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nothing more admirable in spirit, and few things more
charmingly expressed, than that little poem by Mrs.
Waring wliich sets out that comfortable thouglit. You
know it, of course. You should have it in your
memory ; and let it be one of the first things your chil-
dren learn by heart. It may well come next after " O
God of Bethel : " it breathes the seli-same tone. And
let me close these thoughts with one of its verses :

There are briers besetting ever}' patli,

Which call for patient care :
There is a cross in every lot.

And an earnest need for prayer:
But a lowly heart that leans on Thee,

Is happy anywhere !



CHAPTER X.



CONCERNING THINGS WHICH CANNOT GO ON.




F course, in the full meaiiinjz; of the words,
Ben Nevis is one of the Things that can-
not Go On. And among these, too, we
may reckon the Pyramids. Likewise the
unchanging ocean ; and all the everlasting hills, which
cannot be removed, but stand fast forever.

But it is not such things that I mean by the phrase ;
it is not such things that the phrase suggests to ordi-
nary people. It is not things which are passing, in-
deed, but passing so very slowly, and with so little
sign as yet of their coming end, that to human sense
they are standing still. I mean things which even we
can discern have not the element of continuance in
them, — things which press it upon our attention as one
of their most marked characteristics, that they have
not the element of continuance in them. And yoi^
know there are such things. Things too good to last
very long. Things too bad to be borne very long.
Things which as you look at, you say to yourself. Ah,
it is just a question of time ! We shall not have you
long!



256 CONCERNING THINGS

This, as it appears to me, my reader, is the essen-
tial quality which makes us class anything among the
Things which cannot Go On : it is that the thing
should not merely be passing away, or even passing
away fast ; but that it shall bear on its very face, as
the first thing that strikes us in looking at it, that it is
so. There are passing things that have a sort of per-
ennial look, — things that will soon be gone, but that
somehow do not press it upon us that they are going.
If you had met Christopher North, in his days of af-
fluent physical health, swinging along with his fishing-
rod towards the Tweed, you might, if you had re-
flected, have thought that in truth all that could not
go on. The day would come when that noble and
lovable man would be very different ; when he would
creep along slowly, instead of tearing along with that
springy pace ; when he would no longer be able to
thrash pugnacious gypsies, nor to outleap flying tail-
ors ; when he would not sit down at morning in his
dusty study, and rush through the writing of an ar-
ticle as he rushed through other things, impetuously,
determinedly, and with marvellous speed, and hardly
an intermission for rest; when mind and body, in
brief, would be unstrung. But that was not what you
thought of, in the sight of that prodigal strength and
activity. At any rate, it was not the thought that
came readiest. But when you see the deep color on
the cheek of a consumptive girl, and the too bright
eye ; when you see a man awfully overworking him-



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 257

self; when you see a human being wrought up to a
frantic enthusiasm in some cause, good or bad ; when
you find a lady dechiring that a recently acquired ser-
vant, or a new-found friend, is absolute perfection :
'vhen you see a church, crowded to discomfort, pas-
sages and all, by people who come to listen to its pop-
ular preacher ; when you go to hear the popular
preacher for yourself, and are interested and carried
away by a sermon, evincing such elaborate prepara-
tion as no man, with tlie duty of a parish resting upon
him, could possibly find time for in any single week,
— and delivered with overwhelming vehemence of
voice and gesture ; when you hear of a parish in
which a new-come clergyman has set a-going an
amount of parochial machinery which it would need
at least thr.ee and probably six clergymcm to keep
working ; when you see a family living a cat and dog
life ; when you see a poor fellow, crushed down by
toil and anxiety, setting towards insanity ; when you
find a country gentleman, with fifteen hundred a year,
spending five thousand ; when you see a man submit-
ting to an insufferable petty tyranny, and commanding
himself by a great effort, repeated several times a day,
so far as not just yet to let fly at the tyrant's head ;
when you hear of King Bomba gagging and murder-
ing his subjects, amid the reprobation of civilized
mankind ; when you see the stoker of an American
steamer sitting upon his safety-valve, and observe
that the indicator shows a pressure of a hundred
17



258 CONCERNING THINGS



and fifty pounds on the square inch of his boiler,
then, my friend, looking at such things as these, and
beholding the end impending and the explosion im-
minent, you would say that these are Things which
cannot Go On.

And then, besides the fact that in the case of very
many of the Things which cannot Go On, you can
discern the cause at work that must soon bring them
to an end ; there is a further matter to be considered.
Human beings are great believers in what may be
called the doctrine of Average. That is a deep con-
viction, latent in the ordinary mind, and the result of
all its experience, that anything very extreme cannot
last. If you are sitting on a winter evening in a
chamber of a country house which looks to the north-
east, and if a tremendous batter of wind and sleet
suddenly dashes against the windows with a noise loud
enough to attract the attention of everybody, I am
almost sure that the first thing that will be said, by
somebody or other, in the first momentary lull in
which it is possible to hear, will be, " Well, that can-
not last long." We have in our minds, as regards ah
things moral and physical, some idea of what is the
average state of matters ; and whenever we find any
very striking deviation from that, we feel assured that
the deviation will be but temporary. When you are
travelling by railway, even through a new and strik-
ing country, the first few miles enable you to judge
what you may expect. The country may be very dif-



WHICH CANXOT GO OX. 259

*

ferent indeed from that which you are accustomed to
see, day by day ; but still, a little observation of it
enables you to strike an average, so to speak, of that
country. And if you come suddenly to anything
especially remarkable, — to some enormously lofty via-
duct, whence you look down upon the tops of tall trees
and upon a foaming stream, or to some tunnel through
a huge hill, or to some bridge of singular structure,
or to some tract wonderfully wooded or wonderfully
bare, — you involuntarily judge that all this is some-
thing exceptional, that it cannot last long, that you
will soon be through it, and back to the ordinary jog-
trot way.

And now, my friend, let me recall to mind certain
facts connected with the great order of Things which
cannot Go On ; and let us compare our experience
with regard to these.

Have you a residence in the country, small or great ?
Have you ever had such a residence ? If you have
one, or ever have had one, I have no doubt at all but
there is or was a little gravelled walk, which you were
accustomed often to walk up and down. You walked
there, thinking of things painful and things pleasant.
And if nature and training made you the human be-
ing for a country life, you found that that little grav-
elled path could do you a great deal of good. When
you went forth, somewhat worried by certain of the
little cares which worry at the time but are so speedily
forgotten, and w^alked up and down, you found that



260 CONCERNING THINGS

at each turn you took, the path, with its evergreens at
either hand, and with here and there a little bay of
green grass running into the thick masses of green
boughs and leaves, gently pressed itself upon your at-
tention, — a patient friend, content to wait your lime.
And in a little space, no matter whether in winter or
in summer, the path with its belongings filled your
mind with pleasant little thoughts and cares, and
smoothed your forehead and quieted your nervous
system. I am a great believer in grass and ever-
greens and gravelled walks. Was it not pleasant,
Avhen a bitter wind was blowing outside your little realm,
to walk in the shelter of the yews and hollies, where
the air felt so snug and calm ; and now and then to
look out beyond your gate, and catch the bitter East
on your face, and then turn back again to the warm,
sheltered walk ! Beautiful in frost, beautiful in snow,
beautiful in rain, beautiful in sunshine, are clumps of
evergreens, is green grass ; and cheerful and health-
ful to our Avhole moral nature is the gravelled walk
that winds between !

But all this is by the way. It is not of gravelled
walks in general that I am to speak, but of one
special phenomenon concerning such walks, and bear-
ing upon my proper subject. If you are walking up
and down a path, let us say a hundred and fifty yards
long, talking to a friend, or holding conversation with
yourself, — and if at each turn you take, you have to
bend your head to pass under an overhanging bough,—



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 261

here is wliat will happen. To bend your head for
once, will be no effort. You will do it instinctively,
and never think about the matter. To stoop even
six times, will not be much. But if you walk up and
down for an hour, that constant evading of the over-
hanging bough will become intolerably irksome. For
a little, it is nothing ; but you cannot bear it, if it is a
thinjj that is to go on. Here is a fact in human na-
ture. You can stand a very disagreeable and painful
thing for once ; or for a little while. But a very small
annoyance, going on unceasingly, grows insufferable.
No annoyance can possibly be slighter than that a
drop of cold water should fall upon your bare head.
But you are aware that those ingenious persons, who
have investigated the constitution of man with the
design to discover the sensitive places where man can
feel torture, have discovered what can be got out of
that falling drop of water. Continue it for an hour ;
continue it for ia day ; and it turns to a refined agony.
It is a thing which cannot go on long, without driving
the sufferer mad. No one can say what the effect
might be, of compelling a human being to spend a
week, walking, through all his waking hours, in a path
where he had to bend his head to escape a branch
every minute or so. You, my reader, did not ascer-
tain by experiment what would be the effect. How-
ever pretty the branch might be, beneath which you
had to stoop, or round which you had to dodge, at
every turn, that branch must go. And you cut away



262 CONCERNING THINGS

the blossoming apple-branch ; you trained in another
direction the spray of honeysuckle ; you sawed off the
green bough, beautiful with the soft beechen leaves.
They had become things which you could not suffer
to go on.

Have you ever been misled into living in your
house, during any portion of the time in which it was
being painted ? If so, you remember how you had to
walk up and down stairs on planks, very steep and
slippery ; how, at early morning, a sound pervaded
the dwelling, caused by the rubbing your doors with
stones, to the end of putting a smoother surface upon
the doors ; how your children had to abide in certain
apartments underground, to be beyond the reach of
paint and brushes and M'alls still wet. The discom-
fort was extreme. You could not have made up your
mind to go on through life, under the hke conditions ;
but you bore it patiently, because it was not to go on.
It was as when you shut your eyes, and squeeze
through a thicket of brambles, encouraged by the hope
of reaching the farther side. So when you are obliged
to ask a man to dinner, with whom you have not an
idea or sympathy in common. Suppressing the ten-
dency to yawn, you force yourself to talk about things
in which you have not the faintest interest ; and you
know better than to say a word upon the subjects for
which you really care. You could not stand this,
were it not that from time to time you furtively glance
at the clock, and think that the time of deliverance is



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 263

drawing near. And on the occasion of a washing-day,
or a change of cook, you put up without a murmui
with a dinner to which you could not daily subdue
your heart. We can go on for a little space, carried
by the impetus previously got, and by the hope of
Avhat lies before us. It is like the dead points in the
working of a steam-engine. You probably know that
many river steamboats have but a single engine, and
that there are two points, each reached every few
seconds, at which a single engine has no power at all.
The paddle-wheels continue to turn, in virtue of the
strong impetus already given them. Now, it is
plain to every mind, that if the engine remained for
any considerable period at the point where it is abso-
lutely powerless, the machinery driven by the engine
would stop. But, in practice, the difficulty is very
small, because it is but for a second or two that the
engine remains in this state of paralysis. It does
quite well for a little, but is a state that could not go
on.

Any very extreme feeling, in a commonplace mind,
is a thing not likely to go on long. Very extravagant
likes and dislikes, very violent grief, such as people
fancy must kill them, will, in most cases, endure not
long. In short, anything that flies in the face of tlie
laws which regulate the human mind, anything which
is greatly opposed to Nature's love for the Average,
cannot, in general, go on. I do not forget, that there
are striking exceptions. There are people who never



264 CONCElimNG THINGS

quite get over some great grief or disappointment ;
there are people who form a fixed resolution, and hold
by it all through life. I have seen more than one or
two men and women, whose whole soul and energy-
were so devoted to some good work, tliat a stranger,
witnessing their doings for a few days and hearing
their talk, would have said, " That cannot last. It
must soon burn itself out, zeal like that!" But if you
had made inquiry, you would have learned that all
that had gone on unflagging, for ten, twenty, thirty
years. There must have been sound and deep prin-
ciple there at the first, to stand the wear of such a
time ; and you may well believe that the whole nature
is now confirmed irretrievably in tlie old habit; you
may well hope that the good Christian and philanthro-
pist who has gone on for thirty years will go on as
long as he lives, — will go on forever. But, as a
general rule, I have no great ftiith in the stability of
human character ; and I have great faith in the law
of Average. People will not go on very long, doing
what is inconvenient for them to do. And I will back
Time against most feelings and most resolutions in
human hearts. It will beat them in the end. You
are a clergyman, let us suppose. Your congregation
are fond of your sermons. They have got into your
way; and if so, ihey probably like to hear you preach
better than anybody else ;• unless it be the two or three
very great men. A family, specially attached to you,
moves from a house near the church to anothej* two



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 265

or three miles away. They tell you, that nothing
shall prevent their coming to their accustomed places
every Sunday still : they would come, though the
distance were twice as great. They are perfectly sin-
cere. But your larger experience of such cases
makes you well aware that time and distance and
mud and rain and hot sunshine will beat them.
Coming to church over that inconvenient distance,
is a thing that cannot go on ; it is a thing that ought
not to go on ; and you make up your mind to the
fact. You cannot vanquish the laws of Nature.
You may make water run up-hill, by laborious pump-
ing. But you cannot go on pumping forever ; and
whenever the water is left to its own nature, it will
certainly run down-hill. All such declarations as
" I shall never forget you ; " "I shall never cease
to deplore your loss ; " "I can never hold up my head
again ; " may be ethically true ; but time will prove
them logically false. The human being may be quite
sincere in uttering them ; but he will change his mind.
I do not mean to say that it is very pleasant to
have to think thus ; or that much good can come of
dwelling too long upon the idea. It is a very chilling
and sorrowful thing, to be reminded of all this in the
hard, heartless way in which some old people like to
drive the sad truth into the young. It is very lit and
right that the girl of twenty, broken-hearted now be-
cause the young individual she is fond of is gone off
to Australia, should believe that when he returns in



266 CONCERNING THINGS

five years he will find her unchanged, and should
resent the remotest suggestion that by that time she
■will probably think and feel quite differently. It is fit
and right that she should do all this, even though a
prescient eye could discern that in two years exactly
she will be married to somebody else, — and married,
too, not to some old hunx of great wealth whom her
parents have badgered her into marrying against her
will, but (much worse for the man in Australia, who
has meanwhile taken to drinking) married with all her
heart to some fine young fellow, very suitable in age
and all other respects. Yet, certain though the gen-
eral principle may be, a wise and kind man or woman
will not take much pleasure in imparting the sad les-
son, taught by experience, to younger hearts. No good
can come of doing so. Bide your time, my friend,
and the laws of nature will prevail. Water will not
long run up-hill. But while the stream is quite
happy and quite resolute in flowing up an incline of
one in twenty, there is no good in standing by it, and
in roaring out that in a little while it will get tired of
that. Experience tells us several things, which are
not quite to the credit of our race ; and it is wrong
to chill a hopeful and warm heart with these. We
should be delighted to find that young heart falsifying
them by its own history : let it do so if it can.

And it is chillinp; and irritating to be often reminded
of the refrigerating power of Time upon all warm feel-
ings and resolutions. I have known a young clergy-



WHICH CANNOT GO OX. 267

man, appointed early in life to his first parish, and
entering upon his duty with tremendous zeal. I think
a good man, however old, would rejoice at such a
sight, would delightedly try to direct and counsel all
that hearty energy, and to turn all that labor to the
best account. And even if he thought within himself
that possibly all this might not quite last, I don't think
he would go and tell the young minister so. And the
aged man would thankfully remember, that he has
known instances in which all that has lasted ; and
would hope that in this instance it might last again.
But I have known a cynical, heartless, time-hardened
old man (the uncle, in fact, of my friend Mr. Snarl-
ing) listen with a grin of mingled contempt and ma-
lignity to the narration of the young parson's doings ;
and explain the whole phenomena by a general prin-
ciple, inexpressibly galling and discouraging to the
young parson. " Oh," says the cynical, heartless old
individual, " new brooms sweep clean ! " That was
all. The whole thing was explained and settled. I
should like to apply a new knout to the old individual,
and see if it would cut smartly.

And then we are to remember, that though it be
only a question of time with the existence of anything,
that does not prove that the thing is of no value. A
great part of all that we are enjoying consists of
Things which cannot Go On. And though the wear
that there is in a thing be a great consideration in
reckoning its worth ; and more especially, m the caso



268 CONCERNING THINGS

of all Christian qualities, be the great test whether or
not they are genuine ; yet things that are going, and
going very fast, have their worth. And it is very fit
that we should enjoy them while they last, without
unduly overclouding our enjoyment of them by the
recollection of their evanescence. " Why," said an
eminent divine, — " why should we pet and pamper
these bodies of ours, which are soon to be reduced to
a state of mucilaginous fusion ? " There was a plausi-
bility about the question ; and for about half a min-
ute it tended to make you think, that it might be
proper to leave off taking your daily bath, and brush-
ing your nails and teeth ; likewise that instead of pat-
ronizing your tailor any further, it might be well to
assume a horse-rug ; and also that it might be un-
w^orthy to care for your dinner, and that for the future
you should live on raw turnips. But of course, any-
thing that revolts common sense, can never be a part
of Christian doctrine or duty. And the natural reply
to the rhetorical question I have quoted would of
course be, that after these mortal frames are so fused,
we shall wholly cease to care for them ; but that
meanwhile we shall suitably tend, feed, and clothe
them, because it is comfortable to do so ; because it is
God's manifest intention that we should do so ; be-
cause great moral and spiritual advantage comes of
our doing so ; and because you have no more right to
disparage and neglect your wonderful mortal frame,
than any other talent or gift confided to you by God.



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 269

Why should we neglect, or pretend to neglect, these
bodies of ours, with which we are commanded to glo-
rify God ; which are bought with Christ's blood ;
which, even through tlfe last lowliness of mortal disso-
lution, even when turned to dust again, are " still unit-
ed to Christ ; " and which are to rise again in glory
and beauty, and be the redeemed soul's companion
through eternity ? And it is a mere sophism to put
the shortness of a thing's continuance as a reason why
it should not be cared for while it lasts. Of course, if
it last but a short time, all the shorter will be the time
through which we shall care for it. But let us make
the best of things while they last ; both as regards our
care for them and our enjoyment of them.

That a thing will soon be done with, that the cloud
will soon blow by, is a good reason for bearing
patiently what is painful. But it is very needless to
thrust in this consideration, to the end of spoiling the
enjoyment of what is pleasant. I have seen people,
when a little child, in a flutter of delighted anticipa-
tion, was going away to some little merrymaking, anx-
ious to put down its unseemly happiness by severely
impressing the fact, that in a very few hours all the
pleasure would be over, and lessons would begin
again. And I have seen, with considerable wrath, a
cloud descend upon the little face at the unwelcome
suggestion. What earthly good is to come of this
piece of stupid, well-meant malignity ? It originates,
doubtless, in that great fundamental belief in many



270 CONCERNING THINGS

narrow minds, that the more uncomfortable you are
the likelier you are to be right ; and that God is
angry when he sees people happy. Unquestionably,
most of the little enjoyments oflife are very transient.
All pleasant social gatherings ; all visits to cheerful
country houses ; all holidays ; are things which can-
not go on. No doubt, that is true ; but that is nc
reason why we should sulkily refuse to enjoy them
while they last. There is no good end secured, by
persisting in seeing " towers decayed as soon as built."
It is right, always latently, and sometimes expressly,
to remember that they must decay ; but meanwhile,
let us be thankful for their shelter and their beauty.
Sit down, happily, on a July day, beneath the green
shade of your beeches ; do not needlessly strain what
little imagination you have, to picture those branches
leafless, and the winter wind and clouds racking over-
head. Enjoy your parcel of new books when it
comes, coming not often ; cut the leaves peacefully,
and welcome in each volume a new companion ; then
carefully decide the fit place on your shelves where to
dispose the pleasant accession to your store ; and do
not worry yourself by the reflection that when you
die, the little library you collected may perhaps be
scattered ; and the old, friendly-looking volumes fall
into no one knows whose hands ; perhaps be set forth


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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 16 of 19)