Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

. (page 3 of 19)
Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 3 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and twelve o'clock, along a quiet street in a certain
great city. I remember two poor girls standing in
the shelter of the wall of a house, leaning against the
wall, from the drenching rain. Neither noticed me.
I see yet the deadly white face of one, — the hag-
gard, sick look, as she crouched by the wall, and leant
on the other's shoulder, as if just recovering from a
faint. I hear yet the anxious, despairing voice with
which the other said to her, " Are you better now ? "
The words were not spoken at me, or spoken for the
ear of any passer-by. All this was on the dark mid-
night street, amid the drenching rain. It was a little
thing ; but it brought home to one the suffering that
is quietly undergone in thousands of places over Eu-
rope each day and night.

Probably you have known people who were placed
in a sphere where the atmosphere, moral and physical,
was awfully depressing. They did their work poorly
enough ; and many blamed them severely. For my-


self, I was inclined to wonder that they did so well.
WIio could be a good preacher in certain churches of
which I have known ? I think there are few men
more sensitive to the moral atmosphere than the
preacher. Tliere are churches in wliich there is a
hearty atmosphere ; others, in which there is a chilly
atmosphere ; others, witli a bitter, narrow-minded,
Pharisaic; others, with an atmosphere which com-
bines the pragmatic, critical, and self-sufficient, with
the densely stupid. But passing from this, I say that
most men, even of those who do their work in life de-
cently well, have only energy enough to do well if you
give them a fair chance. And many have not a fair
chance ; some have no chance at all. There are hu-
man beings set in a moral atmosphere in which moral
energy and alacrity could no more exist than physical
life in the choke-damp of the mine. Be thankful, my
friend, if you are placed in a fairly healthful atmos-
phere. You are doing fairly in it ; but in a different
one you might have pined and died. You are leading
a quiet Christian life, free from great sin or shame.
Well, be thankful ; but do not be conceited ; above
all, do not be uncharitable to those for whom the race
and the warfare have been too much.

I have said that it is the more energetic of the race
that diffuse a moral atmosphere ; the ordinary mem-
bers of the race feel it. The energetic give the tone ;
the ordinary take it. There are minds whose nature
is to give out ; and minds whose nature is to take in.


But most men have energy enough, if rightly directed,
to affect the air somewhat ; and though the moral
ingredient they yield may not be much in quantity, it
may be able to supply just the precious ozone. Let
us try to be like the sunshiny member of the family,
who has the inestimable art to make all duty seem
pleasant ; all self-denial and exertion, easy and desira-
ble ; even disappointment not so blank and crushing ;
who is like a bracing, crisp, frosty atmosphere through-
out the home," without a suspicion of the element that
chills and pinches. You have known people within
w^hose influence you felt cheerful, amiable, hopeful,
equal to anything ! Oh, for that blessed power, and
for God's grace to exercise it rightly ! I do not know
a more enviable gift than the energy to sway others
to good ; to diffuse around us an atmosphere of cheer-
fulness, piety, truthfulness, generosity, magnanimity.
It is not a matter of great talent ; not entirely a mat-
ter of great energy ; but rather of earnestness and
honesty, — and of that quiet, constant energy which
is like soft rain gently penetrating the soil. It is
rather a grace than a gift ; and we all know where
all grace is to be had freely for the asking.

You see, my reader, I have spoken of atmospheres
and currents together. For every moral atmosphere
is of the nature of a moral current. As you breathe
the atmosphere, you feel that there is an active force
in it ; that you are beginning to drift away. It is not


merely a present sense of something that comes over
you ; but you know that it sets you floating onward to
something beyond your present feeling. The more
frequent tendency of a moral atmosphere is to assimi-
late your moral nature to itself. Perhaps all atmos-
pheres, if you live in them long enough, tend to this.
But there are some atmospheres which, just at first,
are so very disagreeable, that their effect is repellent;
they tend to make you wish to be just as different from
themselves as you can. But the refined person, at first
revolted by a rude and coarse atmosphere, will, in years,
grow subdued to it; and the pure young soul, shocked
and disgusted at the first approach of gross sin, comes at
last to bear it and to exceed it. Yes, the ultimate ten-
dency of all moral atmospheres upon all ordinary peo-
ple, is to assimilate them to the element in which they
live. Let men breathe any atmosphere long enough,
and this will follow ; save in the case of an excep-
tional man here and there. It is a very bad thing for
a young person to be much among thoroughly worldly
people, or among mere money-making people. Let
us not cry down money ; it is a great and powerful
thing. You remember, it was not money, but the over
love of money, that was **the root of all evil." But
it is most unhappy to live among those from whose en-
tire ways of thinking and talking you get the general
impression, that money is the first and best thing ;
and that the great end of life is to obtain it ; and that
almost any means may be resorted to for that end.


All this is not said in so many words ; but it pervades
you unseen ; you breathe it like an u^i wholesome
malaria. You take it in, not merely at every breath,
but at every pore. And the result of years of this
is, that the warm-hearted, generous youth grows into
the sordid, heartless old man ; and that the enthu-
siastic young Christian is sometimes debased into a
very chilly, lifeless, and worldly middle age.

And now, before I end, you must let me say this.
And when I say it upon this page (which never formed
any part of a sermon) you will know that I say it not
because I think I must, but because I honestly believe
it. There is a certain blessed influence which can
mingle itself with every moral atmosphere that a hu-
man being can honestly breathe ; and wdiich can make
every such atmosphere healthful. You know what I
mean. It is the influence of that Holy Spirit, whose
presence the K-edeemer said was more valuable and
profitable than even His own ; and who is promised
without reservation to all who heartily ask His pres-
ence. And you know, too, that we have a sure
promise, that if we build on the right foundation, the
current of our whole life will tend towards what is
happy and good. There may be a little eddy back-
wards here and there, and sometimes what seems a
pause, but it is in the direction of these things that the
whole current sets ; it is towards these that "all things
work together." I firmly believe that the natural ten-
dency of all moral currents, apart from God's grace, is


downwards. Apart from that, we shall always grow
worse ; with it, we sliall always grow better. BeHeve
me, my reader, when I say, that if all our life and all
our lot be not hallowed by the presence in all of the
Blessed Spirit, we may be sure that we are breathing
a moral atmosphere which wants just- the precious
ozone that is needful to true health and life. And if
we have not, penitently and humbly, confided ourselves
to our Saviour, we may know that we are drifting
with a current which is certainly bearing us on tow-
ards all that is evil and all that is woful. It is sad
to see the poor little pale and sickly children of some
dark, stifling close in a large city ; poor little things
who never breathe the free country air ; who are
living in an unwholesome atmosphere within doors
and without, in which they are pining, and growing up
weak and nerveless ; but it is more sad to see the im-
mortal soul stunted, emaciated, and distorted, through
the unhealthy moral air it breathes. It must have
been a miserable sight, the little boat with the man in
it asleep, drifting smoothly and swiftly along, beyond
human reach, towards the tremendous cataract ; but it
is more miserable, if we saw it rightly, to see a human
soul, in spiritual sleep, drifting day by day towards the
fearful plunge into final woe. Let us pray, my reader,
for both of us ; that God would be with us by His
Spirit, and keep us in all ways that we go ; that in aU
our life we may breathe the Atmosphere of His pres-
ence ; and by the Current of all our life be brought
nearer to Himself !



"^ VERYTHING in this world has a Be<
ginning and an End.

After writing that sentence, which (as
you see) sets forth a great general prin-
ciple, I stopped for some time, to consider whether it
holds always true. As one grows older, one grows
always more cautious as to general principles. My
young friend, when you are arguing any question with
an acute opponent, you should, as a rule, never assent
to any general principle which he may state. He
may ask you, with an indignant air, Don't you admit
that two and two make four ? Let your answer be,
No, I admit nothing, till I see how it touches the mat-
ter which concerns us at present. You do not know
what may be involved in the admission sought ; or
what may follow from it. The most innocent-looking
general principle may lead to the most appalling
consequences. The general principle which appears
most unquestionably true, may prove glaringly false in
som** *'ery ordinary case. You should request time


for consideration before you admit any axiom in
morals, metaphysics/ or politics; or you should ask
your adversary what he means to build upon it, before
you can say either yes or no to it. Do as the Scotch
judges do when a difficult case has been argued before
them. I discover from the newspapers that they are
wont to say, that they will take such a case to avizan-
dum : which I suppose (no one ever told me) means
that they must think twice, or even oftener, before de-
ciding a matter like that.

I have taken the general principle, already stated,
to avizandum. It seems all right. But I remember,
in thinking of it, at how great advantage a judge is
placed, in trying to come to a sound decision. Very
clever and well-informed men state the arguments on
either side. And all the judge has to do, is to say
which arguments seem to him the strongest. He has
no fear that any have been overlooked. But a human
being, weighing a general principle, must act as coun-
sel on each side, as well as judge. He must call up
before his mind, all that is to be said for and against
it ; as well as say whether the weightiest reasons
make for or against. And he may quite overlook
some important reason, on one side or other. He
may quite forget something so obvious and familiar
that a child might have remembered it. Or he may
fail to discern that some consideration which mainly
decides his judgment is open to a fatal objection,
which every one can see is fatal the instant it is


stated. Was it not Sir Isaac Newton, who had a pet
cat and kitten ? And did not these animals annoy
him while busy in his study, by frequently expressing
their desire to be let out and in ? The happy thought
struck him, tliat he might save himself the trouble of
often risking to open his study-door for their passage,
by providing a way that should always be practicable
for their exit or entrance. And accordingly the great
man cut in his door a large hole for the cat to go out
and in, and a small hole for the kitten. He failed to
remember, what the stupidest bumpkin would have
remembered, that the large hole through which the
cat passed might be made use of by the kitten too.
And the illustrious philosopher discerned the error
into which he had fallen, and the fatal objection to the
principle on which he had acted, only when taught it
by the logic of facts. Having provided the holes al-
ready mentioned, he waited with pride to see the crea-
tures pass through them for the first time. And as
they arose from the rug before the fire, where they
had been lying, and evinced a disposition to roam to
other scenes, the great mind stopped in some sublime
calculation ; the pen was laid down ; and all but the
greatest man watched them intently. They approached
the door, and discerned the provision made for their
comfort. Tiie cat went through the door by the large
hole provided for her ; and instantly the kitten fol-
lowed her THROUGH the same hole ! How the
great man must have felt his error ! There was no


resisting the objection to the course he had pursued,
that was brought forward by the act of the kitten.
And it appears almost certain that if Newton, before
committing himself by action, had argued the case ; if
he had stated the arguments in favor of the two holes;
and if he had heard the housemaid on the other side ;
the error would have been averted. But then New-
ton had not the advantage which the Chancellor has ;
he had not the matter argued before him. He argued
the matter on either side, for himself; and he over-
looked a very obvious and irrefragable consideration.
You and I, my reader, have many a time done what
was perfectly analogous to the doing of Sir Isaac
Newton-. We have formed opinions and expressed
them ; and we have done things, thinking we were
doing wisely and right ; just because we forgot some-
thing so plain that you would have said no mortal
could forget it, — something which showed that the
opinion was idiotic, and the doing that of a fool. You
know, more particularly, how men who have commit-
ted great crimes, such as murder, seem by some infat-
uation to have been able to discern only the one ob-
vious reason that seemed to make the commission of
that crime a thing tending to their advantage ; and to
have been incapable of looking just a handbreadth
farther on, so as to see the fatal, crushing objection to
the course they took ; — the absolute ruin and destruc-
tion that must of necessity follow. And the opinion
of many men upon any subject may often be likened


to a table which the art of the upholsterer has fash-
ioned to stand upon a single leg. They hold the opin-
ion for just one reason : and that reason an unsound
one. Give that reason a blow with the fatal, unan-
swerable objection ; down comes the opinion ; even
as down would come the table, whose single leg was
knocked away.

I am well aware that the severe critic who has read
the lines which have been written, may feel disposed
to accuse the writer of a disposition to wander from
his path. A great deal of what has been said, is as
when you take a look over the stile at a footpath run-
ning away from the beaten highway you are to tra-
verse ; and end by getting over the stile, and*walking
a little way along the footpath ; intending, no doubt,
ultimately to return to the beaten highway, and to
plod steadily along it. All this discussion of general
principles ought to have been despatched in a line or
two, analogous to the glance over the stile. But let
the critic take into account the fact, that since the
writer last sat down to write an essay, he has written
a great many serious pages, which it cost hard work
to write, and in which nothing in the nature of an in-
tellectual frisk could be permitted. And thus it is,
that with a great sense of relief, he finds himself
writing a page whereon he may mildly disport liim-
self ; casting logical and other trammels aside ; and
enjoying a little mental recreation. And now, going
back from the path, and getting over the stile, we are


m the highway again. We turned out of the high-
way, you remember, at the point where it was said,


AND AN END ; and that, upon reflection, it seemed
that the general principle might be accepted as true.
No doubt, in our early days, we have heard sermons
which we thought would never end ; yet ultimately,
and after the expiration of long time, they did. And
even those things within our recollection, which seem
as exceptions to the great principle, are probably ex-
ceptions rather in appearance than in reality. I re-
member, indeed, an aged clergyman whom in my
youth I occasionally heard preach ; who always began
the first sentence of his sermon, but who never ended
it ; at least not till the close of the sermon ; and no
human being could know when that sentence ended,
or say at what point (if any point in particular) it
ceased to be. Still even that first sentence of each
discourse of that good man, came to a close somehow.
It stopped, if it was not finished, — because the sermon
stopped. So you see that even that indefinite sentence
can hardly be regarded as an exception to the rule
that all things in this world have a beginning and an

And now, my friend, having laid down the broad
principle with which this dissertation sets out, let rae
proceed to say that it is one of the greatest blessings
of this life, as well as one of the saddest things in
this life, that there are such things as beginnings and


"We cannot bear a very long, uniform look-out.
You may remember Miss Jane Taylor's pleasantly-
told story concerning a certain clock. The pendulum
of that clock began to calculate how often it would
have to swing backwards and forwards in the week
and the month to come ; then, looking still farther
into futurity, it calculated, by a pretty hard exercise
of mental arithmetic, how often it would have to swing
in a year. And it got so frightened at the awful pros-
pect, that it determined at once to stop. There was
something crushing in that long look-out. It was kill-
ing to take in at once that unvaried way ; on, and on,
and on. The pendulum forgot the blessed fact of
beginnings and ends ; forgot that to our feeling there
are beginnings and ends even in the duration, the ex-
panse, the employment, which in fact is most unvary-
ing. It is an unspeakable blessing that we can stop,
and start again, in everything ; and that we can fancy
we do so even when we do not. The pendulum was
not afraid of a hundred beats, or of a thousand ; but
the prospect of millions terrified it. Yet millions are
just an aggregate of many hundreds ; and the pen-
dulum could without fatigue do the hundred, and then
set off again upon another hundred, and do that with-
out fatigue. The journey that crushes us down when
we contemplate it as one long weary thing can be
borne when we divide it into stages. And one great
lesson of practical wisdom is to train ourselves to
mentally divide everything into stages ; in short, to


cling habitually to the invaluable doctrine and fact
of beginnings and ends.

There was a poor cabman at Paris who committed
suicide not long ago. He left behind him a letter
explaining his reasons for the miserable deed. His
letter expressed no violent feeling,- — spoke of no great
blow that had befallen him. It said that he ended
his life because he was " weary of doing the same
things over and over again every day." The poor
man's mind was doubtless unhinged. Yet you see
what he did, and how he nursed his insanity. He
looked too far ahead. He saw all life as one expanse.
He forgot that life is broken into many stages, — that
it is made up of beginnings and endings. He could
not bring himself, for the time, to see it so. Each
separate day he might have stood ; but a thousand
days held in prospect at once beat him. It was as
the bundle of rods was so impossible to break, though
each single rod might easily enough be broken. It
was the fallacy which tells so heavily upon most pub-
lic speakers : that you stand in great awe of a crowd
of a thousand or two thousand men, each of whom in-
dividually would inspire you with no awe at all.

Now, my readers, I know perfectly well that you
have all known a feeling of weariness and almost of
despair arise, when you looked far forward and saw
the long weary way that seemed to stretch on and on
before you in life. I believe that it is not so much what
we are actually enduring at the time that prompts the


cry, " Now, I can bear this no longer ! " as some sud-
den, vivid glimpse of all this, lasting on, and on, and
on. There are few lives in which it is not expedient
to " take short views ; " few minds that, without wea-
riness and depression, can take in at one view any-
very great part of their life at once. Sometimes
there comes on us the poor Frenchman's feeling :
Here is this same round over, and over, and over ;
the occupations of each day are a circle, and we are
just going round and round it, like a horse in a mill.
To-morrow will be like to-day ; and then to-morrow,
and the day after that ; and so on, on, on. The feel-
ing is a morbid one, and a wrong one ; but it is a
common one. A little of the sea in a tumbler is col-
orless ; but a vast deal of the sea, seen in its ocean
bed, is green. With life the case is reversed. In
the commonplace course of life, the path we are act-
ually treading may look rather green, — green, I
mean, like the cheerful verdure of grass ; but if you
take in too great a prospect, the whole tract is apt to
take the aspect of a desert waste, with only a green
spot here and there. You will not add to the cheer-
fulness and hopefulness of man or of child, by drill-
ing into him : " This morning you will do such and
such things ; and all day such other things ; and in
the evening such other things; then you will sleep.
To-morrow morning you will rise, and then the same
things over and over ; and so on, on. I have known
a malignant person who enjoyed the work of present-


ing to others sucli disheartening views of life. Let
me, my reader, counsel the opposite course. Let us
not look too far on. Let us not look at life as one
unvaried expanse ; although we may justly do so.
Let us discipline our minds to look at life as a series
of beginnings and ends. It is a succession of stages ;
and we shall think of one stage at a time. " Suffi-
cient unto the day is the evil thereof." Most people
can bear one day's evil ; the thing that breaks men
down is the trying to bear on one day the evil of two
days, twenty days, a hundred days. We can bear a
day of pain, followed by a night of pain ; and that
again by a day of pain, and thus onward. But we
can bear each day and night of pain only by taking
each by itself. We can break each rod, but not the
bundle. And the sufferer, in real great suflfering,
turns to the wall in blank despair when he looks too
far on ; and takes in a uniform dreary expanse of
suffering, unrelieved by the blessed relief of even fan-
ciful beginnings and ends.

I remember a poor woman whom I used often to
visit and pray with, in my first parish. She died of
cancer ; and the excruciating disease took eight months
to run its course, after having reached the point at
which the pain became almost intolerable. In all that
long time, the poor woman told me that she was never
aware that she had slept ; it seemed to l:»er that the
time never came in which she ceased to be conscious
of agony. Her sufferings formed an unbroken dura-


tlon, undivided by beginnings and ends. She was a
good Christian woman, and had a blessed hope in
another world. But I can never cease to remember
her despairing face, as she seemed to look onward to
weeks of agony, always growing worse and worse, till
it should wear her down to her grave.

The power and habit of taking comprehensive views
is not in every case a desirable thing. It is well for
us that we should look at our work in life in its parts,
rather than as a whole. Of course you understand
what I mean. I am far from saying that we ought not
oftentimes to consider what is the drift and bearing of
all our life, and of all we are doing in it. I mean that
to avoid a fatiguing and disheartening result, we should,
for certain purpo'ses, look not at the entire chain, but
at each successive link of it. Of course, we know each

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 3 of 19)