Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

Leisure hours in town online

. (page 9 of 33)
Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydLeisure hours in town → online text (page 9 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


look back with bitterness on any mistake he may have
made. For if he be the man I mean, he took the deci-



MORE MKiHT HAVE BEEN MADE. 1 1 7

sive step not without seeking the best of guidance ; and
the whole training of his mind has fitted him for seeing a
higher Hand in the allotment of human conditions. And
if a man acted for the best, according to the light he had;
and if he truly believes that God puts all in their places
in life : he may look back without bitterness upon what
may appear the most grievous mistakes. I must be suf-
fered to add, that if he is able heartily to hold certain
great truths, and to rest on certain sure promises, hardly
any conceivable earthly lot should stamp him a soured
or disappointed man. If it be a sober truth, that ''all
things shall work together for good " to a certain order
of mankind ; and if the deepest sorrows in this world
may serve to prepare us for a better ; why, then, I think
that one might hold by a certain ancient philosopher (and
something more), who said " I have learned, in whatso-
ever state 1 am, therewith to be content ! "

You see, reader, that in thinking of People of whom
more might have been made, we are limiting the scope of
the subject. I am not thinking how more might have
been made of us originally. No doubt the potter had
power over the clay. Give a larger brain, of finer qual-
ity, and the commonplace man might have been a Milton.
A little change in the chemical composition of the gray
matter of that little organ which is unquestionably con-
nected with the mind's working as no other organ of the
body is, and oil, what a different order of thought would
have rolled off from your pen when you sat down and
tried to write your best ! If we are to believe Robert
Burns, some people have been made more of than was
originally intended. A certain poem records how that
which, "in his homely phrase, he calls " stuflf to mak' a



118 CONCERNING PEOPLE OF WHOM

swine," was ultimately converted into a very poor speci-
men of a human being. The poet had no irreverent
intention, I dare say ; but I am not about to go into the
field of speculation which is opened up by his words. I
know indeed that in the hands of the Creator each of us
might have been made a different man. The pounds of
material which were fashioned into Shakespeare might
have made a bumpkin with little thought beyond pigs
and turnips; or, by some slight difference beyond man's
skill to trace, might have made an idiot. A little infu-
sion of energy into the mental constitution might have
made the mild, pensive day-dreamer who is wandering
listlessly by the river-side, sometimes chancing upon
noble thoughts, which he does not carry out into action,
and does not even write down on paper, into an active
worker, with Arnold's keen look, wlio would have carved
out a great career for himself, and exercised a real influ-
ence over the views and conduct of numbers of other
men. A very little alteration in feature might have
made a plain face into a beautiful one, and some slight
change in the position or the contractibility of certain
of the muscles might have made the most awkward of
manners and gaits into the most dignified and graceful.
All that we all understand. But my present subject is
the making which is in circumstances after our natural
disposition is fixed — the training, coming from a hun-
dred quarters, which forms the material supplied by
nature into the character which each of us actually
bears. And setting apart the case of great genius,
whose bent towards the thing in which it will excel is
so strong that it will find its own field by inevitable se-
lection, and whose strength is such that no unfavorable
circumstances can hold it down, almost any ordinary hu-



MORE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE. 119

aian being may be formed into almost any development.
I know a huge massive beam of rough iron, which sup-
ports a great weiglit. Whenever I pass it, I cannot help
giving it a pat with my hand, and saying to it, "You
might have been hair-springs for watches." I know an
odd-looking little man attached to a certain railway-sta-
tion, whose business it is when a train comes in to go
round it with a large box of a yellow concoction, and
supply grease to the wheels. I have often looked out
of the carriage-window at that odd little man, and thought
to myself, "Now you might have been a chief justice."
And indeed I can say from personal observation, that
the stuflf ultimately converted into cabinet ministers does
not at an early stage at all appreciably differ from that
which never becomes more than country parsons. There
is a great gulf between the human being who gratefully
receives a shilling, and touches his cap as he receives it,
and the human being whose income is paid in yearly or
half-yearly sums, and to whom a pecuniary tip would ap-
pear as an insult ; yet of course tliat great gulf is the result
of training alone. John Smith tlie laborer, with twelve
shillings a week, and the bishop with eight thousand a year,
had, by original constitution, precisely the same kind of
feeling towards that much-sought yet much-abused reality
which provides the means of life. Who shall reckon up
by what millions of slight touches from the hand of cir-
cumstance, extending over many years, the one man is
gradually formed into the giving of the shilling, and the
other man into the receiving of it with that touch of his
hat? Who shall read back the forming influences at
work since the days in the ci'adle, that gradually formed
one man into sitting down to dinner, and another man
into waiting behind his chair ? I think it would be occa-



120 CONCERNING PEOPLE OF WHOM

sionally a comfort if one could believe, as American
planters profess to believe about their slaves, that there
is an original and essential difference between men ; for
truly the difference in their positions is often so tremen-
dous that it is painful to think that it is the selfsame clay
and the selfsame common mind that are promoted to
dignity and degraded to servitude. And if yoa some-
times feel that, you in whose favor the arrangement tends,
what do you suppose your servants sometimes think upon
the subject ? It was no wonder that the millions of Rus-
sia were ready to grovel before their Czar, while they
believed that he was "an emanation from the Deity."
But in countries where it is quite understood that every
man is just as much an emanation from the Deity as any
other, you Avill not long have that sort of thing. You
remember Goldsmith's noble lines, which Dr. Johnson
never could read without tears, concerning the English
character. It is not true that it is just because the hum-
ble but intelligent Englishman understands distinctly that
we are all of us people of tvhom more might have been
made, that he has " learnt to venerate himself as man ! "
And, thinking of influences which form the character,
there is a sad reflection which has often occurred to me.
It is, that circumstances often develop a character which
it is hard to contemplate without anger and disgust.
And yet in many such cases it is rather pity that is due.
The moie disgusting the character formed in some men,
the more you should pity them. Yet it is hard to do
that. You easily pity the man whom circumstances have
made poor and miserable ; how much more you should
pity the man whom circumstances have made bad. You
pity the man from whom some terrible accident has taken
a limb or a hand ; but how mucii more should you pity



MORE ISIIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE. 121

the man from whom the influences of years have taken
a conscience and a heart ! And something is to be said
for even the most unamiable and worst of the race. No
doubt it is mainly their own fault that they are so bad;
but still it is hard work to be always rowing against wind
and tide, and some people could be good only by doing
that ceaselessly. I am not thinking now of pirates and
pickpockets. But take the case of a sour, backbiting,
malicious, wrong-headed, lying old woman, who gives
her life to saying disagreeable things and making mis-
chief between friends. There are not many mortals
with whom one is less disposed to have patience. But
yet, if you knew all, you would not be so severe in what
you think and say of her. You do not know the phy-
sical iri'itability of nerve and weakness of constitution
which that poor creature may have inherited ; you do
not know the singular twist of mind which she may
have got from nature and from bad and unkind treat-
ment in youth; you do not know the bitterness of heart
she has felt at the polite snubbings and ladylike tortures
which in excellent society are often the share of the poor
and the dependent. If you knew all these things, you
would bear more patiently with my friend Miss Lime-
juice ; though I confess that sometimes you would find
it uncommonly hard to do so.

As I wrote that last paragraph, I began dimly to fancy
that somewhere I had seen the idea which is its subject
treated by an abler hand by far than mine. The idea,
you may be sure, was not suggested to me by books, but
by what I have seen of men and women. But it is a
pleasant thing to find that a thought which at the time is
strongly impressing one's self, has impressed other men.
And a modest person, who knows very nearly what his



122 CONCERNING PEOPLE OF WHOM

humble mark is, will be quite pleased to find that another
man has not onl}- anticipated his thoughts, but has ex-
pressed them much better than he could have done. Yes,
let me turn to that incomparable essay of John Foster,
On a Man's writing Memoirs of Himself. Here it is : —

Make the supposition that any given number of persons, a hundred,
for instance, taken promiscuously, should be able to write memoirs of
themselves so clear and perfect as to explain, to your discernment at
least, the entire process by which their minds have attained their pres-
ent state, recounting' all the most impressive circumstances. If they
should read these memoirs to j'ou in succession, while your benevo-
lence and the moral principles according to which you felt and esti-
mated, were kept at the highest pitch, you would often, during the
disclosure, regret to observe how many things may be the causes of
irretrievable mischief. Why is the path of life, you would sa}-, so
haunted as if with evil spirits of every diversity of noxious agency,
some of which may patiently aecompan3', or others of which may snd-
denlj' cross, the unfortunate wanderer? And you would regret to ob-
serve into how many forms of intellectual and moral pervcrsio"h the
human mind readily yields itself to be modified.

I compassionate you, would, in a very benevolent hour, be your
language to the wealthy, unfeeling tyrant of a family and a neirjhbor-
hood, who seeks in the overawed timidity and unretaliated injuries of
the unfortunate beings within his power, the gratification that should
have been sought in their alfections. Unless you had brought into
the world some extraordinary refractoriness to the influence of evil,
the process that you have undergone could not easily fail of being
efficacious. If your parents idolized their own importance in their son
so much, that they never opposed your inclinations themselves, nor
permitted it to be done by any subject to their authoritj'; if the hum-
ble companion, sometimes summoned to the honor of amusing you,
bore your caprices and insolence with the meekness without which he
had lost his enviable privilege; if j'ou could despoil the garden of some
nameless dependent neighbor of the carefully reared flowers, and tor-
ment his little dog or cat, without his daring to punish you or to
appeal to j'our infatuated parents; if ■ aged men addressed you in a
submissive tone, and with the appellation of " Sir," and their aged
wives uttered their wonder at your condescension, and pushed their
grandchildren awaj' from around the fire for your sake, if you hap-
pened, though with the strut of pertness, and your hat on your head,



MORE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE. 123

to enter one of their cottages, perhajis to express your contempt of the
homely dwelling, furniture, and fare; if, in maturer life, you associated
with vile persons, who would forego the contest of equality to be your
allies in trampling on inferiors ; and if, both then and since, you have
been suffered to deem 3-our wealth the compendium or equivalent of
ever}' ability and every good quality — it would indeed be immensely
strange if you had not become, in due time, the miscreant, who may
thank the power of the laws in civilized society that he is not assaulted
with clubs and stones; to whom one could cordially wish the oppor-
tunity and the consequences of attempting his tyranny among some
such people as those submissive sons of nature in the forests of North
America; and whose dependents and domestic relatives may be almost
forgiven when they shall one da}- rejoice at his funeral.

What do you think of that, my reader, as a specimen
of embittered eloquence and nervous pith ? It is some-
thing to read massive and energetic sense, in days wherein
mystical twaddle, and subtlety which hopelessly defies all
logic, are sometimes thought extremely fine, if they are
set out in a style which is refined into mere effeminacy.

1 cherish a very strong conviction (as has been said)
that, at least in the case of educated people, happiness is
a grand discipline for bringing out what is amiable and
excellent. You understand, of course, what I mean by
happiness. "NVe all know, of course, that light hearted-
ness is not very familiar to grown-up people, who are
doing the work of life — who feel its many cares, and
who do not forget the many risks which hang over it. I
am not thinking of the kind of thing which is suggested
to the minds of children, when they read, at the end of a
tale, concerning its heroine and hero, that " they lived
happily ever after." No ; we don't look for that. By
happiness, I mean freedom from terrible anxiety and
from pervading depression of spirits : the consciousness
that we are filling our place in life with decent success



124 CONCERNING PEOPLE OF WHOM

and approbation : religious principle and character: fair
physical health throughout the family; and moderate
good temper and good sense. And I hold, with Sydney
Smith, and with that keen practical philosopher, Becky
Sharpe, that happiness and success tend very greatly to
make people passably good. Well, I see an answer to
the statement, as I do to most statements ; but, at least,
the beam is never subjected to the strain which would
break it. I have seen the gradual working of what 1
call happiness and success in amelioiating character. 1
have known a man who, by necessity, by the pressure of
poverty, was driven to write for the magazines: a kind
of work for which he had no special talent or liking, and
which he had never intended to attempt. There was no
more miserable, nervous, anxious, disappointed being on
earth than he was when he began his writing for the
press. And sure enough his articles were bitter and ill-
set to a high degree. They were thoi'oughly ill-natured
and bad. They were not devoid of a certain cleverness ;
but they were the sour products of a soured nature. But
that man gradually got into comfortable circumstances :
and with equal step with his lot the tone of his writings
mended; till as a writer he became conspicuous for the
healthful, cheerful, and kindly nature of all he produced.
I remember seeing a portrait of an eminent author, taken
a good many years ago, at a time when he was strug-
gling into notice, and when he was being very severely
handled by the critics. That jjortrait was really trucu-
lent of as[)ect. It was sour, and even ferocious-looking.
Years afterwards I saw that author, at a time when he
had attained vast success, and was universally recognized
as a great man. How improved that face ! All the sav-
age lines were gone : the bitter look was gone : the great



MOKE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE. 125

man looked quite genial and amiable. And I came to
know that he really was all he looked. Bitter judgments
of men, imputations of evil motives, disbelief in anything
noble or generous, a disposition to repeat tales to the
prejudice of others, envy, hatred, malice, and all unchari-
tableness, — all these things may possibly come out of a
bad heart ; but they certainly came out of a miserable
one. The happier any human being is, the better and
more kindly he thinks of all. It is the man who is al-
ways worried, whose means are uncertain, whose home is
uncomfortable, whose nerves are rasped by some kind
friend who daily repeats and enlarges upon everything
disagreeable for him to hear : it is he who thinks hardly
of the character and prospects of humankind, and who
believes in the essential and unimprovable badness of the
race.

. This is not a treatise on the formation of character : it
pretends to nothing like completeness. If this essay were
to extend to a volume of about three hundred and eighty
pages, I might be able to set out and discuss, in sometliing
like a fulljmd orderly fashion, the influences under which
human beings grow up, and the way in which to make
the best of the best of these influences, and to evade or
neutralize the worst. And if, after great thought and
labor, I had produced such a volume, I am well aware
that nobody would read it. So I prefer to briefly glance
at a few aspects of a great subject just as they present
tliemselves, leaving the complete discussion of it to solid
individuals with more leisure at their command.

Physically, no man is made the most of. Look at an
acrobat or a boxer : there is what your limbs might have



126 CONCERNING PEOPLE OF WHOM

been made for strength and agility. That is the potential
which is in human nature in these respects. I never
witnessed a prize-fight, and assuredly I never will wit-
ness one : but I am told that when the champions appear
in the ring, stripped for the combat (however bestial and
blackguard-looking their countenances may be), the clear-
ness and beauty of their skin testify that by skilful phy-
sical discipline a great deal more may be made of that
human hide than is usually made of it. Then if you
wish to see what may be made of th^ human muscles as
regards rapid dexterity, look at the Wizard of the North
or at an Indian juggler. I am w^vy far indeed from say-
ing or thinking that this peculiar pre-eminence is worth
the pains it must cost to acquire it. Not that I have a
w^ord to say against the man who maintains his children
by bringing some one faculty of the body to absolute per-
fection : I am ready even to admit that it is a very right
and fit thing that one man in five or six millions should
devote his life to showing the very utmost that can be
made of the human fingers, or the human muscular sys-
tem as a whole : it is fit that a rare man here and there
should cultivate some accomplishment to a perfection that
looks magical, just as it is fit that a man here and there
should live in a house that cost a million of pounds to
build, and round which a wide tract of country shows
what may be made of trees and fields where unlimited
wealth and exquisite taste have done their best to im-
prove nature to the fairest forms of which it is capable.
But even if it were possible, it would not be desirable
that all human beings should live in dwellings like Ham-
ilton Palace or Arundel Castle ; and it would serve no
good end at all, certainly no end worth the cost, to have
all educated men muscular as Tom Sayers, or swift of



MORE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE. 127

hand as Robert Hoiidin. Practical efficiency is what is
wanted for the business of this world, not absolute per-
fection : life is too short to allow any but exceptional in-
dividuals, few and far between, to acquire the power of
playing at rackets as well as rackets can possibly be
played. We are obliged to have a great number of irons
in the fire : it is needful that we should do decently well
a great number of things; and we must not devote our-
selves to one thing to the exclusion of all the rest. And
accordingly, though we may desire to be reasonably mus-
cular and reasonably active, it will not disturb us to tliink
that in both these respects we are people of whom more
might have been made. It may here be said that proba-
bly there is hardly an influence which tends so power-
fully to produce extreme self-complacency as the convic-
tion that as regards some one physical accomplishment,
one is a person of whom more could not have been made.
It is a proud thing to think that you stand decidedly
ahead of all mankind : that Eclipse is fii-st and the rest
nowhere ; even in the matter of keeping up six balls
at once, or of noting and remembering twenty different
objects in a shop window as you walk past it at five miles
an hour. I do not think I ever beheld a human being
whose aspect was of such unutterable pride, as a man 1
lately saw playing the drum as one of a certain splendid
military band, lie was playing in a piece in which the
drum music was very conspicuous ; and even an unskilled
observer could remark that his playing was absolute per-
fection. He had the thorough mastery of his instrument.
He did the most difficult things not only with admirable
precision, but without the least appearance of effort. He
was a great tall fellow : and it was I'eally a fine sight to
see him standing very upi-ight, and immovable save as



128 CONCERNING PEOPLE OF WHOM

to his arms, looking fixedly into distance, and his bo?om
swelling with the lofty belief that out of four or five
thousand persons who were present, there was not one
who, to save his life, could have done what he was doing
so easily.

So much of physical dexterity. As for physical grace,
it will be admitted that in that respect more might be
made of most human beings. It is not merely that they
are ugly and awkward naturally, but that they are ugly
and awkward artificially. Sir Bulwer Lytton in his ear-
lier writings was accustomed to maintain that just as it is
a man's duty to cultivate his mental powers, so is it his
duty to cultivate his bodily appearance. And doubtless,
all the gifts of nature are talents committed to us to be
improved ; they are things intrusted to us to make the
best of It may be difficult to fix the point at which the
care of personal appearance in man or woman becomes
excessive. It does so unquestionably when it engrosses
the mind to the neglect of more important things. But
I suppose that all reasonable people now believe that
scrupulous attention to personal cleanliness, fi-eshness, and
neatness, is a Christian duty. The days are past almost
everywhere in which piety was held as associated with
dirt. Nobody would mention now as a proof how saintly
a human being was, that (for the love of God) he had
never washed his face or brushed his hair for thirty
years. And even scrupulous neatness need bring with
it no suspicion of puppyism. The most trim and tidy
of old men was good John Wesley ; and he conveyed to
the minds of all wiio saw him the notion of a man whose
treasure was laid up beyond this world, quite as much as
if he had dressed in such a fashion as to make himself an
object of ridicule, or as if he had forsworn the use of soap.



MORE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE. 129

Some people fancy that slovenliness of attire indicates
a mind above petty details. I have seen an eminent
preacher ascend tlie pulpit, with his bands hanging over
hi? right shoulder, his gown apparently put on by being
dropped upon him from the vestry ceiling, and his hair
apparently unbrushed for several weeks. There was no
suspicion of affectation about that good man ; yet I re-
garded his untidiness as a defect and not as an excel-
lence.. He gave a most eloquent sermon ; yet I thought
it would have been well had the lofty mind that treated
so admirably some of the grandest realities of life and of
immortality, been able to address itself a little to the care
of lesser things. I confess that when I heard the Bishop
of Oxford preach, I thought the effect of his sermon was
increased by the decorous and careful fashion in which he
was arrayed in his robes. And it is to be admitted that
the grace of the human aspect may be in no small meas-
ure enhanced by bestowing a little pains upon it. You,
youthful matron, when you take your little children to have
their photographs taken, and when their nurse in contem-
plation of that event attired them in their most tasteful
dresses, and arranged their hair in its prettiest curls,



Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydLeisure hours in town → online text (page 9 of 33)