Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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ful, as we remember how we are going on ; but the
great thing (as regards one's self) is, after all, the sight
of the gloom before us, into which we are advancing
day by day ; not seeing even a step ahead. And to
that may be added the occasional examples which are
pressed upon us in the case of others, w^ho once


seemed very much like ourselves, of what human
beings may come to be. And that which man has
done, man may do. I see various things that are
worthy of note, as I look round on the procession of
the human beings I know and remember, and think
what comes as we go on. I see some who are rather
battered and travel-stained. The greatness of the
way is beginning to tell. I see some who look some-
what worn and jaded. There are little physical
symptoms of the wear of the machine. The hair of
certain men is going, or even gone. The teeth of
some are not complete, as of yore. On the whole, I
trust, we are gaining. I do not think there is any
period of life that one would wish to live over again ;
no period, at least, of more than a very few days.
There are wrecks, no doubt ; some who broke down
early, and have quite disappeared, one does not know
where ; and among these, more than one or two whose
promise was of the best.

Thinking of this one day, I was walking along a
certain street, and came to a place where it was need-
ful to cross. A carriage stopped the way, if that in-
deed can be called a carriage which was no more than
a cab. And my attention was attracted by the cab-
horse, which was standing close by the pavement.
He was a sorry creature ; but, as you looked at him,
there was no mistaking the thorouorhbred. There way
the light head, once so graceful ; the dilated, sensitive
nostrils were still there, and the slender legs. BuJ


the poor legs werp bent and shaky ; the neck was cut
into by the collar ; the hair was rubbed off the skin
in many places ; and the sides were going with that
peculiar motion which indicates broken wind. Here
was Avhat the poor horse had come to. At first doubt-
less he was a graceful, cheerful creature, petted and
made much of in his youth. Probably he proved not
worth training for a race-horse ; and a thoroughbred
without sufficient bone and muscle is very useless for
practical purposes ; though it may be remarked that
a thoroughbred with sufficient bone and muscle is the
best horse for every kind of work except drawing
coals or beer. So the poor thing became a riding-
hack, and having fallen a few times, was sold for a
cab-horse. And it was plain that for many days he
had been poorly fed, and hardly worked ; and that now
the cab-proprietor was taking all he could out of him,
before giving him over to the knacker, to be made into
sausages. It is a popular delusion that the last stage
in a horse's existence is to go to the dogs. There are
some districts in which he goes to the pigs; and others
in which he ends by affording nutriment, in a dis-
guised form, to human beings. I am no alarmist,
and I believe horse-flesh is quite salutary. All I have
to add is, that persons having an antipathy to that
article of food, had better inquire where their bacon
was fed, and had better keep a sharp eye upon their

This, however, is a digression from a sad reflection.


That poor cab-horse suggested various human beings
whom I once knew. We have all known clever and
promising youths who became drunken wrecks, and
who deviated into various paths of sin, shame, and
ruin. I laid down my pen when I had written that
sentence, and thought of four, five, six, who had ended
so, thinking of them not without a tear. Some were
the very last you would have expected to come to this.
There are indeed men whose career as youths is quite
of a piece with their after-career of shame ; but my
early friends were not such as these. I can think of
some, cheerful, amiable, facile in the hand of com-
panions good or bad, who bade fair for goodness and
happiness, yet who went astray, and who w'ere wrecked
very soon. I knew of one, once a man of high char-
acter and good standing, who had to become as one
dead, and who was long afterwards traced, a sailor in
distant seas. He had a beautiful voice ; and I have
heard that it was fine to hear him singing on the deck
by moonlight as he kept his w'atch. Poor wretch,
with what a heavy heart !

The change that passes upon one's self, as we go on
through life, comes so gradually through the wear of
successive days, that we* are hardly conscious how per-
ceptibly we are getting through all that we have to
get through here. We fancy, quite honestly, that we
do not look any older in the last ten years, and that
we are now just the same as we were ten years since.


We fancy that, intellectually and morally, we are bet-
ter; and physically, just the same. People whose
character and history are commonplace at least fancy
this in their more cheerful hours. But sometimes it
comes home to us what a change has passed on us,
perhaps in not a very long time. You will feel this
especially in reading old letters and diaries ; the letters
you wrote and the diary you kept long ago. You
probably thought that your present handwriting is ex-
actly the same as your handwriting of ten years since ;
but when you put the two side by side, you will see
how different they are. And in the perusal of these
ancient documents, it will be borne in upon you how
completely changed are the things you care for. The
cares and interests, the fears and hopes, of the old
days, are mainly gone. You have arrived at quite
different estimates of people and of things ; and if you
be a wiser, you are doubtless a sadder man. And
when you go back to the school-boy spot, or to the
house where you lived when you were ten years old,
it will be a curious thing to contrast the little fellow
of that time, with your own grave and sobered self.
And you will do so the more vividly in the presence
of some well-remembered object, which has hardly
changed at all in the years which have changed you
so much. It is a commonplace ; but commend me to
commonplaces for reaching the common heart ; the
picture of the aged man, or even the man in middle
age, standing beside the tree or the river by which he


played when he was a little child. The hills, the
fields, the trees around, are the same; and there is he,
so changed ! You remember Wordsworth's beautiful
ballad, in which the old schoolmaster is lying beside
the fountain, by which he was used to lie in his days
of youthful strength ; you remember the same old
man, looking back, from a bright April morning, to
another April morning exactly like it, but past for
forty years. "We may well believe, that there is not
a human being but knows the feeling. It is some
little thing in our own history that we remember ; but
it has touched the electric chain of association, and
wakened up the past. There is a rude song current
among the coal-miners of the north of England, in
which an old man is standing by an old oak-tree, and
speaking to that unchanged friend of the change that
has passed upon himself; and though the chorus, re-
curring at the end of each verse, is not so graceful as
the lines which Wordsworth gives to Matthew, the
thought is exactly the same. The words are, " Sair
failed, hinny, sair failed now ; sair failed, hinny, sin I
kenned thou.'' But of all the poems which contrast
the much-changed man and the little-changed tree, I
know of none more touching than one I lately read
in an American magazine. It is called " The Name
in the Bark." Here is a part of the poem : —

The self of so long ago,
And the self I struggle to know,
I sometimes think we are two, — or are we shadows of one ?


To-day the shadow I am,
Comes back in the sweet summer calm,
To trace where the earlier shadow flitted awhile in the sun.

Once more in the dewy mom,

I trod through the whispering corn:
Cool to my fevered cheek soft breezy kisses were blown :

The ribboned and tasselled grass

Leaned over the flattering glass;
And the sunny waters trilled the same low musical tone.

To the gray old birch I came,

Where I whittled mj' schoolboy name:
The nimble squirrel once more ran skippingly over the rail:

The blackbirds down among

The alders noisily sung,
And under the blackberry-trees whistled the serious quail.

I came, remembering well,

How my little shadow fell,
As I painfully reached and wrote to leave to the future a sign:

There, stooping a little, I found

A half-healed, curious wound; —
An ancient scar in the bark, but no initial of mine !

I shall not add the verses in which the poet wisely
moralizes on this instance how fast the traces we
leave behind us pass away. Is it because I can re-
member how my little shadow fell, many years since,
that the last-quoted verse touches me as it does ? We
cast a different shadow now, my friend, from that lit-
tle one we remember well ; and it will not be very
long till the shadows that fell and the substance that
cast them shall have left here an equal trace.


Yes, my readers, we are all changed, as we are
going on, from what we used to be. And it is no
wonder we are changed. The wonder is that we are
not changed a great deal more. How much hard
work we have done ; how much care, trouble, anx-
iety, disappointment, we have come through ! What
painful lessons we have been obliged to learn, every
one of us ! A great deal of the work we do is merely
to serve the purposes of the time, and it leaves no
trace ; but when the work done leaves its tangible
memorial, it often strikes us much ; and we wonder
to see how fresh and unwearied the man looks who
did it all. I have seen the accumulated stock of ser-
mons of a clergyman of more than forty years in the
Church. It was awful to see what a vast mass they
were. And even when we look not at the work of a
lifetime, but at the results of what was no more than
part of the work of a few years, we do so with a feel-
ing of surprise that the man who did it was not at
the end of his work much changed to appearance
from what he was when he began it. Some time
since I got back for a short time the prize essays I
wrote while at college. They filled a whole shelf,
and not a very small shelf. It was awful to look at
them. They were all written before the writer was
twenty-two. They were great heavy volumes —
heavy physically ; and intellectually and aesthetically
still heavier. I tried to read one, but could not, be-
cause it was so tiresome ; and I may therefore fairly


conclude that no one will ever read them. Yet let
me confess, that having arranged them on a lower
shelf, I sat down on a rocking-chair immediately in
front of them, and looked at them with great interest
and wonder. In such a prospect, what could one do
but shake one's head and sigh ? The essays were all
successful, Mr. Snarling. Every one of those prize
essays got its prize. It is not in mortification that
one sighs, but vaguely in the view of such an im-
mense deal of hard work done to so very small pur-
pose. And when you look at a man advanced in life,
whose whole life has been one of hard work, you can-
not but confusedly wonder to see him looking as he
does. To see Lord Campbell walking about at Hart-
rigge, when he had reached the highest place that a
British subject can reach, — to see the benignant and
cheerful face of that remarkable man, and then to
think of the tremendous amount of mental labor he
had gone through in his long life, was a most perplex-
ing and bewildering sight. When you are shown a
ship that has come back from an Arctic voyage, you
will generally remark that the ship looks like it ; it
has a weather-beaten and battered aspect, suggestive
of crunching against icebergs and the like. But
when you are shown a man whose voyage in life
has been a long and laborious one, you are sometimes
surprised to find that he looks as fresh and unwearied
as if he had done nothing all his life but amuse him-


I have already said that it is a great blessing that
in this world there are such things as Beginnings and
Ends. It is a blessing that we can divide our way,
as we go on, into stages, — that we are saved the wea-
rying and depressing effect of a very long uniform
look-out. We begin a succession of tasks ; we end
them ; — and then we begin afresh. And even those
things in which, in fact, there are no beginnings nor
ends, have them in our feeling. The unvarying ad-
vance of time is broken into days and weeks ; and we
feel a most decided end on Saturday night, and we
make a new start on Monday morning. It must be
dreadful for a man to work straight on, Sunday and
all other days. I believe it is impossible that any
man should do so long. The man who refuses to
observe a weekly day of rest will knock his head
against the whole system of things, to the detriment
of his head.

But even more valuable than this obvious result of
the existence of Beginnings and Ends is another. It
is an unspeakable blessing that a man who has got
himself thoroughly into a mess anywhere or in any
occupation, should be able to get away somewhere else
and begin again. If Mr. Snarling, who has quarrelled
with all his parishioners in his present charge, were
removed to another a hundred miles off, I think he
would take great pains to avoid those acts of folly and
ill-temper which have made him so unhappy where
he is. And let me say in addition, that most of us, as


we go on, are always in our hearts admitting the im
perfection and unsatisfactoriness of our past life. "We
are every now and then, in thought and feeling, be-
ginning again. Men are every now and then cutting
off the past ; and acknowledging that they must start,
or (more commonly) that a little while back they did
start, anew. You occasionally avow to yourself, my
reader, though not to the world, that you were a block-
head even two or three years ago. You occasionally
say to yourself that your real life begins from this day
three years. From that date you think you have
been a great deal wiser and better. That course of
conduct five years ago ; those opinions you held then,
that poem, essay, or book you wrote then ; you are
willing to give up. You have not a word to say for
them. But that was in a former stage — in a differ-
ent life. You have begun again since that ; you have
cut connection with it. You say to yourself, " It may
be thirty years since I came into the world ; but my
real life — the part of my life I am willing to avow
and to answer for — began on the 1st of January,
1860. I cut off all that preceded. I began again
then ; and as for what I have said and done since
then, I am ready (as Scotch folk say) to stand on the
head of it It is only in a limited sense that I admit
my identity with the individual who before that date
bore my name and wore my aspect. I disavow the
individual. I condemn him as severely as you can
do." Tell me, my reader, have you not many a time


done that ? Have you not given up one leaf as hope-
lessly blotted, and tried to turn over a new one, — cut
off (in short) the preceding days of life and resolved
to begin again ? Do so, my friend. You may make
something of the new leaf, but you will never make
anything of the old one. And whenever you find any
human being anxious to begin again, always let him
do it, always help him to do it. Don't do as some
malicious wretches do, try to make it as difficult and
humihating as possible for him to turn over the new
leaf. Don't try to compel him to a formal declara-
tion in words that he sees his former life was wrong,
and wants to break away from it ; it was bitter enough
for him to make that avowal to himself. You will
find malicious animals who, if man or child has done
wrong, and is sorry for it, and wishes to turn into a
better way, will do all they can to prevent the poor
creature from quietly turning away from the blurred
page and beginning the clean one. If there be joy in
heaven over the repenting sinner, it cannot be denied
that there is vicious spite over the repenting sinner
in certain hearts upon earth. Let us not seek to
make repentance harder than it is by its nature.
Unhappily there are cases in which neither in fact nor
in feehng is it possible to begin again, — at least upon
an unsullied page. There are many people who
never have a second chance. They must go deeper
and deeper ; they took the wrong turning, and they can
never go back. Such is generally the result of crmie.


There is one sex, at least, with which the one wrong
step is irretraceable. And even with the ruder half
of mankind, there are some deeds which, being done
shut you in like the spring-lock in poor Ginevra's oak-
chest. There is no repassing ; and often the irrever-
sible turning into the wrong track was not the result
of anything like crime ; often the cause was no more
than ill-luck, or some foolish word or doing. What
disproportionate punishment often follows on little acts
of haste or folly ! In the order of Providence folly
is often punished much more severely than sin. A
young fellow, foolishly thinking to gain the favor of
a sporting patron by exhibiting an extraordinary
knowledge of the turf and the chase, cuts himself off
from the living on which his heart was set. A
flippant word, hardly spoken till it was repented,
has prejudicially affected a man's whole after-career.
Various men, in pique and haste, have made mar-
riages which blighted all their life, and which brought
an actual sorer punishment than that with which the
law visits aggravated burglary or manslaughter. It
is well in most cases to keep a way of retreat. It is
well that before entering in you should see if you can
get out, should it prove desirable. You must be veiy
confident or very desperate if you cut off the bridge
behind you, when in front there is but to do or to die.
No doubt a habit of keeping the retreat open is fatal
to decision of action and character. There is good,
in one view, in feeling that we have crossed the Rubi


coll and are in for it ; then we shall hold stoutly on ;
otherwise, we may be advancing with only half a
heart. And there are important cases in which the
difference between half a heart and a whole one
makes just the difference between signal defeat and
splendid victory.

It is to be admitted, my friends, that as we go on,
the nonsense is being taken out of us. You have seen
a horse start upon its journey in a very frisky con-
dition, kicking about and prancing ; but after a few
miles it settles into doing its work steadily. That is
the image which to my mind represents our career,
going on. The romance has mainly departed. "We
look for homely things, and are content with them.
Once, too, we expected to do great achievements, but
not now. We know, generally, our humble mark.
Indeed, the question as to the earning of bread and
butter has utterly crowded out of our hearts the ques-
tion as to the attainment of fame. We would not
give one pound six and eight pence for wide renown.
We would not give the eight pence for posthumous
celebrity. We know our humble mark, I have said.
I mean intellectually. And it is a great comfort to
know it. It saves us much fever of competition, of
suspense, of disappointment. We cannot possibly be
beaten in the race of ambition ; we cannot even injure
our lungs or our heart in the race of ambition ; be-
cause we shall not run it at all. A wise man may be


very glad, and very thankful, that he does not think
himself a great genius, and that he does not think what
he can do very splendid. For if a man thought him-
self a great genius, he would be bitterly mortified that
he was not recognized as such. And if a man thought
his sermons or his books very fine, he would be mor-
tified that his church was not crammed to suffocation,
instead of being quite pleased when it is respectably
filled ; and he would be disappointed that his books
do not sell by scores of thousands of copies, instead
of being joyful that about half the first edition sells,
leaving his publishers or himself only a little out of
pocket, besides all their time and trouble. I know a
man of highly respectable talents, who once published
a theological book. ISfobody ever bought a copy ex-
cept himself. But he bought a good many, which he
gave to his friends. And then he was extremely
pleased that so many copies were sold. Was he not
a wise and modest man ?

Among other follies, I think that in going on, men,
if they have any sense at all, get rid of Affectation,
Few middle-aged men, unless they be by nature in-
curably silly and conceited, try to walk along the
street in a dignified and effective way. They wish to
get quickly and quietly along ; and they have utterly
discarded the idea that any passer-by thinks it worth
while to look at them. Generally speaking, they sign
their names in a natural handwriting. They do not,
as a rule, look very cheerful. They seem, when


silent, to fall into calculations, tlie result of which is
not satisfactory. The great tamer of men, is doubt-
less, the want of money. That is the thing that brings
people down from their airy flights and romantic im-
aginations ; especially when there are some depend-
ent on them. You may dismiss the very rich, who
never need think and sclieme about money, and how
it is to be got, and how far it can be made to go, as an
inappreciable fraction of the human race. Care sits
heavy upon the great majority of those who are going
on. You know the anxious look, and the inelastic
step, of most middle-aged people who have children.
All these things are the result of the want of money.
Probably the ^vant of money serves great ends in the
economy of things. Probably it is a needful and es-
sential spur to w^ork ; and a useful teacher of modesty,
humility, moderation. No man will be blown up with
a sense of his own consequence, or walk about fancy-
ing that he is being pointed out with the finger as the
illustrious Smith, when (like poor Leigh Hunt) he
fears lest the baker should refuse to send him bread,
or that the washerwoman should impound his shirts.
It is a lamentable story that is set out in the latter
portions of the " Correspondence " of that amiable but
unwise man. And human vanity needs a strong
pressure to keep it within moderate limits. Even the
wise man, with all his unsparing efforts to keep self-
conceit down, has latent in him more of it than he
would like to confess. I lately heard of an outburst


of the vanity latent in a decent farmer of moderate
means. One market day he got somewhat drunk,
unhappily. And walking home, on the country road,
he fell into a ditch, wherein he remained. Some of
his friends found him there, and proceeded to rescue
him. On approaching him, they found he was pray-
ing. For though drunk that day, he was really a
worthy man : it was quite an exceptional case ; I
suppose he never got drunk again. They caught
a sentence of his prayer. It was, " Lord, as Thou
hast made me great so do Thou make 7ne good ! "
His friends had no idea of the high estimation in
which the man held himself. He was, in the matter
of greatness, exactly on the same footing with the
other people round him. But he did not think so.
In his secret soul, he fancied himself a very superior
man. And when his self-restraint was removed by
whiskey, the fancy came out.

But he must have been at least a well-to-do man,
who had this idea of his own importance. Many mea
are burdened far too heavily for that. Yery many
men in this world are bearing just -as much as they
can. A little more would break them down, as the
last pound breaks the camel's back. When a man is
loaded with as much work, or suffering, or disappoint-
ment, as he can bear, a very trifling addition will
make his burden greater than he can bear. I remem-
ber how a friend told me of a time when he was pass-
ing through the greatest trouble of his life. He had


met a very heavy trial, but was bearing up wonder-
fully. One day, only a day or two after the stroke
had fallen, he was walking along a lonely and rocky
path, when he tripped and fell down, giving his knee
a severe stunning blow against a rock. He had been
able to bear up before, though his heart was full. But
that was the drop too much ; and he broke down and
cried like a child, though before that he had not shed

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 6 of 19)