Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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late, when those were gone whom it would have made
happy : I reverence and love, more than I can ex-
press, the beautiful natures I have known thus sub-
dued and resigned !

Yes ; human beings get indurated. When you
come to know well the history of a. great many people,
you will find that it is wonderful what they have
passed through. Most people have suffered a very
great deal, since they came into this world. Yet, in
their appearance, there is no particular trace of it all.
You would not guess, from looking at them, how hard
and how various their lot has been. I once knew a
woman, rather more than middle-aged. I knew her
well, and saw her almost every day, for several years,
before I learned that the homely Scotchwoman had
seen distant lands, and had passed through very
strange ups and downs, before she settled into the
quiet orderly life in which I knew her. Yet when
spoken to kindly, by one who expressed surprise that
all these trials had left so little trace, the inward feel-
ing, commonly suppressed, burst bitterly out ; and she
exclaimed, " It's a wonder that I'm living at all ! "
And it is a wonder that a great many people are liv-


ing, and looking so cheerful and so well as they do,
when you think what fiery passion, what crushing sor-
row, what terrible losses, what bitter disappointments,
•what liard and protracted work, they have gone
through. Doubtless, great good comes of it. All
wisdom, all experience, comes of suffering. I should
not care much for the counsel of the man whose life
had been one long sunshiny holiday. There is greater
depth in the philosophy of Mr. Dickens, than a great
portion of his readers discern. You are ready to
smile at the singular way in which Captain Cuttle
commended his friend Jack Bunsby as a man of extra-
ordinary wisdom ; whose advice on any point was of
inestimable value. " Here's a man," said Captain
Cuttle, " who has been more beaten about the head
than any other living man ! " I hail the Mords as the
recognition of a great principle. To Mr. Bunsby, it
befell in a literal sense ; but we have all been (in a
moral sense) a good deal beaten about the head and
the heart before we grew good for much. Out of the
travail of his nature ; out of the sorrowful history of
his past life ; the poet or the moralist draws the deep
thought and feeling which find so straight a way to
the hearts of other men. Do you think Mr. Tenny-
son would ever have been the great poet he is, if he
had not passed through that season of great grief
which has left its noble record in " In Memoriam " ?
And a youthful preacher, of vivid imagination and
keen feeling, little fettered by anything in the nature


of good taste, may by strong statements and a fiery
manner draw a mob of unthinking hearers ; but
thoughtful men and women will not find anything in
all that, that awakens the response of their inner
nature in its truest depths ; they must have religious
instruction into which real experience has been trans-
fused ; and the worth of the instruction will be in
direct proportion to the amount of real experience
which is embodied in it. And after all, it is better to
be wise and good than to be gay and happy, if we
must choose between the two things ; and it is worth
while to be severely beaten about the head, if that is
the condition on which alone we can gain true wisdom.
True wisdom is cheap at almost any price. But it does
not follow at all that you will be happy (in the vulgar
sense) in direct proportion as you are wise. I sup-
pose most middle-aged people, when they receive the
ordinary kind wish at New- Year's time of a Happy
New Year, feel that happy is not quite the word ; and
feel that, too, though well aware that they have abun-
dant reason for gratitude to a kind Providence. It is
not here that we shall ever be happy ; that is, com-
pletely and perfectly happy. Something will always
be coming to worry and distress. And a hundred sad
possibilities hang over us ; some of them only too cer-
tainly and quickly drawing near. Yet people are
content, in a kind of way. They have learned the
great lesson of Resignation.


There are many worthy people who would be quite
fevered and flurried by good fortune, if it were to
come to any very great degree. It would injure their
heart. As for bad fortune, tliey can stand it nicely,
they have been accustomed to it so long. I have
known a very hard-wrought man, who had passed,
rather early in life, through very heavy and protracted
trials. I have heard him say, that if any malicious
enemy wished to kill him, the course would be to
make sure that tidings of some signal piece of prospe-r~
ity should arrive by post on each of six or seven suc-
cessive days. It Avould quite unhinge and unsettle
him, he said. His heart would go ; his nervous sys-
tem would break down. People to whom pieces of
good luck come rare and small, have a great curiosity
to know how a man feels when he is suddenly told
that he has drawn one of the greatest prizes in the
lottery of life. The kind of feeling, of course, will de-
pend entirely on the kind of man. Yet very great
prizes, in the way of dignity and duty, do for the most
part fall to men who in some measure deserve them,
or who at least are not conspicuously undeserving of
them and unfit for them. So that it is almost impossi-
ble that the great news should elicit merely some un-
worthy explosion of gratified self-conceit. The feeling
would in almost every case be deeper, and worthier.
One would like to be sitting at breakfjist with a truly
good man, when the letter from the Prime Minister
eomes in, offering him the Archbishopric of Canter-


burj. One would like to see how he would take it.
Quietly, I have no doubt. Long preparation has fit-
ted the man who reaches that position for taking it
quietly. A recent Chancellor publicly stated how he
felt when offered the Great Seal. His first feeling,
that good man said, was of gratification that he had
fairly reached the highest reward of the profession to
which he had given his life ; but the feeling which
speedily supplanted that, was an overwhelming sense
of his responsibility and a grave doubt as to his quali-
fications. I have always believed, and sometimes
said, that good fortune, not so great or so sudden as
to injure one's nerves or heart, but kindly and equa-
ble, has a most wholesome effect upon human charac-
ter. I believe that the happier a man is, the better
and kinder he will be. The greater part of unamia-
bihty, ill-temper, impatience, bitterness, and uncharita-
bleness, comes out of unhappiness. It is because a
man is so miserable, that he is such a sour, suspicious,
fractious, petted creature. I was amused, this morn-
ing, to read in the newspaper an account of a very
small incident which befell the new Primate of Eng-
land on his journey back to London after being en-
throned at Canterbury. The reporter of that small
incident takes occasion to record that the Archbishop
had quite charmed his travelling companions in the
railway carriage by the geniality and kindliness of his
manner. I have no doubt he did. I am sure he is a
truly good Christian man. But think of what a splen-


did training for producing geniality and kindliness he
has been going through for a great number of years.
Think of the moral influences which have been bear-
ing on him for the last few weeks. We should all be
kindly and genial, if we had the same chance of being
so. But if Dr. Longley had a living of a hundred
pounds a year, a fretful, ailing Avife, a number of half-
fed and half-educated little children, a dirty miserable
house, a bleak country round, and a set of wrong-
headed and insolent parishioners to keep straight, I
venture to say he Avould have looked, and been, a
very different man, in that railway carriage running
up to London. Instead of the genial smiles that de-
lighted his fellow-travellers (according to the newspa-
per story), his face would have been sour and his
speech would have been snappish ; he would have
leaned back in the corner of a second-class carriage,
sadly calculating the cost of his journey, and how part
of it might be saved by going without any dinner.
Oh, if I found a four-leaved shamrock, I would under-
take to make a mighty deal of certain people I know !
I would put an end to their weary schemings to make
the ends meet. I would cut off all those wretched
cares which jar miserably on the shaken nerves. I
know the burst of thankfulness and joy that would
come, if some dismal load, never to be cast off", were
taken away. And I would take it off. I would clear
up the horrible muddle. I would make them happy ;
and in doing that, I know that I should make them
good !


But I have sought the four-leaved shamrock for a
long time, and never have found it ; and so I am grow-
ing subdued to the conviction that I never shall. Let
us go back to the matter of Resignation, and think a
little longer about that.

Resignation, in any human being, means that things
are not as you would wish, and yet that you are con-
tent. Who has all that he wishes ? There are many
houses in this world in which Resignation is the best
thing that can be felt any more. The bitter blow has
fallen ; the break has been made ; the empty chair is
left (perhaps a very little chair) ; and never more,
while Time goes on, can things be as they were fondly
wished and hoped. Resignation would need to be cul-
tivated by human beings ; for all round us there is a
multitude of things very diiferent from what we would
wish. Not in your house, not in your fVimily, not in
your street, not in your parish, not in your country,
and least of all in yourself, can you have things as you
would wish. And you have your choice of two alter-
natives. You must either fret yourself into a nervous
fever, or you must cultivate the habit of Resignation.
And very often, Resignation does not mean that you
are at all reconciled to a thing, but just that you feel
you can do nothing to mend it. Some friend, to whom
you are really attached, and whom you often see,
vexes and worries you by some silly and disagreeable
habit, — some habit which it is impossible you should
ever like, or ever even overlook ; yet you try to make


up your mind to it, because it cannot be helpetl, and
you would rather submit to it than lose your friend.
You hate the East-wind ; it withers and pinches you,
in body and soul ; yet you cannot live in a certain
beautiful city without feeling the East-wind many days
in the year. And that city's advantages and attrac-
tions are so many and great, that no sane man, with
sound lungs, would abandon the city merely to escape
the East-wind. Yet, though resigned to the East-wind,
you are anything but reconciled to it.

Resignation is not always a good thing. Sometimes
it is a very bad thing. You should never be resigned
to things continuing wrong, when you may rise and
set them right. I dare say, in the Romish Church,
there were good men before Luther, who were keenly
alive to the errors and evils that had crept into it, but
who, in despair of making things belter, tried sadly to
fix their thoughts upon other subjects ; who took to il-
luminating missals, or constructing systems of logic, or
cultivating vegetables in the garden of the monaster}^,
or improving the music in the chape4, — quietly resign-
ed to evils they judged irremediable. Great reformers
have not been resigned men. Luther was not re-
signed ; Howard was not resigned; Fowell Buxton
was not resigned ; George Stephenson was not re-
signed. And there is hardly a nobler sight than that
of a man who determines that he will not make up
his mind to the continuance of some great evil ; who
determines that he will give his life to battling


with that evil to the last ; who determines that either
that evil shall extinguish him, or he shall extin-
guish it ! I reverence the strong, sanguine mind,
that resolves to work a revolution to better tilings, and
that is not afraid to hope it can work a revolution !
And perhaps, my reader, we should both reverence it
all the more that we find in ourselves very little like
it. It is a curious thing, and a sad thing, to remark
in how many people there is too much Resignation.
It kills out energy. It is a weak, fretful, unhappy
thing. People are reconciled, in a sad sort of way,
to the fashion in which things go on. You have seen
a poor, slaternly mother, in a way-side cottage, who
has observed her little children playing in the road
before it, in the w^ay of . passing carriages, angrily
ordering the little things to come away from their
dangerous and dirty play ; yet when the children dis-
obey her, and remain where they were, just saying no
more, making no farther effort. You have known a
master tell his man-servant to do something about
stable or garden ; yet when the servant does not do it,
taking no notice : seeing that he has been disobeyed,
yet wearily resigned, feeling that there is no use iu
always fighting. And I do not speak of the not nn-
frequent cases in which the master, after giving his
orders, comes to discover that it is best they should
not be carried out, and is very glad to see them disre-
garded ; I mean when he is dissatisfied that what he
has directed is not done, and wishes that it were done,


and feels worried by the whole affair ; yet is so devoid
of energy as to rest in a fretful Resignation. Some-
times there is a sort of sense as if one had discharged
his conscience by making a weak effort in the direction
of doing a thing ; an effort which had not the slightest
chance of being successful. "When I was a little boy,
many years since, I used to think this ; and I was led
to thinking it by remarking a singular characteristic
in the conduct of a school companion. In those days,
if you were chasing some other boy who had injured
or offended you, with the design of retaliation ; if you
found you could not catch him, by reason of his su-
perior speed, you would have recourse to the following,
expedient. If your companion was within a little
space of you, though a space you felt you could not
make less, you would suddenly stick out one of your
feet, which would hook round his, and he, stumbling
over it, would fall. I trust I am not suggesting a
mischievous and dangerous trick to any boy of the
present generation. Indeed I have the firmest belief
that existing boys know all we used to know, and
possibly, more. All this is by way of, rendering intel-
ligible what I have to say of my old companion. He
was not a good runner. And when another boy gave
him a sudden flick with a knotted handkerchief, or the
Uke, he had little chance of catching that other boy.
Yet I have often seen him when chasing another, be-
fore finally abandoning the pursuit, stick out his foot
in the regular way, though the boy he was chasing


M^as yards beyond his reach. Often did the present
writer meditate on that phenomenon, in the days of
his boyhood. It appeared curious that it should aiFord
some comfort to the evaded jiursuer, to make an offer
at upsetting the escaping youth, — an offer which could
not possibly be successful. But very often, in after
life, have I beheld, in the conduct of grown-up men
and women, the moral likeness of that futile sticking
out of the foot. I have beheld human beings who
lived in houses always untidy and disorderly, or whose
affairs were in a horrible confusion and entanglement,
who now and then seemed roused to a feeling that this
would not do ; who querulously bemoaned their miser-
able lot, and made some faint and futile attempt to set
things right ; attempts which never had a chance to
succeed, and which ended in nothing. Yet it seemed
somehow to pacify the querulous heart. I have
known a clergyman in a parish with a bad population,
seem suddenly to waken up to a conviction that he
must do something to mend matters, and set a-going
some weak little machinery, which could produce no
appreciable result, and which came to a stop in a few
weeks. Yet that famt offer appeared to discharge the
claims of conscience, and after it the clergyman re-
mained a long time in a comatose state of unhealthy
Resignation. But it is a miserable and a wrong kind
of Resignation which dwells in that man, who sinks
down, beaten and hopeless, in the presence of a recog-
nized evil. Such a man may be in a sense resigned,
but he cannot possibly be content.


If you should ever, wlien you have reached middle
age, turn over tlie diary or the letters you wrote
in the hopeful though foolish days when you were
eighteen or twenty, you will be aware how quietly
and gradually the lesson of Resignation has been
taught you. You would have got into a terrible state
of excitement, if any one had told you then that you
would have to forego your most cherished hopes and
wishes of that time, and it would have tried you even
more severely to be assured that, in not many years
you would not care a single straw for the things and
the persons who were then uppermost in your mind
and heart. What an entirely new set of friends and
interests is that which now surrounds you, and how
completely the old ones are gone ! Gone, like the
sunsets you remember in the summers of your child-
hood, — gone, like the primroses that grew in the
w^oods where you wandered as a boy. Said my friend
Smith to me a few days ago, " You remember Miss
Jones and all about that ? I met her yesterday, after
ten years. She is a fat, middle-aged, ordinary-looking
woman. What a terrific fool I was ! " Smith spoke
to me in the confidence of friendship, yet I think he
was a little mortified at the heartiness with which I
agreed with him on the subject of his former folly.
lie had got over it completely, and in seeing that he
was (at a certain period) a fool, he had come to dis-
cern that of which his friends had always been aware.
Of course early interests do not always die out. You


remember Dr. Chalmers, and the ridiculous exhi-
bition about the wretched little likeness of an early
sweetheart, not seen for foi-ty years, and long since in
her grave. You remember the singular way in which
he signified his remembrance of her, in his famous
and honored age. 1 don't mean the crying, nor the
walking up and down the garden-walk, calling her by
fine names, I mean the taking out his card, — not
his carte^ you could understand that ; but his visit-
ing-card bearing his name, — and sticking it behind
the portrait with two wafers. Probably it pleased
him to do so, and assuredly it did harm to no one
else. And we have all heard of the like things.
Early affections are sometimes, doubtless, cherished
in the memory of the old. But still, more material
interests come in, and the old affection is crowded out
of its old place in the heart. And so those compara-
tively fanciful disappointments sit lightly. The ro-
mance is gone. The midday sun beats down, and
there lies the dusty way. When the cantankerous and
unamiable mother of Christopher North stopped his
marriage with a person at least as respectable as her-
self, on the ground that the person was not good
enough, we are told that the future professor nearly
went mad, and that he never quite got over it. But
really, judging from his writings and his biography,
he bore up under it, after a little, wonderfully well.

But looking back to the days which the old yellow
letters bring back, you will think to yourself, Where


are tlie hopes and anticipations of that time? You
expected to be a great man, no doubt. Well, you
know you are not. You are a small man, and never
will be anything else, yet you are quite resigned. If
there be an argument which stirs me to indignation at
its futility, and to wonder that any mortal ever re-
garded it as of the slightest force, it is that which is
set out in the famous soliloquy in Cato, as to the
Immortality of the SouL Will any sane man say,
that if in this world you wish for a thing very much,
and anticipate it very clearly and confidently, you are
therefore sure to get it ? If that were so, many a
little schoolboy would end by driving his carriage
and four, who ends by driving no carriage at all. I
have heard of a man whose private papers were found
after his death all written over with his signature as
he expected it would be when he became Lord Chan-
cellor. Let us say that his peerage was to be as
Lord Smith. There it was. Smith, C, Smith, C,
written in every conceivable fashion, so that the sig-
nature, when needed, might be easy and imposing.
That man had very vividly anticipated the woolsack,
the gold robe, and all the rest. It need hardly be
said he attained none of these. The famous argu-
ment, you know, of course, is that man has a great
longincr to be immortal, and that therefore he is sure
to be immortal. Rubbish ! It is not true that any
longing after immortality exists in the heart of a hun-
dredth portion of the race. And if it were true, it


would prove immortality no more than the manifold
signature of Smith, C, proved that Smith was indeed
to be Chancellor. No ; we cling to the doctrine of a
Future Life, — we could not live without it; but we
believe it, not because of undefined longings within
ourselves, not because of reviving plants and flowers,
not because of the chrysalis and the butterfly, but
because " our Saviour, Jesus Christ, hath abolished
death, and brought life and immortality to light
through the gospel ! "

Tiiere is something very curious and very touching,
in thinking how clear and distinct, and how often re-
curring, were our early anticipations of things that
were never to be. In this world, the fact is for the
most part the opposite of wdiat it should be to give
force to Plato's (or Cato's) argument ; the thing you
vividly anticipate is the thing that is least likely to
come. The thing you don't much care for, the thing
you don't expect, is the likeliest. And even if the
event prove what you anticipated, the circumstan-
ces and the feeling of it will be quite different from
what you anticipated. A certain little girl three years
old was told that in a little while she was to go with
her parents to a certain city a hundred miles off, a city
which may be called Altenburg as well as anything
else. It was a great delight to her to anticipate that
journey, and to anticipate it very circumstantially. It
was a delight to her to sit down at evening on her
father's knee, and to tell him all about how it would


be in going to Altenburg. It was always the same
tiling. Always, first, how sandwiches would be made ;
how they would all get into the carriage (which would
come round to the door), and drive away to a certain
railway station ; how they would get their tickets, and
the train would come up, and they would all get into a
carriage together, and lean back in corners, and eat
the sandwiches, and look out of the windows, and so
on. But when the journey was actually made, every
single circumstance in the little girl's anticipations
proved wrong. Of course, they were not intentionally
made wrong. Her parents would have carried out to
the letter, if they could, what the little thing had so
clearly pictured and so often repeated. But it proved
to be needful to go by an entirely different way and in
an entirely different fashion. All those little details,
dwelt on so much and with so much interest, were
things never to be. It is even so with the anticipations
of larger and older children. How distinctly, how
fully, ray friend, we have pictured out to our minds
a mode of life, a home and the country round it, and
the multitude of little things which make up the habi-
tude of being, which we long since resigned ourselves
to knowing could never prove realities ! No doubt, it
is all right and well. Even St. Paul, with all his gift
of prophecy, was not allowed to foresee what was to
happen to himself. You know how he wrote that he
would do a certain thing, " as soon as I shall see how
it will £0 with me ! "


But our times are in the Best Hand. And the one
thing about our lot, my reader, that we may think of
with perfect contentment, is that they are so. I know

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 15 of 19)