Copyright
Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

. (page 17 of 19)
Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 17 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


on out-door book-stalls ; or be exhibited on the top of
a wall, with a sack put over them when it begins to
rain, as in a place which I have seen. " What is the



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 271

use of washing my hands," said a little boy in my
hearing ; " they will very soon be dirty again ! " Re-
fuse, my reader, to accept the principle implied in the
little boy's words, however specious it may seem.
Whitewash your manse, if you be a Scotch minister,
some time in April ; paint your house in town, how-
ever speedily it may again grow black. Write your
sermons diligently ; write them on the very best paper
you can get, and in a very distinct and careful hand ;
and pack them with attention in a due receptacle. It
is, no doubt, only a question of time how long they
will be needed, before the day of your departure shall
make them no more than waste paper. Yet, though
things which cannot go on, you may hope to get no
small use out of them, to others and to yourself, before
the time when the hand that travelled over the pages
shall be cold with the last chill ; and the voice that
spoke these words shall be hushed forever. We
know, obscurely, what we shall come to ; and by
God's grace we are content, and we hope to be pre-
pared ; but there is no need to overcast all life with
the ceaseless anticipation of death. You may have
read how John Hampden's grave was opened, at the
earnest desire of an extremely fat nobleman who was
his injudicious admirer. The poor wreck of humanity
was there ; and, as the sexton said, " We propped him
up with a shovel at his back, and I cut off a lock of
his hair." I hold with Abraham, who " buried his
dead from hi» sight ; " I hold with Shakspeare, who



272 CONCERNING THINGS

desired tliat no one should disturb him in his lowly
bed, till He shall awaken him whose right it is to do
so. Yet I read no lesson of the vanity of Hampden's
life, in that last sad picture of helplessness and liumili-
ation. He had come to that; yet all this does not
sliow that his life was not a noble one while it lasted,
though now it was done. He had his day ; and he
used it ; whether well or ill let wiser men judge.
And if it be right to say that he withstood tyranny,
and helped to lay the foundation of his country's liber-
ties, the whim of Lord Nugent and the propping up
with the shovel can take nothing away from that.

You understand me, my friend. You know the
kind of people who revenge themselves upon human
beings who meanwhile seem happy, by suggesting the
idea that it cannot last. You see Mr. A., delighted
with his beautiful new church ; you know how Miss
B. thinks the man to whom she is to be married next
week the handsomest, wisest, and best of mankind ;
you behold the elation of Mr. C. about that new pair
of horses he has got ; and if you be a malicious block-
head, you may greatly console yourself in the specta-
cle of the happiness of those individuals, by reflecting,
and perhaps by saying, that it is all one of those things
that cannot go on. Mr. A. will in a few months find
no end of worry about that fine building ; Miss B.'s
husband, at present transfigured to her view, will set-
tle into the very ordinary being he is ; -^nd Mr. C.*s



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 273

Borses will prove occasionally lame, and one of them a
permanent roarer. Yet I think a wise man may say,
I am aware I cannot go on very long ; yet I shall do
my best in my little time. I look at the right hand
which holds my pen. The pen will last but for a
short space ; yet that is no reason why I should slight
it now. The hand may go on longer. Yet, warm as
it is now, and faithfully obeying my will as it has
done, through all those years, the day is coming when
it must cease from its long labors. And, for myself, I
am well content that it should be so. Let us not
strive against the silent current, that bears us all away
and away. Let us not quarrel with the reminders we
meet on many country gravestones, addressed unto us
who are living from the fathers who have gone before.
Yet you will think of Charles Lamb. He said (but
nobody can say when Elia meant what he said), " I
conceive disgust at those impertinent and unbecoming
famiharities, inscribed upon your ordinary tombstones.
Every dead man must take upon himself to be lectur-
ing me with his odious truism, that ' Such as he now
is I must shortly be.' Not so shortly, friend, perhaps,
as thou imaginest. In the mean time I am alive. I
move about. I am worth twenty of thee. Know thy
betters ! "

You may look on somewhat further, in a sweet
country burying-place. Dear old church-yard, once
so familiar, with the old oaks and the gliding river,
and the purple hill looking over ; where the true

IS



274 CONGER »^ING THINGS

heart of Jeanie Deans has mouldered into dust ; I
wonder what you are looking like to-day ! Many a
time have I sat, in the quiet summer day, on a flat
stone, and looked at the green graves ; and thought
that they were Things that could not Go On ! There
were the graves of my predecessors ; the day would
come when old people in the parish would talk, not
unkindly, of the days, long ago, when some one was
minister whose name is neither here nor there. But
it was a much stranger thing to think, in that silent
and solitary place, of the great stir and bustle there
shall be in it some day ! Here it has been for centu-
ries ; the green mossy stones and the little grassy un-
dulations. But we know, from the best of all author-
ity, that " the hour is coming " which shall make a
total change. This quiet, this decay, this forgetful-
ness, are not to Go On !

We look round, my reader, on all our possessions,
and all our friends, and we discern that there are the
elements of change in all. " I am content to stand
still," says Eha, "at the age to which I am arrived, — I
and my friends ; to be no younger, no richer, no hand-
somer. I do not want to be weaned by age, or drop
like mellow fruit into the grave." There are indeed
moods of mind in which all thoughtful men have pos-
sibly yielded to a like feeling ; but I never heard but
of one other man whose deliberate wish was just to go
on in this round of life forever. Yet, though content
to be in the wise and kind hands in which we are, we



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 275

feel it strange to find how all things are going. Your
little children, my friend, are growing older, — growing
out of their pleasant and happy childhood ; the old
people round you are wrinkling up and breaking down.
And in your constitution, in your way of life, there are
things which cannot go on. There is some little phys-
ical malady, always rather increasing ; and you cannot
always be enlarging the doses of the medicine that is
to correct it, or the opiates which make you sleep. I
confess, with sorrow, that when I see an extraordina-
rily tidy garden, or a man dressed with special trim-
ness, I cannot help looking forward to a day when all
that is to cease ; when the man will be somewhat slov-^
enly, — when the garden will be somewhat weedy. I
think especially of the garden ; and the garden which
comes most home to me is the manse garden. It was
a marvel of exquisite neatness and order ; but a new
minister comes, who does not care for gardening, and
all that goes. And though rejoicing greatly to see a
parish diligently worked, yet sometimes I behold the
parochial machinery driven with such a pressure of
steam, that I cannot but think it never will last. I
have known men who never could calmly think ; who
lived in a hurry and a fever. There are places where
it costs a constant effort, not always a successful effort,
to avoid coming to such a life ; but let us strive against
it. Let us not have constant push and excitement
and high pressure. I hate to feel a whir around me,
as of a huge cotton-mill. Let us " studv to l^ quiet ! "



276 CONCERNING THINGS

And I have observed that clergymen who set that fe-
verish machinery a-going, generally find it expedient to
get away from it as speedily as may be, so as to avoid
the discredit of its breaking down in their hands, — ■
being well aware that it is a thing which cannot go on.
We cannot always go on at a tearing gallop, with every
nerve tense. Probably we are doing so a great deal
too much. If so, let us definitively moderate our pace
before the pace kills us.

" It's a long lane that has no turning," says the prov-
erb, testifying to the depth of human belief in the
Average, testifying to our latent conviction that any-
thing very marked is not likely to go on. A great
many people, very anxious and unhappy and disap-
pointed, cherish some confused hope that surely all
this has lasted so long, things must be going to mend.
The night has been so long, that morning must be
near, even though there be not the least appearance of
the dawn as yet. If you have been a briefless barris-
ter, or an unemployed physician, or an unbeneficed
clergyman for a pretty long time, even though there
be no apparent reason now, more than years since,
why success should come, you are ready to think that
surely it must be coming now, at last. It seems to be
overdue, by the theory of Average. Yet it is by i.o
means certain that there is a good time coming, because
the bad time has lasted long. Still, it is sometimes so.
I have known a man very laborious, very unfortunate,
with whom everything failed ; and after some years of



WHICH CANNOT GO ON. 277

this, T have seen a sudden turn of fortune come. And
with exactly the same merit and the same industry as
before, I have beheld him succeed in all he attempted,
and gain no small eminence and reputation. " It be-
hoved him to dree his weird," as was said by Meg
Merrilies ; and then the good time came. If you are
happy, my reader, I wish your happiness may last.
And if you are meanwhile somewhat down and de-
pressed, let us hope that all this may prove one of the
Things which cannot Go On !

" Shall I go on ? " said Sterne, telling a touching
story, familiar to most of us ; and he answered his
question by adding " No." '* It is good " said an em-
inent author, " to make an end of a thing which might
go on forever." And, on the whole, probably this
Essay had better stop. And, at this genial season of
kind wishes and old remembrances, we may fitly
enough consider that these New Year's days cannot
very often return to any. All this habitude of being
cannot very long go on. Yet, in our little span here,
we may gain possessions which never will fail. It is
not a question of Time, with that which grows for
Eternity ! God grant each of us, always more assur-
edly, that Better Part which can Go On forever !



CHAPTER XI
CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING:

WITH SOME THOUGHTS ON TAMPERING WITH THE
COIN OF THE REALM.



N BEHELD, as in a Vision, the following
>,^^ ' remarkable circumstances :
'^ iiv^ There was a large picture, by that
(iJm^i'^ great artist Mr. Q. R. Smith, hung up in
a certain public place. It appeared to me that the
locality partook of the nature of a market-place in a
populous city : and numbers of human beings beheld
the picture. A little vulgar boy passed, and looked
at it : his words were these : " My eye ! A'n't it
spicy ? Rather ! " A blooming maiden gazed upon
it, and her remark Avas as follows : " Sweetly pretty ! "
But a man who had long painted wagons for agricul-
tural purposes, and who had recently painted a sign-
board, after looking at the picture for a little, began
to improve it with a large brush, heavily loaded with
coarse red and blue, such as are used for painting
wagons. Another man came, a house-painter : and



CONCERNIXG CUTTING AND CAEVING. 279

he touched the picture, in several parts, with a brush
filled with that white material which is employed for
finishing the ceiling of rooms which are not very
carefully finished. These persons, though horribly
spoiling the picture, did honestly intend to improve
it ; and they fancied they had much improved it.
Finally there came a malicious person, who was him-
self an artist ; and who envied and hated the first art-
ist for painting so well. As for this man, he busied
himself upon the principal figure in the picture. He
made its eyes horribly to squint. He put a great
excrescence on its nose. He painted its hair a lively
scarlet. And having hideously disfigured the picture,
he wrote beneath it, Q. R. Smith, pinxit. And he
pointed out the canvas to all his friends, saying,
" That's Smith's picture : isn't it beautiful .^ "

Into this Vision I fell, sitting by the evening fire.
The immediate occasion of this Vision was, that I had
been reading a little volume, prettily printed and
nicely bound, purporting to be " The Children's Gar-
land from the Best Poets, selected and arranged by
Coventry Patmore." There I had been pleasantly
reviving my recollection of many of the pieces, which
I had been taught to read and repeat as a boy at
school. And as I read, a sense of wonder grew,
gradually changing to a feeling of indignation. I said
to myself. Surely Mr. Coventry Patraore's modesty
has led him to take credit on his title-page for much
less than he deserves. He has not merely selected
and arranged these pieces from the Best Poets : he



280 CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING.

has also (according to his own ideas) improved them
We have (I thought), in this volume, the picture of
Q. R. Smith, touched up with red and whitewash,
and having the eyes and nose altered by the painter
of signboards. Or, to speak more accurately, in read-
ing this volume, we are requested to walk through a
gallery of paintings by great masters, almost all im-
proved, in many places, by the same painter of wagon-
wheels, with the same large brush filled with coarse
red. As we go on with the book, we come upon
some poem which we have known all our lives, and
every word of which is treasured and sacred in our
memory. But we are made to feel that this is indeed
our old friend: but his nose is cut off, and one of his
eyes is put out. Such was my first hasty and unjust
impression. Every poem of those I remembered
from childhood had a host of verbal variations from
the version in which I knew it. In Southey's well-
known verses about " The Bell on the Inchcape
Rock," I counted thirty-seven. There were a good
many in Campbell's two poems ; one called " The
Parrot," and the other about Napoleon and the Brit-
ish sailor. So with Cowper's " Royal George : " so
with Macaulay's " Armada." So with Scott's " Young
Lochinvar : " so with Byron's " Destruction of Sen-
nacherib : " so with Wordsworth's poem as to the dog
that watched many weeks by his dead master on
Helvellyn : so with Goldsmith's " Good people all,
of every sort ; " so with Mrs. Hemans' " Graves
of a Household." Mr. Patraore tells us in his



CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING. 281

Preface, that "in a very few instances he has ven-
tured to substitute a word or phrase, where that
of the author has made the piece in wliich it oc-
curs unfit for children's reading." But, on my first
reading of his book, it appeared that he had made
alterations by scores, most of them so trivial as to be
very irritating. But I proceeded to investigate. I
compared Mr. Patmore's version of each poem with
the version of each poem contained in the last edition
of its author's works. And though I found a few
variations, made apparently through careless tran-
scribing : and though I was annoyed by considerable
disregard of the author's punctuation and capitals;
still it appeared that in the main Mr. Patmore gives
us the pieces as their authors left them : while the
versions of them, given in those books which are put
into the hands of children, have, in almost every case,
been touched up by nobody knows whom. So that
when Mr. Patmore's book falls into the hands of men
who made their first acquaintance with many of the
pieces it contains in their schoolboy days, and who
naturally prefer the version of them which is sur-
rounded by the associations of that'season : Mr. Pat-
more will be unjustly accused of having cut and
carved upon the dear old words. Whereas, in truth,
the present generation has reason to complain of hav-
ing been introduced to the wrong things in youth : so
that now we cannot rightly appreciate the right
things. And for myself, my first unjust suspicion of



282 CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING.

Mr. Patmore, speedily dispelled by investigation, led
me to many thoughts upon the whole subject of liter-
ary honesty and dishonesty in this matter.

It seems to me quite essential that a plain princi-
ple of common faithfulness should be driven into
those persons who edit and publish the writings of
other men. If you pretend to show us Raphael's pic-
ture, let it be exactly as Raphael left it. But if your
purpose be to exhibit the picture as touched up by
yourself, do not mendaciously call the picture a
Raphael. Call it what it is : to wit, Raphael altered
and improved by Snooks. If you take a sovereign,
and drill several holes in it, and fill them up with
lead, you will be made to feel, should you endeavor to
convey that coin into circulation, that though you may
sell it for what it is worth as a sovereign plugged with
lead, you had better not try to pass it off upon people
as a genuine sovereign. All this is as plain as may
be. But there are many collectors and editors of lit-
tle poems, who take a golden piece by Goldsmith,
Wordsworth, Campbell, or Moore : and punch out a
word here and there, and stick in their own miserable
little plug of pinchbeck. And then, having thus de-
based the coin, they have the impudence to palm it
off upon the world with the superscription of Gold-
smith, Wordsworth, Campbell, or Moore. It is need-
ful, I think, that some plain principles of literary
honesty should be instilled into cutting and carving
editors. Even Mr. Palgrave, in his " Golden Treas-



CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING. 283

ury," is not free from some measure of blame ; though
his sins are as nothing compared with those of tlie
editors of school collections and volumes of sacred
poetry. Mr. Palgrave has not punched out gold to
stick in pinchbeck : but in one or two glaring in-
stances, he has punched out gold and left the vacant
space. Every one knows that exquisite little poem
of Hood's, " The Death Bed." That poem consists
of four stanzas. Mr. Palgrave gives us in his book a
poem which he calls "The Death Bed;" and puts at
the end of it the honored name of Hood. But it is
not Hood's " Death Bed : " any more than a sover-
eign with one half of it cut off would be a true sov-
ereign. Mr. Palgrave gives us just two stanzas :
Hood's first and last ; leaving out the two intermediate
ones. In a note, whose tone is much too confident
for my taste, Mr. Palgrave attempts to justify this
tampering with the coin of the realm. He says that
the omitted stanzas are very ingenious, but that inge-
nuity is not in accordance with pathos. But what we
want is Hood with his own peculiar characteristics :
not Hood with the corners rubbed off to please even
so competent a critic as Mr. Palgrave. In my judg-
ment, the two omitted stanzas are eminently charac-
teristic of Hood. I do not think they are very ingen-
ious : they express simple and natural feelings : and
they are expressed with a most touching and pathetic
beauty. And on the whole, if you are to give the
poem to the world as Hood's, they seem to have an



284 CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING.

especial right to stand in it. If you give a picture
of a bison, surely you should give the hump : even
though you may think the animal would be more
graceful without it. We want to have the creature
as God made it : with the peculiarities God gave it.

The poems which are cut and carved to the ex-
tremest degree are hymns. There is indeed some
pretext of reason here : for it is necessary that hymns
should be made, in respect of the docli'ines they
set forth, to fit the views of the people who are to
sing them. Not that I think that this justifies the
practice of adulterating the text. But in the few
cases where a hymn has been altered so completely
as to become virtually a new composition ; and a much
better composition than it was originally : and where
the authorship is a matter really never thought of by
the people who devoutly use the hymn ; something is
to be said for this tampering. For the hymn is not
set forth as a poem written by this man or that:
but merely as a piece which many hands may have
brought into its present shape ; and which in its pres-
ent shape suits a specific purpose. You don't daub
Raphael's picture with wagon paint ; and still exhibit
it as a Raphael. You touch it up according to your
peculiar views : and then exhibit it saying merely, Is
not that a nice picture? It is nobody's in particular.
It is the joint doing of many men, and perhaps of
many years. But where hymns are presented in a
literary shape, and as the productions of the men who



CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING. 285

wrote them, the same law of honesty applies as in the
case of all other literary work. I observe, with very
great satisfaction, that in the admirable " Book of
Praise " lately published by Sir Roundell Palmer, that
eminent lawyer has made it his rule " to adhere
strictly, in all cases in which it could be ascertained
to the genuine uncorrupted text of the authors them-
selves." And Sir Roundell Palmer speaks with just
severity of the censurable, but almost universal, prac-
tice of tampering with the text.

I confess that till I examined Mr. Patmore's vol-
ume, I had no idea to what an extent this literary
clipping of the coin had gone, even in the matter of
poetry for clipping and altering which there is no
pretext of reason. It appears to me a duty, in tiie
interest of truth, to protest against this discreditable
cutting and carving. There are various editors of
school-books, and other collections of poetry for the
young, who seem incapable of giving the shortest
poem by the greatest poet, without improving it here
and there with their red brush. No statue is present-
ed to us without first having its nose knocked off.
And of course there is no necessity here for squaring
the poems to some doctrinal standard. It is a pure
matter of the editor's thinking that he can improve
the compositions of Campbell, Wordsworth, Moore,
Goldsmith, Southey, Scott, Byron, Macaulay, or Poe.
So that in the case of every one of these manifold al-
terations the question is just this simple one : Whether



286 CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING.

Wordsworth or some pushing Teacher of Elocution is
the best judge of what Wordsworth should say :
whether we are to hold by these great poets, believing
that they most carefully considered their most careful
pieces ; or to hold by anybody who chooses to alter
them. There is something intensely irritating in the
idea of Mr. Smith, with his pencil in his hand, sitting
down with a volume of Wordsworth, every word in
every line of which was carefully considered by the
great poet, and stands there because the great poet
thought it the right word ; and jauntily altering a word
here and there. The vision still returns to me of the
sign-painter touching up Raphael. But I have no doubt
whatsoever that Mr. Smith or Mr. Brown thinks him-
self quite equal to improving Wordsworth. The self-
sufficiency of human beings is wonderful. I have
heard of a man who thought he could improve things
better than anything of Wordsworth's. Probably you
never heard of the youthful Scotch divine who lived
in days when stupid bigotry forbade the use of the
Lord's Prayer in the pulpits of the Scotch church.
That young divine went to preach for an aged clergy-
man who was somewhat wiser than his generation :
and who accordingly told the young divine in the
vestry before service that the Lord's Prayer was
habitually used in that church. "Is it necessary,"
said the young divine, " that I should use the Lord's
Prayer ? " " Not at all," replied the aged clergyman,
"if you can use anything better." But the young



CONCERNING CUTTING AND CARVING. 287

*

divine was true to his party : and he used certain
petitions of his own, which he esteemed as improve-
ments on the Lord's Prayer.

You may be quite sure that in the compositions of
any careful writer, you could not alter many words
without injury to the writer's style. You could make
few alterations which the writer would approve. In
a careful style, rely on it, there was some appreciable
reason present to the author's mind for the employ-
ment of almost every word ; and for each word's com-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19

Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 17 of 19)