Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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link will be succeeded by the next ; but let us think
of them one at a time. Let us be thankful for Satur-
day night, and let us enjoy it ; and let us hold at arm's
length the intruding thought of Monday morning,
when the shoulder must be put tg the collar again.
No doubt, in the work of life, every end is also a be-
ginning. We rest for a little, perhaps only in thought
and feeling ; and then we go at our work again. But
it is a convenient thing, and it helps to carry us on in
our way, to mark out a number of successive ends, and
thus to divide our journey into successive stages. It
is well for us that when we start, we cannot see how
far we have to go. We should give up all effort in


despair, if from the beginning we held in view all the
interminable length of way, whose length we shall
hardly feel when we are wiled away along it gradu-
ally, step by step. It has always appeared to me ex-
tremely bad policy in any preacher, who desires to keep
up the interest of his congregation, to announce at the
beginning of the sermon, that in the first place he will
do so and so ; and in the second place such another
thing ; and in the third place something else ; and
finally close with some practical remarks. I can say
for myself, that whenever I hear any preacher say
anything like that, an instant feeling of irksomeness
and weariness possesses me. You cannot help think-
ing of the long tiresome way that is to be got over,
before happily reaching the end. You check off each
head of the sermon as it closes ; but your relief at
thinking it is done, is dashed by the thought of what
a deal more is yet to come. No : the skilful preacher
will not thus map out his subject, telling his hearers
so exactly what a long way they have to go. He will
wile them along, step by step. He will never let
them have a long out-look. Let each head of dis-
course be announced as it is arrived at. People can
bear one at a time, who would break down in the
simultaneous prospect of three, not to say of seven or
eight. And then, when the sermon is nearly done,
you may, in a sentence, give a connected view of all
you have said ; and your skill will be shown if people
think to themselves, what a long way they have been


brought without the least sense of weariness. I lately
heard a sermon, which was divided into seven heads.
If the preacher had named them all at the beginning,
the congregation would have ceased to listen ; or
would have listened under the oppressive thought of
what a vast deal awaited them before they would be
free. But each head was announced just as it was
arrived at ; the congregation was wiled along insensi-
bly ; and the sermon was listened to with breathless
attention from the first sentence to the last.

Let it be so with life, and the work of life. It would
crush down any man's resolution, if he saw in one
glance the whole enormous bulk of labor, which he
will get through in a lifetime, without feeling it so
very much at each successive stage. It is well to
break up our journey into separate portions ; to take
it bit by bit ; to set ourselves a number of successive
ends ; even though we know that we are practising a
sort of deception on ourselves ; and that wlien the end
we have immediately in view is reached, our work
will be just as far from being done, as ever. Your
little boy has before him the mighty task of his educa-
tion. You do not tell the little thing at once the
whole extent of toil that is included in that. No ; you
fix on a small part of the work that is to be done ;
you show the little man that as his first end. That is
the first thing to be done ; and then we shall see what
is to come next. And yet you know, and the little
child knows just as well, that after he has conquered


that tremendous alphabet, he must just begin again
with something else ; that by a hundred steps, — each
set out at first as an end to be attained ; and each
indeed an end, but likewise a beginning, — he must
mount from his first little book onwards and upwards
into the fields of knowledge and learning. Let us, if
we are wise men, hold by the grand principle of step
BY STEP ; let us be thankful that God, knowing that
weariness is a thing that must be felt at intervals by
the minds and bodies of all His creatures, has ap-
pointed that they shall live in a world of Beginnings
and Ends. Yes, we can stand a day at a time ; but
if we forget the law of beginnings and ends, we shall
come to be bearing the weight of a hundred days
together. And that will crush the strongest.

Many people, of an anxious temperament, are like
the pendulum already mentioned. The pendulum
looked ahead to the incalculable multitude of ticks,
forgetting that there would always be a moment to
tick in. And you can easily see that many human
beings plod heavily and dully through their work in
life, because instead of giving their mind mainly to
the present tick, they are thinking of the innumerable
ticks that are coming. You know quite well that the
work of life is done by most animals that have to
work, in a dull, spiritless way. Few go through their
work in a cheerful, lively way. Even inferior ani-
mals are coming to imitate their rational fellow-crea-
tures. The other day, I was driving in a cab along a


certain broad and ugly highway, which unites Athens
with the Piraeus. I overtook and passed various
drays, drawn by fine Uirge horses. I carefully re-
marked the expression of the countenance of each
successive horse. All of them had a very gloomy
and melancholy look. They seemed as though they
were enduring. They could stand it ; and that was
all. And I thought, here is an example of the way
in which this world mainly goes on. It goes on ; it
gets through; but not cheerfully. You could know,
even if you had no better means of knowing, that
there is something wrong. And the working bees of
the human race do, for the most part, go through their
work like the dull, down-looking horse. The horses
were plump and sleek ; they were plainly well fed
and well groomed ; yet their expression was sorrow-
ful, or at least apathetic. It would have struck
you less, to have seen that dull look on the flice of
some poor, half-starved screw. And you know that it
is generally the human beings whose material advan-
tages are the greatest, who have the most unsatisfied
and unhappy expression of countenance. Look at the
portraits of cabinet ministers and the like. Few work
with a light heart, and with enjoyment in their work.
Many forebodings, and many cares, sit heavily upon
the heart and brain of most. Oh for more practical
belief in Be":innino:s and Ends !

It is characteristic of those things which possess a
Beginning and an End, that they also possess a Mid-


die, of greater or less extent. But we do not mind
about the middle nearly so much. The middle is
much less affecting and striking. It is the first start,
and then the close, that we mainly feel. You know
the peculiar interest with which we look at the setting
sun of summer, in his last minutes above the horizon.
Of course he was going on just as fast through all the
day ; but at mid-day, we did not know the value of
each minute, as we do when he is fast going down. I
have been touched by the sight of human life, ebbing
almost visibly away ; and you could not but think of
the sun in his last little space above the mountains, or
above the sea. I remember two old gentlemen, great
friends ; both on the extreme verge of life. One was
above ninety ; the other above eighty. But their wits
were sound and clear; and, better still, their hearts
were right. They confessed that they were no more
than strangers and pilgrims on the earth ; they de-
clared plainly that they sought a country, far away,
where most of those they had cared for were waiting
for them. But the body was very nearly worn out;
and though the face of each was pleasant to look at,
paralysis had laid its grasp upon the aged machinery
of limb and muscle which had played so long. I used,
for a few weeks, to go one evening In the week and
sit with them, and take tea. They always had tea in
large breakfast cups; other cups would not have done.
I remember how the two paralytic hands shook about,
as they tried to drink their tea. There they were, the


two old friends ; they had been friends from boyhood,
and they had been over the world together. You
could not have looked, ray friend, but with eyes some-
what wet, at the large tea-cups, shaking about, as the
old men with difficulty raised them to their lips. And
there was a thing that particularly struck me. There
was a large old-fashioned watch, always on a little stand
on the tea-table, ticking on and on. You seemed to feel
it measuring out the last minutes, running fast away. It
always awed me to look at it and hear it. Only for a
few weeks did I thus visit those old friends, till one
died ; and the other soon followed him, where there are
no palsied hands or aged hearts. No doubt, through all
the years the old-fashioned watch had gone about in
the old gentleman's pocket, life had been ebbing as
really and as fast as then. And the sands were run-
ning as quickly for me as for the aged pilgrims. But
then with me it was the middle ; and to them it was
the end. And I always felt it very solemn and touch-
ing, to look at the two old men on the confines of life,
and at the watch loudly ticking off their last hours.
One seemed to feel time ebbing, — as you see the set-
ting sun go down.

Beginnings are difficult. It is very hard to begin
rightly in a new work or office of any kind. And I
am thinking not merely of the inertia to be overcome
in taking to work ; though that is a great fact. In
writing a sermon or an essay, the first page is much


the hardest. You know, it costs a locomotive engine
a great effort to start its train ; once the train is off,
the engine keeps it going at great speed witli a tenth,
or less, of the first heavy pull. But I am thinking
now of the many foolish things whicli you are sure to
say and do in your ignorance, and in the novehy of
the situation. Even a Lord Chancellor has behaved
very absurdly in his first experience of his great ele-
vation. It would be a great blessing to many men to
be taken elsewhere, and have a fresh start. As a
general rule, a clergyman should not stay all his life
in his first parish. His parishioners will never forget
the foolish things he did at his first coming, in his in-
experienced youth. There, he cannot get over these ;
but elsewhere he would have the good of them, with-
out the ill. He would have the experience, dearly
bought; while the story of the blunders and troubles
by which it was bought would be forgotten. I dare
say there are people, miserable and useless where they
are, who, if they could only get away to a new place,
and begin again, would be all right. In that new
place they would avoid the errors and follies by which
they have made their present place too hot to hold
them. Give them a new start ; give them another
chance ; and taught by their experience of the scrapes
and unhappiness into which they got by their hasty
words, their ill temper, their suspicion and impatience,
their domineering spirit, and their determination in
little things to have their own way ; you would find


them do excellently. Yes, there is something admi-
rable about a Beginning! There is something cheer-,
ing to the poor fellow who has got the page on which
he is writing hopelessly blotted and befuuled, when
you turn over a new leaf, and give him the fresh un-
sullied expanse to commence anew ! It is like wiping
out a debt that never can be paid, and that keeps the
poor struggling head under water ; but wipe it out,
and oh, with what new life will the relieved man go
through all his duty ! It is a terrible thing to drag a
lengthening chain ; to know that, do what you may,
the old blot remains, and cannot be got rid of. I know
various people, soured, useless, and unhappy, who (I
am sure) would be set right forever, if they could but
be taken away from the muddle into which they have
got themselves, and allowed to begin again somewhere
else. I wish I were the patron of six livings in the
Church. I think I could make something good and
happy of six men who are turned to poor account
now. But alas, that in many things there is no sec-
ond chance ! You take the wrong tiu-ning ; and you
are compelled to go on in it, long after you have found
that it is wrong. You have made your bed, and you
must lie on it. And it is sad to think how early in
life all life may be marred. A mere boy or girl may
get into the dismal lane which has no turning ; and
out of which they never can get, to start afresh in a
better track. How many of us, my readers, would
be infinitely better and happier, if we could but begin
again !


An End is sometimes a very great blessing. I
have no doubt, my readers, that in your childhood
you have often felt this when a sermon was brought
to a close. Perhaps in maturer years you have ex-
perienced a like emotion of relief under the like cir-
cumstances. I can say deliberately that never in my
youth did I once wish that such a discourse should be
longer than it was. Yet we all remember how we
have shrunk from Ends. You may have read a fairy
tale by Mr. Thackeray, with illustrations by its au-
thor. One of these is a cartoon, representing a boy
eating a bun, apparently of superior quality ; and
at the same time expressing a sentiment common to
early youth. He eats ; and as he eats, he speaks as
follows : " Oh what fun ! Nice plum-bun ! How I
wish it never was done ! " I remember the mental
state. I have known it well. In my mind it is
linked with the thought of plum-pudding, and of
other luxuries and dainties. It was sad to see the
object lessen, as it was enjoyed, — to see it melt away,
like a summer sunset ! And about Christmas-time,
one had sometimes a like feeling as to the appetite
and relish for plum-pudding and the like. Would it
were unceasing ! I mean the appetite. But you re-
member how it flagged. And though you stimulated
it with cold water, yet the fourth supply beat you,
and had to be taken away. And you remember, too,
how you shrunk from the end of your holiday sea-
son, and wished that time would stand still. You


may have read the awful scene in Christopher Mar-
lowe's " Faustus," where the hapless philosopher, on the
verge of his appointed season, seems to cling to each
moment as it passes away from him. And oh, ray
reader, if the great work of life have not been done
while the day lasted, think how awful it will be to
feel tliat the end of the day of grace is here ! Think
of poor Queen Elizabeth in her dying hour, offering
all the wealth of her kingdom for another day of life !
We cannot, in the commonplace days of ordinary
health and occupation, rightly realize the tremendous
fact ; but think of the End of this life, to the man
who has no hope beyond it ! To feel that all in the
world you have toiled for and loved is going from
you ; to feel your feeble hand losing its grasp of all ;
to see the faces around grow dim through the mists
of death ; to feel the weary heart pausing, and the
last chill creeping upwards ; to feel that you are
driven irresistibly to the edge of the awful gulf, —
and no hope beyond ! But remember, reader, it wiU
be your own fault, if you come to that.

It is the end of a career that gives the character
to it all. We feel as if a life, however honorable
and happy, were blighted by a sorry ending. The
thought of Napoleon at St. Helena squabbling about
the thickness of his camp soup, and the number of
clean shirts to be allowed him, casts back an impres-
sion of pettiness upon the man even in his mid-career.
There is a graver consideration. If a man had lived


many years in usefulness and honor, but finally fell
into grievous sin and shame, we should think of his
life as on the whole a shameful one. But if a man
end his career nobly, if his last years are honorable
and happy, we should think of his life on the whole
as one of happiness and honor, though its beginning
were ever so lowly and sad. You remember how a
great king of ancient days asked a philosopher to
name some of the happiest of the race. The phi-
losopher named several men, all of whom were dead.
The king asked him why he did not think of meu
still living ; " Look at all my splendor," he said to the
philosopher ; " why do you not think of me ? " " Ah,"
said the wise man ; " who knows what your life and
your lot may be yet ? I call no man happy before
he dies ! " [Distinguished classical scholar, I am not
telling the story for you.] And, sure enough, that
monarch was reduced to captivity and misery ; and
died a miserable captive : and so you would not say
that his life was a happy or a prosperous one on the
whole. But in the most important of all our con-
cerns, my friend, the End is far more important than
that. You know that though the monarch, vanquished
and uncrowned, died in a dungeon, that could not blot
out the years of royalty he had actually lived. He
had been a king, once ; however fallen now. The
man who sits by his lonely fireside, silent and de-
serted, can yet remember the days when that quiet
dwelling was noisy and gladsome with young voices :


tbey were real days, when his children were round
him ; and it does him good yet to look back on them,
— though now the little things are in their graves.
But the fearful thing about the Christian who ends in
sin and shame, is this : He dare not comfort himself
under the present wretchedness, by looking back to
better days, when he thought he was safe. The fear-
ful thing is that this present end of sin has power to
blot out those better days : if a man, however fair his
profession, end at last manifestly not a Christian, this
proves that he never was a Christian at all ! You see
what tremendous issues depend upon the Christian
life ending well ! It is little to say that ending ill is
a sad thing at the time : it is that ending ill flings
back a baleful light on all the days that went before !
If the end be bad, then there was something amiss all
along, however little suspected it may have been. It
is only when the end is well over, that you can be
perfectly sure you are safe. You remember Mr.
Moultrie's beautiful poem, about his living children
and his dead child. The living children were good,
were all he could wish ; but God only knew how
temptation might prevail against them as years went
on ; but as for the dead one, he was safe. " It may
be that the Tempter's wiles their souls from bliss may
sever ; But if our own poor faith fail not, he must be
ours forever ! " Yes, that little one had passed the
End ; no evil nor peril could touch him more.


I dare say you have sometimes found that for a lay
or two, a line of poetry or some short sentence of
prose would keep constantly recurring to your mem-
ory. I find it so ; and tlie line is sometimes Shak-
speare's ; sometimes Tennyson's ; often it is from a
certain Volume (the Best Volume) of which it is my
duty to think a great deal. And I remember how,
not long since, for about a week, the line that was
always recurring was one by Solomon, king and phi-
losopher (and something more) : it was " Better is the
end of a thing than the beginning." And at first I
thought that the words sounded sad, and more hea-
then-like than Christian. Has it come to this, that
God's Word tells us concerning the life God gave us,
that the best thing that can happen to us is soonest to
get rid of that sad gift ; and that each thing that
comes our way, is something concerning which we
may be glad when it is over? I thought of Mr.
Kingsley, and wondered if the sum of the matter,
after all, is "The sooner it's over, the sooner to
sleep ; " and of Sophocles, and how he said " Not to
be, is best of all; but when one hath come to this
world, then to return with quickest step to whence he
came, is next." But then I saw, gradually, that the
words are neither cynical nor hopeless ; that they do
but remind us of the great truth, that God would have
our life here one of constant progress from good to
better, and so the End best of all. We are to be
" forgetting those things which are behind, and reach-


ing forth unto those which are before," because the
best things are still before us. If things in this world
go as God intended they should, then everything is a
step to something else, something farther : which
ought to be an advance on what went before it; which
ought to be better than what went before it. And
above all, the End of our life here (if it end well), so
safe and so happy, is far better than its Beginning,
with all the perils of the voyage yet to come.

I thought of these things the other Sunday after-
noon, seeing the Beginning and the End almost side
by side. At that service I did not preach ; and I was
sitting in a square seat in a certain church, listening
to a very good sermon preached by a friend. A cer-
t-ain little boy, just four years old, came and sat beside
me, leaning his head on me as a pillow ; and soon
after the beginning of the sermon, the little man (very
properly) fell sound asleep. And (attending to the
sermon all the while) I could not but look down at
the fat rosy little face, and the abundance of curly
hair; the fresh, clear complexion, the cheerful, inno-
cent expression ; and think how fair and pleasing a
thing is early youth, — how beautiful and hopeful is
our life's Beginning. And after service was over, on
my way home, I went to see a revered friend, who, at
the end of a long Christian life, was dying. There
was the worn, ghastly face, with its sharp features ;
the weary, worn-out frame ; the weakened, wandering
mind, so changed from what it used to be. And


standing by that good Christian's bed, and thinking of
the little child, I said to myself, There is the Begin-
ning of life ; Here is the End ; — what shall we say in
the view of that sad contrast ? And I thought, there
and then, that " Better is the end of a thing than the
beginning ! " Yes ; better is the end of a dangerous
voyage than its outset. You have seen a ship sailing
away upon a long, perilous voyage over the ocean ;
the day was fair and sunshiny, and the ship looked
gay and trim, with her white sails and her freshly-
painted sides. And you have seen a ship coming safe
into port at the end of her thousands of miles over the
deep, under a gloomy, stormy sky, and with hull and
masts battered by winds and waves. And you have
thought, I dare say, that better far was this ending,
safe and sure, than even that sunshiny beginning, with
all the risks before it. And here, in the worn figure
on the weary bed, here is the safe end of the voyage
of life ! Oh, what perils are yet before the merry lit-
tle child ! Who can say if that little one is to end in
glory ? But to the dying Christian all these perils
are over. He is safe, safe ! And then, remember, this
is not yet the end, you see. It is not the end, that
weary figure, lying on that bed of pain. It is only
the last step before the end. A very little, and how
glorious and happy that sufferer will be ! You would
not wish to keep him here, when you think of all the
blessedness into which the next step from this pain
will bear him. Nay ; but you may take up, in a sub-


limer significance than that of deliverance from mere
earthly ill, the beautiful words of the greatest poet :

" Vex not his soul : oh, let him pass ! He hates him,
That would, upon the rack of this rough "world,
Stretch him out longer I **



IHERE are many things of which you
^W have a much more vivid perception at
rs^ some times than at others. The thing is
r- "^ before you ; but sometimes you can grasp
it firmly, sometimes it eludes you mistily. You are
walking along a country path, just within hearing of
distant bells. You hear them faintly ; but all of a
sudden, by some caprice of the wind, the sound is

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 4 of 19)