Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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University Press:
Welch, Bigelow, and Company,






ON CURRENTS ....... 19




OUTSIDE ......... 160


AT THE land's END 214










?l?frr5^ F you had slept last night in any one of
<fii>>^ 1^5: the row of houses which forms the north
^^ side of a certain street in a certain city,
^ you would almost certainly have been
wakened up a little before six o'clock this morning by
a most dreadful squall, which was the culmination of
a stormy night. It was quite dark. The rain was
driven in bitter plashes against the windows. The
windows rattled, the doors creaked, the very walls
seemed to tremble, and there was a dismal howling
in the chimneys. For though the street I have men-
tioned has the city all round it, yet the ground on
which it is built slopes so much, that the houses catch
the unbroken force of the wind from the not distant
sea. And from the upper windows, if you look to
the north, beyond the gleam of a frith six miles in
breadth, you may discern a range of hills, not far
enough distant to seem blue.

It was a time in which to remember those who are
at sea ; and to be thankful that you were safe on shore.


But there is a further association with such a time,
which would probably be present to the mind of many
who in former days studied at a certain ancient Uni-
versity which the writer will never cease to hold in
affectionate remembrance. For this morning was one
of the latest mornings of October ; and on the self-
same morning in time, and on just such a morning for
pleasantness, has many a student risen at six from his
bed, that he might be present in the lecture-room, a
mile and a half away, at half-past seven. On the pre-
vious day, he had gone at a comfortable forenoon hour
to the Common Hall of the University, and assisted
at the ceremony of opening the session. The cere-
mony was a simple one. Several hundreds of students,
arrayed in gowns of flaming scarlet, assembled in that
plain Hall ; and heard the Principal give a short ad-
dress on academic dignity and duty. And if the stu-
dent were one who had studied at the University in
former sessions, he would be cheered up somewhat in
the prospect of resuming his studies by the sight of
some familiar and kindly faces. But that ceremony in
the early forenoon was but the gentle introduction to
college-work ; here is its stern reality. I am well
aware that human beings in this world have often-
times very dark and repulsive prospects to face, on
rising from their beds in the morning ; and I could
think of things so grave as awaiting worthier men,
that they make me almost ashamed to chronicle lesser
trials. Yet I can say, from sorrowful experience, that


duty and work seldom look more gloomy and disheart-
ening than they do to a student of that ancient Univer-
sity of which the writer is an unworthy son, when he
gets up in darkness and cold and hurricane ; and has-
tens through mud and sleet along the gloomy streets
to the lecture at half-past seven.

One happy result follows. During all the re-
mainder of his life, the man who for three long
winters in succession, each beginning about the
twenty-eighth of October, and reaching on till the
end of April, has undergone that discipline, can
never cease to have a sj^ecial feeling of thankful-
ness when on a morning of late October or early
November he awakes at half-past five in the morn-
ing, and hears the rain outside ; and then reflects
that he need not get up and go out. The remem-
brance of ' many mornings past may send a chill
through his frame ; and various worries and cares
which must be faced at rising may painfully suggest
themselves ; yet at least there is not that dismal
rising before he has gathered heart to face the
dreary day.

Things which were very far from pleasant when
they occurred, are sometimes very pleasant to look
back on. I remember well how through months of
over-work at College, anything but enjoyable while
^hey passed over, I kept written on a piece of paper,
nlways before my eyes, Virgil's line which says so.
I can see it yet, in large letters on my table ; I used


to look at it, in the silent house, at half-past three in
the morning before going to bed, and to repeat it over
when getting up wearily at half-past six again. For*
sitan oUm hcec meminisse juvahit : which was the
graceful classic way of saying that there is a good
time coming, and of advising sensible foik to wait a
little longer. That time has come to the writer, and
to many of his friends. We like to talk, when we
meet, of the old days with their dismal mornings. It
rejoiced me, between five and six this morning, to
remember these things, and to feel the force of the
anniversary. And now, when a new generation is
gathering, on this very day, within the gloomy courts
so well remembered, the recollection does no worse
than call up in the writer many thoughts of the varied
ways in which men take to work again. Suffer me
to say here, my friendly reader. May the City and
the University flourish together ; according to the
simple and straightforward wisli of the pious burgh-
ers who first inscribed the motto on the scutcheon of
the ancient town. And let me confess that I have
already grown so old, that not without a certain mist
that dims one's eyes, I can look on the crowd of lads
and boys (for most of tliem are no more) in the Hall
on the day of the opening of a session. You look
back yourself, my friend ; and from a record, not far
to seek, you are able to discern a little of the mis-
takes, the follies, the repentances, the humiliations^
the mortifications, the labors, the manifold takings-


down, which await those hopeful young fellows, before
they are battered, rudely enough, into trim for sober
life. The Duke of Wellington said that all war was
a series of blunders ; it is not too much to say that
blunders and repentances make up great part of the
career of every mortal, especially in the days when
he begins first to think for liimself.

The winter session, which is the only one of the
year in that University which is not to be named
here, begins, as has been said, about the twenty-sev-
enth or twenty-eighth of October. The vacation has
lasted since the first of the preceding May. It need
not be said that, to the more industrious students, that
long vacation is in great part given to diligent study ;
yet it is always study to which your own sense of
duty fixes the times and limits. Now, you begin to
be under autliority, and to have your task allotted to
you from day to day. And at this season, it is a
curious thing to come from the country to that city.
You pass at a step from autumn, still rich with color,
into winter, gloomy and gray. In an inland country
region, late October is often a charming time ; and
the landscape has its own touching and even glowing
beauty. Though many leaves have fallen, and make
a dry rustle under your feet as you go through wood-
land ways, yet many of the trees are thickly clad :
some wonderfully green ; some touched by decay into
beauty and glory, in the still sunshine of those beau-
tiful days that come. And the dahlias and hollyhocks


are blazing ; for, as the season advances, the colors of
nature deepen ; and the pale and delicate hues of the
early snowdrops, primroses, and lilies pass through
the gradation of summer blossoms and roses into the
glow of the late autumn flowers. It is as gentle maid-
enhood passes into blooming matronhood, with all its
qualities more pronounced. And coming away from
the country, at such a season, I dare say you have
thought it still looking almost its best. But all these
things are not, in the great city of that ancient Uni-
versity. The leaves are gone ; all the country round
is bare and bleak. The College-gardens, large and
black-looking, are the most dismal scene that ever
bore the pleasant name. You will find no winding
walks through thick masses of evergreens, which in
winter rain or winter frost look so lifelike and warm
and cheering. The trees, poor and stunted, are all
deciduous ; and their leaves are not merely capable
of falling, but have fallen in fact. The air is thick,
and smoke abounds, — the smoke that makes the
wealth of that wealthy city. And though you may
be willing enough to set to w^ork, and indeed rather
weary of idleness or desultory study for some weeks
past, you will probably confess that, even apart from
the dismal lectures at half-past seven in the morning,
it is rather a sad setting to work again.

Let us be thankful, my friend, if our work be such,
that, after some escape from it, we can take to it
again cheerfully and willingly. When we read in


the newspapers about the reassembling of Parliament,
the general effect conveyed to one's mind is a pleas-
ant one. The impression left with us is that the
members come back to their work willingly ; they
have been free from it so long that the appetite for
the kind of tiling has revived ; and each man rises
that morning with a positive feeling of exhilaration as
he looks on to the event of the day. It is not as
it was with Napoleon, even when he was Emperor.
You remember how he enjoyed his Saturday and Sun-
day in the country quiet ; and how on Sunday night
he was accustomed to say, thinking of his return
next morning to Paris and the cares of state, " To-
morrow I must put on the yoke of misery again."
Many people, yomig and old, feel as Napoleon felt.
There is the heart-sinking of the nervous little boy,
going back to school after the holidays, with vague
fears of evil. There is the apprehension of a great
mercantile man, entering upon a season in which he
foresees many painful difficuUies and complications,
and does not know how things may turn out. It is
as with the little bark, which, from a sheltered nook
where it was lying snug and safe, puts out unwillingly
into the full fury of winds and waves. And even
coming back to work which you like, and to which
you thankfully feel yourself in some degree equal,
there i? a certain shrinking from putting the shoul-
der Jo the collar again, and going stoutly at your task.
There is a certain inertia, a certain nervous timidity


to be overcome. You would like to quietly sit still
where you are, and hide your head in a hole.

You will feel this, I think, in coming back from
your autumn holiday-time ; especially if you live and
work in town. Human beings are never content.
When you lived entirely in the country, it is very
likely you used to think how pleasant and cheerful
it would be to spend the dead months of the year in
town ; and just as the season is darkening down to
winter, and the country beginning to look bleak and
desolate, to get in among the warm dwellings and
multitudes of your fellow-men. But now, if your
home be in the city, you probably think, about this
season, how enjoyable a thing it is to stay on in the
country still, watching the stages through which it
passes into its winter aspect; feeling the weather so
much nearer you, and so much a greater part of your
life, than it is in the town ; looking for the days of
the Martinmas summer, beautiful as any in all the
year ; waiting for the exhilaration of the frost, and
the silence of the snow ; and finding a value in the
dreariest aspect of fields and hills and roads, for the
hearty thankfulness with which it teaches you to en-
joy the warm fireside, and light and books and music.
It is October that gathers many men into town to
work again, the yearly holidays over. And if you be
a working man, who must earn your family's support
by your labor, you may be pleased if you have had
six weeks or two months of rest. If you have been


awaj from work during the chief part of August and
September, Nemesis might well be angry if you were
to complain of coming back now as a hardship. Still
you shrink a little. Nobody quite enjoys the idea of
setting to work again ; unless, indeed, his vacation
have been so long that it has ceased to be enjoyed as
rest, and come to be felt merely as the misery of

I suppose it is in human nature, that, after living for
a while in a pleasant place, you should shrink from leav-
ing it : many people- find it costs them a painful effort to
go away from their home ; but, once away, they can
quite easily stay away a long time. Inertia is unques-
tionably a property of mind as well -as of matter.
We don't like to move. Likely enough, my friend, in
the autumn of this year, we have each been in half
a dozen places, in any one of which we should have
been content to have stayed all our days. And though
no one can be fonder of his duty than yourself, my
friend, or more pleased with the place where God has
cast your lot ; though it was a great strain and exer-
tion to you to go away from both ; yet it was a consid-
erable strain and exertion to rise and come back.

Yes, it is a curious feeling you have, in coming
away from any place which has been your home for
even a short time ; and there are not many things, be-
sides actual physical pain, to which it does not cost a
little pang to say Good-by. The tlt)ughtful reader
has probably remarked how different a place looks


when you are coming away from it, from what it ever
looked before. You observe, almost with a start, a
great many little things and relations of things about
it, which you never previously observed. All the
familiar objects seem durably asking you to stay.
And you must know the feeling by your own experi-
ence before you can rightly understand it. You can-
not evolve it, a priori, out of your own consciousness.
You may try to imagine what it would be like ; but
you cannot. Well does this writer remember how, in
the days when he was a country clergyman, he used
sometimes to pace up and down a certain little walk,
every shrub by whose side had the look of an old
friend ; and to wonder what the feeling would be, and
what the place would look like, if he should ever go
away from it. But in those days he never thought
he would ; and his imagination would not serve him.
And when the day, vaguely anticipated, came at last,
every familiar holly and yew wore a new face ; and
the aspect of the whole scene was one never beheld
before. In a lesser degree, but still a very apprecia-
ble degree, you feel all this in quitting a place where
you have been staying for even six weeks. And you
will be aware of a certain cheerlessness and desolate-
ness, till your roots, thus torn up, get buried anew in
the earth of your familiar home and its interests.
Once fairly amid your own belongings and duties
again, and yot^ are all right. Your home seemed
misty and unsubstantial while you were far away from


it ; but here it is again, real and warm, and with a
general look of not unpleased recognition. And if
you and I, my reader, in any degree deserve thera,
some kind looks and words of welcome, in the first
busy days of somewhat confused occupation, may
probably warm and cheer our spirit, and make us set
with all tlie more hope and heart to work again.

There is no pleasanter incident in the little history
of this time of return to very arduous duty, than the
sending out of these Essays, which have been written
in montlis past, as some not unsalutary change of occu-
pation from graver thoughts and labors. The writer
trusts that they may fall into the right hands. Cer-
tain volumes, which the friendly reader may know,
have done so ; and have gained for the writer the
approval of various wise and good men, whose ap-
proval is to him among the most prized of earthly
possessions. If these pages should fall into the hands
of the man they do not suit, I hope he will not take
the trouble of reading them ; he has but to close the
volume, and they will worry him no more. But the
people for whom the author writes will understand
easily that these chapters contain thoughts which are
not unconsidered, and which aim at something beyond
the mere amusement of a vacant hour.

In closing a former volume, I said I hoped the
chapters it contained might not be the last. And
now I am very pleased and thankful that the wish


has been indulged. It is but a little part of a life,
devoted to the most solemn and the happiest of all
work, that has been spared to these Essays. But
they have found an audience vastly wider than the
writer's voice could reach, or than will ever listen to
his sermons. And believing what I like to believe,
not in self-conceit, but in thankfulness, I receive and
cherish the assurance of very many who have told me
that the reading of these pages did some little good to
them; as the writing of these pages has done some
little good to myself.




T(^^ AM not going to write an essay on Ven
w«^< j^S^ tilation, important as that subject unques-
(£^ Kv^ tionably is ; nor am I about to enter into
^'^-^V^ any discussion of the various elements of
which the air we breathe is made up. I am aware,
indeed, that for the maintenance of animal and intellec-
tual energy in their best state, it is expedient that the
atmosphere should contain a certain amount of ozone ;
but what ozone is I do not know, and neither, I beheve,
does any one else. And on the matter of material cur-
rents, whether ocean currents, atmospheric currents, or
river currents, I am not competent to afford the scien-
tific reader much information. I know, indeed, as
most people know, that it is well for Britain that the
warm Gulf Stream sets upon our shores. I read in
the newspapers how bottles thrown into the sea turn
up in distant and surprising places. I am aware that
the Tiade Winds blow steadily from west to east.


And I have sat tranquilly, and looked intently at the
onward flow of streams ; from the slow and smooth
canal-like river that silently steals on through the rich
level English landscape, to the wild Highland torrent
that tears down its rocky bed, in white foam and

But what I wish, my reader, that you and I should
do at present, is to take a large view of the case, not
needing any special knowledge of physical science.
Let us remember just this, that the atmosphere in
which we live is something that touches and affects us
at every inch of our superficies, and at every moment
of our life. It is not to say merely that we breathe
it ; but that it exerts upon every part of us, inner and
outer, an influence which never ceases, and which,
though possibly not much marked at the time, produces
in the long run a very great and decided effect. You
draw in the aif from ague-laden fens, and you do not
-find anything very particular in each breath you draw.
But breathe that, and live in that, for a few weeks or
months, and see what will come to you. Or you go
in the autumn, weak and weary with the season's work'
and worry, jaded and nervous, to the sea-side, and the
bracing atmosphere in a little while insensibly does its
work ; your limbs grow strong and active again, and
your mind grows energetic and hopeful. And you
have doubtless felt for yourself how the heavy, smoky
air of a large city makes you dull and stupid, and how
the sparkling draughts you draw in of the keen, un-


breathed air of the mountains, exhilarate and nerve
anew. And as for currents, without going into de-
tails, we know this general fact : If you cast a floating
thing upon a current, it will insensibly go along with
the current. There may not be a stronger or a more
perceptible push at one moment than at another ; but
there is an influence which in the main is unceasing,
and there is a general drifting away. Slowly, slowly,
the log cast into the sea, out in the middle of the At-
lantic, comes eastward, week by week, till it is thrown
somewhere on the outer coast of Ireland or of the
Hebrides. And when the thing cast upon the current
is more energetic than a log, still the current affects it
none the less really. The Mississippi steamer breasts
that great turbid stream, and makes way against it ;
but it makes way slowly. Let the engines cease to
work, and the steamer drifts as the log drifted. Or
let the engines work as before, and the vessel'^s head
be turned down the stream ; and then, going with the
current, its speed is doubled.

Now, the atmosphere I mean in this essay is the
atmosphere in which the soul lives and breathes ; and
the currents, those which carry along the moral and
spiritual nature to developments better or worse.
Shall we say it, for the most part to worse ? In this
world, in a moral sense, we generally drift towards
evil, if we drift at all. You must warp up the stream
if you would advance towards good. It seems to be
God's purpose that anything good must be attained by


effort : if you slothfully go with the current, it will be
onlv to ill.

I am not able, just now, to give you a definition of
either moral atmospheres or moral currents which satis-
fies me. You will gradually see my meaning, if you
do not see it yet. Let it be said, generally, that to fol-
low mclination within, or to yield to the vague influ
ence of the things and people around you, is to drift
with the moral current. And sensitively to feel the
moral influences amid which you live — the moral
influences arising from external nature, or from the
dwelling in which you live, or from the people with
whom you associate, or from the books and news-
papers and magazines and reviews you read — is to
feel the moral atmosphere. And a very great part of
the influence which moulds human character, and de-
cides human destiny, is of this vague, yet pervading
kind. A tree, I am told, draws the chief part of its
nourishment from the air, — very much more than it
draws from the earth through its roots. The tree
must have roots, or it would not live or grow at all ;
yet the multitude of leaves draw in 'that by which it
mainly lives and grows. And it seems to me to be so
with human beings. We must be morally rooted and
grounded, as it were, by direct education, and by di-
rectly getting principles fixed in our minds. But after
this is done, we mainly take our tone from the moral
atmosphere. We are mainly affected by moral cur-
rents ; and just as really when we strive against them
as when we yield to them.


I am sure you know that a great many of the things
we read — books, periodicals, and the like — affect us
not so much by the ideas they convey, as by the gen-
eral atmosphere with which they surround us. If you
i*ead, week by week, a clever, polished, cynical, heart-
less publication, it will do you harm insensibly ; it will
mould and color your ways of thinking and feeling
much more than you would think. You like its talent,

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 1 of 19)