Copyright
Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

. (page 14 of 19)
Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 14 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


duct you along a path you could not possibly miss,
even without a guide. A second man waits your arri-



AT THE LAND'S END. 221

val at the Rock ; his business is to give it a push with
his shoulder, and set it loggin. The Rock is a large
mass, which may possibly weigh eighty tons ; it cer-
tainly does not look as if it did. It lies on the land-
ward slope of the headland which you reach by the
isthmus. And when the man puts his shoulder to it,
and gives it a push, you may, if you shut one eye, and
look very sharply with the other, see the rock move a
distance of perhaps one inch ; possibly two. Let me
strongly advise the reader to spare himself the trouble
of going to see that sight.

But sitting on a rock at the Land's End, you will
not feel disappointed. The interest here is not the
factitious one of seeing a large stone moved an inch
or two. It is the interest of looking at a wild piece
of rocky coast, round whose name there clusters a
crowd of associations. How familiar the name is ;
how often, when a child, you pointed this place out
on the map ; how many times you have wondered
what it w^ould be like ; and wondered if you would
ever see it ! A quarter of a mile out to sea, just be-
low, there is a black-looking rock ; on that rock at this
minute there are sitting twelve cormorants. Now and
then one of them skims off over the sea. The day
has become overcast ; there is not a soul near. You
cannot help having an eerie kind of feeling. You
think it wonderful to find yourself here.

Sitting here, I think of a passage in the works of
the most pleasing of English essayists, whom the



222 AT THE LAND'S END.

writer Is so happy as to call his friend. You will
find the passage in "Friends in Council." In it, men-
tion is made of an old lady, who firmly believed that
three pounds given by her were equal to about five
pound ten given by anybody else. Her money had
cost so much thought and so much rigid saving to ge^
it together. Sixpence by sixpence had been got to
gether through patient self-denial ; each separate shil-
ling had formed the matter of long consideration.
And the old lady felt it hard that the result of all
this should be hardly and unsympathetically expressed
by such words as three pounds. Of course the philo-
sophic reader knows that it was merely that the poor
old lady felt an interest in what was her own, which
she could not feel in what belonged to anybody else.
Had she been a person of greater enlightenment, she
would have read in all her own little anxieties ^nd
schemings, the reflection of what was passing in the
minds of those around her ; and she would have con-
cluded not that three pounds of her own were equal
to six pounds of a neighbor's ; but rather that three
pounds, no matter to whom belonging, made a serious
and important thing. But the poor old lady's feeling
was natural. 1 am not able, at the present moment,
quite to repress a feeling entirely like it. It seems to
me a far stranger thing that I should be here, than it
would be that any one of a great many people I know
should be here. They are venturesome folk. They go
about a great deal. Nothing strikes them as very re-



AT THE LAND'S END. 223

markable. When Mr. Smith said in my hearing, that
something or other happened when he was going into
Jerusalem, I could not but look at Mr. Smith with
great respect. But Mr. Jones, who has been every-
where himself, was quite free from any such feeling.
You would hear or read quite coolly, my iiiend, that
A or B had been at the Land's P^nd. It is no great
matter. But come yourself to this very spot where I
am sitting ; look round on this scene on which I have
cast my eyes since I wrote the last sentence ; and if
you be a homely person who have never been beyond
the limits of Britain, and who lead a quiet life from
day to day somewhere in a quiet rural parish in Scot-
land, you will feel it curious to find yourself here..
And if you be a sensible person, you will not think it
a fine thing to pretend that you do not feel it so.

You remember what Sydney Smith said of Scot-
land. He said, no doubt, many things on that sub-
ject ; but the thing to which I refer is the state-
ment that Scotland is " the knuckle-end of England."
There is a certain degree of truth in the statement.
After you have spent a little wdiile in Surrey, or Sus-
sex, or Wiltshire, in a very richly wooded part of
either county ; if you get into an express train on the
North-Western Railway on the morning of a summer
day, and travel on by daylight through Staffordshire
and Lancashire, through Cumberland and Lanark-
shire, till you arrive at Glasgow, you will be aware
that Sydney Smith's metaphor corresponds with your



224 AT THE LAND'S END.

own feeling. You will be awnre that as \ on travel
towards the North, the trees are gradually growing
smaller, the fields less rich, the whole Jandscape barer
and bleaker ; you will remember that nightingales do
not sing north of Leeds, and you will think of other
little traces of something like a physical decadence.
But the impression made upon you will vary accord-
ing to the line of country you pass through. I could
take you to tracts in Scotland where the trees and
hedges and fields are as rich, and the air as soft and
pleasant, as anywhere in Britain ; and where you add
to the charms of the sweet English landscape, the
long summer twilights whicli England wants. The
true knuckle-end of England is here. And you will
feel that, if you come to this place through the rich
plains traversed by the Great Western Railway ; or
(better still) by that railway which comes by Salis-
bury, Sherborne, and Honiton to Exeter, through a
country where at every turn you feel you are look-
ing on a landscape which is your very ideal of beau-
tiful England ; and where churches and churchyards
abound, so incomparably lovely in architecture and
situation, that on a pleasant summer day one could
hardly wish for better than to sit down on an ancient
tombstone, and look for an hour at the fair piece of
gray Gothic, at the green ivy, and the great elms.
And the churches come so frequently, that one cannot
but think of the happy life of duty and leisure which
may well be led by the unambitious country parson



AT THE LAND'S END. 225

there. His population is probably so small that he is
free from that constant sense of pressure under which
the clergy in many places are now compelled to live.
He may write his sermon without being worried by
the thought of a dozen things waiting to be attended
to ; and he may sit down under a large tree in the
churchyard and meditate, without knowing that medi-
tation is a luxury in which he has not time to indulge.
But come on towards the West, and you will find the
gradual approach to the knuckle-end. The juiciness
and richness of the leg of mutton, pass slowly into
tendon, skin, and bone. In Devonshire, you have
Scotch irregularity of outline in the landscape ; but
there is English luxuriance in the hedges and wild-
flowers ; and more than English softness in the air.
You enter Cornwall, over Brunei's wonderful but re-
markably ugly suspension bridge at Saltash ; and you
very soon feel that you have reached a tract entirely
different from the ideal English country. The land
is remarkably diversified in surface ; steep ups and
downs everywhere ; and now and then, as you fly
along in the railway train, you pass over a deep nar-
row gorge, spanned by the flimsiest wooden bridge
that ever formed part of a line of railway. Some-
times these gorges are of vast depth. They occur
perpetually ; and they are always crossed by the like
unsubstantial structures. For many miles after en-
tering Cornwall, the country is very richly wooded.
You may see all kinds of forest trees growing luxu-

15



226 AT THE LAND'S END.

riantly ; and many orchards, thickly crowded with
apple-trees.' But after you have passed Truro, there
is a total change. The engine pants and struggles, as
it hardly draws the train up inclines of extraordinary
steepness ; and you begin to see all round you heather
and granite ; great bare stretches of country Avith tin
mines here and there, and rare woods of stunted pine.
The railway brings you to Penzance, a pretty little
town ten miles from the Land's End, which has the ad-
vantage of a climate of wonderful mildness. Granite
is the stone here ; almost every building is formed of
it. The town is situated at one side of a considerable
bay. Across the bay, three miles off, is St. Michael's
Mount, rising out of the sea. St. Michael's Mount,
it will be remembered, was in former days the resi-
dence of the Giant Cormoran, whose destruction
formed the first recorded exploit of Jack the Giant-
Killer. You leave Penzance and journey westward ;
probably in a phaeton drawn by a black horse. There
is a rich country for the first two or three miles ; then
you enter a district very bleak and desolate. The
cottages are rude and squalid ; the churches, all of
granite, are rare and large ; and look as if they were
accustomed to be battered by heavy storms. You
pass through the last village, which is about a mile
from the sea ; and then you go along a lane, thi'ough
a great field whose surface is made of granite, heather,
and yellow furze as short as heather. You see the
sea before you, stretching far away ; but the ground



AT THE LAXD'S END. 227

over which you are going swells so much, that it hides
the rocky shore. Passing through that final large
field, you might expect to come upon a sandy beach
at last. At length you stand before a little cottage,
an inscription on which tells you that it claims to be
The Land's End Hotel : and here you will find
the intelligent ostler, who guides you down a rough
slope, not very steep, of granite, furze, and heather,
till, atler two hundred yards, you come upon the blunt
promontory, whose extremity is by preeminence the
End. The End does not reach into the sea so much
as a hundred yards beyond the regular coast line.
And the End is not the boldest portion of that rocky
coast. Its height, as has been said, is about eighty
feet perpendicular ; while the rocks on either hand
must be in many places at least a hundred and fifty.
And now, looking back on the way you have come,
you feel how gradually the scene around you grew
barer, as you came on. It was like a bad man grow-
ing old. Trees and hedges were left behind ; corn-
fields and cottages with little gardens ; for the beau-
tiful churches of Somersetshire, you have only that
rude and stern erection which you passed a little
since ; and now you have come to this, that you have
no more than granite, and furze, and desolate sea. It
is a most interesting spot to come to visit for a little
while ; but it would be a terrible thing to be con-
demned to live here for the remainder of your life.
I cannot but think here of the unloved and unhonored



228 AT THE LAND'S END.

later days of some hoary reprobate ; who, in a moral
sense, has had his Somersetshire, then his Cornwall,
and last his Land's End. And even though a man
be not a reprobate, I believe that all life, apart from
the presence of religion, is a going down hill. It is
leaving behind, from year to year, the trees and flow-
ers ; leaving the soft green fields and the rich hedge-
rows ; till you come at length to wastes of furze and
heather ; and end at last in stern rocks and pathless
sea.

It was of this that the writer thought longest, sitting
at the lonely Land's End ; and this was something,
let me confess, that never once occurred to me when
reading Arnold's life, and musing on his theme for
English verses. Another thing which will probably
occur to the reader, when he shall visit the same
place, will be, what a solitary and small being he
himself will be there. The writer's home, at this
hioment, is seven hundred and forty miles away.
Probably it is a good deal less, if you could go in a
direct line ; but such is the tale of the miles which
he has traversed to reach the spot. And you will
know, my friend, how misty and how far away your
daily life and your home will seem, when you sit
down by yourself in any lonely place, with all your
belongings hundreds of miles distant. Going away
alone, you truly leave great part of yourself behind.
Your mere individuality is a very small thing in size.
Great men, such as kings and nobles, have occasion-



AT THE LAND'S END. 229

ally had this truth disagreeably impressed upon them.
A man with a magnificent estate must feel as though
those green glades and magnificent trees were a por«
tion of himself, and as if you must see all these things,
and add them to himself, before you can understand
how big an object he really is. But small men feel
that too. They feel as though, to reckon what they
are, you must add to the little object that sense reveals
to you, the path tliey have come through life ; the
labor they have come through ; the griefs and joys
they have felt ; the atmosphere and the surroundings
amid which they live at home. I thought of this, one
afternoon last winter. The ground was covered with
snow ; it had grown almost dark ; going down a steep
street, in which were a good many passers-by, I be-
held the dim form of a poor fellow who had but one
arm. There he was, a little figure, walking along as
fast as he could, going home. You would have said,
a more thoroughly insignificant atom of humanity
could hardly be. But I knew all about that man's
humble home ; and I knew how much depended on
him there. Not many weeks before, his poor care-
worn wife had died ; and at that minute he was going
home to his children, four little things, the eldest but
seven years old, to whom he now had to be all. Any-
thing befalling that insignificant man, would be to
those four children an infinitely more important event
than the separation of the Northern and Southern
States of America. If we knew more about our



230 AT THE LAND'S END.

humblest fellow-creatures, my reader ; if we knew
what they have borne and done, and what they have
yet to bear and do ; if round the unnoted little person-
ality there were even the dim suggestion of its cares
and belongings ; we should feel more sympathy for
every man ; — we should regard no mortal as insignif-
icant. I sometimes find people who talk of the great
majority of their fellow-creatures as cads ; people
who, in another country, would doubtless stand up
vigorously for slavery. Let me say, that when I call
to mind what I have known of those whom some
heartless fools would call so; — when I think of their
sufferings, their cares, their patience, their resignation,
their sacrifices for one another; — my feeling towards
the fools to whom I have alluded, passes from con-
tempt, and turns to indignation. Would that we had
all some of the .truly Christian spirit of the heathen
poet, who told us how much of sympathy with every-
thing human he felt as incumbent upon him, foras-
much as he himself was a man !

But now, my friend, I must go. I shall never see
the Land's End any more. But I have had it all to
myself for these two hours ; and it has become a pos-
session forever. Yesterday it was a vague name ;
now, it is a clear picture, and it will always be so. It
is not in the least like what I had expected. No per-
son nor place you ever saw, is the least like what you



AT THE LAND'S END. 231

expected. But now, I seem to have known, it for a
long time. And it is like parting from a friend to bid
it good-bj. But the black horse has rested, and has
been fed ; and I have far to go to-day,
Good-by 1




CHAPTER IX.

CONCERNING RESIGNATION.

iQU know how a little child of three or
four years old kicks and howls if it do
not get its own way. You know how
quietly a grown-up man takes it, when
ordinary things fall out otherwise than he wished. A
letter, a newspaper, a magazine, does not arrive by
the post on the morning on which it had been particu-
larly wished for, and counted on with certainty. The
day proves rainy, when a fine day was specially de-
sirable. The grown-up man is disappointed ; but he
soon gets reconciled to the existing state of facts. He
did not much expect that things would turn out as he
wished them. Yes ; there is nothing like the habit
of being disappointed, to make a man resigned when
disappointment conies, and to enable him to take it
quietly. And a habit of practical resignation grows
upon most men, as they advance through life.

You have often seen a poor beggar, most probably
an old man, with some lingering remains of respecta-
bility in his faded appearance, half ask an alms of a



CONCERNING RESIGNATION. 233

passer-by ; and you have seen him, at a word of re-
pulse, or even on finding no notice taken of his re-
quest, meekly turn away ; too beaten and sick at
heart for energy ; drilled into a dreary resignation by
the long custom of finding everything go against him
in this world. You may have known a poor cripple,
who sits all day by the side of the pavement of a cer-
tain street, with a little bundle of tracts in his hand
watching those who pass by, in the hope that they
may give him something. I wonder, indeed, liow the
police suflPer him to be there ; for though ostensibly
selling the tracts, he is really begging. Hundreds of
times in the long day, he must see people approach-
ing ; and hope that they may spare him a half-penny ;
and find ninety-nine out of each hundred pass without
noticing him. It must be a hard school of Resigna-
tion. Disappointments without number have subdued
that poor creature into bearing one disappointment
more with scarce an appreciable stir of heart. But
on the other hand, kings, great nobles, and the like,
have been known, even to the close of life, to violently
curse and swear if things went against them ; going
the length of stamping and blaspheming even at rain
and wind, and branches of trees and plashes of mud,
which were of course guiltless of any design of giving
offence to these eminent individuals. There was a
great monarch, who when any little cross-accident
befell him, was wont to fling himself upon the floor ;
and there to kick and scream and tear his hair. And



234 CONCERNING RESIGNATION.

around him, meanwliile, stood his awe-stricken attend-
ants ; all doubtless ready to assure him that there
was something noble and graceful in his kicking and
screaming, and that no human being had ever before
with such dignity and magnanimity torn his hair. My
friend Mr. Smith tells me that in his early youth he
had a (very slight) acquaintance with a great Prince,
of elevated rank and of vast estates. That great
Prince came very early to his greatness ; and no one
had ever ventured, since he could remember, to tell
him he had ever said or done wrong. Accordingly,
the Prince had never learned to control himself; nor
grown accustomed to bear quietly what he did not
like. And when any one, in conversation, related to
him something which he disapproved, he used to start
from his chair, and rush up and down the apartment,
furiously flapping his hands together, till he had thus
blown off the steam produced by the irritation of his
nervous system. That Prince was a good man ; and
so aware was he of his infirmity, that when in these
fits of passion, he never suffered himself to say a single
w^ord ; being aware that he might say what he would
afterwards regret. And though he could not wholly
restrain himself^ the entire wrath he felt passed off in
flapping. And after flapping for a few minutes, he
sat down again, a reasonable man once more. All
honor to him ! For my friend Smith tells me that
that Prince was surrounded by toadies, who were
ready to praise everything he might do, even to his



CONCEKNING RESIGNATION. 235

flapping. And in particular, there was one humble
retainer, who, whenever his master flapped, was wont
to hold up his hands in an ecstasy of admiration, ex-
claiming, " It is the flapping of a god, and not of a
man ! "

Now all this lack of Resignation on the part of
princes and kings comes of the fact, that they are so
far like children that they have not become accus-
tomed to be resisted, and to be obliged to forego what
they would like. Resignation comes by the habit of
being disappointed, and of finding things go against
you. It is, in the case of ordinary human beings, just
what they expect. Of course, you remember the ad-
age : " Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he
shall not be disappointed." I have a good deal to say
about that adage. Reasonableness of expectation is a
great and good thing ; despondency is a thing to be
discouraged and put down as far as may be. But
meanwhile let me say, that the corollary drawn from
that dismal beatitude seems to me unfounded in fact.
I should say just the contrary. I should say, " Bless-
ed is he who expecteth nothing, for he will very likely
be disappointed." You know, my reader, whether
things do not generally happen the opposite way from
that which you expected. Did you ever try to keep
off an evil you dreaded, by interposing this buflfer ?
Did you ever think you might perhaps prevent a
trouble from coming, by constantly anticipating it ;
keeping, meanwhile an under -thought that things



236 CONCERNING RESIGNATION.

rarely happened as you anticipate them ; and thus
your anticipation of the thing might possibly keep
it away ? Of course you have ; for you are a human
being. And in all common cases, a watch might as
well think to keep a skilful watchmaker in ignorance
of the way in which its movements are produced, as a
human being think to prevent another human being
from knowing exactly how he will think and feel in
given circumstances. We have watched the work
ing of our own watches far too closely and long, my
friends, to have the least difficulty in understanding
the great principles upon which the watches of other
men go. I cannot look inside your breast, my reader,
and see the machinery that is working there ; I mean
the machinery of thought and feeling. But I know
exactly how it works, nevertheless ; for I have long
watched a machinery precisely like it.

There are a great many people in this world who
feel that things are all wrong, that they have missed
stays in life, that they are beaten, — and yet who don't
much mind. They are indurated by long use. They
do not try to disguise from themselves the facts.
There are some men who diligently try to disguise
the facts, and who in some measure succeed in doing
so. I have known a self-sufficient and disagreeable
clergyman who had a church in a large city. Five
sixths of the seats in the church were quite empty ;
yet the clergyman often talked of what a good con-
gregation he had, with a confidence which would have



CONCERNING RESIGNATION. 237

deceived any one who had not seen it I have known
a church where it was agony to any one with an ear
to hsten to the noise produced when the people were
singing; yet the clergyman often talked of what splen-
did music he had. I have known an entirely briefless
barrister, whose friends gave out that the sole reason
why he had no briefs was that he did not want any.
I have known students who did not get the prizes for
which they competed ; but who declared that the rea-
son of their failure was, that though they competed
for the prizes, they did not wish to get them. I have
known a fiist young woman, after many engagements
made and broken, marry as the last resort a brainless
and penniless blackguard ; yet all her family talk in
big terms of what a delightful connection she was
making. Now, where all that self-deception is gen-
uine, let us be glad to see it ; and let us not, like Mr.
Snarling, take a spiteful pleasure in undeceiving those
who are so happy to be deceived. In most cases, in-
deed, such trickery deceives nobody. But where it
truly deceives those who practise it, even if it deceiva
nobody else, you^ee there is no true Resignation. A
man who has made a mess of life has no need to be
resigned, if he ft\ncies he has succeeded splendidly.
But I look with great interest, and often with deep
respect, at the man or woman who feels that life has
been a failure, — a failure, that is, as regards this world,
— and yet who is quite resigned. Yes; whether it be
the unsoured old maid, sweet-tempered, sympathetic



238 CONCERNING RESIGNATION.

in others' joys, God's kind angel in the house of sor-
row, — or the unappreciated genius, quiet, subdued,
pleased to meet even one who understands him amid
a community which does not, — or the kind-hearted
clever man to whom eminent success has come too


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 14 of 19)