Copyright
John Lubbock.

The use of life; online

. (page 12 of 14)
Online LibraryJohn LubbockThe use of life; → online text (page 12 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


It is, however, going too far to say with
the Poet that

" One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name."

Selfish ambition is like a will o' the wisp, a
glittering deception.

" ? Tis a glorious cheat,
It seeks the chamber of the gifted boy
And lifts his humble window, and comes in.
The narrow walls expand, and spread away
Into a kingly Palace, and the roof
Lifts to the sky, and unseen ringers work
The ceilings with rich blazonry, and write
His name in burning letters over all.



And what is its reward ? At best a name.
Praise when the ear has grown too dull to hear,
Gold where the senses it should please are dead,
Wreaths where the hair they cover has grown gray,
Fame when the heart it should have thrilled is
numb j



270 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

All things but love, when love is what we want ;
And close behind comes Death, and ere we know
That even these unavailing gifts are ours,
He sends us, stripped and naked, to the grave." 1

What can rank alone do ? Marie de
Medicis, Queen of France, Kegent of France,
mother of the King of France, the Queen of
Spain, the Queen of England, and the Duchess
of Savoy, was deserted by the kings her chil-
dren, who would not even receive her into
their dominions, and died at Cologne in mis-
ery, almost of hunger, after ten years of
persecution.

All crowns are more or less crowns of
thorns. The better and more conscientious
the wearer, the more heavily do the respon-
sibilities of power weigh on him. It is im-
possible not to feel anxious when an error of
judgment may bring misery to thousands.

No doubt with progress, however slow, life
is interesting, without it, almost unendurable.
For

" There are times when all would fain aspire,
And gladly use the helps to raise them higher,
Which Music, Poesy, or Nature brings." 2

IN. P. Willis. 2 Trench.



XVII



CHARACTER 271



Man was meant to grow, not to stand still.
In aspiring, however, be scrupulous about the
means as well as the end. An apparent rise,
if obtained by evil means, is really a fall.
Many of us at any rate cannot stand still ;
we must go forward or die.

How then can we reconcile these two neces-
sities of our nature ? Our ambition should
be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for
each one of us ; and true progress is to know
more, and be more, and be able to do more.
In this progress there need be no stop ; with
every step it becomes safer, not more hazard-
ous. The first and highest ambition a man
can have is to do his duty.

" No pomp poetic crowned, no forms enchained him,
No friends applauding watched, no foes arraigned

him;

Death found him there, without grandeur or beauty,
Only an honest man, doing his duty." l

It is said that the word " Glory " does not
appear once in the Duke of Wellington's de-
spatches. " Duty " was the watchword of his
life.

1 Mrs. Craik.



272 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

Without excluding ambition then, let yours
be that of the Saint and Sage. For

" Vanity herself had better taught
A surer path even to the fame he sought,
By pointing out on History's fruitless page
Ten thousand conquerors for a single sage." 1

A hundred years hence what difference will
it make whether you were rich or poor, a peer
or a peasant ? but what difference may it not
make whether you did what was right or
what was wrong ?

" What we think, or what we know, or
what we believe, is in the end," says Ruskin,
"of little consequence. The only thing of
consequence is what we do."

" But where shall wisdom be found ?

And where is the place of understanding ?
Man knoweth not the price thereof ;

Neither is it found in the land of the living.
The depth saith, It is not in me ;

And the sea saith, It is not with me.
It cannot be gotten for gold,

Neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof.

"No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls :
For the price of wisdom is above rubies.

1 Byron.



xvn CHARACTER 273

The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom ;

And to depart from evil is understanding." l

Be honest and truthful. " The first sin on
the earth," says Jean Paul Richter " happily
the Devil was guilty of it, on the tree of
knowledge was a lie." Honesty is the
best, as well as the only right, policy.

" A false balance is abomination to the Lord :
But a just weight is his delight." 2

" Truth," said Chaucer, " is the highest
thing a man can keep." Clarendon observes
of Falkland that he was " so severe an adorer
of truth, that he could as easily have given
himself leave to steal, as to dissemble."

" To depart from the truth affords a testi-
mony that one first despises God, and then
fears man." 3

It is well to be ashamed of yourself if you are
in the wrong ; but never be ashamed to own it.

"There are innumerable qualities which
make the man, and fit him for that work in
life which he is meant to do. But there is
one quality which is essential, without which

1 Job. 2 Proverbs. 3 Plutarch.



274 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

a man is not a man, without which no really
great life was ever lived, without which no
really great work was ever achieved that
is truth, truth in the inward parts. Look at
all the really great and good men. Why do
we call them great and good ? Because they
dare to be true to themselves, they dare to
be what they are." l

" This above all, To thine own self be true ;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.' 7 2

Two things, said Wordsworth, " contra-
dictory as they may seem, must go together ;
manly dependence, and manly independence ;
manly reliance, and manly self-reliance."
Learn to obey and you will know how to
command. Drill is good discipline both of
mind and body, and a bad soldier will never
make a good general.

" If success attends you
Do not give way to pride."

"Pride goeth before destruction,
And an haughty spirit before a fall." 3

We often associate passion with action and

1 Max Mtiller. 2 Shakespeare. 3 Proverbs.



xvn CHARACTER 275

patience with inaction. But this is a mistake.
Patience requires strength, while passion is a
sign of weakness, and want of self-control.

If you are placed in authority, be scrupu-
lously just and courteous. Sadi tells us that
an Oriental monarch once gave an order to
put an innocent person to death. He said,
" king, spare thyself. I shall suffer pain
but for a moment, while the guilt will attach
to thee for ever."

Power brings with it responsibility. But in
any case do not think what you would like to
do, but what you ought to do. This is the
only true road to happiness.

If there is a doubt between two duties, take
the nearest. Some worthy people neglect
their Family for the sake of the Heathen ; but
Sympathy, like Charity, should begin at home.

Everything in this world makes for right-
eousness. Of this we can easily convince our-
selves. We talk of punishment for sin. Who
punishes us ? We punish ourselves. The world
is so arranged that goodness brings joy, and
evil sorrow. To sin and not to suffer, would
involve an interference with the laws of nature.



276 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

Forgiveness of sin does not mean that we
shall not be punished. That is not only an
impossibility, but would be a misfortune. In
fact there is no greater misfortune than pros-
perity in evil. If you do what is wrong the
memories of the past will haunt you in the
future. Those you have injured may forgive
you, but in so doing they will heap coals of
fire on your head, for their generosity will
make your offence seem all the blacker.

Conduct is life : in the long run happiness
and prosperity depend upon it. External cir-
cumstances are of comparatively little im-
portance ; it does not so much matter what
surrounds us, as what we are. Watch your-
self then day by day. Habit is second nature.
" Sow an act, and you reap a habit ; sow a
habit, and you reap a character ; sow a char-
acter, and you reap a destiny." We all grow
a little every day, either better or worse. It
is well at night to ask oneself which ?

"Mankind," said Emerson, " divides itself
into two classes Benefactors and Malefac-
tors." If you belong to the latter you turn
friends into enemies, make memory a pain,



xvn CHARACTER 277

life a sorrow, the world a prison, and death a
terror. While, on the other hand, if you can
put one bright and good thought into the
mind, one happy hour into the life of any one,
you have done the work of a good Angel.

It would be a great thing if every one
would shut himself up for an hour every day
for one hour even for half an hour of
peace and meditation. It is impossible to say
there is not time. Sir R. Peel used to read a
chapter of the Bible every night after he came
back from the House of Commons, though I
must admit that the House did not sit as long
in those days as it does now.

Think on what is good and you will not do
what is evil.

"On death and judgment, heaven and hell,
Who oft doth think, must needs die well." l

And great is the reward.

" My son, forget not my law ;

But let thine heart keep my commandments :
For length of days, and long life,
And peace, shall they add to thee." 2

1 Sir W. Raleigh. 2 Proverbs.



278 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

Do not put it off. Do not make youth an
excuse. " We shall all be perfectly virtu-
ous," said Marguerite de Valois, " when there
is no longer any flesh on our bones."

" Remember thy Creator in the days of thy
youth." To die as we should wish, we must
live as we ought. To the good man Death
has no terrors. Bishop Thirlwall during his
last illness occupied himself by translating
into seven languages : " As Sleep is the brother
of Death, thou must be careful to commit thy-
self to the care of him who is to awaken thee,
both from the Death of Sleep and from the
Sleep of Death."

When Socrates was before his accusers he
did not speak, says Cicero, "as a man con-
demned to death, but as one ascending into
heaven."

What will you gain, said Seneca, "if you
do your duty bravely and generously ? You
will gain the doing of it the deed itself is
the gain." We ought to do what is right, not
from hope of the promises, or fear of punish-
ment, but from love of what is good, because
" thy testimonies are the very joy of my
heart."



XVII



CHARACTER 279



Fuller, speaking of Sir Francis Drake, says
he was " chaste in his life, just in his dealings,
true of his word, merciful to those that were
under him, and hating nothing so much as
idleness ; in matters especially of moment, he
was never wont to rely on other men's care,
how trusty or skilful soever they might seem
to be, but always contemning danger and
refusing no toyl, he was wont himself to be
one (who ever was a second) at every turn,
where courage, skill, or industry was to be
employed."

We know that we cannot be perfect, but
yet we should aim at perfection in character
as in everything else. Moreover, we have all
implanted in us a sure guide, and if we follow
Conscience we cannot go far wrong. Every
one who chooses may lead a noble life.

Always then place before yourself the high-
est possible ideal.

" Unless above himself he can
Exalt himself, how poor a thing is man." l

Thus, perhaps, and if at all thus only, can
you train yourself so that, if a man, it may be

1 Vaughan.



280 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP, xvn

eventually said of you as Shakespeare makes
Mark Anthony say of Caesar,

" His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, This was a man." 1

And if a woman, that you may become

" A perfect woman, nobly planned
To warn, to comfort, and command.
And yet a spirit still and bright
With something of an angel light." 2

Sir W. Scott's last words to Lockhart on his
deathbed were: "Be virtuous be religious
be a good man. Nothing else will be any
comfort when you come to lie here."

Even Balaam wished " Let me die the death
of the righteous, and let my last end be like
his."

1 Shakespeare. 2 Wordsworth.



CHAPTER XVIII

ON PEACE AND HAPPINESS

PROSPERITY and happiness do not by any
means always go together, and many people
are miserable though they have, as it would
seem, everything to make them happy. Nat-
ure may give everything she can to "her
darling the strongest," as Professor Huxley
says, but she cannot make him happy. He
must do that for himself. A life of earthly
success is full of perils and anxieties. If a
man has not got the elements of happiness in
himself, not all the beauty and variety, the
pleasures and interests of the world can give
it him. To one man, says Schopenhauer, " the
world is barren, dull, and superficial ; to an-
other rich, interesting, and full of meaning."
Happiness is a thing to be practised, like the
violin. If we take the right means it will

281



282 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

come, but we must not seek it too curiously.
Our greatest joy goes back to Hades, "if
Orpheus like, we turn to look at her." l " Fly
pleasures and they will follow you." 2

Do not think too much of yourself; you
are not the only person in the world.

Do not seek for amusement, says Ruskin,
" but be always ready to be amused." It is
a great thing to make life a succession of
pleasures, even if they are little ones.

The sense of humour, for instance, is a
gift peculiar to man. There is some doubt
whether animals have reason, but they appar-
ently have not the gift of merriment, and
" The most completely lost of all days," said
Chamfort, " is the one in which we have not
laughed." What a pleasure it is to hear a
merry laugh! How it lightens everything
up.

" Your merry heart goes all the way,
Your sad one tires in a mile a'." 8

" Good humour," said one of our Bishops,
"is nine-tenths of Christianity;" and if you

i Dallas. * Frajiklin. 3 Burns.



xvni ON PEACE AND HAPPINESS 283

are put out, " let not the sun go down upon
your wrath." l It takes two to make a quar-
rel, do not you be one of them.

Some people are always grumbling ; if they
had been born in the Garden of Eden, they
would have found much to complain of.
Others are happy anywhere ; they see beau-
ties and blessings all around them.

Cheerfulness is a great moral tonic. As
sunshine brings out the flowers and ripens
the fruit, so does cheerfulness the feeling
of freedom and life develop in us all the
seeds of good, all that is best in us.

Cheerfulness is a duty we owe to others.
There is an old tradition that a cup of gold
is to be found wherever a rainbow touches
the earth, and there are some people whose
smile, the sound of whose voice, whose very
presence, seems like a ray of sunshine, to
turn everything they touch into gold. Men
never break down as long as they can keep
cheerful. " A merry heart is a continual
feast to others besides itself." 2 The shadow
of Florence Nightingale cured more than her

1 Ep. to the Ephesians. 2 C. Buxton.



284 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

medicines; and if we share the burdens of
others, we lighten our own.

It seems to be supposed by some that cheer-
fulness implies thoughtlessness ; there is, how-
ever, no necessary connection between them.
The lightest spirits, says Arnold, " which are
indeed one of the greatest of earthly bless-
ings, often play round the most earnest
thought and the tenderest affection, and with
far more grace than when they are united
with the shallowness and hardness of him
who is, in the sight of God, a fool." 1

There are many whose very birth is a sen-
tence of hard labour for life. But that does
not apply to the poor only. The rich now
work quite as hard, or even harder. More-
over, how many there are whose very money
makes them miserable, in whose life there
is no rest, no calm, no peace ! We cannot in
this world avoid sufferings, but if we choose
we may rise above them. To do so we must
hang the chamber-walls of our memory with
beautiful pictures and happy recollections.

All wish, but few know how, to enjoy

1 Arnold, Christian Life.



xvin ON PEACE AND HAPPINESS 285

themselves. They do not realise the dignity
and delight of life.

Do not magnify small troubles into great
trials. " What trouble is there in this life/'
says Cicero, "that can appear great to him
who has acquainted himself with eternity and
the extent of the universe ? For what is there
in human knowledge, or the short span of
this life, that can appear great to a wise
man ? whose mind is always so upon its
guard that nothing can befall him which is
unexpected."

We often fancy we are mortally wounded
when we are but scratched. A surgeon, says
Fuller, " sent for to cure a slight wound, sent
off in a great hurry for a plaster. 'Why/
said the gentleman, ' is the hurt then so dan-
gerous ? ' ' No/ said the surgeon, 6 but if the
messenger returns not in post-haste it will
cure itself.' " 1 Time cures sorrow as well as
wounds.

"A cultivated mind, I do not mean that
of a philosopher, but any mind to which the
fountains of knowledge have been opened,

1 Holy and Profane State.



286 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

and which has been taught in any tolerable
degree to exercise its faculties, will find
sources of inexhaustible interest in all that
surrounds it ; in the objects of Nature, the
achievements of Art, the imagination of
Poetry, the incidents of History, the ways
of Mankind, past and present, and their
prospects in the future. It is possible, in-
deed, to become indifferent to all this, and
that too, without having exhausted a thou-
sandth part of it ; but only when one has had
from the beginning no moral or human inter-
est in these things, and has sought in them
only the gratification of curiosity." 1

We live in a world of flowers and trees and
grass, rivers and lakes and seas, mountains
and sunshine. Nature is bright to the bright,
comforting to those who will accept com-
fort.

" Still was the sunny morn and fair,
A scented haze was in the air ;
So soft it was, it seemed as spring
Had come once more her arms to fling
About the dying year, and kiss
The lost world into dreams of bliss." 2

i John Stuart Mill. 2 W. Morris.



xvni ON PEACE AND HAPPINESS 287

But to appreciate the beautiful, we must
have the sense of beauty. We hear much of
the intelligence of the Dog or the Elephant,
but there is no reason to suppose that the
most beautiful view in the world would give
them any pleasure.

We sometimes hear people complain of being
dull, that they have nothing to do ; but in
that case the dulness is in themselves. " If a
man of education, who has health, eyes, hands,
and leisure, wants an object, it is only because
God Almighty has bestowed all those blessings
upon a man who does not deserve them." l

Neither wealth nor rank will ensure happi-
ness. Without love and charity and peace of
mind, you may be rich and great and power-
ful, but you cannot be happy.

There is a Persian story that the Great King
being out of spirits consulted his astrologers,
and was told that happiness could be found
by wearing the shirt of a perfectly happy man.
The Court and all the prosperous classes in
the world were searched in vain. No such
man could be discovered. At last a labourer

1 Southey.



288 THE USE OF LIFE OHAP.

coming from his work was found to fulfil the
condition ; he was absolutely happy. But,
alas ! the remedy was as far off as ever. The
man wore no shirt.

I have already shown that, as the wisest of
men have been agreed, happiness cannot be
bought with money, neither can it be grasped
by power. The crowns of kings are lined with
thorns. The greater part of mankind, said
Hiero to Simonides, " are deluded by the splen-
dour of royalty ; I am not at all surprised, for
the multitude appear to me to judge of people
as happy or miserable principally from what
they see. And royalty exhibits to the world
conspicuously, and unfolded fully to the view,
those objects which are esteemed of the highest
value ; while it keeps the troubles of kings
concealed in the inmost recesses of the soul,
where both the happiness and the misery of
mankind reside. For my own part, I know
from experience extremely well, and I assure
you, Simonides, that kings have the smallest
share of the greatest enjoyments, and the
largest share of the greatest of evils."

1 Xenophon.



xvin ON PEACE AND HAPPINESS 289

If you are unhappy, many will find consola-
tion in Massillon's suggestion, " D'ou vient
cela ? Homme ! ne serait ce point parce que
vous etes ici-bas deplace ; que vous etes fait
pour le ciel ; que la terre n'est pas votre patrie,
et que tout ce qui n'est pour Dieu n'est rien
pour vous."

" But to tell of the varying lights of pleas-
ure, and all the winning ways of goodness, we
are wholly at a loss ; and the most we can say
of the greatest goodness is, that there is an
unknown indescribable charm about it ; the
most we can say of the highest bliss, that it
is unutterable." 1

If we look aright, we may all say with
Dante

" And what I saw was equal ecstasy ;
One universal smile it seemed of all things ;
Joy past compare; gladness unutterable;
Imperishable life of peace and love ;
Exhaustless riches, and unmeasured bliss."

Everything in Nature is regulated by wise
and beneficent law, everything is linked to-
gether and works for good. If we suffer, it is

1 Bacon.



290 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

either our own fault or for the general welfare.
There is no duty, said Seneca, "the fulfil-
ment of which will not make you happier,
nor any temptation for which there is no
remedy."

According to Cicero, Epicurus laid it down
that there were " three kinds of desires ; the
first, such as were natural and necessary ; the
second, such as were natural but not necessary ;
the third, such as were neither natural nor
necessary. And these are all such that those
which are necessary are satisfied without much
trouble or expense ; even those which are natu-
ral, and not necessary, do not require a great
deal, because nature itself makes the riches,
which are sufficient to content it, easy of acqui-
sition and of limited quantity : but as for vain
desires, it is impossible to find any limit to, or
any moderation in them."

Thoroughly to enjoy life, however, we must
be prepared to deny ourselves, to forego many
tempting pleasures.

We may in many ways gain delight by self-
denial. The senses, full of true delight as
they are, will, if we yield to them, wreck us,



xvni ON PEACE AND HAPPINESS 291

like the Sirens of old, on the rocks and whirl-
pools of life.

" How happy is he born and taught
That serveth not another's will :
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill." l

It is one of the misfortunes of our age that
we have so little leisure. We live in a per-
petual Whirl. How many women, and for
that matter men too ? have felt with Portia,
" My little body is aweary of this great
world " !

Good work, however, cannot be done in a
hurry ; thought requires time and quiet.

"I know," says Kingsley, "that what we
all want is inward rest ; rest of heart and
brain ; the calm, strong, self-contained, self-
denying character ; which needs no stimu-
lants, for it has no fits of depression ; which
needs no narcotics, for it has no fits of excite-
ment ; which needs no ascetic restraints, for
it is strong enough to use God's gifts with-
out abusing them ; the character, in a word,
which is truly temperate, not in drink or food

1 Wotton.



292 THE USE OF LIFE CHAP.

merely, but in all desires, thoughts, and
actions : freed from the wild lusts and ambi-
tions to which that old Adam yielded, and
seeking for light and life by means forbid-
den, found thereby disease and death. Yes, I
know that ; and know too that that rest is
found only where you have already found it."

"As Zeus has ordained," says Epictetus,
"so act; if you do not, you will suffer the
penalty, you will be punished. And what is
the punishment ? The not having done your
duty ; you will lose the character of modesty,
fidelity, propriety. Can there be greater pen-
alties than these ? "

" We complain," says Ruskin, " of the
want of many things ; we want votes, we
want liberty, we want amusements, we want
money. Which of us feels or knows that he
wants peace ? There are two ways of getting
it, if you do want it. The first is wholly in
your own power ; to make yourselves nests of
pleasant thoughts. . . . None of us yet know,
for none of us have yet been taught in early
youth what fairy palaces we may build of
beautiful thought proof against all adver-



xvin ON PEACE AND HAPPINESS 293

sity. Bright fancies, satisfied memories, noble


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14

Online LibraryJohn LubbockThe use of life; → online text (page 12 of 14)