here: as a child on a frosty winter night, snug in his little bed, puts out a foot for a moment into the chilly expanse of sheet that stretches away from the warm nest in which he lies, and then pulls it swiftly back again, enjoying the cozy warmth the more for this little reminder of the bitter chill. Here, where the air is cool, pure, and soft, let us think of a hoarding round some old house which the laborers are pulling down, amid clouds of the white, blinding, parching dust of lime, on a sultry summer day. I can hardly think of any human position as worse, if not intended directly as a position of torture. I picture, too, a crowded wharf on a river in a great town, with ships lying alongside. There is a roar of passing drays, a cracking of draymen’s whips, a howling of the draymen. There is hot sunshine; there are clouds of dust; and I see several poor fellows wheeling heavy casks in barrows up a narrow plank into a ship. Their faces are red and puffy with the exertion: their hair is dripping. Ah, the summer day is hard upon these poor fellows! But it would be pleasant to-day to drive a locomotive engine through a fine agricultural country, particularly if one were driving an express train, and so were not worried by perpetual stoppages.
I have often thought that I should like to be an engine-driver. Should any revolution or convulsion destroy the Church, it is to that field of industry that I should devote my energies. I should stipulate not to drive luggage-trains; and if I had to begin with third-class passenger-trains, I have no doubt that in a few months, by dint of great punctuality and carefulness, and by having my engine always beautifully clean and bright, I should be promoted to the express. There was a time when driving a locomotive was not so pleasant as now. In departed days, when the writer was wont to stand upon the foot-plates, through the kindness of engine-driving friends now far away, there was a difficulty in looking out ahead: the current of air was so tremendous, and particles of dust were driven so viciously into one’s eyes. But advancing civilization has removed that disadvantage. A snug shelter is now provided for the driver: an iron partition arises before him, with two panes of glass through which to look out. The result is that he can maintain a far more effectual look-out; and that he is in great measure protected from wind and weather. Yes, it would be pleasant to be an engine-driver, especially on such a day as this. Pleasant to look at the great train of carriages standing in the station before starting: to see the piles of luggage going up through the exertions of hot porters: to see the numbers of passengers, old and young, cool and flurried, with their wraps, their newspapers, their books, at length arranged in the soft, roomy interiors; and then the sense of power, when by the touch of a couple of fingers upon the lever, you make the whole mass of luggage, of life, of human interests and cares, start gently into motion; till, gathering speed as it goes, it tears through the green stillness of the summer noon, amid daisied fields, through little woody dells, through clumps of great forest-trees, within sight of quiet old manor houses, across little noisy brooks and fair broad rivers, beside churchyard walls and grey ivied churches, alongside of roads where you see the pretty phaeton, the lordly coach, the lumbering wagon, and get glimpses that suggest a whole picture of the little life of numbers of your fellow-men, each with heart and mind and concerns and fears very like your own. Yes, my friend, if you rejoice in fair scenery, if you sympathize with all modes of human life—if you have some little turn for mechanics, for neatness and accuracy, for that which faithfully does the work it was made to do, and neither less nor more: retain it in your mind as an ultimate end, that you may one day drive a locomotive engine. You need not of necessity become greasy of aspect; neither need you become black. I never have known more tidy, neat, accurate, intelligent, sharp, punctual, responsible, God-fearing, and truly respectable men, than certain engine-drivers.
Remember the engine must be a locomotive engine. Your taste for scenery and life will not be gratified by employment on a stationary one. And it is fearfully hot work on a summer day to take charge of a stationary steam-engine; while (perhaps you would not think it) to drive a locomotive is perfectly cool work. You never feel, in that rapid motion, the raging flame that is doing its work so near you. The driver of the express train may be a man of large sympathies, of cheerful heart, of tolerant views; the man in charge of the engine of a coal-pit or factory, even of a steam-ship, is apt to acquire contracted ways of thinking, and to become somewhat cynical and gloomy in his ideas as to the possible amelioration of society. It cannot be a pleasing employment, one would think, on a day like this, to sit and watch a great engine fire, and mend it when needful. That occupation would not be healthful, either to mind or body.
I dare say you remember the striking and beautiful description in Mr. Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop, of a man who had watched and fed a furnace-fire for years, till he had come to think of it as a living being. The fire was older than he was; it had never gone out since before he was horn. I can imagine, perfectly well, what kind of effect such a mode of life would have had on myself. And very few readers are likely to have within themselves an intellectual and moral fiber of bent and nature so determined, that they are not what they are, mainly through the influence of the external circumstances which have been acting upon them all through life. Did you ever think to yourself that you would like to make trial for a few days’ space, of certain modes of life very different from your own, and very different from each other? I have done so many a time. And a lazy summer afternoon here in the green shade is the time to try and picture out such. Think of being to-day in a stifling counting-house in the hot bustling town. I have been especially interested in a glazed closet which I have seen in a certain immensely large and very crowded shop in a certain beautiful city. It is a sort of little office partitioned off from the shop it has a sloping table, with three or four huge books bound in parchment. There is a ceaseless bustle, crush, and hum of talking outside; and inside there are clerks busy writing, and receiving money through little pigeonholes. I should like to sit for two or three days in a corner of that little retreat; and to write a sermon there. It would be curious to sit there to-day in the shadow, and to see the warm sunbeams only outside through a distant window, resting on sloping roofs.
If one did not get seasick, there would be something fresh in a summer day at sea. It is always cool and breezy there, at least in these latitudes, on the warmest day. Above all there is no dust. Think of the luxurious cabin of a fine yacht to-day. Deep cushions; rich curtains; no tremor of machinery; flowers, books, carpets inches thick; and through the windows, dim hills and blue sea. Then, flying away in spirit, let us go to-day (only in imagination) into the Courts of Law at Westminster. The atmosphere on a summer day in these scenes is always hot and choky. There is a suggestion of summer time in the sunshine through the dusty lanterns in the roofs. Thinking of these courts, and all their belongings and associations, here on this day, is like the child already mentioned when he puts his foot into a very cold corner of his bed, that he may pull it back with special sense of what a blessing it is that he is not bodily in that very cold corner. Yes, let us enjoy this spot where we are, the more keenly, for thinking of the very last place in this world where we should like to-day to be. I went lately (on a bright day in May) to revive old remembrances of Westminster Hall. The judges of the present time are very able and incorruptible men; but they are much uglier than the judges I remember in my youth. Several of them, in their peculiar attire, hardly looked like human beings. Almost all wore wigs a great deal too large for them; I mean much too thick and massive. The Queen’s Counsel, for the most part, seemed much younger than they used to be; but I was aware that this phenomenon arose from the fact that I myself was older. And various barristers, who fifteen years since were handsome, smooth-faced young men, had now a complexion rough as a nutmeg-grater, and red with that unhealthy color which is produced by long hours in a poisonous atmosphere.
The Courts at Westminster, for cramped space and utter absence of ventilation, are nothing short of a disgrace to a civilized nation. But the most painful reflection which they suggest to a man with a little knowledge of the practical working of law, is, how vainly human law strives to do justice. There, on the benches of the various Courts, you have a number of the most able and honest men in Britain: skilled by long practice to distinguish between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood; and yet, in five cases out of six that come before them, they signally fail of redressing the wrongs brought before them. Unhappily, in the nature of things, much delay must occur in all legal procedure; and further, the machinery of the law cannot be set in motion unless at very considerable expense. Now, every one knows that delay in gaining a legal decision of a debated question, very often amounts to a decision against both parties. What enjoyment of the summer days has the harassed suitor, waiting in nervous anxiety for the judgment or the verdict which may be his ruin? For very small things may be the ruin of many men. A few pounds to be paid may dip an honest man’s head under water for years, or for life. But the great evil of the law, after all, is, that it costs so much. I am aware that this may be nobody’s fault; it may be a vice inherent in the nature of things. Still, where the matter in question is of no very great amount, it is a fact that makes the wise man willing rather to take injustice than to go to law. A man meets with an injury; he sustains some wrong. He brings his action; the jury give him ten or twenty pounds damages. The jury fancy that this sum will make him amends for what he has lost or suffered; they fancy that of course he will get this sum. What would the jury think if told that he will never get a penny of it? It will all go (and probably a good deal more) for extra costs; that is, the costs the winning party will have to pay his own attorney, besides the costs in the cause which the losing party has to pay. No one profits pecuniarily by that verdict or that trial, except the lawyers on either side. And does it not reduce the administration of justice to an absurdity, to think that in the majority of cases, the decision, no matter on which side, does no good to the man in whose favor it is given.
Another thing which makes the courts of law a sad sight is, that probably in no scene in human affairs are disappointment and success set in so sharp contrast—brought so close together. There, on the bench, dignified, keen, always kind and polite (for the days of bullying have gone by), sits the Chief Justice—a peer (if he pleases to be one)--a great, distinguished, successful man; his kindred all proud of him. And there, only a few yards off, sharp-featured, desponding, soured, sits poor Mr. Briefless, a disappointed man, living in lonely chambers in the Temple: a hermit in the great wilderness of London; in short, a total failure in life. Very likely he absurdly over-estimates his talents, and what he could have done if he had had the chance; but it is at least possible that he may have in him the genius of another Follett, wasting sadly and uselessly away. Now, of course, in all professions, and all walks of life, there are success and failure; but there is none, I think, in which poor failure must bear so keenly the trial of being daily and closely set in contrast with flushed success. Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown were rival suitors for the hand of Miss Jones; Mr. Smith succeeded, and Mr. Brown failed; but though Mr. Brown feels his mortification severely even as things are, it would be a great deal worse if he were compelled to follow at a hundred yards’ distance Mr. Smith and Miss Jones in their moonlight walks, and contemplate their happiness; to be present when they are married, and daily to attend them throughout their marriage excursion. Or some one else gets the bishopric you wished for; but you are not obliged daily to contemplate the cathedral and the palace which you had hoped to call your own. In most cases in this world failure may look away from the success which makes its eyes sore and its heart heavy. You try to have a kindly feeling towards the man who succeeded where you failed, and in time you have it; but just at first you would not have liked to have had ever before you the visible manifestation of his success and your failure. You must have a very sweet nature, and (let me say it) much help from a certain high Quarter, if, without the least envy or jealousy, genially and unsoured, you can daily look upon the man who, without deserving to beat you, actually did beat you;--at least while the wound is fresh.
And while talking of disappointment and success in courts of law. let me remark, that petty success sometimes produces, in vulgar natures, manifestations which are inexpressibly disgusting. Did you ever remark the exultation of some low attorney when he had succeeded in snapping a verdict in some contemptible case which he had taken up and carried en upon speculation? I have witnessed such a thing, and cannot but say that it appeared to me one of the most revolting and disgusting phases which it is possible that human nature should assume. I think I see the dirty, oily-looking animal, at once servile and insolent, with trickery and rascality in every line of his countenance, rubbing his hands in the hour of his triumph, and bustling about to make immediate preparation for availing himself of it. And following him, also sneakily exulting, I see an object more dirty, more oily-looking, than the low attorney; it is the low attorney’s clerk. And on such an occasion, glancing at the bench, when the judgment-seat was occupied by a judge who had not yet learned never to look as if he thought or felt anything in particular, I have discerned upon the judicial countenance an expression of disgust as deep as my own.
Pleasanter scenes come up this afternoon with the mention of summer days. I see depths of wood, where all the light is coolly green, and the rippling brook is crystal clear. I see vistas through pines, like cathedral vaults; the space enclosed looks on a sunshiny day almost black, and a bit of bright blue sky at the end of each is framed by the trees into the likeness of a Gothic window. I see walls of gray rock on either side of a river, noisy and brawling in winter time, but now quiet and low. For two or three miles the walls of rock stretch onward; there are thick woods above them, and here and there a sunny field: masses of ivy clothe the rock in places; long sprays of ivy hang over. I walk on in thought till I reach the opening of the glen; here a green bank slopes upward from a dark pool below, and there is a fair stretch of champaign country beyond the river; on the summit of the green bank, on this side, mouldering, grey, ivied, lonely, stand the ruins of the monastery, which has kept its place here for seven hundred years. I see the sky-framing eastern window, its tracery gone. There are masses of large daisies varying the sward, and the sweet fragrance of young clover is diffused through all the air. I turn aside, and walk through lines of rose-trees in their summer perfection. I hear the drowsy hum of the laden bees. Suddenly it is the twilight, the long twilight of Scotland, which would sometimes serve you to read by at eleven o’clock at night. The crimson flush has faded from the bosom of the river; if you are alone, its murmur begins to turn to a moan; the white stones of the churchyard look spectral through the trees. I think of poor Doctor Adam, the great Scotch schoolmaster of the last century, the teacher of Sir Walter Scott, and his last words, when the shadow of death was falling deeper—‘It grows dark, hoys; you may go.’
Then, with the professional bias, I go to a certain beautiful promise which the deepening twilight seldom fails to suggest to me; a promise which tells us how the Christian’s day shall end, how the day of life might be somewhat overcast and dreary, but light should come on the darkened way at last. ‘It shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear nor dark. But it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light.’ I think of various senses in which it might be shown that these words speak truly; in which its great principle holds good, that signal blessing shall come when it is needed most and expected least; but I think mainly how, sometimes, at the close of the chequered and sober day, the Better Sun has broken through the clouds, and made the naming west all purple and gold. I think how always the purer light comes, if not in this world, then in a better. Bowing his head to pass under the dark portal, the Christian lifts it on the other side, in the presence and the light of God. J think how you and I, my reader, may perhaps have stood in the chamber of death, and seen in the horizon the summer sun in glory going down. But it is only to us who remain that the evening darkness is growing—only for us that the sun is going down. Look on the sleeping features, and think, ‘Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw herself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.’ And then, my reader, tell me—as the evening falls on you, but not on him; as the shadows deepen on you, but not on him; as the darkness gathers on you, but not on him—if, in sober reality, the glorious promise has not found its perfect fulfillment, that ‘at the evening time there shall be light!’
Every one knows that Summer Days dispose one to a certain listlessly meditative mood. In cold weather, out of doors at least, you must move about actively; it is only by the evening fireside, watching the dancing shadows, that you have glimpses of this not wholly unprofitable condition of mind. In summer-time you sometimes feel disposed to stand and look for a good while at the top of a large tree, gently waving about in the blue sky. You begin by thinking it would be curious to be up there: but there is no thought or speculation, moral, political, or religious, which may not come at the end of the train started by the loftiest branches of the great beech. You are able to sit for a considerable space in front of an ivied wall, and think out your sermon for Sunday as you look at the dark leaves in the sun. Above all, it is soothing and suggestive to look from a height at the soft outline of distant hills of modest elevation; and to see, between yourself and them, many farm-houses and many little cottages dotted here and there. There, under your eye, how much of life, and of the interests of life, is going on! Looking at such things, you muse, in a vague, desultory way. I wonder whether when ordinary folk profess to be thinking, musing, or meditating, they are really thinking connectedly or to any purpose. I daresay the truth is they have (so to speak) given the mind its head; laid the reins of the will on the mind’s neck; and are letting it go on and about in a wayward, interrupted, odd, semi-conscious way. They are not holding onward on any track of thought.
I believe that common-place human beings can only get their ideas upon any subject into shape and order by writing them down, or (at least) expressing them in words to some one besides themselves. You have a walk of an hour, before you: you resolve that you will see your way through some perplexed matter as you walk along; your mind is really running upon it all the way: but when you have got within a hundred yards of your journey’s end, you find with a start that you have made no progress at all: you are as far as ever from seeing what to think or do. With most people, to meditate means to approach to doing nothing at all as closely as in the nature of humanity it is possible to do so. And in this sense of it, summer days, after your work is over, are the time for meditation. So, indeed, are quiet days of autumn: so the evening generally, when it is not cold. ‘Isaac went out to meditate in the field, at the eventide.’ Perhaps he thought of the progress of his crops, his flocks, his affairs: perhaps he thought of his expected wife: most, probably he thought of nothing in particular; for four thousand years have left human nature in its essence the selfsame thing. It would be miserable work to moon through life, never thinking except in this listless, purposeless way: but after hard work, when you feel the rest has been fairly earned, it is very delightful on such a day and in such a scene as this, to sit down and muse. The analogy which suggests itself to me is that of a carriage-horse, long constrained to keep to the even track along hard dusty roads, drawing a heavy burden; now turned free into a cool green field to wander, and feed, and roll about untrammeled. Even so does the mind, weary of consecutive thinking—of thinking in the track and thinking with a purpose—expatiate in the license of aimless meditation.
There are various questions which may fitly be thought of in the listlessness of this summer day. They are questions the consideration of which does not much excite; questions to which you do not very much mind whether you get an answer or no. I have been thinking for a little while, since I finished the last paragraph, of this point: Whether that clergyman, undertaking the charge of some important church, is best equipped for his duty, who has a great many sermons carefully written and laid up in a box, ready to come out when needed: or that other clergyman, who has very few sermons fully written out, but who has spent great pains in disciplining his mind into that state in which it shall always be able to produce good material. Which of these has made best progress towards the end of being a good and efficient preacher? Give me, I should say, on the whole, the solid material stock, rather than the trained mind. I look with a curious feeling upon certain very popular preachers, who preach entirely extempore: who make a few notes of their skeleton of thought; but trust for the words and even for the illustrations to the inspiration of the moment. They go on boldly: but their path crumbles away behind them as they advance. Their minds are in splendid working order: they turn off admirable work Sunday by Sunday: and while mind and nervous system keep their spring, that admirable work may be counted on almost with certainty. They have Fortunio’s purse: they can always put their hand upon the sovereigns they need: but they have no hoard accumulated which they might draw from, should the purse some day fail.
And remembering how much the success of the extempore speaker depends upon the mood of the moment: remembering what little things, menial and physical, may mar and warp the intellectual machine for the moment: remembering how entirely successful extempore speaking founds on perfect confidence and presence of mind: remembering how as one grows older the nervous system may get shaken and even broken down: remembering how the train of thought which your mind has produced melts away from you unless you preserve a record of it (for I am persuaded that to many men that which they themselves have written looks before very long as strange and new as that produced by another mind): remembering these things, I say to myself, and to you if you choose to listen: Write sermons diligently: write them week by week, and always do your very best: never make up your mind that this one shall be a third-rate affair, just to get the Sunday over; and thus accumulate material for use in days when thoughts will not come so readily, and when the hand must write tremblingly and slow. Don’t be misled by any clap-trap about the finer thing being to have the mental machine always equal to its task. You cannot have that. The mind is a wayward, capricious thing. The engine which did its sixty miles an hour to-day, may be depended on (barring accident) to do as much to-morrow. But it is by no means certain that because you wrote your ten or twenty pages to-day, you will be able to do the like on another day. What educated man does not know, that when he sits down to his desk after breakfast, it is quite uncertain whether he will accomplish an ordinary task, or a double task, or a quadruple one? Dogged determination may make sure, on almost every day, of a decent amount of produced material: but the quality varies vastly, and the quantity which the same degree and continuance of strain will produce is not a priori to be calculated. And a spinning-jenny will day by day produce thread of uniform quality: but a very clever man, by very great labor, will on some days write miserable rubbish. And no one will feel that more bitterly than himself.
I pass from thinking of these things to a matter somewhat connected with them. Is it because preachers now-a-days shrink from the labor of writing sermons for themselves, or is it because they distrust the quality of what they can themselves produce, that shameless plagiarism is becoming so common? One cannot but reflect, thus lazily inclined upon a summer day, what an amount of painful labor would be saved one if, instead of toiling to see the way through a subject, and then to set out one’s views in an interesting and (if possible) an impressive manner, one had simply to go to the volumes of Mr. Melvill or Bishop Wilberforce or Dean Trench; or, if your taste be of a different order, to those of Mr. Spurgeon, Mr. Punshon, or Mr. Stowell Brown—and copy out what you want. The manual labor might be considerable—for one blessing of original composition is, that it makes you insensible to the mere mechanical labor of writing,--but the intellectual saving would be tremendous. I say nothing of the moral deterioration. I say nothing as to what a mean, contemptible pickpocket, what a jackdaw in peacock’s feathers, you will feel yourself. There is no kind of dishonesty which ought to be exposed more unsparingly. Whenever I hear a sermon preached which has been stolen, I shall make a point of informing every one who knows the delinquent. Let him get the credit which is his due.
I have not read many published sermons, and I seldom hear any one preach except myself; so that I do not speak from personal knowledge of the fact alleged by many, that there never was a period when this paltry lying and cheating was so prevalent. But five or six times within the last nine years I have listened to sermons in which there was not merely a manifest appropriation of thoughts which the preacher had never digested or made his own, but which were stolen word for word; and I have been told by friends in whom I have implicit confidence of instances twice five or six. Generally, this dishonesty is practiced by frightful block-heads, whose sole object perhaps is to get decently through a task for which they feel themselves unfit; but it is much more irritating to find men of considerable talent, and of more than considerable popularity, practicing it in a very gross degree. And it is curious how such dishonest persons gain in hardihood as they go on. Either because they really escape detection, or because no one tells them that they have been detected, they come at length to parade themselves in their swindled finery upon the most public occasions. I do believe that, like the liar who has told his story so long that he has come to believe it at last, there are persons who have stolen the thoughts of others so often and so long, that they hardly remember that they are thieves. And in two or three cases in which I put the matter to the proof, by speaking to the thief of the characteristics of the stolen composition, I found him quite prepared to carry out his roguery to the utmost, by talking of the trouble it had cost him to write Dr. Newman’s or Mr. Logan’s discourse. ‘Quite a simple matter—no trouble; scribbled off on Saturday afternoon,’ said, in my hearing, a man who had preached an elaborate sermon by an eminent Anglican divine. The reply was irresistible:
‘Well, if it cost you little trouble, I am sure it cost Mr. Melvill a great deal.’
I am speaking, you remark, of those despicable individuals who falsely pass off as their own composition what they have stolen from some one else. I do not allude to such as follow the advice of Southey, and preach sermons which they honestly declare are not their own. I can see something that might be said in favor of the young inexperienced divine availing himself of the experience of others. Of course, you may take the ground that it is better to give a good sermon by another man than a bad one of your own. Well, then, say that it is not your own. Every one knows that when a clergyman goes to the pulpit and gives out his text, and then proceeds with his sermon, the understanding is that he wrote that sermon for himself. If he did not write it, he is bound in common honesty to say so. But besides this, I deny the principle on which some justify the preaching of another man’s sermon. I deny that it is better to give the good sermon of another than the middling one by yourself. Depend upon it, if you have those qualifications of head and heart that fit you for being in the Church at all, your own sermon, however inferior in literary merit, is the better sermon for you to give and for your congregation to hear; it is the better fitted to accomplish the end of all worthy preaching, which, as you know, is not at all to get your hearers to think how clever a man you are. The simple, unambitious instruction into which you have thrown the teachings of your own little experience, and which you give forth from your own heart, will do a hundred times more good than any amount of ingenuity, brilliancy, or even piety, which you may preach at second-hand, with the feeling that somehow you stand to all this as an outsider. If you wish honestly to do good, preach what you have felt, and neither less nor more.
But in no way of regarding the case can any excuse be found for persons who steal and stick into their discourses tawdry little bits of bombast, purple patches of thought or sentiment, which cannot be supposed to do any good to anybody, which stand merely instead of a little stolen gilding for the gingerbread which is probably stolen too. I happened the other day to turn over a volume of discourses (not, I am thankful to say, by a clergyman of either of the national churches), and I came upon a sermon or lecture on Woman. You can imagine the kind of thing it was. It was by no means devoid of talent. The writer is plainly a clever, flippant person, with little sense, and no taste at all. The discourse sets out with a request that the audience ‘would kindly try to keep awake by pinching one another in the leg, or giving some nodding neighbor a friendly pull of the hair;’ and then there is a good deal about Woman, in the style of a Yankee after-dinner speech in proposing such a toast. After a little we have a highly romantic description of a battle-field after the battle, in which gasping steeds, midnight ravens, spectral bats, moping owls, screeching vultures, howling night wolves appear. These animals are suddenly startled by a figure going about with a lantern ‘to find the one she loves.’ Of course the figure is a woman; and the paragraph winds up with the following passage:--
Shall we go to her? No! Let her weep on. Leave her, &c. Oh, woman! God beloved in old Jerusalem! We need deal lightly with thy faults, if only for the agony thy nature will endure, in bearing heavy evidence against us on the day of judgment!
Now, my friend, have you read Mr. Dickens’ story of Martin Chuzzlewit? Turn up the twenty-eighth chapter of that work, and in the closing sentence you may read as follows:--
Oh woman, God-beloved in old Jerusalem! The best among us need deal lightly with thy faults, if only for the punishment thy nature will endure, in bearing heavy evidence against us on the Day of Judgment!
I wonder whether the writer of the discourse imagined that by varying one or two words, and adopting small letters instead of capitals in alluding to the Last Day, he made this sentence so entirely his own as to justify him in bagging it without one hint that it was a quotation. As for the value of the property bagged, that is another question.
After thinking for a few minutes of the curious constitution of mind which enables a man to feel his vanity flattered when he gets credit to which he knows he is not entitled, as the plagiarist does, I pass away into the. vast field of thought which is afforded by the contemplation of human vanity in general. The Ettrick Shepherd was wont to say that when he tried a new pen, instead of writing his name, as most people do, he always wrote Solomon’s famous sentence, All is vanity. But he did not understand the words in Solomon’s sense: what he thought of was the limitless amount of self-conceit which exists in human beings, and which hardly any degree of mortification can (in many cases) cut down to a reasonable quantity. I find it difficult to arrive at any fixed law in regard to human self-conceit. It would be very pleasant if one could conclude that monstrous vanity is confined to tremendous fools; but although the greatest intellectual self-conceit I have ever seen has been in blockheads of the greatest density and ignorance; and although the greatest self-conceit of personal attractions has been in men and women of unutterable silliness; still, it must be admitted that very great and illustrious members of the human race have been remarkable for their vanity. I have met very clever men, as well as very great fools, who would willingly talk of no other matters than themselves, and their own wonderful doings and attainments.
I have known men of real ability, who were always anxious to impress you with the fact that they were the best riders, the best shots, the best jumpers, in the world; who were always telling stories of the sharp things they said on trying occasions, and the extraordinary events which were constantly befalling them. When a clever man evinces this weakness, we must remember that human nature is a weak and imperfect thing, and try to excuse the silliness for the sake of the real merit. But there are few things more irritating to witness than a stupid, ignorant dunce, wrapped up in impenetrable conceit of his own abilities and acquirements. It requires all the beauty, and all the listlessness too, of this sweet summer day, to think, without the pulse quickening to an indignant speed, of the half-dozen such persons whom each of us has known. It would soothe and comfort us if we could be assured that the blockhead knew that he was a blockhead: if we could be assured that now and then there penetrated into the dense skull and reached the stolid brain, even the suspicion of what his intellectual caliber really is. I greatly fear that such a suspicion never is known. If you witness the perfect confidence with which the man is ready to express his opinion upon any subject, you will be quite sure that the man has not the faintest notion of what his opinion is worth. I remember a blockhead saying that certain lines of poetry were nonsense. He said that they were unintelligible: that they were rubbish. I suggested that it did not follow that they were unintelligible because he could not understand them. I told him that various competent judges thought them very noble lines indeed. The blockhead stuck to his opinion with the utmost firmness. What was the use of talking to him? If a blind man tells you he does not see the sun, and does not believe there is any sun, you ought to be sorry for him rather than angry with him. And when the blockhead declared that he saw only rubbish in verses which I trust every reader knows, and which begin with the line—
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, his declaration merely showed that he lacked the power to appreciate Mr. Tennyson. But I think, my thoughtful friend, you would have found it hard to pity him when you saw plainly that the poor blockhead despised and pitied you.
The conceit of the stolid dunce is bad, but the conceit of the brisk and lively dunce is worse. The stolid dunce is comparatively quiet; his crass mind works slowly; his vacant face wears an aspect of repose; his talk is merely dull and twaddling. But the talk of the brisk dunce is ambitiously absurd: he lays down broad principles: he announces important discoveries which lie has made: he has heard able and thoughtful men talk, and he tries to do that kind of thing. There is an indescribable jauntiness about him apparent in every word and gesture. As for the stolid dunce, you would be content if the usages of society permitted your telling him that he is a dunce. As for the brisk dunce, you would like to take him by the ears and shake him.
It is wonderful how ordinary, sensible persons, with nothing brilliant about them, may live daily in a comfortable feeling that they are great geniuses: if they live constantly amid a little circle of even the most incompetent judges, who are always telling them that they are great geniuses. For it is natural to conclude that the opinion of the people whom you commonly see is a fair reflex of the opinion of all the world; and it is wonderful how highly even a very able man will estimate the value of the opinion of even a very stupid man, provided the stupid man entertains and frequently expresses an immensely high opinion of the very able man. I have known a man, holding a somewhat important position for which he was grossly unfit, and for which every one knew he was grossly unfit; yet perfectly self-satisfied and comfortable under circumstances which would have crushed many men, because he was kept up by two or three individuals who frequently assured him that he was a very eminent and useful person. These two or three individuals acted as a buffer between him and the estimate of mankind at large. He received their opinion as a fair sample of the general opinion. He was indeed a man of very moderate ability; but I have known another of very great talent, who by the laudations of one or two old women was led to suppose that he possessed abilities of a totally different nature from those which he actually possessed. I do not mean higher abilities, but abilities extending into a field into which his peculiar talents did not reach. Yet no one would have been sharper at discerning the worthlessness of the judgment of the old women had it been other than very flattering to himself. Who is there that does not know that sometimes clever young men are bolstered up into a self-conceit which does them much harm with the outer world, by the violent admiration and flattery of their mothers, sisters, and aunts at home?
But not merely does the favorable estimate of the. little circle in which he lives serve to keep a man on good terms with himself; it goes some way towards influencing the estimation in which he is held by mankind at large—so far, that is, as mankind at large know anything about him. I have known such a thing as a family whose several members were always informing everybody they met what noble fellows the other members of the family were. And I am persuaded that all this really had some result. They were fine fellows, no doubt; but this tended to make sure that they should not be hid under a bushel. I am persuaded that if half-a-dozen clever young men were to form themselves into a little association, each member of which should be pledged to lose no opportunity of crying up the other five members in conversation, through the press, and in—every other possible way, this would materially further their success in life and the estimation in which they would be held wherever known. The world would take them at the value so constantly dinned into its ear. When you read on a silver coin the legend one shilling, you readily take it for a shilling; and if a man walks about with great genius painted upon him in large red letters, many people will accept the truth of the inscription. Every one has seen how a knot of able young men hanging together at college and in after life can help one another even in a material sense, and not less valuably by keeping up one another’s heart.
All this is quite fair, and so is even the mutual praise when it is hearty and sincere. For several months past I have been possessed of an idea which has been gradually growing into shape. I have thought of getting up an association, whose members should always hold by one another, be true to one another, and cry one another up. A friend to whom I mentioned my plan highly approved it, and suggested the happy name of the MUTUAL EXALTATION SOCIETY. The association would be limited in number: not more than fifty members could be admitted. It would include educated men in all walks of life; more particularly men whose success in life depends in any measure upon the estimation in which they are commonly held, as barristers, preachers, authors, and the like. Its purposes and operations have already been indicated with as much fullness as would be judicious at the present juncture. Mr. Barnum and Messrs. Moses and Son would be consulted on the details. Sir John Ellesmere, ex-solicitor-general and author of the Essay on the Arts of Self-Advancement, would be the first president, and the general guide, philosopher, and friend of the Mutual Exaltation Society. The present writer will be secretary. The only remuneration he would expect would be that all the members should undertake, at least six times every day, to make favorable mention of a recently published work. Six times a day would they be expected to say promiscuously to any intelligent friend or stranger, ‘Have you read the Recreations of a Country Parson? Most wonderful book! Not read it? Go to Mudie’s and get it directly ‘—and the like. For obvious reasons it would not do to make public the names of the members of the association; the moral weight of their mutual laudation would be much diminished. But clever young men in various parts of the country who may desire to join the society, may make application to the Editor of Eraser’s Magazine, enclosing testimonials of moral and intellectual character. Applications will be received until the First of April, 1861.
I wonder whether any real impression is produced by those puffing paragraphs which appear in country newspapers about some men, and which are written either by the men themselves or by their near relatives and friends. I think no impression is ever produced upon intelligent people, and no permanent impression upon any one. Still, among a rural population, there may be found those who believe all that is printed in a newspaper; and who think that the man who is mentioned in a newspaper is a very great man. And if you live among such, it is pleasant to be regarded by them as a hero. The Reverend Mr. Smith receives from his parishioners the gift of a silver salver: the county paper of the following Friday contains a lengthy paragraph recording the fact, and giving the reverend gentleman’s feeling and appropriate reply. The same worthy clergy-man preaches a charity sermon: and the circumstance is recorded very fully, the eloquent peroration being given with an accuracy which says much for the perfection of provincial reporting—given, indeed, word for word. Now it is natural to think that Mr. Smith is a much more eminent man than those other men whose salvers and charity sermons find no place in the newspaper: and Mr. Smith’s agricultural parishioners no doubt think so. A different opinion is entertained by such as know that Mr. Smith’s uncle is a large proprietor in the puffing newspaper; and that he wrote the articles in question in a much warmer strain than that in which they appeared, the editor having sadly curtailed and toned them down. In the long run, all this quackery does no good. And indeed long accounts in provincial journals of family matters, weddings and the like, serve only to make the family in question laughed at. Still, they do harm to nobody. They are very innocent. They please the family whose proceedings are chronicled; and if the family are laughed at, why, they don’t know it.
And, happily, that which we do not know does us no harm: at least, gives us no pain. And it is a law, a kindly and a reasonable law, of civilized life, that when it is not absolutely necessary that a man should know that which would give him pain, he shall not be told of it. Only the most malicious violate this law. Even they cannot do it long: for they come to be excluded from society as its common enemies. One great characteristic of educated society is this: it is always under a certain degree of Restraint. Nobody, in public, speaks out all his mind. Nobody tells the whole truth, at least, in public speeches and writings. It is a terrible thing when an inexperienced man in Parliament (for instance) blurts out the awkward fact which everybody knows, but of which nobody is to speak except in the confidence of friendship or private society. How such a man is hounded down! He is every one’s enemy. Every one is afraid of him. No one knows what he may say next. And it is quite fit that he should be stopped. Civilized life could not otherwise go on. It is quite right (when you calmly reflect upon it) that the county paper, speaking of the member of Parliament, should tell us how this much-respected gentleman has been visiting his Constituents, but should suppress a good deal of the speech he made, which the editor (though of the same politics) tells you frankly was worthy only of an escaped lunatic.
Above all, it is fit and decent that the very odd private life and character of the legislator should be by tacit consent ignored even by the journals most opposed to him. It is right that kings and nobles should be, for the most part, spoken of in public as if they actually were what they ought to be. It is something of a reminder and a rebuke to them: and it is just as well that mankind at large should not know too much of the actual fact as to those above them. I should never object to calling a graceless duke Tour Grace: nor to praying for a villainously bad monarch as our most religious and gracious King (I know quite well, small critic, that religious is an absurd mistranslation: but let us take the liturgy in the sense in which ninety-nine out of every hundred who hear it understand it): for it seems to me that the daily recurring phrases are something ever suggesting what mankind have a right to expect from those in eminent station; and a kindly determination to believe that such are at least endeavoring to be what they ought. No doubt there is often most bitter rebuke in the names! This law of Restraint extends to all the doings of civilized men. No one does anything to the very utmost of his ability. No one speaks the entire truth, unless in confidence. No one exerts his whole bodily strength. No one ever spoke at the very top of his voice, unless in mortal extremity. Unquestionably, the feeling that you must work within limits curtails the result accomplished. You may see this in cases in which the restraint of the civilized man binds him no longer. A man delirious or mad needs four men to hold him: there is no restraint keeping in his exertions; and you see what physical energy can do when utterly unlimited. And a man who always spoke out in public the entire truth about all men and all things, would inspire I know not what of terror. He would be like a mad Malay running a muck, dagger in hand. If the person who in a deliberative assembly speaks of another person as his venerable friend, were to speak of him there as he did half an hour before in private, as an obstructive old idiot, how people would start! It would be like the bare bones of the skeleton showing through the fair covering of flesh and blood.
The shadows are lengthening eastward now; the summer day will soon be gone. And looking about on this beautiful world, I think of a poem by Bryant, in which he tells us how, gazing on the sky and the mountains in June, he wished that when his time should come, the green turf of summer might be broken to make his grave. He could not bear, he tells us, the idea of being borne to his resting-place through sleety winds, and covered with icy clods. Of course, poets give us fanciful views, gained by looking at one side of a picture: arid De Quincey somewhere states the opposite opinion, that death seems sadder in summer, because there is a feeling that in quitting this world our friend is losing more. It will not matter much, friendly reader, to you and me, what kind of weather there may be on the day of our respective funerals; though one would wish for a pleasant, sunshiny time. And let us humbly trust that when we go, we may find admission to a Place so beautiful, that we shall not miss the green fields and trees, the roses and honeysuckle of June. You may think, perhaps, of another reason besides Bryant’s, for preferring to die in the summer time; you remember the quaint old Scotch lady, dying on a night of rain and hurricane, who said (in entire simplicity and with nothing of irreverence) to the circle of relations round her bed, ‘Eh, what a fearfu’ nicht for me to be fleein’ through the air!’ And perhaps it is natural to think it would be pleasant for the parted spirit, passing away from human ken and comfort, to mount upwards, angel-guided, through the soft sunset air of June, towards the country where suns never set, and where all the days are summer days.
But all this is no better than a wayward fancy; it founds on forgetfulness of the nature of the immaterial soul, to think that there need be any lengthened journey, or any flight through skies either stormy or calm. You have not had the advantage, I dare say, of being taught in your childhood the catechism which is drilled into all children in Scotland; and which sketches out with admirable clearness and precision the elements of Christian belief. If you had, you would have been taught to repeat words which put away all uncertainty as to the intermediate state of departed spirits. ‘The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do IMMEDIATELY pass into glory.’ Yes; IMMEDIATELY; there is to the departed spirit no middle space at all between earth and heaven. The old lady need not have looked with any apprehension to going out from the warm chamber into the stormy winter night, and flying far away. Not but that millions of miles may intervene; not but that the two worlds may be parted by a still, breathless ocean, a fathomless abyss of cold dead space; yet, swift as never light went, swift as never thought went, flies the just man’s spirit across the profound. One moment the sick-room, the scaffold, the stake; the next, the paradisal glory. One moment the sob of parting anguish; the next the great deep swell of the angel’s song. Never think, reader, that the dear ones you have seen die, had far to go to meet God after they parted from you. Never think, parents who have seen your children die, that after they left you, they had to traverse a dark solitary way, along which you would have liked (if it had been possible) to lead them by the hand, and bear them company till they came into the presence of God. You did so, if you stood by them till the last breath was drawn. You did bear them company into God’s very presence, if you only stayed beside them till they died. The moment they left you, they were with him. The slight pressure of the cold fingers lingered with you yet; but the little child was with his Savior.
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