Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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borne to you with startling clearness. There is some-
thing analogous to that in our perceptions and feelings
of many great facts and truths. Commonly, we per-
ceive them and feel them faintly ; but sometimes they
are borne in upon us, we cannot say how. Some-
times we get vivid glimpses of things which we had
often talked of, but which we had never truly dis-
cerned and realized before. And for many days it
has been so with me. I have seemed to feel the lapse
of time with startling clearness. I have no doubt, my
reader, that you have sometimes done the like. You
have seemed to actually perceive the great current


with which we are all gliding steadily away and

Rapid movement is a thing which has a certain
power to disguise itself from the person who is in-
volved in it. Every one knows that if you are trav-
elling in an express train at sixty miles an hour, you
do not feel the speed nearly so much as the man does
who stands beside the track and sees the great mass
sweep by like a hurricane. Have you ever thought it
would be curious, if we could for a few minutes be
made sensible of the world's motion ? Here we are,
tearing on through space at an inconceivable speed.
We do not feel it, of course ; we could not stand it.
I should like to feel it for half a minute — not for more.

But it is not that motion we are to think of at pres-
ent. No special illumination has been accorded to
me, making me feel that fact which we all know with-
out feeling. But there is another rapid motion, com-
mon to all of us, as is the motion of the earth which
bears us all. There is a great current bearing us
along and all things about us, which is commonly not
much felt. But it seems to me that for several weeks
I have been actually feeling it. I have been exces-
sively busy ; living in a great pressure and hurry of
occupations. In that state, my reader, you feel Sun-
day after Sunday return with a rapidity which takes
away your breath ; and let me say that if you have to
provide one sermon, and still more if you have to pro-
vide two, against the return of each, you will in that


fever of work and haste come to look from one Sun-
day to the next till you will come to find them flying
past you like the quarter-mile posts on a railway.
You will find that you can hardly believe, walking
into church on Sunday morning, that a week has gone
since the last Sunday. And in such a time you will
realize much more distinctly than you usually do, that
all things are going on, — drifting away, — all in com-
pany. These April days are taking life away from
you, from me, — from prince and peasant. There is
one thing at least which all human beings are using
up at exactly the same rate. We can all get out of
the day just twenty-four hours, neither more nor less.
One man may live at the rate of a hundred pounds a
year, and another at the rate of a hundred thousand ;
but each expends his time at the rate of three hun-
dred and sixty-five days a year. Whatever other
differences there may be between the lots of human
beings, we are all drifting on with the current of time,
and drifting at the same rate exactly. And we are
certainly drifting. We are never quite the same in
two successive weeks. One Sunday is not like the
last. Look closely, and you will see that there is a
difference, — slight perhaps, but real. Each time you
sit down to your " Saturday Review" you feel there is
a difference since the last time. Still more do you feel
it, as you read the returning " Fraser," coming at the
longer interval of a month. Things never come back
again quite the same. And indeed in Nature there is


a singular dislike to uniformity. If to-day be a fine
day, look back; it is almost certain that this day
last year was rainy. If to-day you are in very cheer-
ful spirits, it is probable that on the corresponding day
in the year that is gone you were very dull and
anxious. No doubt human beings sometimes success-
fully resist Nature's love of variety. Some men have
an especial love for having and doing things always in
the same way. They walk on special days always on
the same side of the street; perhaps they put their
feet like Dr. Johnson, on the same stones in the pave-
ment. They dress in the same way year after year.
They maintain anniversaries, and try to bring the old
party around the table once more, and to have the old
time back. But we cannot have things exactly over
again. There is a difference in the feeling, even if
you are able precisely to reproduce the fact. And
indeed the wonder is that things are so much like, as
they are to-day, to what they were a year ago, when
we think of the innumerable possibilities of change
that hang over us. Yes, we are drifting on and on,
down to the great sea. Sit down, my friend, to
write your article. You have written many.* The
paper is the same ; the table on which you write is
the same ; the inkstand is the same ; and the pen is
made by the same mender that made all the rest.
And it is possible enough that when the article is
printed at last, your readers will say that it is just the
same thing over again ; but it is not. To your feeling


this day's work is quite different from the work of all
preceding days. There is an undefinable variation
from whatever was before. And as weeks and
months go on, there come to be differences which some
may think more real than any in the comparatively
fanciful respect of feeling. The hair is turning thin
and gray ; the old spirit is subdued. There are
changes in taste, in judgment, in feeling, in many
ways. Yes, we are all Going On.

I wish to stop. There is something awful in this
perpetual progression. If the current would slacken
its speed, at least, and let one quietly think for a little
while ! Let us sit down, my friend, by the way-side.
We are old enough now to look back, as well as to
look round ; and to think how life is going with us,
and with those we know; "We are now in the middle
passage ; perhaps farther on. And if we are half way
in fact, assuredly we are far more in feeling. Though
a man live to seventy, his first thirty-five years are by
far the longer portion of his life.

Let us think to-day, my reader, of ourselves and of
our friends ; and of how it is faring with us as we go on.

It is a curious thing now, when we have settled to
our stride, and are going on (in most cases) very
much as we probably shall go on as long as we live, to
compare what we are with what we promised at our
entrance on life to be. You remember people who
began with a tremendous flourish of trumpets, — people
of whom there was a vague impression, more or less


general, tliat they were to do great things. Some-
times this impression was confined to the man liimself.
Not unfrequently it was shared by his mother and his
sisters. It occasionally extended to his father and his
brothers. And in a few cases, generally in these
cases not without some reason, it prevailed in the
mind of his fellow-students. And it may be said, that
a belief that some young lad is destined to do con-
siderable things, if it be anything like universal among
his college companions, must have some foundation.
A bMief to the same effect with regard to any young
man, if confined to two or three of his intimate com-
panions, is generally quite groundless ; and if it exist
only in the heart of his mother and of himself, it is
quite sure to be absurd and idiotic. We can all, prob-
ably, remember individuals who, without any reason
apparent to onlookers, cherished a most extraordinary^
high opinion of themselves ; and one which was not at
all taken down by frequently being beaten, and even
distanced, in the competitions of College hfe. Such
individuals, for the most part, indulged a very bitte..
and malicious spirit towards students more able and
successful than themselves. I wish I could believe
that modesty always goes with merit. I fear no rule
can be laid down. I have beheld inordinate self-
conceit in very clever fellows, as well as in very
stupid ones. And I have beheld self-conceit devel-
oped in a degree which could hardly be exceeded, in
individuals who v/ere neither very clever nor verj


stupid, but remarkably ordinary in every way. Let
me here remark, that I have known the most enthusi-
astic admiration excited in the breasts of one or two
individuals by a very commonplace man. I mean
admiration of his talents. And I beheld the spectacle
with great wonder, not unmixed with indignation. I
can quite understand man or woman feeling enthusi
astic admiration for a great and wonderful genius. 1
can feel that warm admiration myself. And I can
imagine its existing in youthful minds, even when
the genius is dashed with great failings, or is of a very
irregular nature. But the thing I wonder at, and
cannot understand, is enthusiastic admiration professed
and felt for dreary commonplace. I am not in the
least surprised when I hear a young person, or indeed
an old one, speaking in hyperbolical terms of the
preaching of Bishop Wilberforce. I have heard it
myself, and I know how brilliant and effective it is.
But I really look with wonder at the young woman
who professes equally enthusiastic admiration of the
sermons of Dr. Log. I have heard Dr. Log preach.
I could not for my life attend to his sermon. It was
horribly tiresome. There was not in it a trace of pith
or beauty. It approached to the nature of twaddle.
I was awe-stricken when I heard it described in rap-
turous phrases. I recognized a superior intelligence.
I thought to myself, reversing Mr. Tickell's lines,
" You hear a voice I cannot hear ; you see a hand I
cannot see." It is right to add, that the enthusiastic


appreciators of Dr. Log, were very few in numbe?
and that they appeared to me nearly as stupid as Dr.
Log himself.

But leaving Dr. Log and his admirers, let me say
that very clever fellows, very stupid fellows, and very
commonplace fellows, have started in life with a great
flourish of trumpets. The vanity of many lads, leav-
ing the University, is enormous. They expect to set
the Thames on fire, to turn the world upside down.
A few takings-down bring the best of them to modesty
and sense. And the men for whom the flourish was
loudest do sometimes, when all find their level, have
to rest at a very low one. Many painful mortifications
and struggles bring them to it. Oh ! if talent and
ambition could always be in a man, in just proportion !
But I have known the most commonplace of men,
with ambition that would have given enough to do to
the abilities of Shakspeare. And we may perhaps
say, that no one who begins with a great flourish ever
fails to disappoint himself and his friends. He may
do very well ; he may do magnificently ; but he does
not come up to the great expectations formed of him.
I was startled tHe other day to hear a certain man
named as a failure, who has attained supreme emi-
nence in his own walk in life, and that a conspicuous
one. I said No ; he is anything but a failure ; he has
attained extraordinary eminence ; he is a great man.
But the reply was, " Ah, we expected far more ! We
thought he would leave an impression on the age, and


he has certainly not done that ; while it seems certaic
he has done the best he is ever to do." But look
round, my friend, and think how the world goes with
those who set out with you. They are generally, I
suppose, jogging on humbly and respectably. The
present writer did not in his youth live among those
from whom the famous of the earth are likely to be
taken. One or two of the number have risen to no
small eminence ; but the lot of most has circumscribed
their ambition. It is not in the Senate that he can
look to find many of the names of his old companions.
It is not likely that any will be buried in Westmin-
ster Abbey. The life of two or three may perhaps be
written, if they leave behind them a warm friend wh<?
is not very busy. It does not matter. The nonsense
has been taken out of us by the work of life. And
on the whole, we are going creditably on.

It is worthy of notice, that things which at the be-
ginning were very bad may be made good by a very
small change wrought upon them. You see this itt
human beings, as they go on through life. You re-
member, I have no doubt, how various passages i»
the earlier writings of Mr. Tennyson, on which tht
" Quarterly Review " savagely fixed at their first pub
lication, and which Mr. Tennyson's warmest admiren
must admit to have been in truth very weak, aflfected
and ridiculous, have by alterations of wonderfulb
small amount been brought to a state in which thi
most fastidious critic could find no fault in them


Just a touch from the master-hand did it all. You
have in a homelier degree felt the same yourself, in
correcting and re-writing your own crude and imma-
ture compositions. Often a very small matter takes
away the mark of that Beast whose name shall not be
mentioned here. I know a very distinguished preach-
er, really a pulpit orator, whose manner at his outset
was remarkably awkward. No doubt he has devoted
much pains to his manner since ; though his art is
high enough to conceal any trace of art. I heard him
preach not long since ; and his manner was singularly
graceful ; while yet there was no great change ma-
terially. You have remarked how the features of a
girl's face, very plain at fourteen, have at twenty
grown remarkably pretty. And yet the years have
wrought no very great change. The face is unques-
tionably and quite recognizably the same ; yet it has
passed from plainness into beauty. And so, as we go
on in life, you will find a man has got rid of some
little intrusive folly which just makes the difference
between his being very good and his being very bad.
The man whose tendency to boast, or to exaggerate,
or to talk thoughtlessly of others, made him appear a
fool in his -youth, has corrected that one evil tendency,
and lo ! he is quite altered — he is all right ; he is a
wise and good man. You would not have believed
what a change for the better would be made by that
little thing. You know, I dare say, how poor and bad
are the first crude thoughts for your sermon or your


article, thrown at random on the page. Yet when
you have arranged and rounded them into a symmet-
rical, and accurate, and well-considered composition,
it is wonderful how little change there is from the first
rude sketch. ' Look at the waste scraps of paper be-
fore you throw them into the fire, and you will find
some of your most careful and best sentences there,
word for word. You have not been able to improve
upon the way in which you first dashed them down.

There is a sad thing which we are all made to feel,
as we are going on. It is, that we are growing out of
things which we are sorry to outgrow. The firmest
conviction that we are going on to what is better,
cannot suppress some feeling of regret at the thought
of what we are leaving behind. When I was a coun-
try parson, I used to feel very sorry to see a laurel
or a yew growing out of the sliape in which I remem-
bered it ; and which was associated with plea^sant days.
There was a dull pang at the sight. I remember well
a little yew I planted with my own hand. It looks
like yesterday since I held its top, while a certain man
filled in the earth, and put the sod round its stem.
For some time it appeared doubtful if that yew would
live and grow ; at last it was fairly established, and it
began to grow vigorously the second year. For a
year or two more, it was a neat, shaggy little thing ;
but then it began to put out tremendous shoots, and to
grow out of my acquaintance. I felt I was losing an


old friend. Many a time I had stood and looked at
the little yew ; I knew every branch of it ; and always
went to look at it when I had been a few days away.
No doubt it was growing better ; it was progressing
with a yew's progress ; I was getting a new friend
better than the old one ; yet I sighed for the old one
that was gradually leaving me. You do not like to
think that your little child must grow into something
quite different from what it is now, must die into the
grown up man or woman, must grow hardened to the
world, and cease to be lovable as now. You would
like to keep the little thing as it is, when it climbs
on your knee, and lays a little soft cheek against your
own. Even in the big girl of seven, that goes to
school, you regret the wee child of three that you used
to run after on the little green before your door ; and
in the dawn of cleverness and thought, though pleas-
ant to see, still you feel tliere is something gone which
you would have liked to keep. But it is an inevitable
law, that you cannot have two inconsistent good things
together. Y'ou cannot at once have your field green
as it is in spring, and golden as it is in autumn. You
cannot at once live in the little dwelling which was
long your home, and which is surrounded by the mem-
ories of many years ; and in the more beautiful and
commodious mansion which your increasing wealth has
been able to buy. You cannot at once be tlie mer-
chant prince, wealthy, influential, esteemed by all,
though gouty, ageing, and careworn ; and the hopeful,


light-hearted lad that came in from the country to
push his way, and on whose early aspirations and
struggles you look back with a confused feeling as
though he were another being. You cannot at the
same time be a country parson, leisurely and quiet,
living among green fields and trees, and knowing the
concerns of every soul in your parish ; and have the
privilege and the stimulus of preaching to a congrega-
tion of educated folk in town. Yet you would look
round in silence and regret, when you look for the last
time upon the scenes amid wliich you passed some
considerable part of your life ; even though you felt
that the new place of your labors and your lot were
ever so much better. And though you know it is
well that your children should grow up into men and
women, still you will sometimes be sorry that their
happy childhood must pass so swiftly and so com-
pletely away ; that it must be so entirely lost in that
which is to come after it ; that even in the healthy
maturity of body and of mind there is so little that
recalls to you the merry little boy or girl you used to
know. Yes ; we may have got on to something that
is unquestionably better ; but still we miss the dear
old time and way. It is as with the emigrant, who
has risen to wealth and position in tlie new world
across the sea ; but who often thinks, with fond regret,
of the hills of his native land ; and who, through all
these years, has never forgotten the cottage where he
drew his first breath, and the little church-yard where


his father and mother are sleeping. Yes ; you little
man with the very curly hair, standing at that sofa
turning over the leaves of a large Bible with pictures;
stay as you are, as long as you can ! For I may live
to see you grow into something far less pleasant to
see ; but I shall never live to see you Lord Chancel-
lor ; though that distinguished post (it is well known)
is the natural designation of a Scotch clergyman's

There is something rather awful implied in going
on. Its possibilities are vast; you may yet have
greatly to modify your opinion of any man who is still
going on. The page is not finished yet ; and it may
be terribly blotted before it is done with. But the
man who is no longer going on ; the man who has
finished his page and handed it in ; is fixed and
statuesque. There he is, forever. You may finally
make up your mind about him. He can never do
anything to disappoint you now. But very many men
do live on, just to disappoint. They have done their
best ah'cady ; and they are going on producing w^ork
very inferior to what they once did, and to what we
might expect of them. You go and hear a great
preacher ; not upon a special occasion, but in his own
church, upon a common Sunday. You have read his
published sermons, and thought them very fine ; some
sentences from them still linger on your ear. Unhap-
pily, he did not stop with these fine things. He is


going on still ; and what he is turning off now is quite
different. There is little to remind you of what he
was. Your lofty idea of that great and good man
is sadly shattered. No doubt this is not always so.
Tliere are men who go on through life ; and go on
without deterioration. There are men who are always
tliemselves ; always up to the mark. But for the
most part, going on implies a great falling off. Think
of Sir Walter Scott's last novels. Think of Byron's
last poetry. Compare " The Virgin Widow " with
'' Philip Van Artevelde " Think of the latter pro-
ductions of the author of " Festus. " Think of the
la<t squeezings from the mind of Dr. Chalmers. Think
of the recent appearances, intellectual and moral, of
Mr. Walter Savage Landor. Tliink how roaring Irish
patriots have become the pensioners of tlie Saxon,
after having publicly sworn never to touch the alien
coin. Think how men who bearded the tyrant in
their youth, have ended in contented toadyism. We
are never perfectly safe in forming a judgment of any
man who is 'still going on ; that is, of any living man.
We shall not call him good, any more than happy, till
we have seen the last of him. His very ending may
be enough to blight all his past life. You cannot as
yet settle the mark of a man who is still painting pic-
tures, still publishing poems, still writing books, still
speaking in parliament, still taking a prominent part
in public business. He may possibly rise far above
anything he has yet done. He may possibly sink so.


far below it, as to lower the general average of his
entire life. As regards fame, the right tiling is an
end hke Nelson's. He ended at his best ; and ended
definitively. Even Trafalgar would have been over-
clouded if the hero had still kept going on. Think
of him perhaps coming back ; being made a Duke ;
evincing great vanity ; trying to become a leader
among the Peers, and showing his lack of business
aptitude and of sound judgment in politics ; coming to
be occasionally hissed about the streets of London
getting involved in discreditable tricks to gain office.
Now Nelson might have done none of these things.
But I believe any one who reads his life will feel that
he might have done them all. And was it not far
better that the weak, but great man, the true hero, the
warm-hearted, lovable, brave, honest admiral, should
be taken away from the petty and sordid possibilities
of Going On ; that it should be made sure he
should never vex or disappoint us ; that he should die
in a blaze of glory, and leave a name for ^\'%y^ Briton
to cherish and to love ? There are living men, con-
cerning Avhom we might regret that they are still
going on. They cannot rise above their present
estimation ; they may well sink below it. It would
be a great thing if some means could be devised, by
which a man might stop, without dying. A man
might say, after having done'some difficult and honor-
able work, reaching over a large portion of his life,
" Now, I stop here. I take my stand on what I have


done ; judge of me by that. I must still go on
breathing the air as before; but I fear I shall let
myself down ; so don't inquire about me any further.*'
We all know that great and good men have some-
times, in the latter chapters of their life, done things
on which we can but shut our eyes, and which we
can but strive to forget. It seems quite certain that
Solomon, albeit the wisest of men, became a weak old
fool in his latter days ; nor does the only reliable
history say anything of final repentance and amend-
ment. And silly or evil doings early in life, may be
effaced from remembrance by wise and good doings
afterwards ; while silly and evil doings in the last
stage of life, appear to stamp the character of it all.

It is this thought which sometimes makes the recol-
lection that we are still going on, weigh heavily on
one. There is no saying how the page of our life
may be blotted before it is finished ; and you must
let me say, my friend, that the wise man will stand
in great fear and suspicion of himself ; and will very
earnestly apply for that sacred influence which alone
can hold him right to the end, where alone it is to be
found. There are many things to make one thought-

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 5 of 19)