LESSONS IN LIFE.
A SERIES OF FAMILIAR ESSAYS.
TIMOTHY TITCOMB, AUTHOR OF "LETTERS TO THE YOUNG," "GOLD-FOIL," ETC.
The quick and cordial reception which greeted the author's "Letters to the Young," and his more recent series of essays entitled "Gold Foil," and the constant and substantial friendship which has been maintained by the public toward those productions, must stand as his apology for this third venture in a kindred field of effort. It should be—and probably is—unnecessary for the author to say that in this book, as in its predecessors, he has aimed to be neither brilliant nor profound. He has endeavored, simply, to treat in a familiar and attractive way a few of the more prominent questions which concern the life of every thoughtful man and woman. Indeed, he can hardly pretend to have done more than to organize, and put into form, the average thinking of those who read his books—to place before the people the sum of their own choicer judgments—and he neither expects nor wishes for these essays higher praise than that which accords to them the quality of common sense.
SPRINGFIELD, MASS., November, 1861.
LESSON I. MOODS AND FRAMES OF MIND LESSON II. BODILY IMPERFECTIONS AND IMPEDIMENTS LESSON III. ANIMAL CONTENT LESSON IV. REPRODUCTION IN KIND LESSON V. TRUTH AND TRUTHFULNESS LESSON VI. MISTAKES OF PENANCE LESSON VII. THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN LESSON VIII. AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION LESSON IX. PERVERSENESS LESSON X. UNDEVELOPED RESOURCES LESSON XI. GREATNESS IN LITTLENESS LESSON XII. RURAL LIFE LESSON XIII. REPOSE LESSON XIV. THE WAYS OF CHARITY LESSON XV. MEN OF ONE IDEA LESSON XVI. SHYING PEOPLE LESSON XVII. FAITH IN HUMANITY LESSON XVIII. SORE SPOTS AND SENSITIVE SPOTS LESSON XIX. THE INFLUENCE OF PRAISE LESSON XX. UNNECESSARY BURDENS LESSON XXI. PROPER PEOPLE AND PERFECT PEOPLE LESSON XXII. THE POETIC TEST LESSON XXIII. THE FOOD OF LIFE LESSON XXIV. HALF-FINISHED WORK
LESSONS IN LIFE.
MOODS AND FRAMES OF MIND.
"That blessed mood In which the burden of the mystery, In which the heavy and the weary weight Of all this unintelligible world Is lightened." WORDSWORTH.
"Oh, blessed temper, whose unclouded ray Can make to-morrow cheerful as to-day." POPE.
"My heart and mind and self, never in tune; Sad for the most part, then in such a flow Of spirits, I seem now hero, now buffoon." LEIGH HUNT.
It rained yesterday; and, though it is midsummer, it is unpleasantly cool to-day. The sky is clear, with almost a steel-blue tint, and the meadows are very deeply green. The shadows among the woods are black and massive, and the whole face of nature looks painfully clean, like that of a healthy little boy who has been bathed in a chilly room with very cold water. I notice that I am sensitive to a change like this, and that my mind goes very reluctantly to its task this morning. I look out from my window, and think how delightful it would be to take a seat in the sun, down under the fence, across the street. It seems to me that if I could sit there awhile, and get warm, I could think better and write better. Toasting in the sunlight is conducive rather to reverie than thought, or I should be inclined to try it. This reluctance to commence labor, and this looking out of the window and longing for an accession of strength, or warmth, or inspiration, or something or other not easily named, calls back to me an experience of childhood.
It was summer, and I was attending school. The seats were hard, and the lessons were dry, and the walls of the school-room were very cheerless. An indulgent, sweet-faced girl was my teacher; and I presume that she felt the irksomeness of the confinement quite as severely as I did. The weather was delightful, and the birds were singing everywhere; and the thought came to me, that if I could only stay out of doors, and lie down in the shadow of a tree, I could get my lesson. I begged the privilege of trying the experiment. The kind heart that presided over the school-room could not resist my petition; so I was soon lying in the coveted shadow. I went to work very severely; but the next moment found my eyes wandering; and heart, feeling, and fancy were going up and down the earth in the most vagrant fashion. It was hopeless dissipation to sit under the tree; and discovering a huge rock on the hillside, I made my way to that, to try what virtue there might be in a shadow not produced by foliage. Seated under the brow of the boulder, I again applied myself to the dim-looking text, but it had become utterly meaningless; and a musical cricket under the rock would have put me to sleep if I had permitted myself to remain. I found that neither tree nor rock would lend me help; but down in the meadow I saw the brook sparkling, and spanning it, a little bridge where I had been accustomed to sit, hanging my feet over the water, and angling for minnows. It seemed as if the bridge and the water might do something for me, and, in a few minutes, my feet were dangling from the accustomed seat. There, almost under my nose, close to the bottom of the clear, cool stream, lay a huge speckled trout, fanning the sand with his slow fins, and minding nothing about me at all. What could a boy do with Colburn's First Lessons, when a living trout, as large and nearly as long as his arm, lay almost within the reach of his fingers? How long I sat there I do not know, but the tinkle of a distant bell startled me, and I startled the trout, and fish and vision faded before the terrible consciousness that I knew less of my lesson than I did when I left the school-house.
This has always been my fortune when running after, or looking for, moods. There is a popular hallucination that makes of authors a romantic people who are entirely dependent upon moods and moments of inspiration for the power to labor in their peculiar way. Authors are supposed to write when they "feel like it," and at no other time. Visions of Byron with a gin-bottle at his side, and a beautiful woman hanging over his shoulder, dashing off a dozen stanzas of Childe Harold at a sitting, flit through the brains of sentimental youth. We hear of women who are seized suddenly by an idea, as if it were a colic, or a flea, often at midnight, and are obliged to rise and dispose of it in some way. We are told of very delicate girls who carry pencils and cards with them, to take the names and address of such angels as may visit them in out-of-the-way places. We read of poets who go on long sprees, and after recovery retire to their rooms and work night and day, eating not and sleeping little, and in some miraculous way producing wonderful literary creations. The mind of a literary man is supposed to be like a shallow summer brook, that turns a mill. There is no water except when it rains, and the weather being very fickle, it is never known when there will be water. Sometimes, however, there comes a freshet, and then the mill runs night and day, until the water subsides, and another dry time comes on.
Now, while I am aware, as every writer must be, that the brain works very much better at some times than it does at others, I can declare without reservation, that no man who depends upon moods for the power to write can possibly accomplish much. I know men who rely upon their moods, alike for the disposition and the ability to write, but they are, without exception, lazy and inefficient men. They never have accomplished much, and they never will accomplish much. Regular eating, regular sleeping, regular working—these are the secrets of all true literary success. A man may throw off a single little poem by a spasm, but he cannot write a poem of three thousand lines by spasms. Spasms that produce poems like this, must last from five to seven hours a day, through six days of every week, and four weeks of every month, until the work shall be finished. There is no good reason why the mind will not do its best by regular exercise and usage. The mower starts in the morning with a lame back and with aching joints; but he keeps on mowing, and the glow rises, and the perspiration starts, and he becomes interested in his labor, and, at length, he finds himself at work with full efficiency. He was not in the mood for mowing when he began, but mowing brought its own mood, and he knew it would when he began. The mind is sometimes lame in the morning. It refuses to go to work. Our wills seem entirely insufficient to drive it to its tasks; but if it be driven to its work and held to it persistently, and held thus every day, it will ultimately be able to do its best every day. A man who works his brains for a living, must work them just as regularly as the omnibus-driver does his horses.
We sometimes go to church and hear a preacher who depends upon his moods for the power to preach his best. He preaches well, and we say that he is in the mood; and then again he preaches poorly, and we say that he is not in the mood. A public singer who has the power to move us at her will, comes into the concert-room, and gives her music without spirit and without making any apparent effort to please. We say that Madame or Mademoiselle is "not in the mood to-night." A lecturer has his moods, which, apparently, he slips on and off as he would a dressing-gown, charming the people of one town by his eloquence and elegance, and disgusting another by his dullness and carelessness. We are in the habit of saying that certain men are very unequal in their performances, which is only a way of saying that they are moody, and dependent upon and controlled by moods. I think that, in any work or walk of life, a man can in a great degree become the master of his moods, so that, as a preacher, or a singer, or a lecturer, he can do his best every time quite as regularly as a writer can do his best every time. Mr. Benedict somewhat inelegantly remarked, when in this country, that the reason of Jenny Lind's success was, that she "made a conscience of her art." If we had asked Mr. Benedict to explain himself, he probably would have said that she conscientiously did her best every time, in every place. This was true of Jenny Lind. She never failed. She sang just as well in the old church where the country people had flocked to greet her, as in the halls of the metropolis. Yet Jenny Lind was decidedly a woman of moods, and indulged in them when she could afford it.
The power of the will over moods of the mind is very noticeable in children. Children often rise in the morning in any thing but an amiable frame of mind. Petulant, impatient, quarrelsome, they cannot be spoken to or touched without producing an explosion of ill-nature. Sleep seems to have been a bath of vinegar to them, and one would think the fluid had invaded their mouth and nose, and eyes and ears, and had been absorbed by every pore of their sensitive skins. In a condition like this, I have seen them bent over the parental knee, and their persons subjected to blows from the parental palm; and they have emerged from the infliction with the vinegar all expelled, and their faces shining like the morning—the transition complete and satisfactory to all the parties. Three-quarters of the moods that men and women find themselves in, are just as much under the control of the will as this. The man who rises in the morning, with his feelings all bristling like the quills of a hedge-hog, simply needs to be knocked down. Like a solution of certain salts, he requires a rap to make him crystallize. A great many mean things are done in the family for which moods are put forward as the excuse, when the moods themselves are the most inexcusable things of all. A man or a woman in tolerable health has no moral right to indulge in an unpleasant mood, or to depend upon moods for the performance of the duties of life. If a bad mood come to such persons as these, it is to be shaken off by a direct effort of the will, under all circumstances.
There are moods, however, for which men are not responsible, and the parent of these is sickness—the feeble or inharmonious movements of the body. When my little boy wakes in the morning, his smile is as bright as the pencil of sunlight that lies across his coverlet; but when evening comes, he is peevish and fretful. The little limbs are weary, and the mood is produced by weariness. So my friend with a harassing cough is in a melancholy mood, and my bilious friend is in a severe and savage mood, or in a dark and gloomy mood, or in a petulant mood, or in a fearful or foreboding mood. In truth, bile is the prolific mother of moods. The stream of life flows through the biliary duct. When that is obstructed, life is obstructed. When the golden tide sets back upon the liver, it is like backwater under a mill; it stops the driving-wheel. Bile spoils the peace of families, breaks off friendships, cuts off man from communion with his Maker, colors whole systems of theology, transforms brains into putty, and destroys the comfort of a jaundiced world. The famous Dr. Abernethy had his hobby, as most famous men have; and this hobby was "blue pill and ipecac," which he prescribed for every thing, with the supposition, I presume, that all disease has its origin in the liver. Most moods, I am sure, have their birth in the derangements of this important organ; and while the majority of them can be controlled, there are others for which their victims are not responsible. There are men who cannot insult me, because I will not take an insult from them any more than I would from a man intoxicated. When their bile starts, I am sure they will come to me and apologize.
We all have acquaintances who are men of moods. Whenever we meet them, we try to determine which of their moods is dominant, that we may know how to treat them. If the severe mood be on, we would just as soon think of whistling at a funeral as indulging in a jest; but if the cloud be off, we have a sprightly friend and a pleasant time with him. Goldsmith's pedagogue was a man of moods, and his pupils understood them.
"A man severe he was, and stern to view; I knew him well, and every truant knew: Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace The day's disasters in his morning face; Full well they laughed with counterfeited glee At all his jokes, for many a joke had he; Full well the busy whisper, circling round, Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned."
While I maintain that a man can generally be the master of his moods, I am very well aware that but few men are; and it is wise for us to know how to deal with them. The secret of many a man's success in the world resides in his insight into the moods of men, and his tact in dealing with them. Modern Christian philanthropists tell us that if we would do good to the soul of a starving child, we must first put food into his mouth, and comfortable clothing upon his body. This, by way of manifesting a practical interest in his welfare, and paving our way to his heart by a form of kindness which he can thoroughly appreciate. But there is more in such an act than this,—we change his mood. From a mood of despair or discouragement, we translate him into a mood of cheerfulness and hopefulness; and then we have a soul to deal with that is surrounded by the conditions of improvement. There is much more than divine duty and Christian forgiveness in the injunction: "if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink." The highest wisdom would dictate such a policy for changing his mood, and bringing him into a condition in which he could entertain a sense of his meanness.
It is curious to see how much fulness and emptiness of stomach have to do with moods. A business man who has been at work hard all day, will enter his house for dinner as crabbed as a hungry bear—crabbed because he is as hungry as a hungry bear. The wife understands the mood, and, while she says little to him, is careful not to have the dinner delayed. In the mean time, the children watch him cautiously, and do not tease him with questions. When the soup is gulped, and he leans back and wipes his mouth, there is an evident relaxation, and his wife ventures to ask for the news. When the roast beef is disposed of, she presumes upon gossip, and possibly upon a jest; and when, at last, the dessert is spread upon the table, all hands are merry, and the face of the husband and father, which entered the house so pinched and savage and sharp, becomes soft and full and beaming as the face of the round summer moon. Children are very sensitive to the influence of hunger; and often when we think that we are witnessing some fearful proof of the total depravity of human nature in a young child, we are only witnessing the natural expression of a desire for bread and milk. The politicians and all that class of men who have axes to grind, understand this business very thoroughly. If a measure is to be carried through, and any man wishes to secure votes for it, he gives a dinner. If a man wishes for a profitable contract, he gives a dinner. If he is up for a fat office, he gives a dinner. If it is desirable that a pair of estranged friends be brought together, and reconciled to each other, they are invited to a dinner. If hostile interests are to be harmonized, and clashing measures compromised, and divergent forces brought into parallelism, all must be effected by means of a dinner. A good dinner produces a good mood,—at least, it produces an impressible mood. The will relaxes wonderfully under the influence of iced champagne, and canvas-backs are remarkable softeners of prejudice. The daughter of Herodias took Herod at a great disadvantage, when she came in and danced before him and his friends at his birth-day supper, and secured the head of John the Baptist. No one, I presume, believes that if she had undertaken to dance before him when he was hungry, she would have had the offer of a gift equal to the half of his kingdom. It is more than likely that, under any other circumstances, he would have been told to "sit down and show less." It is by means of food and drink, and various entertainments of the senses, that moods are manufactured, and used as media of approach to the wills which it is desirable to bend or direct.
I have found moods to be very poor tests of character. Having cut through the crust of a most forbidding mood, produced by bodily derangement or constant and pressing labor of the brain, I have often found a heart full of all the sweetest and richest traits of humanity. I have found, too, that some natures know the door that leads through the moods of other natures. There are men who never present their moody side to me. My neighbor enters their presence and finds them severe in aspect, hard in feeling, and abrupt in speech. I go in immediately after, and open the door right through that mood, into the genial good heart that sits behind it, and the door always flies open when I come. I know men whose mood is usually exceedingly pleasant. There is a glow of health upon their faces. Their words are musical to women and children. They are cheerful and chipper and sunshiny, and not easily moved to anger; and yet I know them to be liars and full of selfishness. Under their sweet mood, which sound health and a not over-sensitive conscience and the satisfactions of sense engender, they conceal hearts that are as false and foul as any that illustrate the reign of sin in human nature. Many a Christian has times of feeling that God is in a special manner smiling upon him, and communing with him, and filling him with the peace and joy that only flow from heavenly fountains, when the truth is that he is only in a good mood. He is well, all the machinery of his mind and body is playing harmoniously, and, of course, he feels well, and that is all there is about it. He is not a better Christian than he was when he slipped into the mood, and no better than he will be when he slips out of it. If he really be a good Christian, his moods operate like clouds and blue sky. The sun shines all the time, and the cloudy moods only hide it;—they do not extinguish it.
There are many sad cases of insanity of a religious character which originate in moods. A man, through a period of health, has a bright and cheerful religious experience. The world looks pleasant to him, the heavens smile kindly upon him, and the Divine Spirit witnesses with his own that he is at peace and in harmony with God. Joy thrills him as he greets the morning light, and peace nestles upon his heart as he lies down to his nightly rest. He feels in his soul the influx of spiritual life from the Great Source of all life, as he opens it in worship and in prayer. But at length there comes a change. A strange sadness creeps into his heart. The sky that was once so bright has become dark. The prayer that once rose as easily as incense upon the still morning air, straight toward heaven, will not rise at all, but settles like smoke upon him, and fills his eyes with tears. Something seems to have come between him and his God. Strange, accusing voices are heard within him. However deep the agony that moves him, he cannot rend the cloud that interposes between him and his Maker. This, now, is simply a mood produced by ill health; and I hope that everybody who reads this will remember it. Remember that God never changes, that a man's moods are constantly changing, and that when a man earnestly seeks for spiritual peace, and cannot find it, and thinks that he has committed the unpardonable sin without knowing it, he is bilious, and needs medical treatment. Alas! what multitudes of sad souls have walked out of this hopeless mood into a life-long insanity, when all they needed in the first place, perhaps, was a dose of blue pills, or half a dozen strings of tenpins, or a sea-voyage sufficiently rough for "practical purposes."
This subject I find to be abundantly prolific, and I see that I have been able to do hardly more than to hint at its more prominent aspects. It seems to me that moods only need to be studied more, and to be better understood, to bring them very much under the domain of our wills. A great deal is learned when we know what a mood is, and know that we are subject to varying frames of mind, resulting from causes which affect our health. If I know that I am impatient and cross because I am hungry, then I know how to get rid of my mood, and how to manage it until I do get rid of it. If I feel unable to labor, not because I am feeble, but because I am not in the mood, then I have the mood in my hands, to be dealt with intelligently. If my reason tell me that it is only a mood that hides from me the face of my Maker, my reason will also tell me that my first business is to get rid of my mood, and that my will must approach the work, directly or indirectly. We are always and necessarily in some mood of mind—in some condition of passion or feeling. It is the intensification and the dominant influence of moods that are to be guarded against or destroyed. Moods are dangerous only when they obscure reason, and destroy self-control, and disturb the mental poise, and become the media of false impressions from all the life around us and within us.
BODILY IMPERFECTIONS AND IMPEDIMENTS.
"I that am curtailed of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up." RICHARD III.
"None can be called deformed but the unkind." SHAKSPEARE.
"'Tis true, his nature may with faults abound; But who will cavil when the heart is sound?" STEPHEN MONTAGUE.
It is a bright June morning. The fresh grass is loaded with dew, every bead of which sparkles in the light of the brilliant sun. A big, yellow-shouldered bee comes booming through the open window, and buzzes up and down my room, and threatens my shrinking ears, and then dives through the window again; and his form recedes and his hum dies away, as if it were the note of a reed-stop in the "swell" of a church organ. There is such confusion in the songs of the birds, that I can hardly select the different notes, so as to name their owners. There is a great deal of bird-singing that is simply what a weaver would call "filling." Robins and bobolinks and blue-birds and sundry other favorites furnish the warp, and color and characterize the tapestry of a flowing, vocal morning; while the little, gray-backed multitude work in the neutral ground tones, and bring the sweeter and more elaborate notes into beautiful relief. Thus, with a little aid of imagination, I get up some very exquisite fabrics—vocal silks and satins:—robins on a field of chickadees; bobolinks and thrushes alternately on a hit-or-miss ground of blackbirds, wrens, and pewees. Into the midst of all this delicious confusion there breaks a note that belongs to another race of creatures; and as I look from my window, and see the singer, my eyes fill with tears. It is a little boy, possibly twelve years old, though he looks younger, walking with a crutch. One withered limb dangles as he goes. He is a cripple for life; yet his face is as bright and cheerful as the face of the morning itself; and what do you think he is singing? "Hail Columbia, happy land," at the top of his lungs! The birds are merrily wheeling over his head, and diving through the air, and moving here and there as freely as the wind, yet not one among them carries a lighter heart than that which he is jerking along by the side of the little crutch.
As I see how cheerfully he bears the burden of his hopeless halting, there comes back to me the story of the lame lord who sang a different sort of song—the lame lord who died at Missolonghi, and whose friend Trelawny—human jackal that he was— stole to his bedside after the breath had left his body, and examined his clubbed feet, and then went away and wrote about them. Here was a man with regal gifts of mind—a poet of splendid genius—a titled aristocrat—a man admired and praised wherever the English language was read—a man who knew that he held within himself the power to make his name immortal—a man with wealth sufficient for all grateful luxuries—yet with clubbed feet; and those feet! Ah! how they embittered and spoiled that man of magnificent achievements and sublime possibilities! It would appear, from the disgusting narrative of Mr. Trelawny, that he was in reality the only man who had ever seen Byron's feet. Those feet had been kept so closely hidden, or so cunningly disguised, that nobody had known their real deformity; and the poor lord who had carried them through his thirty-six years of life, had done it in constantly tormented and mortified pride. Those misshapen organs had an important agency in making him a misanthropic, morbidly sensitive, unhappy, desperate man. When he sang, he did not forget them; and the poor fools who turned down their shirt-collars, and imitated his songs, and thought they were inspired by his winged genius, had under them only a pair of halting, clubbed feet.
There is a class of unfortunate men and women in the world to whom the boy and the bard have introduced us. They are not all lame: but they all think they have cause to be dissatisfied with the bodies God has given them. Perhaps they are simply ugly, and are aware that no one can look in their faces with other thought than that they are ugly. Now it is a pleasant thing to have a pleasant face, and an agreeable form. It is pleasant for a man to be large, well-shaped, and good-looking, and it is unpleasant for him to be small, and to carry an ill-shaped form and an ugly face. It is pleasant for a woman to feel that she has personal attractions for those around her, and it is unpleasant for her to feel that no man can ever turn his eyes admiringly upon her. A misshapen limb, a hump in the back, a withered arm, a shortened leg, a clubbed foot, a hare-lip, an unwieldy corpulence, a hideous leanness, a bald head—all these are unpleasant possessions, and all these, I suppose, give their possessors, first and last, a great deal of pain. Then there is the taint of an unpopular blood, that a whole race carry with them as a badge of humiliation. I have heard of Africans who declared that they would willingly go through the pain of being skinned alive, if, at the close of the operation, they could become white men. There are men of genius, with plenty of white blood in their veins—with only a trace of Africa in their faces—whose lives are embittered by that trace; and who know that the pure Anglo Saxon, if he follows his instincts, will say to him: "Thus far,"—(through a limited range of relations,)— "but no further."
From the depths of my soul I pity a man or woman who bears about an irremediable bodily deformity, or the mark of the blood of a humiliated race. I pity any human being who carries around a body that he feels to be in any sense an unpleasant one to those whom he meets. I pity the deformed man, and the maimed man, and the terribly ugly man, and the black man, and the white man with black blood in him, because he usually feels that these things bear with them a certain degree of humiliation. I pity the man who is not able to stand out in the broad sunlight, with other men, and to feel that he has as goodly a frame and as fine blood and as pleasant a presence as the average of those he sees around him. I do not wonder at all that many of these persons become soured and embittered and jealous. A sensitive mind, dwelling long upon misfortunes of this peculiar character, will inevitably become morbid; and multitudes of humbler men than Lord Byron have cursed their fate as bitterly as he, and have even lifted their eyes to blaspheme the Being who made them.
The two instances which I have mentioned show us that there are two ways of taking misfortunes of this character; and one of them seems to a good deal better than the other. Between the boy who ignored the withered leg and the crutch, and the proud poet who permitted a slight personal deformity to darken his whole life, there is a distance like that between heaven and earth.
I believe in the law of compensation. Human lot is, on the whole, well averaged. A man does not possess great gifts of person and of mind without drawbacks somewhere. Either great duties are imposed upon him, or great burdens are put upon his shoulders, or great temptations assail and harass him. Something in his life, at some time in his life, takes it upon itself to reduce his advantages to the average standard. Nature gave Byron clubbed feet, but with those feet she gave him a genius whose numbers charmed the world— a genius which multitudes of commonplace or weak men would have been glad to purchase at the price of almost any humiliating eccentricity of person. But they were obliged to content themselves with excellent feet, and brains of the common kind and calibre. Providence had withered the little boy's leg, but the loudest song I have heard from a boy in a twelvemonth came from his lips, as he limped along alone in the open street. The cheerful heart in his bosom was a great compensation for the withered leg; and beyond this the boy had reason for singing over the fact that he was forever released from military duty, and firemen's duty, and all racing about in the service of other people. There are individual cases of misfortune in which it is hard to detect the compensating good, but these we must call the "exceptions" which "prove the rule."
But the best of all compensation for natural defects and deformities, is that which comes in the form of a peculiar love. The mother of a poor, misshapen, idiotic boy, will, though she have half a score of bright and beautiful children besides, entertain for him a peculiar affection. He may not be able, in his feeble-mindedness, to appreciate it, but her heart brims with tenderness for him. The delicate morsel is reserved for him; and, if he be a sufferer, the softest pillow and the tenderest nursing will be his. A love will be bestowed upon him which gold could not buy, and which no beauty of person, and no brilliancy of natural gifts could possibly awaken. It is thus with every case of defect or eccentricity of person. So sure as the mother of a child sees in that child's person any reason for the world to regard it with contempt or aversion, does she treat it with peculiar tenderness; as if she were commissioned by God—as indeed she is—to make up to it in the best coinage that which the world will certainly neglect to bestow.
With the world at large, however, there are certain conditions on which this variety of compensation is rendered; and a man who would have compensation for defects of person, must accept these conditions, or furnish them. Such a man as Lord Byron would have been offended by pity. To have been commiserated on his misfortune, would have made him exceedingly angry. He would not allow himself to be treated as an unfortunate man. He bound up his feet, and made efforts to walk that ended in intense pain, rather than appear the lame man that he really was. Of course, there was no compensation in the tender pity and affectionate consideration of the world for him; nor is there any for the sad unfortunates who inherit and exercise his spirit. But for all those who accept their life with all its conditions, in a cheerful spirit, who give up their pride, who take their bodies as God formed them, and make the best of them, there is abundant compensation in the affection of the world. A cheerful spirit, exercised in weakness, infirmity, calamity—any sort of misfortune—is just as sure to awaken a peculiarly affectionate interest in all observers, as a lighted lamp is to illuminate the objects around it. I know of men and women who are the favorites of a whole neighborhood—nay, a whole town—because they are cheerful, and courageous, and self-respectful under misfortune; and I know of those who are as much dreaded as a pestilence, because they will not accept their lot—because they grow bitter and jealous—and because they will persist in taunts and complaints.
The number of those who are, or who consider themselves, unfortunate in their physical conformation, is larger than the most of us suppose. I presume that at least one-half of the readers of this essay are any thing but well satisfied with the "tabernacle" in which they reside. One man wishes he were a little larger; one woman wishes she were a little smaller; one does not like her complexion, or the color of her eyes and hair; one has a nose too large; another has a nose too small; one has round shoulders; another has a low forehead; and so every one becomes a critic of his or her style of structure. When we find a man or a woman who is absolutely faultless in form and features, we usually find a fool. I do not remember that I ever met a very handsome man or woman, who was not as vain and shallow as a peacock. I recently met a magnificent woman of middle age at a railroad station. She was surrounded by all those indescribable somethings and nothings which mark the rich and well-bred traveller, and her face was queenly—not sweet and pretty like a doll's face—but handsome and stylish, and strikingly impressive, so that no man could look at her once without turning to look again; yet I had not been in her presence a minute, before I found, to my utter disgust, that the old creature was as vain of her charms as a spoiled girl, and gloried in the attention which she was conscious her face everywhere attracted. It would seem as if nature, in making up mankind, had always been a little short of materials, so that, if special attention were bestowed upon the form and face, the brain suffered; and if the brain received particular attention, why then there was something lacking in the body.
This large class of malcontents generally find some way of convincing themselves, however, that they are as good-looking as the average of mankind. They make a good deal of some special points of beauty, and imagine that these quite overshadow their defects. Still, there is a portion of them who can never do this; and I think of them with a sadness which it is impossible for me to express. For a homely—even an ugly man—I have no pity to spare. I never saw one so ugly yet, that if he had brains and a heart, he could not find a beautiful woman sensible enough to marry him. But for the hopelessly plain and homely sisters—"these tears!" There is a class of women who know that they possess in their persons no attractions for men,—that their faces are homely, that their frames are ill-formed, that their carriage is clumsy, and that, whatever may be their gifts of mind, no man can have the slightest desire to possess their persons. That there are compensations for these women, I have no doubt, but many of them fail to find them. Many of them feel that the sweetest sympathies of life must be repressed, and that there is a world of affection from which they must remain shut out forever. It is hard for a woman to feel that her person is not pleasing—harder than for a man to feel thus. I would tell why, if it were necessary— for there is a bundle of very interesting philosophy tied up in the matter—but I will content myself with stating the fact, and permitting my readers to reason about it as they will.
Now, if a homely woman, soured and discouraged by her lot, becomes misanthropic and complaining, she will be as little loved as she is admired; but if she accepts her lot good-naturedly, makes up her mind to be happy, and is determined to be agreeable in all her relations to society, she will be everywhere surrounded by loving and sympathetic hearts, and find herself a greater favorite than she would be were she beautiful. A woman who is entirely beyond the reach of the jealousy of her own sex, is an exceedingly fortunate woman; and if personal homeliness has won for her this immunity, then homeliness has given her much to be thankful for. A homely woman who ignores her face and form, cultivates her mind and manners, good-naturedly gives up all pretension, and exhibits in all her life a true and a pure heart, will have friends enough to compensate her entirely for the loss of a husband. Friendship is unmindful of faces, in the selection of its objects, even if love be somewhat particular, and, sometimes, foolishly fastidious.
Life is altogether too precious a gift to be thrown away. A man who would permit a field to be overgrown with weeds and thorns simply because it would not naturally produce roses, would be very foolish, particularly if the ground should only need cultivation to enable it to yield abundantly of corn. Far be it from me to depreciate physical symmetry and personal comeliness. They are gifts of God, and they are very good; but there are better things in this world than a good face, and better things than the admiration which a good face wins. I am more and more convinced, as the years pass away, that the choicest thing this world has for a man is affection—not any special variety of affection, but the approval, the sympathy, and the devotion of true hearts. It is not necessary that this affection come from the great and the powerful. If it be genuine, that is all the heart asks. It does not criticize and graduate the value of the fountains from which it springs. It is at these fountains particularly that the unfortunates of the world are permitted to drink. They have only to accept cheerfully the conditions of their lot, and to give free and full play to all that is good and generous in them, to secure in an unusual degree the love of those into whose intimate society Providence has thrown them.
It is stated by Dr. Livingstone, the celebrated explorer of Africa, that the blow of a lion's paw upon his shoulder, which was so severe as to break his arm, completely annihilated fear; and he suggests that it is possible that Providence has mercifully arranged, that all those beasts that prey upon life shall have power to destroy the sting of death in the animals which are their natural victims. I do not believe that this power is mercifully assigned to beasts of prey alone, but that the misfortunes that assail our limbs and forms, in whatever shape and at whatever time they may come, bring with them something which lightens the blow, or obviates the pain, if we will accept it. There is a calm consciousness in every soul, however harshly the lion's paw may fall upon the body which it inhabits, that it is itself invulnerable—that whatever may be the condition of the body, the soul cannot be injured by physical forms or forces.
Physical calamity never comes with the power to extinguish that which is essential to the highest manhood and womanhood, and never fails to bring with it a motive for the adjustment of the soul to its conditions. The little boy whose "Hail Columbia" has been ringing in my ears all day, accepted the conditions of his life, and the sting of his calamity has departed. It is pleasant to say to him, and to all the brotherhood and sisterhood of ugliness and lameness, that there is every reason to believe that there is no such thing in heaven as a one-legged or a club-footed soul—no such thing as an ugly or a misshapen soul—no such thing as a blind or a deaf soul—no such thing as a soul with tainted blood in its veins; and that out of these imperfect bodies will spring spirits of consummate perfection and angelic beauty—a beauty chastened and enriched by the humiliations that were visited upon their earthly habitation.
"By sports like these are all their cares beguiled; The sports of children satisfy the child." GOLDSMITH.
"Ay, give me back the joyous hours When I, myself, was ripening too; When song, the fount flung up its showers Of beauty, ever fresh and new." GOETHE'S FAUST.
I have been watching a family of kittens, engaged in their exquisitely graceful play. Near them lay their mother, stretched at her length upon the flagging, taking her morning nap, and warming herself in the sun. She had eaten her breakfast, (provided by no care of her own, but at my expense,) had seen her little family fed, and having nothing further to attend to, had gone off into a doze. What a blessed freedom from care! Think of a family of four children, with no frocks to be made for them, no hair to brush, no shoes to provide, no socks to knit and mend, no school-books to buy, and no nurse! Think of a living being with the love of offspring in her bosom, and a multitude of marvellous instincts in her nature, yet knowing nothing of God, thinking not of the future, without a hope or an expectation, or a doubt or a fear, passing straight on to annihilation! At the threshold of this destiny the little kittens were carelessly playing; and they are doubtless still playing, while I write. They have no lessons to learn, they do not have to go to Sunday-school, they entertain no prejudices, except against dogs which occasionally dodge into the yard; and I judge, by the familiar way in which they play with their mother's ears, and pounce upon her tail, that they are not in any degree oppressed by a sense of the respect due to a parent. Cat and kittens will eat, and frolic, and sleep, through their brief life, and then they will curl up in some dark corner and die.
I remember that in one of the late Mr. Joseph C. Neal's "Charcoal Sketches," he puts into the mouth of a very sad and seedy loafer the expression of a wish that he were a pig, and a statement of the reasons for the wish. These reasons, as I recall them, related to the freedom of the pig from the peculiar trials and troubles of humanity. Pigs do not have to work for a living; they undertake no enterprizes, and of course fail in none; they eat and sleep through a period of months, and then come the knife and a grunt, and that is the last of them. Now I suppose this thought of Mr. Neal's loafer has been shared by millions of men. Not that everybody has at some time in his life wished he were a pig, but that nearly everybody who has had his share of the troubles and responsibilities of life, has looked upon simple animal carelessness and content with a certain degree of envy. It is not necessary to go among brutes for instances of this animal content. It can be found among men. Who does not know good-natured, ignorant, healthy fellows, who will work all day in the field, whistle all the way homeward, eat hugely of course food, sleep like logs, and take no more interest in the great questions which agitate the most of us, than the pigs they feed, and that, in return, feed them? Who has not sighed, as he has seen how easily the simple wants of certain simple natures are supplied? I remember an old man who quite unexpectedly was drafted into the grand jury, which sat in the county town less than ten miles distant from his home; and this was the great event of his life. He never tired of talking about it—(never tired himself, I mean,) and a stranger could not carry on a conversation with him for five minutes, without hearing of something which occurred when "I was in Blanktown, on the Grand Jury." It is doubtful whether Napoleon ever contemplated a victory with the complacent satisfaction that filled my old friend when he alluded to his connection with "the grand jury," and emphasized the adjective which magnified the jury and glorified him.
I confess that, when I pass through a rural town, and see the laborers among the corn, and the boys driving their cattle, and the girls busy in the dairies, and life passing away quietly, I cannot avoid a twinge of regret that it would be impossible for me to be content with the kind of life that I see around me, especially as I know that there is one kind of pleasure—negative, perhaps, rather than positive—which that kind of life enjoys, and in which I can never share. Relief from great responsibilities, and contentment with humble clothing, humble fare, humble society, humble aims and ambitions, humble means and humble labors—ah! how many weary, overloaded men—how many disappointed hearts—have sighed for such a boon, and sighed knowing they could never receive it.
It has been the habit of poets to surround simple pleasures and pursuits with the golden atmosphere of romance,—not because they would enjoy such pleasures and pursuits at all, but rather because they are forever beyond their possession. A poet is always reaching toward the unattainable, and he may reach forward to the perfections of a life of which the best that he sees around him is an intimation, or backward to the animal content of a life as yet undisturbed by the intimation of something better. Bucolics are very sweet, but their writers do not believe in them. "A nut-brown maid," with bare, unconscious feet and ancles, is very pretty in a picture, but the man who painted her ascertained that she was green, and not the most entertaining of companions. The truth is, that when we have got along so far that we can perceive that which is poetical and picturesque in the simplest form of rustic life, we have got too far along to enjoy it.
I suppose that much of the charm which simple animal content has for us, is connected with the memories of childhood. We can all recall a period of our lives when there was joy in the consciousness of living—when animal life, in its spontaneous overflow, flooded all our careless hours with its own peculiar pleasure. The light was pleasant to our eyes, vigorous appetite and digestion made ambrosia of the homeliest fare, the simplest play brought delight, and life—all untried—lay spread out before us in one long, golden dream. We now watch our children at their sports, and see but little difference between their sources of happiness and those which supply the kittens in their play. "Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw," they skip from pleasure to pleasure, and find delight in the impulsive exercise of their little powers. We were once like them. Life was once as fresh, and flowing, and impulsive, and objectless, as it is with them; and when we are weary and oppressed with labor, and loaded down with responsibility, and filled with thoughts of the great destiny before us, we turn our eyes backward with a sigh for days once ours, but lost forever. Lost forever! This is the romantic pain that fills us in all our contemplations of simple animal content. It is lost to us, because we are lost to it. Like a passenger far out upon the sea, adventuring upon a long voyage, we look back upon the fading hills of our native land, and sigh to think that the breeze which bears us away can never bring us back.
The question comes to us: "What is there in our present life to repay us for this loss?" There are multitudes who can ask this question, and answer honestly, "Nothing." It is sad, but true, that countless men and women have never found any thing in life which compensates them for the loss of the simple animal enjoyment and content of childhood. Sickness, perhaps, has imposed upon them years of pain. Poverty has condemned them to labor through every waking hour to win sustenance for themselves and their dependents. The heart has been cheated of its idol. Friends have proved false, and fortune fickle. Life has gone wrong through all the avenues of their being. Yet there are others who, while looking with pleasure upon the innocent sports of animal life, and recalling the simple joys of childhood with delight, are content with the lot of manhood and womanhood, and would look upon a return to their simpler age as the greatest calamity that could be inflicted upon them. With brows wrinkled by care and toil, and heads silvered by premature age, and great burdens upon heart and brain, they glory in a life within and before them, by the side of which the life of childhood is as flavorless and frivolous as that of a fly.
I have been much impressed by a passage in the "Recreations of a Country Parson,"—which, by the way, is one of the best and cleverest books of its kind in the English language—in which this question is incidentally touched upon, and so happily touched upon, that I cannot refrain from transcribing the whole passage. The writer represents himself to be seated upon a manger, writing upon the flat place between his horse's eyes, while the docile animal's nose is between his knees; and it is the horse that he addresses:—
"For you, my poor fellow-creature, I think with sorrow as I write here upon your head, there remains no such immortality as remains for me. What a difference between us! You to your sixteen or eighteen years here, and then oblivion!—I to my threescore and ten, and then eternity! Yes, the difference is immense; and it touches me to think of your life and mine, of your doom and mine. I know a house where at morning and evening prayer, when the household assembles, among the servants there always walks in a shaggy little dog, who listens with the deepest attention and the most solemn gravity to all that is said, and then, when prayers are over, goes out again with his friends. I cannot witness that silent procedure without being much moved by the sight. Ah! my fellow-creature, this is something in which you have no part! Made by the same hand, breathing the same air, sustained like us by food and drink, you are witnessing an act of ours which relates to interests that do not concern you, and of which you have no idea. And so here we are, you standing at the manger, old boy, and I sitting upon it; the mortal and the immortal, close together; your nose on my knee, my paper on your head; yet with something between us broader than the broad Atlantic."
Here we find one man pitying his poor, dumb, unconscious companion, and the little dog that trots in to attend the morning prayers, because their life is so brief, and, more particularly, because it is so insignificant. He recognizes the feeble likeness between himself and them, and appreciates also the tremendous difference. He does not think that he would be glad to exchange his lot of labor and care for their carelessness and content, but, reaching forward to grasp the hand of an immortal destiny, he sorrows that he must leave his dumb servants and companions behind him.
And this is the normal view of the question. We rise out of semi-conscious infancy into a life of the senses, which goes on to perfection in our childhood. We come into a state in which the mechanism of the body enjoys its freest play, in which the senses imbibe their sweetest satisfactions, and in which life either swells into irrepressible overflowings, or subsides into careless content. Looking at her children at this period of their life, many a mother has said, "Let them play while they can; let them be merry while they may; for they are seeing their happiest days." But this animal life is not all. In its perfection it is very beautiful, and it is good because God made it; but it is only the coarse basis upon which rises a shaft, whiter than marble—wrought with divine devices—crowned by the light of Heaven. It is only those who have failed to secure a distinct perception of the highest aspect of human life, and of that which makes it characteristically human life, who can say to a child that he is seeing his happiest days.
I remember with entire distinctness the moment when the consciousness possessed me that my childhood was transcended by initial manhood, and I can never forget the pang that moment brought me. It was on a bright, moonlight night, in midwinter, when my mates, boisterous with life, were engaged in their usual games in the snow, and I had gone out expecting to share in their enjoyment. I had not played, or rather tried to play, five minutes, before I found that there was nothing in the play for me— that I had absolutely exhausted play as the grand pursuit of my life. Never since has the wild laugh of boyhood sounded so vacant and hollow, as it did to me that night. In an instant, the invisible line was crossed which separated a life of purely animal enjoyment from a life of moral motive and responsibility, and intellectual action and enterprise. The old had passed away, and I had entered that which was new; and I turned my steps homeward, leaving behind me all my companions, to spend a quiet evening in the chimney-corner, and dream of the realm that was opening before me. Such a moment as this comes really, though not always consciously, to every man and woman. To-day we are children; to-morrow we are not. To-day we stand in life's vestibule; to-morrow we are in the temple, awed by the sweep of the arches over us, humbled by the cross that fronts us, and smitten with mysteries that breathe upon us from the choir, or gaze at us from the flaming windows.
Manhood and womanhood have their infancy entirely distinct from the infancy of childhood. The child is born into the world a simple, animal life—less helpful than a lamb, or a calf, or a kitten. There is no power in it, and but little of instinct. There is no form of life, bursting caul or shell, that awakes in vital air to such stupid, vacant helplessness, as a baby. It is out of this lump of clay, with its bones only half hardened, and its muscles little more than pulp, and its brain no more intelligent than an uncooked dumpling, that childhood is to be made. And this childhood consists of little more than a well-developed animal organism. Nature keeps the child playing—makes it play in the open air—impels it to bring into free and joyous use all the powers of its little frame—and when that is done, and the procreative faculty has crowned all, the child is born again, and comes into a new infancy—the infancy of manhood and womanhood. Here a new life opens. That which gave satisfaction before, gives satisfaction no longer. Love takes new and deeper channels. Ambition fixes its eye upon other and higher objects. Fresh motives address the soul, and urge it into new enterprises. Great cares and responsibilities settle slowly down upon its shoulders, and it braces itself up to endure them. It apprehends God and its relations to Him, and to its fellows; it confronts destiny; it arms itself for the conflicts of life; it prepares for the struggle which it knows will issue in a grateful success or a sad disappointment; in short, it grows from man's infancy into man's full estate.
Now the reason why a mother looks with a sigh upon her children, and says that they are seeing the happiest days of their life, is that she has never become a true woman. She has never grown out of the infancy of her womanhood. She has never comprehended what a glorious thing it is to be a woman—she has not comprehended what it is to be a woman at all. What can be that woman's ideas of life, who thinks and declares that the happiest moments of her experience were those which were filled with the frolic of animal life? If I felt like this, I should wish that my children had been born rabbits, or squirrels, or lambs, or kittens, because they, having enjoyed the pleasures of the animal, will never awake to the woes of another type of life. The real reason why any man sings from the heart,
"O, would I were a boy again,"
is, that he is "stuck"—to use a homely but expressive word— between boyhood and manhood, and, not feeling up to his position, has a very strong disposition to back out of it. The man who really wishes he were a boy, is either painfully conscious of the loss of the purity of his boyhood, or he has the cowardly disposition to shirk the responsibilities of his life. The romantic regard which we all entertain for the simple animal content and joy of childhood, is a very different thing to this. It was Mr. Neal's loafer that really wished he were a pig; and it is a loafer always who would retire from man's duties and estate, into the content either of childhood or kittenhood.
It is very natural that a man should be blinded and pained by passing from a shaded room into dazzling sunlight. It is a serious thing to leap from a luxurious, enervating warm bath into cold water. All sudden transitions are shocking; and God has contrived the transitions of our lives so that they shall be mainly gradual. It is not to be wondered at that many men and women, by having the responsibilities of men and women thrust upon them too early, are shocked, and look back upon the shady places they have left, and long to rest their eyes there. It is not strange that men recoil from a plunge into the world's cold waters, and long to creep back into the bath from which they have suddenly risen. But that man or woman, having fully passed into the estate of man and woman, should desire to become children again, is impossible. It is only the half-developed, the badly-developed, the imperfectly nurtured, the mean-spirited, and the demoralized, who look back to the innocence, the helplessness, and the simple animal joy and content of childhood with genuine regret for their loss. I want no better evidence that a person's life is regarded by himself as a failure, than that furnished by his honest willingness to be restored to his childhood. When a man is ready to relinquish the power of his mature reason, his strength and skill for self-support, the independence of his will and life, his bosom companion and children, his interest in the stirring affairs of his time, his part in deciding the great questions which agitate his age and nation, his intelligent apprehension of the relations which exist between himself and his Maker, and his rational hope of immortality—if he have one—for the negative animal content, and frivolous enjoyments of a child, he does not deserve the name of a man;—he is a weak, unhealthy, broken-down creature, or a base poltroon.
Yet I know there are those who will read this sentence with tears, and with complaint. I know there are those whose existence has been a long struggle with sickness and trial—whose lives have been crowded with great griefs and disappointments—who sit in darkness and impotency while the world rolls by them. They have seen no joy and felt no content since childhood, and many of them look with genuine pity upon children, because the careless creatures do not know into what a heritage of sin and sorrow they are entering. I have only to say to them, that the noblest exhibitions of manhood and womanhood I have ever seen, or the world has ever seen, have been among their number. A woman with the hope of heaven in her eyes, incorruptible virtue in her heart, and honesty in every endeavor, has smiled serenely, a million times in this world, while her life and all its earthly expectations were in ruins. Patient sufferers upon beds of pain have forgotten childhood years ago, and, feeding their souls on prayer, have looked forward with unutterable joy to the transition from womanhood to angelhood. Men, utterly forsaken by friends— contemned, derided, proscribed, persecuted—have stood by their convictions with joyful heroism and calm content. Nay, great multitudes have marched with songs upon their tongues to the rack and the stake. The noblest spectacle the world affords is that of a man or woman, rising superior to sorrow and suffering— transforming sorrow and suffering into nutriment—accepting those conditions of their life which Providence prescribes, and building themselves up into an estate from whose summit the step is short to a glorified humanity.
Before me hangs the portrait of an old man—the only man I ever loved with a devotion that has never faded, though long years have passed away since he died. His calm blue eyes look down upon me, and I look into them, and through them I look into a golden memory—into a life of self-denial—into a meek, toiling, honest, heroic Christian manhood—into an uncomplaining spirit—into a grateful heart—into a soul that never sighed over a lost joy, though all his earthly enterprises miscarried. The tracery of care and of sickness is upon his haggard features, but I see in them, and in the soul which they represent to me, the majesty of manliness. While I look, the kittens still play at the door, and the noise of shouting children is in the street; but ah! how shallow is the life they represent, compared with that of which this dumb canvas tells me! It is better to be a man or a woman, than to be a child. It is better to be an angel than to be either. Let us look forward—never backward.
REPRODUCTION IN KIND.
"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." ST. PAUL TO THE GALATIANS.
"Ye shall know them by their fruits: Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" ST. MATTHEW'S GOSPEL.
It was fitting that one of the most characteristic and beautiful laws of life should be announced in the opening chapter of the Holy Bible. It was clothed in the form of an ordinance, as became it: "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth, after his kind." From that day to this, every living thing—beast, bird and insect, tree, shrub and plant—has produced after its kind. It is a law that runs through all animal and vegetable life. Each family in the great world of living forms was created for a special purpose, and was intended to remain pure and distinctive until the termination of its mission. Whenever the family boundaries are overstepped, the curse of nature is breathed upon the generative functions, and the illegitimate product dies out, or subsides into hopeless degeneration. The mule is a monster, and has no progeny.
A plant, or a tree, never forgets itself. Cheat it of its root, and the stem remains faithful. The minutest twig, put out to nurse upon the arm of a foreign mother, feels the thrill of the great primal law in its filmiest fibre, and breathes in every expression of its life its fidelity. If you will walk with me into the garden, I will show you a mountain-ash in full bloom; but on the top of it you will see a strange little cluster of pear-blossoms. A twig from a Seckel pear-tree was, two or three years since, engrafted there. It had a hard time in uniting its being to that of the alien ash, but it loved life, and so, at length, it consented to join itself to the transplanted forest tree. It was weak and alone, but it kept its law. Spring bathed the ash with its own peculiar bloom, and autumn hung it with its clusters of scarlet berries, and it was hidden from sight by the redundant foliage, but it kept its law. The roots of the mountain-ash, blindly reaching in the ground and imbibing its juices, knew nothing of the little orphaned twig above, that waited for its food; but they could not cheat it of its law. Up to a certain point of a certain bough the rising fluids came under the law of the mountain-ash, and there they found a gateway, guarded by an angel that gave them a new commandment. "Thus far—mountain-ash: beyond—Seckel pear;" and if, in October, you will walk in the garden again with me, I will show you among the scarlet berries, bending heavily toward you, the clustered succulence of the Seckel.
A seedsman may cheat you, but a seed never does. If you plant corn, it never comes up potatoes. If you sow wheat, it never comes up rye. Wrapped up in every capsule, bound up in every kernel, packed into every minutest germ, is this law, written by God at the beginning, "Produce thou after thy kind." So the whole living world goes on producing after its kind. Year after year we visit the seedsman, and read the labels on his drawers and packages, and bear home and plant in our gardens the little homely germs that keep God's law so well; and summer rewards our trust in them with beautiful flowers, and autumn with bountiful fruition. Robins sang the same song to the Pilgrim Fathers that they sing to us. The may-flower breathes the same fragrance now that it breathed in the fingers of Rose Standish; and man and woman, producing after their kind, are the same to-day that they were three thousand years ago.
Now there is a significance in all the laws of material life, above and beyond their special office. They do the work they were set to do; they rule the life they were appointed to rule; but the laws, themselves, belong to a family whose branches run through all intellectual, moral, and spiritual life. Laws live in groups no less uniformly than the existences which they inform and govern. It is a law, both of animal and vegetable structures, that they shall grow by what they feed on; but this law passes the bounds of matter, and finds its widest meaning and its most extended application beyond. The mind grows by what it feeds on; the heart grows by what it feeds on; love, hate, jealousy, revenge, fortitude, courage, grow by what they feed on; spirituality grows by what spirituality feeds on. Wherever growth goes, through all the realm of God, this law goes; and the law that every thing that produces shall produce after its kind, is just as universal as this. It begins in material life, and runs up through all life. Rather, perhaps, I should say, that it begins in spiritual life, and seeks embodiment in material life, so that we may apprehend it. The clouds were in heaven before there was any rain, and the rain comes down from heaven to tell us what the clouds are made of. I might go further, and say that every form, of matter is but the embodiment of a divine thought, and that, with that thought, there passes into matter the laws that reside in divine things of corresponding nature and office.
But I am becoming abstruse—quite too much so, considering the simple, practical truths to which I am seeking to introduce my reader. I have been thinking how, in accordance with this law of which we are talking, our moods, our passions, our sympathies, our moral frames and conditions, reproduce themselves, after their kind, in the minds and lives around us. I call my child to my knee in anger; I strike him a hasty blow that carries with it the peculiar sting of anger; I speak a loud reproof that bears with it the spirit of anger; and I look in vain for any relenting in his flashing eyes, flushed face, and compressed lips. I have made my child angry, and my uncontrolled passion has produced after its kind. I have sown anger, and I have reaped anger instantaneously. Perhaps I become still more angry, in consequence of the passion manifested by my child, and I speak and strike again. He is weak and I am strong; but, though he bow his head, crushed into silence, I may be sure that there is a sullen heart in the little bosom, and anger the more bitter because it is impotent. I put the child away from me, and think of what I have done. I am full of relentings. I long to ask his pardon, for I know that I have offended and deeply injured one of Christ's little ones. I call him to me again, press his head to my breast, kiss him, and weep. No word is spoken, but the little bosom heaves, the little heart softens, the little eyes grow tenderly penitent, the little hands come up and clasp my neck, and my relentings and my sorrow have produced after their kind. The child is conquered, and so am I.
If I utter fretful words, they come back to me like echoes. If I bristle all over with irritability, the quills will begin to rise all about me. One thoroughly irritable person in a breakfast-room spoils coffee and toast, sours milk, and destroys appetite for a whole family. He produces after his kind.
Generally, a man has around him those who are like him. If he be a man of strong nature and positive qualities, he will plant his moods and grow them in the natures next to him. Of course there must be exceptions to this rule, because the will is free and man is reasonable, and the motive and power to pluck up unwelcome seed, and unpleasant growths, inheres in all men. I have known a good-natured man to live with a pettish, ill-natured, jealous, fault-finding wife through all the years of my acquaintance with him, he meantime growing no worse, and she growing no better. They had voluntarily and effectually shut themselves each from the influence of the other. He had closed his spirit against that which was bad in her, and she had closed her spirit against that which was good in him; so she went on fretting through life, and he very good-naturedly laughing at her. We see this thing through all society. We see innocent girls grow up into virtue, though surrounded on every side by vicious example. We see natures and characters everywhere which refuse to receive the seed that falls upon them from the natures and characters of others; but this makes nothing against the universality of the law we are considering. Generally, I repeat, a man has around him those who are like him. The soil of a social circle is usually open, and whatever falls into it produces after its kind, whether it be good nature or ill nature, purity or impurity, faith or skepticism, love or hate.
It would appear, therefore, that there is no way by which we can surround ourselves by good society so readily as by being good ourselves. If we plant good seed, we may calculate with a great degree of certainty upon securing good fruit. If I plant frankness and open-heartedness, I expect to reap them; and I have no right to expect to reap them unless I plant them. If I go to a man with my heart in my hand, I have good reason for expecting to meet a man with his heart in his hand. Frankness begets frankness, just as naturally and just as certainly, under the proper conditions, as like produces like in the animal and vegetable kingdoms. There are men who do every thing by indirection who meet one as warily as if words were traps; and pitfalls who manage a friendly interview as a general would manage a campaign; and if they make their demonstration first, we are placed upon our guard. We unconsciously become wary and distrustful. They plant distrust and secretiveness, and they produce in us after their kind. No man can be treated frankly in this world unless he himself be frank. If we would win confidence to ourselves, we must put confidence in others. The soul is like a mirror, reflecting that which stands before it.
The young naturally take on the moods and accept and reflect the influences around them more readily than the old, just as a new piece of land will produce a better crop than one which is worn or pre-occupied. A virgin mind is like a virgin soil. It contains all the elements of fertility, and is adapted to the production of any crop. It has been exhausted in no department of its constitution. It is not occupied by roots, and shaded by foliage. It is not turf-bound and dry; but it is soft and open, and clean and moist, and ready for the reception of any seed that may fall upon it. Until age brings individuality, the mind seems to have little choice as to what it will receive. Then, indeed, it does reject much seed that falls upon it, and much fails to take root because of the pre-occupation of the surface. A sensual seed is planted in the soul of a young man, and it springs up readily, and produces after its kind; but the same seed tossed upon an older soil fails to sink and germinate, because the surface is pre-occupied, or, more frequently, because that peculiar element on which the germ must rely for quickening and sustentation has been exhausted. Some manly or Christian grace falls upon a young mind, and quickly strikes root and rises into flower and fruit; while the same grace thrown upon an adult mind would fail to reach the soil, through the vices that cumber and choke it. It is thus that home and the school-room are literally seminaries—places where seed is sown— and it is in these that we expect and intend that every seed shall produce after its kind. Let us talk about this a little.
I once heard a person say that one of his acquaintances, whom he named, had no moral right to have a child. Why was this harsh judgment uttered? Because he was hereditarily scrofulous, and would necessarily entail upon his offspring the family taint. If there were even a show of justice in this, what must be said of a parent who does not possess a single moral quality, that even he, in the selfishness of his parental love, would desire to see implanted in his child? How many homes are scattered over Christendom in which no good seed is sown! How many selfish, niggardly, vicious parents are there, who, producing after their kind, by generation and by influence, are filling the world with selfish, niggardly, and vicious children! How many homes are there in which the gentle words of love are never heard; in which the tender graces of a Christian heart are never unfolded; in which a prayer is never uttered! How many fathers are there whose lips are black with profanity and foul with obscenity, and whose lives are mean and unwholesome! How many mothers are there whose tongues are nimble with scandal and bitter with scolding, and whose brains are busy with vanities and jealousies! Ah! if there be any man or woman in this world who has no moral right to have a child, it is one who has not a single trait of character desirable to be reproduced in a child. Scrofula may be bad, but sin is worse. Bodily taint may be terrible, but spiritual taint is horrible.
It is a general truth, under the law that every thing produces after its kind, that children become what their parents are. A simple people, virtuous and healthy, will produce virtuous, healthy, and true-hearted children, A luxurious people—lazy, sensual, wasteful—will produce children like themselves. If we go through the vicious quarters of a great city, where licentiousness and drunkenness and beastly vices prevail, we shall find that though all die before old age, the communities are abundantly recruited by the children which they produce. Men, principles, habits, ideas, vices, all have children, whose features betray their parentage; so that no parent has a right to expect a child to be better than its father and mother. On the contrary, he has every reason to believe that every thing that a child sees wrong in the parents, will be imitated. There is no way by which bad parents can bring up a family well. There must be in the parental life good principles, a sweet and equable temper, a tender and loving disposition, a firm self-control, a pleasant deportment, and a conscientious devotion to duty, or these will not be found in the life of the children. Bad seed, sown in the quick soil of a child's mind, is sure to spring up, and to bear fruit after its kind. No sensible man ever dreams of gathering figs from thistles, or grapes from bramble-bushes, and no man has the slightest right to suppose that he can bring up a family to be better than he is. The plant will be true to the seed.
We are in the habit of hearing that the children of a certain neighborhood, or school, or town, are extraordinarily bad children. Great wonder is sometimes expressed in regard to such instances, when, really, they are not wonderful at all. When children are unusually bad, parents are unusually bad, or, if they are not bad-hearted, they are wrong-headed. I ought, perhaps, to say here that I have known an irascible, tyrannical, unjust and cruel school-teacher to spoil a neighborhood of children, when the parents were without any special fault, save that of failing to thrust him out of the charge which he had abused. But usually the fault is at home. If the seed planted there be good, it will produce good fruit. Yet my reader will say that the best man he ever knew, had the worst children he ever saw. The truth of the statement is admitted, but what do you know of the home life of that family? How much unreasonable restraint has been exercised upon those children? From how many exhibitions of stern and unrelenting injustice have these children suffered? What laxity of discipline and carelessness of culture have reigned in that family? I know many who seem to be excellent men in society, but who are any thing but amiable men at home. In one they are pleasant, affable, kind, and charitable; in the other, cross-grained, hard, unkind, and unjust. I declare with all positiveness, that when a family or a neighborhood of children is bad, there is a reason for it outside of the children. There are bad influences which descend upon them, and work out their natural results in them.
It is astonishing to see how long a seed will lie in the ground without germinating, and how true it will remain to its kind through untold years. Cut down a pine forest, where an oak has not been seen for a century, and oak shrubbery will spring up. Heave out upon the surface a pile of earth that has lain hidden from the eyes of a dozen generations, and forthwith it will grow green with weeds. Plough up the prairie, and turn under the grass and flowers that have grown there since the white settler can remember, and there will spring from the inverted sod a strange growth that has had no representative in the sunlight for long ages. Soul and soil are alike in this. I once heard a man say of his father, who had been dead many years—"I hate him: I hate his memory." The words were spoken bitterly, with a flushed face and angry eyes, yet he who spoke them was one of the kindest and most placable of men. Deep down in his heart, under love for his mother which was almost worship, and under affection for wife, children, and sisters which was as deep as his nature, and under multiplied friendships, there had been planted this seed. The father had treated the boy harshly and unjustly; and the young soul was stung as the tender fruit is stung by an insect. Where anger and resentment were sown, anger and resentment were ready to spring up the moment the seed was uncovered. I have known men to carry through life a revenge planted in their hearts by some unjust and cruel schoolmaster. How many men are there are in the world who have sworn to revenge themselves upon one who had stung them with anger or injustice when in childhood!
So we come to the grand lesson, that if we would have good children, we must ourselves be exactly what we would have them become; if we would govern our families, we must first govern ourselves; if we would have only pleasant words greet our ears in the home circle, we must speak only pleasant words. We should see to it that we plant nothing, the legitimate fruits of which we shall not be willing and glad to see borne in the lives of our children. If our children are bad, the fault is, ninety-nine cases in a hundred, our own, in some way. If we would reform society, or make it better in any respect, our quickest way to do it is to reform and make ourselves better. If I would reap courtesy and hospitality and kindness and love, I must plant them; and it is the sum of all arrogance to assume that I have a right to reap them without planting them. A man who receives courtesy without exercising it, reaps that which he has not sown. He is a thief, and ought in justice to be kicked out of society. Blessings on the man who sows the seeds of a happy nature and a noble character broadcast wherever his feet wander,—who has a smile alike for joy and sorrow, a tender word always for a child, a compassionate utterance for suffering, courtesy for friends and for strangers, encouragement for the despairing, an open heart for all—love for all—good words for all! Such seed produces after its kind in all soils, when it finds lodgment; and that which the sower fails to reap, passes into hands that are grateful for the largess.
TRUTH AND TRUTHFULNESS.
"For truth is as impossible to be soiled by any outward touch as a sunbeam." MILTON.
"Odds life! must one swear to the truth of a song?" MATTHEW PRIOR.
"Get but the truth once uttered, and 'tis like A star new-born that drops into its place, And which, once circling in its placid round, Not all the tumult of the earth can shake." LOWELL.
One of the rarest powers possessed by man is the power to state a fact. It seems a very simple thing to tell the truth, but, beyond all question, there is nothing half so easy as lying. To comprehend a fact in its exact length, breadth, relations, and significance, and to state it in language that shall represent it with exact fidelity, are the work of a mind singularly gifted, finely balanced, and thoroughly practiced in that special department of effort. The greatness of Daniel Webster was more apparent in his power to state a fact, or to present a truth, than in any other characteristic of his gigantic nature. It was the power of truth that won for him his forensic victories. Whenever he was truest to truth, then was truth truest to him. He was a man who implicitly believed in the power of truth to take care of itself when it had been fairly presented; and the failures of his life always grew out of his attempts to make falsehood look like truth—a field of effort in which the most gifted of his cotemporaries won the most brilliant of his triumphs.
The men are comparatively few who are in the habit of telling the truth. We all lie, every day of our lives—almost in every sentence we utter—not consciously and criminally, perhaps, but really, in that our language fails to represent truth, and state facts correctly. Our truths are half-truths, or distorted truths, or exaggerated truths, or sophisticated truths. Much of this is owing to carelessness, much to habit, and, more than has generally been supposed, to mental incapacity. I have known eminent men who had not the power to state a fact, in its whole volume and outline, because, first, they could not comprehend it perfectly, and, second, because their power of expression was limited. The lenses by which they apprehended their facts were not adjusted properly, so they saw every thing with a blur. Definite outlines, cleanly cut edges, exact apprehension of volume and weight, nice measurement of relations, were matters outside of their observation and experience. They had broad minds, but bungling; and their language was no better than their apprehensions—usually it was worse, because language is rarely as definite as apprehension. Men rarely do their work to suit them, because their tools are imperfect.
There are men in all communities who are believed to be honest, yet whose word is never taken as authority upon any subject. There is a flaw or a warp somewhere in their perceptions, which prevents them from receiving truthful impressions. Every thing comes to them distorted, as natural objects are distorted by reaching the eye through wrinkled window-glass. Some are able to apprehend a fact and state it correctly, if it have no direct relation to themselves; but the moment their personality, or their personal interest, is involved, the fact assumes false proportions and false colors. I know a physician whose patients are always alarmingly sick when he is first called to them. As they usually get well, I am bound to believe that he is a good physician; but I am not bound to believe that they are all as sick at beginning as he supposes them to be. The first violent symptoms operate upon his imagination and excite his fears, and his opinion as to the degree of danger attaching to the diseases of his patients is not worth half so much as that of any sensible old nurse. In fact, nobody thinks of taking it all; and those who know him, and who hear his sad representations of the condition of his patients, show equal distrust of his word and faith in his skill, by taking it for granted that they are in a fair way to get well.
It is impossible for bigots, for men of one idea, for fanatics, for those who set boundaries to themselves in religious, social, and political creeds, for men who think more of their own selfish interests than they do of truth, and for vicious men, to speak the truth. We are all, I suppose, bigots to a greater or less extent. We all have a creed written in our minds, or printed in our books; and to this we are more or less blindly attached. We set down an article of faith, or adopt an opinion, and nothing is allowed to interfere with it. If a sturdy fact comes along, and asks admission, we turn to our creed to see if we can safely entertain it. If the creed says "No," we say "No," and the fact is turned out of doors, and misrepresented after it is gone. Our creeds are our dwellings. They come next to us, and nothing can come to us, or go out from us, without going through our creeds. The simple fact of the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross, reaching the mind through various creeds, and passing out again, goes through as many phases as there are creeds, ranging through a scale which at one extreme presents a God dying to redeem the lost millions of a world, and, at the other, a benevolent, sweet-tempered man, yielding his life in testimony of the honesty of his teachings.
No new truth presents itself, which does not have to run the gauntlet of our creeds. If it get through alive, and seem disposed to be peaceable, and to remain subordinate to them, then we let it live, and receive it into respectable society;—otherwise, we entreat it shamefully. Sometimes the truth is too much for us, and asserts its power to stand without our help, and then we compromise with it. The world will turn on its axis, and wheel around its orbit, though we stop the mouth of the profane wretch who declares it; so, after a while, we get tired of fighting the fact, and shape our creeds accordingly. We fight the sturdy truths of geology, because they interfere with our creeds, but after awhile the sturdy truths of geology become too sturdy for us, and then we begin to patronize them, and to confer upon them the honor of harmonizing with our creeds. A man who has adopted the creed of a materialist, is entirely incompetent to receive, entertain, and represent a spiritual fact. My creed is the window at which I sit, and look at all the world of truth outside of me. All truth is tinted by the medium through which it passes to reach my mind; and such is my imperfection and my weakness, that I could not raise my window immediately, and place my soul in direct, vital contact with the great atmosphere of truth, if I would.
But if bigotry be such a bar to the correct perception of truth, what shall be said of self-interest and personal vices of appetite and passion? It is possible for no man who owns a slave and finds profit in such ownership, to receive the truth touching the right of man to himself, and the moral wrong of slavery. We have too much evidence that even creeds must bend to self-interest, and that any traffic will be regarded as morally right which is pecuniarily profitable. Once, in the creed of the slaveholders, slavery was admitted to be wrong, but that was when it was looked upon as temporary in its character, and, on the whole, evil in its results to all concerned. Now, when it is sought to be made a permanent institution, because it seems to be the only source of the wealth of a section, it has become right; and even the slave-trade logically falls into the category of laudable and legitimate commerce. It is impossible for a people who have allowed pecuniary interest to deprave their moral sense to this extent, to perceive and receive any sound political truth, or to apprehend the spirit and temper of those who are opposed to them. The same may be said of the liquor traffic. The act of selling liquor is looked upon with horror by those who stand outside, and who have an eye upon its consequences; but the seller deems it legitimate, and looks upon any interference with his sales as an infringement of his rights. Our selfish interest in any business, or in any scheme of profit, distorts all truth either directly or indirectly related to such business or scheme, or living in its region and atmosphere. The President of the United States, or the governor of the commonwealth, may be an excellent man; but if I want an office, and he fails to appoint me to it, why I don't exactly regard him as such. He becomes to me a very ordinary and vulgar sort of man indeed; but if he give me my office, then, though he may be all that his enemies think him, he seems to me to be invested with a singular nobility of character that other people do not apprehend at all.
The vices of humanity are sad media through which to receive truth—often so opaque that no truth can reach the mind at all. It is impossible for a man whose affections are bestialized, whose practices are libertine, and whose imaginations are all impure, to receive the truth that there are such things as purity and virtue, and that there are men and women around him who are virtuous and pure. There is no truth which personal vice will not distort. The approaches to a sensual mind are through the senses, and the same may be said of all minds in a general way; but the approaches to a sensual mind are only through the senses, and they, being perverted, abused, exhausted, or unduly excited, furnish the utterly unreliable avenues by which truth reaches the soul. The grand reason why truth, published from the pulpit and the platform, revealed in periodicals and books, and embodied in pictures and statues, works no greater changes upon the minds and morals of men, is, that it never gets inside of men in the shape in which it is uttered. It passes through such media of bigotry, or self-interest, or vice, that its identity and power are lost.