Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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a tear.

There are various conclusions at which men arrive
as they go on, which at an earlier part of their journey
they would have rejected with indignation. One thing
you will learn, my reader, as you advance, is, what you
may expect. I mean, in particular, how much you
may expect from the kindness of your friends; how
much they are likely to do for you ; how much they
are likely to put themselves about to serve you. I do
not say it in the way of finding fault ; but the ordinary
men of this world are so completely occupied in look-
ing to their own concerns, that they have no time or
strength to spare for those of others. And, accord-
ingly, if you stick in the mud, you had much better,
in all ordinary cases, try to get out yourself. Nobody
is likely to help you particularly. Good Samaritans,
in modern society, are rare ; priests and levites are
frequent. I lately came to know a man who had
faithfully and effectually served a certain cause for
many years. He came at last to a point in his life at


which those interested in the cause he had served
might have greatly helped him. He made sure they
would. But they simply did nothing. Nobody moved
a finger to aid that meritorious man. He was morti-
fied; but after waiting a. little, he proceeded to help
himself, which he did effectually. I do not think he
will trust to his friends any more. The truth is, that
beyond the closest circle of relationship, men in gen-
eral care very little indeed for 'each other. I know
men, indeed, — and I say it with pride and thankful-
ness, — with whom the case is very different:! re-
member one who loved his friends as himself, and who
stood up for them everywhere with a noble devotion.
I think a good many of them caught from him the im-
pulse that would have made them do as much for him ;
but he was one of the truest friends and the noblest-
hearted men on this earth. Many months are gone
since he was laid in his grave ; but how many of those
who will read this page cherish more Avarmly tlian
ever the memory of John Parker! "If I forget
thee," my beloved friend — you remember David's
solemn words. But compared with the chance
acquaintances whom every one knows, he was as a
Man among Gorillas. And I recur to my principle,
that beyond closest ties of blood, men in general care
very little for one another. You have known, I dare
say, an old gentleman, dying in great suffering through
many weeks ; but his old club friends did not care at
all; at most, very little. His suffering and death

.GOING ON. 107

caused them not the slightest appreciable concern.
You may expc^ct certain of your friends to be ex-
tremely lively and amusing at a dinner-party, on the
day of your funeral. I remember, a good many years
ago, feeling very indignant at learning about a gay en-
tertainment, where was much music and dancing, at-
tended by a number of young people, on the evening
of the day on which a fair young companion of them
all was laid in her last resting-place. I am so many
years older; yet I confess I have not succeeded in
schooling myself to feel none of the indignation I then
felt ; though I have thoroughly got rid of the slightest
tendency to the surprise I felt in that inexperienced
time. For, since then, I have seen a young fellow of
six-and-twenty engaged in a lively flirtation with two
girls who were in a railway carriage while he was
standing on the platform, just the day after his moth-
er's funeral. I have beheld two young ladies decked
to go out to a ball. Their dresses happily combined a
most becoming aspect with the expression of a modi-
fied degree of mourning. They had recently lost a
relative. The relative was their father. I have wit-
nessed the gayety and the flirtations of a newly-made
widow. It appeared to me a sorry sight. There are
human beings, it cannot be denied, whose main char-
acteristics are selfishness and heartlessness. For it is
unquestionably true, that the most thorough disregard
for the feelings, and wishes, and interests of others,
may coexist with the keenest concern for one's self.


You will find people who bear with a heroic constancy
the sufferings and trials of others ; but who make a
frightful howling about their own. And, singularly,
those who never gave sympathy to another mortal,
expect that other mortals shall evince lively sym-
pathy with them. Commend me to a thoroughly
selfish person, for loud complaints of the selfishness
of others.

As you go on, you will come to understand how well
you can be spared from this world. You remember
Napoleon's axiom, that No man is necessary. There
is no man in the world whom the world could not do
without. There are many men who, if they were
taken away, would be missed; would be very much
missed, perhaps, by more or fewer human beings. But
there is no man but what we may say of him that,
useful and valuable as he may be, we might, sooner or
later, with more or less difficulty, come to do without
him. The country got over the loss of Sir Robert
Peel and the Duke of Wellington ; it misses Prince
Albert yet, but it is getting over his absence. I do
not mean to say that there are not hearts in which
a worthy human being is always remembered, and
always missed ; in which his absence is felt as an irrep-
arable loss, making all life different from what it used
to be. But in the case of each, these hearts are few.
And it is quite fit that they should be few. If our
sympathy with others were as keen as our feeling for
ourselves, we should get poorly through life ; with


many persons sympathy is only too keen and real as
it is. But though you quite easily see and admit that
human beings can be spared without much inconven-
ience, when you think how the State comes to do
without its lost political chief, and the country without
its departed hero, you are somewhat apt, till growing
years have taught you, to cherish some lurking belief
that you yourself will be missed, and kindly remem-
bered, longer and by more people than you are ever
likely to be. A great many clergymen, seeing the
strong marks of grief evinced by their congregation
as they preach their farewell sermon before going to
another parish, can hardly think how quickly the con-
gregation will get over its loss ; and how soon it will
come to assemble Sunday by Sunday with no remem-
brance at all of the familiar face that used to look at
it from the pulpit, or of the voice which once was
pleasant to hear. Let no man wilfully withdraw from
his place in hfe, thinking that he will be missed so
much that he will be eagerly sought again. If you
step out of the ranks, the crowd may pass on ; the va-
cant space may be occupied ; and you may never be
able to find your place any more. There are far more
men than there are holes, and all the holes get filled
up. Who hastily resigned a bishopric ? who in dud-
geon threw up an Attorney-Generalship? who (think-
ing he could not be spared) abdicated the Chancellor-
ship ? And did not each of these men find out his
mistake ? The holes were filled up, and the men re-


mained outsiders ever afterwards. There is a very
striking story of Hawthorne's, analyzing the motives
and feelings of a man who, in some whim, went away
from his house and his wife, but went no fartlier than
the next street, and lived there in disguise for many
years, all his relatives fancying him dead. And the
eminent American shows, with wonderful power,
how a human being so acting may make himself the
outlaw of the universe. It needs all your pres-
ence, all your energy, all your present services, to
hold you in your place in life, my friend. There
are certain things whose value is felt through
their absence ; but I think that, as a general rule, a
man can make his value felt only by his presence.

A friend of mine, who is a successful author, told
me how, when he published his first book, he made
quite sure that all his friends would read it, and more
particularly that all his cousins, to whom he sent cop-
ies of his book, would do so. But he confided to me,
as one of the lessons he had arrived at in going on,
that it is with total strangers that any writer must
hope for whatever success he may reach. Your cous-
ins, thinking to mortify you, will diligently refrain
from reading your volume. At least they will profess
that they do so ; though you will find them extremely
well coached up in all the weak and foolish passages
with which the reviewers have found fault. And
these passages they will hasten to point out to your
father and mother, also to your wife, at the same time


expressing their anxious hope that these foolish pas-
sages may not do you harm. My friend told me how
in his first book there was a sentence which his cousins
feared would give offence to a certain eminent person
who had shown him kindness ; and the promptitude
with which they could always turn up the passage,
and the vigorous and fluent manner in which they
could point out how offensive it must prove to the em-
inent person, testified to the amount of pains they had
bestowed upon the discussion of the subject. Among
the six hundred pages, how easily and swiftly they
could always find this unlucky page ! My friend told
me that in a rather popular book of his, there was a
passage of a few pages in length which had been
severely criticised. Possibly it was weak ; possibly it
was absurd. I confess that I read it, and it did not
strike me as remarkable. However, the critics gener-
ally attacked it ; and probably they were right. A
few weeks ago, my friend told me he met a very pretty
young cousin, of twenty years, for the first time.
With a radiant smile, the fair cousin began to talk to
my friend about his efforts in authorship. " Oh, Mr.
Smith," said she, " do you know, the only thing I ever
read in your book was that part where you said " — no
matter what. " It was so funny ! Do you know, Cousin
Dick showed it to me the moment I arrived at Ana-
nias Street ! " I have not the faintest doubt that Cousin
Dick did. I have myself heard Dick quote a sentence
from his relative's work, whicii sounded very flippant


and presumptuous. I turned up the page, and re-
quested Dick to observe that he was (unintentionally,
but) grossly misrepresenting the passage. It was not
the least like what he quoted ; and the version given
by him was altered greatly for the worse. Dick saw
he was wrong. But several times since have I heard
him give the incorrect quotation, just as before. Of
course, his purpose was not to represent his relative
as a man of taste and sense.

I think that as we go on we come to have a great
charity for the misdoings of our fellow-men. There
are, indeed, flagrant crimes, whose authors can never
be thought of but with a burning abhorrence. I have
heard of the doings of men whom I should be happy
to help to hang. But I am thinking of the little mis-
doings of social life in a civihzed country. As for de-
liberate cruelty and oppression, as for lying and cheat-
ing to make money, I never have learned to think of
them but with a bitterness approaching the ferocious.
IN or have I grown a bit more charitable with advanc-
ing years in my estimate of the liar, cheat, and black-
guard (of whatever rank), who will mislead some poor
girl to her ruin. I should be glad to burn such a one,
with this hand, with a red-hot iron, upon the forehead,
with the word Liar. And something of the emotion
I feel in the thought of him extends to the thought of
the young ladies who waltz with him, knowing per-
fectly what he is ; and to the thought of the parsons


who toady him, in hope of a presentation to the
weahhy living of Soapy-cum-Sneaky. But, setting
these extreme cases aside, you will come, as you go
on through life, to see some excuse for various little
misdoings, towards which you felt somewhat bitterly
in earlier years. You will come to frankly recognize
the truth, which at first you are slow to admit, that
there are certain positions which are too much for
human nature. I mean too much for human nature
to hold without exhibiting a good deal of pettiness,
envy, spitefulness, and malevolence ; unless, indeed,
with very fine and amiable natures. There is an ec-
clesiasiastical arrangement peculiar to Scotland ; it is
what is termed a Collegiate Charge. It means that a
parish church shall have two incumbents of authority,
dignity, and eminence, exactly similar. The incum-
bents, in many cases, quarrel outright ; in many more
they do not work cordially together. In a smaller
number, indeed, they have been known to be as
brothers, or as father and son. There is something
trying in the position of a parish clergyman who has
a curate, or assistant, who is more popular than him-
self. You may sometimes find a church poorly at-
tended when the clergyman preaches, but crowded
when the curate does so. Even in such a case, if the
rector be a good man, and the curate another, perfect
kindliness may exist between the rector and the cu-
rate ; but I doubt whether that kindliness is much to
be expected from the rector's wife. And when the


curate at length gets a parish of his own, he need not
expect that his old principal will often ask him back
to preach. Now, many people will be found ready to
speak with much severity of the principal who acts
thus ; and to blame the clergyman who, not being able
to fill his church himself, prefers having it empty to
seeing it filled by any one else. Such people are
unquestionably wrong. They expect from the poor
clergyman more than ought to be looked for from
average human nature. The clergyman's conduct is
very natural. Put yourself in his place ; look at the
matter from his point of view. You would not like
yourself the thing he does not like. You would very
possibly do exactly what he does. And you might
do it all quite conscientiously. You might fancy you
had high and pure reasons for what you did, and that
there was no intrusion of jealousy. The young cu-
rate's sermons were, very likely, very crude and ex-
travagant ; and you may honestly think it your duty
to prevent your people from being presented with
spiritual food so immature. And rely upon it, those
men who carefully exclude from their pulpits all in-
tresting and attractive preachers, and put there (in
their own absence) the dullest and poorest preachers
they can find, though doubtless actuated in great meas-
ure by a determination that they themselves shall not
be eclipsed, but shall rather shine by comparison, are
quite able to persuade themselves that they act from
the purest motives. But even while you pity the


men (let us hope there are very few) in whose mind
such unworthy considerations have weight, do not
blame them severely. They are in a difficult posi-
tion. No doubt they would find it happier as well as
worthier to spurn the first suggestion of petty jeal-
ousy ; no doubt the magnanimous man would do so ;
but there are men who are not magnanimous, and
who could no more be magnanimous than they could
be six feet high, or than they could write King Lear,
Now, my friend, as you go on, you come to under-
stand all these things. You learn to make great
allowances for the pettiness of human nature. You
come to be able to treat with cordiality people to
whom in your hot and hasty youth you could not
have spoken without giving them a bit of your mind
which they would not have liked to hear. And when
I say that with advancing years you come to excuse
human misdoings, I do not mean that as we grow
older we come to think more lightly of the difference
between right and wrong, or between the generous
and the mean. I hope we know better than that. It
is another principle that comes into play — the prin-
ciple, to wit, that not being without sin yourself, you
should be slow to cast a stone at an erring brother.
It has been already said that there are cases as to
which we shall not reason thus. Of heartless and
deliberate cruelty and treachery we shall never think
but with fury ; and we do not wish ever to think but
with fury. Give me the knout, and lead out one of


several human beings of whom I have heard, and I
will warrant you you should hear extensive howling !
I am not afraid to plead the highest of all precedents,
for the permission of the bitterest wrath and for the
dealing of the sharpest blows. But I humbly and
firmly trust, my friendly reader, that in you and me
there is nothing like heartless, deliberate cruelty and
treachery. We have no sympathy at all with these,
any more than with the peculiar taste which makes
worms like filth. But as to very much of human
error and weakness, do you not feel in yourself the
capacities which (though restrained by God's grace)
might have brought you to all that ? The thing we
can least forgive is that which we cannot imagine how
any one could do — that which we think we have in
us nothing like.

In your earlier days, you were perpetually getting
into scrapes, by speaking hastily and acting hastily.
As you go on, you learn by experience to avoid these
things in great measure; and you learn to be very
cautious as to the people you will take into your
confidence. It is a sorrowful lesson of experience,
but it is a lesson of experience, that there are many
people to whom you should never say a sentence, with-
out first calculating whether that sentence can be
repeated, or can be misrepresented, to your disad-
vantage. Like a skilful chess-player, you need to
consider what may be the result of this move. It is
to be admitted, that much of worldly wisdom is faj


from being a pleasing or noble thing. You learn by
experience a great deal which it is right you should
know and act upon", yet which does not ennoble you.
It is a fine sight, after all, a warm-hearted, outspoken,
injudicious man of more than middle age ! I know
well an eminent professor in a certain university, who
is a very clever and learned man, and a very inju-
dicious one. I admire his talents and his learning;
but I feel a warm affection for his outspoken and
injudicious honesty and truthfulness. I am quite sure
that if he thought a neighboring marquis a humbug,
he would call him one. I have the strongest ground
for believing that if he thought a bishop a fool, he
would say so. Let us ever try to hold our prudence
free from the suspicion of baseness. I trust that as
we go on, we are not coming to practise sneaky arts
to the end of getting on. Sneakiness, and underhand
dealing, are doubtless to be reckoned among the arts
of self-advancement. Honesty is, in many cases,
unquestionably the very worst policy. But though
honesty be so, honesty is the right thing, after all !
But honest men sometimes think to possess, together,
two inconsistent things. They think to possess the
high sense of scrupulous integrity ; and at the same
time the favor, patronage, and profit, which can be
had only by parting with that.

We are all going on : a man here and there is also
getting on. As you look round upon the people who


started with yon, you will discern that even those who
are doing well in life, for the most part reached their
utmost elevation before very many years were gone ;
and for a large tract of time past have not been
gaining. They are going on, in short : Time makes
sure that we all shall do that; but they are not
getting on. Their income is just the same now that
it was five or ten years since ; and the estimation in
which they are held by those who know them has
neither grown nor lessened. But there is a man here
and there who is growing bigger as well as growing
older. He is coming, yearly, to be better known;
he is gaining in wealth, in influence, in reputation.
Every walk of life has its rising men. There are
country gentlemen who gradually elbow their way
forward among the members of their class, till they
stand conspicuously apart from them. So with
painters, authors, barristers, preachers. Who are
they, among those whom I know, who are making
way, and rising in the world? And what is the
secret of their success ? I must stop and think.



N the whole, it was very disagreeable.
Thus wrote a certain great traveller
and hunter, summing up an account of
his position as he composed himself to
rest upon a certain evening after a hard day's work.
And no doubt it must have been very disagreeable.
The night was cold and dark ; and the intrepid
traveller had to lie down to sleep in the open air,
without even a tree to shelter him. A heavy shower
of hail was falling ; each hailstone about the size of
'an egg. The dark air was occasionally illuminated
by forked lightning, of the most appalling aspect ;
and the thunder was deafening. By various sound.-^,
heard in the intervals of the peals, it seemed evident
that the vicinity. was pervaded by wolves, tigers,
elephants, wild boars, and serpents. A peculiar
motion, perceptible under a horsecloth which was
wrapped up to serve as a pillow, appeared to indicate
that a snake was wriggling about underneath it. The
hunter had some gcround for thinkinf]f that it was a


very venomous one ; as indeed in the morning it
proved to be ; but he was too tired to look. And
speaking of the general condition of matters upon
that evening, the hunter stated, with great mildness
of language, that *' it was very disagreeable."

Most readers would be disposed to say, that dis-
agreeable was hardly the right word. No doubt, all
things that are perilous, horrible, awful, ghastly, dead-
ly and the like, are disagreeable too. But when we
use the word disagreeable by itself, our meaning is un-
derstood to be, that in calling the thing disagreeable,
we have said the worst of it. A long and tiresome
sermon is disagreeable ; but a venomous snake under
your pillow passes beyond being disagreeable. To
have a tooth stopped, is disagreeable ; to be broken
on the wheel (though nobody could like it), transcends
that. If a thing be horrible and awful, you would not
say it was disagreeable. The greater includes the
less ; as when a human being becomes entitled to
write D. D. after his name, he drops all mention of
the M. A. borne in preceding years.

Let this truth be remembered, by such as shall read
the following pages. We are to think about Disagree-
able People. Let it be understood that (speaking
generally) we are to think of people who are no worse
than disagreeable. It cannot be denied, even by the
most prejudiced, that murderers, pirates, slave-drivers,
and burglars, are disagreeable. The cut-throat; the
poisoner; the sneaking blackguard who shoots his


landlord from beliind a hedge, are no doubt disagree-
able people ; so very disagreeable that in this country
the common consent of mankind removes them from
human society by the instrumentality of a halter. But
disagreeable is too mild a word. Such people are all
that, and a great deal more. And accordingly, they
stand beyond the range of this dissertation. We are
to treat of folk who are disagreeable ; and not worse
than disagreeable. We may sometimes, indeed, over-
step thft boundary line. But it is to be remembered,
that there are people who in the main are good peo-
ple, who yet are extremely disagreeable. And a far-
ther complication is introduced into the subject by the
fact, that some people who are far from good, are yet
unquestionably agreeable. You disapprove them ; but
you cannot help liking them. Others, again, are sub-
stantially good ; yet you are angry with yourself to
find that you cannot like them.

I take for granted that all observant human beings
will admit that in this world there are disagreeable
people. Probably the distinction which presses itself
most strongly upon our attention as we mingle in the
society of our fellow-men, is the distinction between
agreeable people and disagreeable. There are various
tests, more or less important, which put all mankind
to right and left. A familiar division is into rich and
poor. Thomas Paine, with great vehemence, denied
the propriety of that classification ; and declared that


the only true and essential classification of mankind
is into male and female. I have read a story whose
author maintained, that, to his mind, by far the most
interesting and thorough division of our race is into
such as have been hanged and such as have not been

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 7 of 19)