E-text prepared by Al Haines
MUSHROOMS ON THE MOOR
F. W. BOREHAM
Author of 'Mountains in the Mist,' 'The Other Side of the Hill,' 'The Golden Milestone,' 'The Silver Shadow,' 'The Luggage of Life,' 'Faces in the Fire,' etc., etc.
The Abingdon Press New York ——— Cincinnati
First American Edition Printed May, 1919 Reprinted August, 1919; May, 1920; July 1921
I. A SLICE OF INFINITY II. READY-MADE CLOTHES III. THE HIDDEN GOLD IV. 'SUCH A LOVELY BITE!' V. LANDLORD AND TENANT VI. THE CORNER CUPBOARD VII. WITH THE WOLVES IN THE WILD VIII. DICK SUNSHINE IX. FORTY! X. A WOMAN'S REASON
I. THE HANDICAP II. GOG AND MAGOG III. MY WARDROBE IV. 'PITY MY SIMPLICITY!' V. TUNING FROM THE BASS VI. A FRUITLESS DEPUTATION VII. TRAMP! TRAMP! TRAMP! VIII. THE FIRST MATE
I. WHEN THE COWS COME HOME II. MUSHROOMS ON THE MOOR III. ONIONS IV. ON GETTING OVER THINGS V. NAMING THE BABY VI. THE MISTRESS OF THE MARGIN VII. LILY
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
I have allowed the Mushrooms on the Moor to throw the glamour of their name over the entire volume because, in some respects, they are the most typical and representative things in it. They express so little but suggest so much! What fun we had, in the days of auld lang syne, when we scoured the dewy fields in search of them! And yet how small a proportion of our enjoyment the mushrooms themselves represented! Our flushed cheeks, our prodigious appetites, and our boisterous merriment told of gains immensely greater than any that our baskets could have held. What a contrast, for example, between mushrooms from the moor on the one hand and mushrooms from the market on the other! What memories of the soft summer mornings; the fresh and fragrant air; the diffused and misty sunshine; the sparkle of the dew on the tall wisps of speargrass; the beaded and shining cobwebs; the scamper, barefooted, across the glittering green! It was part of childhood's wild romance. And, in the sterner days that have followed those tremendous frolics, we have learned that life is full of just such suggestive things. As I glance back upon the years that lie behind me, I find that they have been almost equally divided between two hemispheres. But I have discovered that, under any stars,
There's part o' the sun in an apple; There's part o' the moon in a rose; There's part o' the flaming Pleiades In every leaf that grows.
And I shall reckon this book no failure if some of the ideas that I have tried to suggest are found to point at all steadily to that conclusion.
FRANK W. BOREHAM.
HOBART, TASMANIA, JUNE, 1915.
A SLICE OF INFINITY
Really, as I sit here in this quiet study, and glance round at the books upon the shelves, I can scarcely refrain from laughing at the fun we have had together. And to think of the way in which they came into my possession! It seems like a fairy story or a chapter from romance. If a man wants to spend an hour or so as delightfully as it is possible to spend it, let him invite to his fireside some old and valued friend, the companion of many a frolic and the sharer of many a sorrow; let him seat his old comrade there in the place of honour on the opposite side of the hearth, and then let them talk. 'Do you remember, Tom, the way we met for the first time?' 'My word, I do! Shall I ever forget it?' And Tom slaps his knee at the memory of it, and they enjoy a long and hearty laugh together. It is not that the circumstances under which they met were so ludicrous or dramatic; it is that they were so commonplace. It seems, on looking back, the oddest chance in the world that first brought them together, the merest whim of chance, the veriest freak of circumstance; and yet how all life has taken its colour and drawn its enrichment from that casual meeting! They happened to enter the same compartment of a railway train; or they sat next each other on the tramcar; or they walked home together from a political meeting; or they caught each other admiring the same rose at a flower show. Neither sought the other; neither felt the slightest desire for the other; neither knew, until that moment, of the existence of the other; and yet there it is! They met; and out of that apparently accidental meeting there has sprung up a friendship that many changes cannot change, and a love that many waters cannot quench. Either would cross all the continents and oceans of the world to-day to find the other; but as they remember how they met for the first time it seems too queer to be credible. And they lie back in their easy chairs and laugh again.
That is why I laugh at my books. Some day I intend to draw up a list of them and divide them into classes. In one class I shall put the books that I bought, once upon a time, because I was given to understand that they were the right sort of books to have. Everybody else had them; and my shelves would therefore be scarcely decent without them. I purchased them, accordingly, and they have stood on the shelves there ever since. As far as I know they have done nobody the slightest harm in all their long untroubled lives. Indeed, they have imparted such an air of gravity, and such an odour of sanctity, to the establishment as must have had a steadying effect on their less sombre companions. But it is not at these formidable volumes that I am laughing. I would not dare. I glance at them with reverential awe, and am more than half afraid of them. Then, again, there are other books that I bought because I felt that I needed them. And so I did, more than perhaps I guessed when I bore them proudly home. Glorious times I have had with them. I look up at them gratefully and lovingly. It is not at these that I am laughing. But there are others, old and trusted friends, that came into my life in the oddest possible way. I do not mean that I stole them. I mean rather that they stole me. They seemed to pounce out at me, and before I knew what had happened I belonged to them: I certainly did not seek them. In some cases I never heard of their existence until after they became my own. They have since proved invaluable to me, and I can scarcely review our long companionship without emotion. Yet when I glance up at them, and remember the whimsical way in which we met for the first time, I can scarce restrain my laughter.
It was like this. Years ago I went to an auction sale. A library was being submitted to the hammer. The books were all tied up in lots. The work had evidently been done by somebody who knew as much about books as a Hottentot knows about icebergs. John Bunyan was tied tightly to Nat Gould, and Thomas Carlyle was firmly fastened to Charles Garvice. I looked round; took a note of the numbers of those lots that contained books that I wanted, and waited for the auctioneer to get to business. In due time I became the purchaser of half a dozen lots. I had bought six books that I wanted, and thirty that I didn't. Now the question arose: What shall I do with these thirty waifs and strays? I glanced over them and took pity on them. Many of them dealt with matters in which I had never taken the slightest interest. But were they to blame for that? or was I? I saw at once that the fault was entirely mine, and that these unoffending volumes had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I vowed that I would read the lot, and I did. From one or two of them I derived as far as I know, no profit at all. But these were the exceptions. Some of these volumes have been the delight of my life during all the days of my pilgrimage. And as I look tenderly up at them, as they stand in their very familiar places before me, I salute them as the two old comrades saluted each other across the hearthstone. But I cannot help laughing at the odd manner of our first acquaintance. It was thus that I learned one of the most valuable lessons that experience ever taught me. It is sometimes a fine thing to sample infinity.
When I was a small boy I dreaded the policeman; when I grew older I feared the bookseller. And as the years go by I find that my dread of the policeman has quite evaporated, but my fear of the bookseller grows upon me. I had an idea as a boy that one day a policeman, mistaking my identity, would snatch me up and hurl me into some horrid little dungeon, where I might languish for many a long day. But since I have grown up I have discovered that it is only the bookseller who does that sort of thing. And in his case he does it deliberately and of malice aforethought. It is no case of mistaken identity; he knows who you are, and he knows you are innocent. But he has his dungeon ready. The bookseller is a very dangerous person, and every member of the community should guard against his blandishments. It is not that he will sell you too many books. He will probably not sell you half as many as are good for you. But he will sell you the wrong books. He will sell you the books you least need, and keep on his own shelves the intellectual pabulum for which your soul is starving. And all with a view to getting you at last into his wretched little dungeon. See how he goes about it. A friend of yours goes to the West Indies. You suddenly wake up to the fact that you know very little about that wonderful region. You go to your bookseller and ask for the latest reliable work on the West Indies. You buy it, and he, the rascal, takes a mental note of the fact. Next time you walk into the shop he is at you like a flash.
'Good afternoon, sir. You are specially interested, I know, in the West Indies. We have a very fine thing coming out now in monthly parts . . .'
And so on. His attribution to you of special interest in the West Indies is no empty flattery. The book you bought on your first visit has charmed you, and you are most deeply and sincerely interested in those fascinating islands. You order the monthly parts and the interest deepens. The bookseller does the thing so slyly that you do not notice that he is boxing you up in the West Indies. He is doing in sober fact what the policeman did in childish imagination. He is driving us into a blind alley, and, unless we are very careful, he will have us cribb'd, cabin'd, and confined before we know where we are.
It was my experience in the auction-room that saved me. When I had read all these books which I should never have bought if I could have helped it, I discovered the folly of buying books that interest you. If a book appeals to me at first sight it is probably because I know a good deal about the subject with which it deals. But, as against that, see how many subjects there are of which I know nothing at all! And just look at all these books that have no attraction for me! And tell me this: Why do they not appeal to me? Only one answer is possible. They do not appeal to me because I am so grossly, wofully, culpably ignorant of the subjects whereof they treat. If, therefore, my bookseller approaches me, with a nice new book under his arm, and observes coaxingly that he knows I am interested in history, I always ask him to be good enough to show me the latest work on psychology. If he reminds me of my fondness for astronomy, I ask him for a handbook of botany. If he refers to my predilection for agriculture, I inquire if there is anything new in the way of poetry; and if he politely refers to my weakness for the West Indies, I ask him to bring me something dealing with Lapland. The bookseller must be circumvented, defeated, and crushed at any cost. He is too clever at trapping us in his narrow little cell. If a man wants to feel that the world is wide, and a good place to live in, he must be for ever and for ever sampling infinity. He must shun the books that he dearly wants to buy, and buy the books he would do anything to shun.
Yes, I bought thirty-six books that day in the auction-room; six that I wanted and thirty that I didn't. And some of those thirty volumes have been the charmers of my solitude and the classics of my soul ever since. I do not advise any man to rush off to the nearest auction mart and repeat my experiment. We must not gamble with life. Infinity must be sampled intelligently. But, if a man is to keep himself alive in a world like this, infinity must be sampled. Like a dog on a country road I must poke into as many holes as I can. If I am naturally fond of music, I had better study mining. If I love painting, I shall be wise to go in for gardening. If I glory in the seaside, I must make a point of climbing mountains and scouring the bush. If I am attached to the things just under my nose, I must be careful to read books dealing with distant lands. If I am deeply interested in contemporary affairs, I must at once read the records of the days of long ago and explore the annals of the splendid past. I must be faithful to old friends, but I must get to know new people and to know them well. If I hold to one opinion, I must studiously cultivate the acquaintance of men who hold the opposite view, and investigate the hidden recesses of their minds with scientific and painstaking diligence. Above all must I be constantly sampling infinity in matters of faith. If I find that the Epistles are gaining a commanding influence upon my mind, I must at once set out to explore the prophets. If I find some special phase of truth powerfully attracting me, I must, without shunning it, pay increasing attention to all other aspects. 'The Lord has yet more truth to break from out His Word!' said John Robinson; and I must try to find it. Mr. Goodman is a splendid fellow; but he fell in love with one lonely little truth one day, and now he never thinks or reads or preaches of any other. It would be his salvation, and the salvation of his people, if he would set out to climb the peaks that have no attraction for him. He would find, when he stood on their sunlit summits, that they too are part of God's great world. He would have the time of his life if he would only commence to sample infinity. His people are accustomed to seeing him every now and again in a new suit of clothes. If he begins to-day to sample infinity, they will next week experience a fresh sensation. They will see the same suit of clothes with a new man inside it.
Carlyle, as everybody knows, once wrote a Philosophy of Clothes, and called it Sartor Resartus. He did his work so thoroughly and so exhaustively and so well that, from that day to this, nobody else has cared to tackle the theme. It is high time, however, that it was pointed out that with one important aspect of his tremendous subject he does not attempt to deal. Surely there ought to have been a chapter on Ready-made Clothes!
I am surprised that Henry Drummond never drew attention to the glaring omission, for, if Drummond hated one thing more than another, he loathed and detested ready-made clothes. They were his pet aversion. Ready-made clothes, he used to say, were things that were made to fit everybody, and they fitted nobody. Men are not made by machinery and in sizes; and it follows as a natural consequence that clothes that are so made will not fit men. The man who is an exact duplicate of the tailor's model has not yet been born. How Carlyle's omission escaped the censure of Drummond I cannot imagine. It is true that Drummond was not particularly attracted by Carlyle; he preferred Emerson. I am certain that if Drummond had read Sartor Resartus at all carefully he would have exposed the discrepancy, and Carlyle is therefore to be congratulated on a very narrow escape.
Drummond's hatred of ready-made clothes is the essential thing about him. I happened to be lecturing on Drummond the other evening, and I felt it my duty to point out that Drummond would take his place in history, not as a scientist nor as an evangelist, nor as a traveller, nor as an author, but as the uncompromising and relentless assailant of ready-made clothes. Unless you grasp this, you will never understand him. He scorned all affectations and imitations. He would adopt no style of dress simply because it was usual under certain conditions. 'He was,' as an eye-witness of his ordination remarks, 'the last man whom you could place by the woman's canon of dress. And yet his dress was a marvel of adaptation to the part he happened to be playing. On his ordination day, when most men assume a garb severely clerical, he was dressed like a country squire, thus proclaiming to fathers and brethren, and to all the world, that he was not going to allow ordination to play havoc with his chosen career. Now this was typical, and it is its typical quality that is important. It applied not to dress alone. It applied to speech. Drummond would affect no style of address simply on the ground that it was usual upon certain platforms or in certain rostrums. Did it fit him? Was it simple, natural, easy, effective? If not, he would not use it. Nor would he adopt a course of procedure simply because it was customary and was considered correct. If, to him, it seemed like wearing ready-made clothes, he would have none of it. Here you have the key to his whole life. Everything had to fit him like a glove, or he would have nothing to do with it. His scientific lectures, his evangelistic addresses, his personal interviews with students, even his public prayers, were modelled on no regulation standard, on no established precedent; they were couched in the language, and expressed in the style, that most perfectly suited his own charming and magnetic individuality.
Professor James, of Harvard, said of Henri Bergson, the Parisian philosopher, that his utterance fitted his thought like that elastic silk underclothing which follows every movement of the skin. Drummond would have considered that the ideal. Generally speaking, he was impervious to criticism; but if you had told him that a single phrase rang hollow, or that some expression had savoured of artificiality, or that even a gesture appeared like affectation, you would have stabbed him to the quick. It was a great question in his day as to whether he was orthodox or heterodox. Drummond regarded all standards of orthodoxy and of heterodoxy as so many tailors' models. Orthodoxy and heterodoxy stand related to truth just as those wonderful wickerwork stands and plaster busts that adorn every dressmaker's establishment stand related to the grace and beauty of the female form. If you had asked Drummond to what school of thought he belonged, he would have told you that he never wore ready-made clothes.
I tremble lest, one of these days, these notions of mine on the subject of ready-made clothes should assume the proportions of a sermon, and demand pulpit utterance. There will at any rate be no difficulty in providing them with a text. The classical instance of the contemptuous rejection of ready-made clothing was, of course, David's refusal to wear Saul's armour. There is a world of significance in that old-world story. Saul's armour is a very fine thing—for Saul! But if David feels that he can do better work with a sling, then, in the name of all that is reasonable, give him a sling! If he has to fight Goliath, why hamper him with ready-made clothes? I began by saying that Carlyle omitted to deal, in Sartor Resartus, with this profound branch of his subject. But he saw the importance of it for all that. In his Frederick the Great, he tells us how the young prince's iron-handed father employed a learned university professor to teach the boy theology. The doctor dosed his youthful pupil with creeds and catechisms until his brain whirled with meaningless tags and phrases. And in recording the story Carlyle bursts out upon the dry-as-dust professor. 'In heaven's name,' he cries, 'teach the boy nothing at all, or else teach him something that he will know, as long as he lives, to be eternally and indisputably true!'
Now what is this fine outburst of thunderous wrath but an emphatic protest against the use of ready-made clothes? A man's faith should fit him like the clothes for which he has been most carefully measured, if not like the elastic silk to which the Harvard professor refers. A man might as well try to wear his father's clothes as try to wear his father's faith. It will never really fit him. There is a great expression near the end of the brief Epistle of Jude that always seems to me very striking. 'But ye, beloved,' says the writer, 'building up yourselves on your most holy faith.' That is the only satisfactory way of building—to build on your own site. If I build my house on another man's piece of ground, it is sure to cause trouble sooner or later. Build your own character on your own faith, says the apostle; and there is sound sense in the injunction. It is better for me to build a very modest little house of my own on a little bit of land that really belongs to me than to build a palace on somebody else's soil. It is better for me to build up my character, very unpretentiously, perhaps, on my own faith, than to erect a much more imposing structure on another man's creed. That is the philosophy of ready-made clothes, disguised under a slight change of metaphor.
I have heard that some people spend their time in church inspecting other people's clothes. If that is so, they must be profoundly impressed by the amazing proportion of misfits. The souls of thousands are quite obviously clad in ready-made garments. Here is the spirit of a bright young girl decked out in all the contents of her grandmother's spiritual wardrobe. The clothes fitted the grandmother perfectly; the old lady looked charming in them; but the grand-daughter looks ridiculous. I was once at a testimony meeting. The thing that most impressed me was the continual repetition of certain phrases. Speaker after speaker rang the changes on the same stereotyped expressions. I saw at once that I had fallen among a people who went in for ready-made clothes.
The thing takes even more objectionable forms. Those who are half as fond as I am of Mark Rutherford will have already recalled Frank Palmer in Clara Hopgood. 'He accepted willingly,' we are told, 'the household conclusions on religion and politics, but they were not properly his, for he accepted them merely as conclusions and without the premisses, and it was often even a little annoying to hear him express some free opinion on religious questions in a way which showed that it was not a growth, but something picked up.' Everybody who has read the story remembers the moral tragedy that followed. What else could you expect? There is always trouble if a man builds his house on another man's site. The souls of men were never meant to be attired in ready-made clothes. Somebody has finely said that Truth must be born again in the secret silence of each individual life.
For the matter of that, the philosophy of ready-made clothes applies as much to unbelief as to faith. Now and then one meets a mind distracted by genuine doubt, and it is refreshing and stimulating to grapple with its problems. One respects the doubter because the doubt fits him like the elastic silk; it seems a part and parcel of his personality. But at other times one can see at a glance that the doubter is all togged out in ready-made clothes, and, like a bird in borrowed plumes, is inordinately proud of them. Here are the same old questions, put in the same old way, and with a certain effrontery that knows nothing of inner anguish or even deep sincerity. One feels that his visitor has seen this gaudy mental outfit cheaply displayed at the street corner, and has snapped it up at once in order to impress you with the gorgeous spectacle. How often, too, one is made to feel that the blatancy of the infidel lecturer, or the flippancy of the sceptical debater, is simply a matter of ready-made clothes. The awful grandeur of the subjects of which they treat has evidently never appealed to them. They are merely echoing quibbles that are as old as the hills; they are wearing clothes that may have fitted Hobbes, Paine, or Voltaire, but that certainly were not made to fit their more meagre stature. Doubt is a very human and a very sacred thing, but the doubt that is merely assumed is, of all affectations, the most repellent.
If some suspicious reader thinks that I am overestimating the danger of wearing ready-made clothes, I need only remind him that even such gigantic humans as James Chalmers, of New Guinea, and Robert Louis Stevenson feared that ready-made clothes might yet stand between the Church and her conquest of the world. Some of the missionaries insisted in clothing the natives of New Guinea in the garb of Old England, but Chalmers protested, and protested vigorously. 'I am opposed to it,' he exclaimed. 'My experience is that clothing natives is nearly as bad as introducing spirits among them. Wherever clothing has been introduced, the natives are disappearing before various diseases, especially consumption, and I am fully convinced that the same will happen in New Guinea. Our civilization, whatever it is, is unfitted for them in their present state, and no attempt should be made to force it upon them.'
With this, Robert Louis Stevenson most cordially concurred. Nobody who knows him will suspect Stevenson of any lack of gallantry, but he always eyed the arrival of the missionary's wife with a certain amount of apprehension. 'The married missionary,' says Stevenson, 'may offer to the native what he is much in want of—a higher picture of domestic life; but the woman at the missionary's elbow tends to keep him in touch with Europe, and out of touch with Polynesia, and threatens to perpetuate, and even to ingrain, parochial decencies far best forgotten. The mind of the lady missionary tends to be continually busied about dress. She can be taught with extreme difficulty to think any costume decent but that to which she grew accustomed on Clapham Common; and to gratify her prejudice, the native is put to useless expense, his mind is tainted with the morbidities of Europe, and his health is set in danger.' We remember the pride with which poor John Williams, the martyr missionary of Erromanga, viewed the introduction of bonnets among the women of Raratonga; but it was not the greatest of his triumphs after all. The bonnets have vanished long ago, but the fragrant influence of John Williams abides perpetually. We sometimes forget that our immaculate tweed trousers and our dainty skirts and blouses are no essential part of the Christian gospel. As a matter of fact, that gospel was first revealed to a people who knew nothing of such trappings. We do not necessarily hasten the millennium by introducing among untutored races a carnival of ready-made clothes.
And it is just as certain that you do not bring the soul nearer to its highest goal by forcing on it a fashion for which it is totally unsuited. And here I come back to Drummond. During his last illness at Tunbridge Wells, he remarked that, at the age of twelve, he made a conscientious study of Bonar's God's Way of Peace. 'I fear,' he said, 'that the book did me more harm than good. I tried to force my inner experience into the mould represented by that book, and it was impossible.' In one of Moody's after-meetings in London, Drummond was dealing with a young girl who was earnestly seeking the Saviour. At last he startled her by exclaiming, 'You must give up reading James's Anxious Enquirer.' She wondered how he had guessed that she had been reading it; but he had detected from her conversation that she was making his own earlier mistake. She was trying to think as John Angell James thought, to weep as he wept, and to find her way to faith precisely as he found his. Drummond told her to read nothing but the New Testament, and, he said later on, 'A fortnight of that put her right!'
There lies the whole secret. Our souls no more resemble each other than our bodies; they are not made in a mould and turned out by the million. No two are exactly alike. Ready-made clothes will never exactly fit. Bonar and James, Bunyan and Law, Doddridge and Wesley, Mueller and Spurgeon, may help me amazingly. They may help me by showing me how they—each for himself—found their way into the presence of the Eternal and, like Christian at the Palace Beautiful, were robed and armed for pilgrimage. But if they lead me to suppose that I must experience their sensations, enjoy their elations, pass through their depressions, struggle and laugh and weep and sing just as they did, they have done me serious damage. They have led me away from those secret chambers in which the King adorns the soul in beautiful and comely garments, and they have left me a mere wearer of ready-made clothes.
THE HIDDEN GOLD
I was enjoying the very modest but very satisfying pleasures of a ride in a tramcar when the following adventure befell me. It was a bright, sunny winter's day; the scenery on either hand was extremely delightful; and I was cogitating upon the circumstance that so much felicity could be obtained in return for so small an expenditure. But my admiration of mountain and river and bush was suddenly and rudely interrupted. A lady fellow passenger reported that, since entering the car, three sovereigns had been extracted from her purse. That she had them when she stepped into the car she knew for certain, for she remembered seeing them when she opened the purse to pay her fare. She had taken out the two pennies, inserted the ticket in their place, and returned the purse to her handbag, which had been lying on the seat beside her. The inspector had now boarded the car; she had opened her purse to take out the ticket, and, lo, the gold had gone! It was a most embarrassing situation. I was ruefully speculating as to how I should again face my congregation after being shadowed by such a dark suspicion. When, as abruptly as it had arisen, the mystery happily cleared. With the most profuse apologies, the lady explained that it was her birthday; her daughter had that morning presented her with a new purse; the compartments of this receptacle were more elaborate and ingenious than she had noticed; and she had found the sovereigns reposing in a division of the purse which had eluded her previous observation. There was no more to be said. We wished the poor beflustered soul many happy returns of the day; she left the car at the next corner; and I once more abandoned myself to the charms of the landscape.
Now, this sort of thing is very common. We are continually fancying that we have been robbed of the precious things we still possess. The old lady who searches everywhere for the spectacles that adorn her temples; the clerk who ransacks the office for the pen behind his ear; and the boy who charges his brother with the theft of the pen-knife that lurks in the mysterious depths of his own fearful and wonderful pocket—these are each of them typical of much.
I happened the other evening to saunter into a room in which a certain debating society was holding its weekly meeting. The paper out of which the discussion arose had been read before my arrival. But I gathered from the remarks of the speakers that it had dealt with a scientific subject, and that questions of antiquity, geology, and evolution were involved. After the fashion of debating societies, the entire universe was promptly subjected to a complete overhaul. If the truth must be told, I am afraid that I must confess to having forgotten the eloquent contentions of the different speakers; but out of the hurly-burly of that wordy conflict one utterance comes back to me. It appealed to me at the time as being very curious, very pathetic, and very striking. It made upon my mind an indelible impression. A tall young fellow rose, and, in the shortest speech of the debate, imparted to the discussion the only touch of real feeling by which it was illumined. I do not know what it was that had struck so deep a chord in his soul and set it all vibrating. It is wonderful how some stray sound or sight or scent will sometimes summon to the mind a rush of sacred memories. After a preliminary platitude or two, this speaker suddenly referred to the connexion between science and faith. His eyes flashed with manifest feeling; his whole being took on the tone of a man in deadly earnest; his voice quivered with emotion. In one vivid sentence he graphically described his aged grandfather as the old man donned his spectacles and devoutly read—his faith unclouded by any shadow of doubt—his morning chapter from the well-worn, large-type Bible. And then, with a ring of such genuine passion that it sounded to me like the cry of a creature in pain, he exclaimed, 'And, gentlemen, I would give both my hands, and give them cheerfully, if I could believe as my old grandfather believed!' He immediately sat down. One or two members coughed. I could see from the faces of the others that they all felt that the debate was getting out of bounds. The world was wide, and the solar system fairly extensive; but this speaker had wandered beyond the remotest frontiers of the universe. And yet to me the utterance to which they had just listened was the speech of the evening, the one speech to be remembered: 'Gentlemen, I would give both my hands, and give them cheerfully, if I could believe as my grandfather believed!'
Now this was very pathetic, this pair of eager eyes suddenly turned inward; this discovery of an empty soul; this comparison with his grandfather's golden hoard; and this pitiful confession of abject poverty. I felt sorry for him, just as I felt sorry for the lady in the tramcar. The lady in the tramcar looked into a purse that she thought to be empty, and suffered all the agony of a great loss. The young fellow in the debating society looked into the recesses of his own spirit, and cried out that there was nothing there. And it was all a mistake—in both cases. The sovereigns were in the purse after all. And faith was in the apparently empty soul after all. But neither of the victims knew that they possessed what they lamented. They were both exactly like the old lady with the spectacles on her temples, like the clerk with his pen behind his ear, like the boy with the penknife in his pocket. In the case of the lady in the car the similitude is clear enough. I aspire to show that the analogy applies just as surely to the young fellow and his faith. And to that end let me raise a cloud of questions as a dog might start a covey of birds.
Why does this young man sigh for his grandfather's faith? Was his grandfather's a true faith or a false faith? If his grandfather's faith was a false faith, why does he himself so passionately covet it? Does not the very fact that he so earnestly desires his grandfather's faith as his own faith prove that he is certain that his grandfather's faith was true? And if, in the very soul of him, he feels that his grandfather's faith was true, does it not follow that he has already set his seal to the faith of his grandfather? Is he not proving most conclusively by his flashing eyes, his fervent manner, and his quivering voice that he believes most firmly in his grandfather's faith? And, if that is so, is it not a case of the lady in the tramcar over again? Is he not crying out that his soul is empty, whilst, in a secret and unexplored recess of that same soul, there reposes the very faith for which he cries?
When I was a very small boy I believed in the Man in the Moon; I believed in Santa Claus; I believed in old Mother Hubbard; I believed in the Fairy Godmother; I believed in ghosts and brownies and witches and trolls. It was a wonderful creed, that creed of my infancy. It has gone now, and it has gone unwept and unsung. I never catch myself saying that I would give my two hands, and give them cheerfully, if I could believe in those things all over again. That puerile faith was a false faith; and because I now know it to have been fictitious I smile at it to-day, and never dream of wishing that I still believed in the Man in the Moon. And, when, on the contrary, I catch a man saying with wet eyes that he would give both his hands, and give them cheerfully, if he could believe as his grandfather did, I see before me indubitable evidence of the fact that, all unconsciously, grandsire and grandson have both subscribed with fervour to the selfsame stately faith.
But, to save us from the sin of prosiness, let us indulge in a little romance. Harry and Edith are lovers; but last evening, in the course of a stroll by the side of the sea, a dark cloud swept over the golden tranquillity of their enchantment. They parted at length—not as they usually do. When poor ruffled little Edith reached her dainty room, she flung herself in a tempest of tears upon the snowy counterpane, and sobbed again and again and again, 'I would give anything if I could love him as I loved him yesterday!' And all the while Harry, with white and tearless face, and his soul in a tumult of agitation, is lying back in his chair before the fire, his hands in his pockets, saying to himself over and over again, 'I would give anything if I could love her as I loved her yesterday!' Now here are a pair of fascinating specimens for psychological analysis! Why is Edith so anxious to love Harry as she loved him yesterday? Why is Harry so eager to love Edith as he loved her yesterday? You do not passionately desire to love a person whom you do not love. The secret is out! Edith sobs to herself, 'I would give anything to love Harry as I loved him yesterday!' because, being the silly little goose that she is, she does not recognize that she does love Harry as she loved him yesterday. And Harry, logical in everything but in love, does not see, as he sits there muttering, that his very anxiety to love Edith just as he loved her yesterday is the best proof that he could possibly have that his love for Edith has undergone no change. Each is peering into a purse that appears to be empty; each is crying for the gold that seems to have gone; and each is ignorant of the fact that their wealth is still with them, but is for a moment eluding their agitated scrutiny.
The philosophy that the new purse revealed to me is capable of an infinity of applications. The fact is that faith is always the unknown dimension. A man may know how many children he has, and how much money he has; but no man knows how much faith he has. Everybody who has read Carlyle's History of Frederick the Great remembers the petty squabbles of Voltaire, Maupertius, and the other thinkers who moved about the person of that famous prince. They seemed to have been for ever twitting each other with getting ill, and, notwithstanding their philosophy, sending for a priest to minister beside their supposed deathbeds. I have heard sceptics and infidels charged with hypocrisy on the ground that, in the face of sudden terror, they had been known to call upon that God whose very existence they denied. I am bound to say that I do not think the evidence sufficient to substantiate the charge. There was no hypocrisy, but the sudden discovery of unsuspected faith. In the tumult of emotion induced by sudden fear, a secret compartment of the soul was opened, and the faith that was regarded as lost was found to be tranquilly reposing there.
Perhaps it was just as well that the lady in the tramcar had this embarrassing experience. It was good for her to have felt the anguish of imaginary loss, for it led her to discover that her purse was a more complicated thing than she had supposed. It will do my friend of the debating society a world of good to make the same discovery. The soul is not so simple as it seems. You cannot press a spring at a given moment, and take in all its contents at one glance. And it was certainly good for my lady fellow traveller to find that the gold was still there. She needed it, or its loss would not have thrown her into such a fever. That is the thing that strikes me about my friend the debater. He evidently needed the faith for which he cried so passionately. Faith, like gold, is for use and not for ornament. Yes, he needed the faith that he could not find; needed it, perhaps, more sorely than he knew. And now that I have proved to him that, in some secret recess, the treasure still lurks, I am hopeful that, like the lady in the car, he will smile at his former anguish, and live like a lord on the wealth that he has found.
'SUCH A LOVELY BITE!'
It is a keen, clear, frosty winter's night, and I am sitting here in a cheerfully lighted dining-room only a few feet from a roaring fire. An immense chasm sometimes yawns between afternoon and evening, and it seems scarcely credible that, only an hour or two ago, I was out on the river in an open boat, fishing. It was a glorious sunny afternoon when we pushed off; the great hills around were at their greenest; and the only reminder vouchsafed to us that to-morrow is midwinter's day was the glitter of snow away on the top of the mountain. The water around us, reflecting the cloudless sky above, was a sea of sapphire, out of which our oars seemed to beat up pearls and silver. Arrived at our favourite fishing grounds, we lay quietly at anchor, and for a while the sport was excellent. But, later on, things quietened down. The fish forsook us, or became too dainty for our blandishments. The sun went down over the massive ridges. A hint of evening brooded over us. The blue died out of the water, and the greenness vanished from the hills. Everything was grey and cold. As though to match the gloom around us, we ourselves grew silent. Conversation languished, and laughter was dead. We turned up the collars of our coats, and grimly bent over our lines. But the cod and the perch were proof against all our cajolery, and would not be enticed. At length my hands grew so cold and numb that I could scarcely feel the line. My enthusiasm sank with the temperature, and I suggested, not without trepidation, that we should give it up. My companions assented to the abstract proposition; but, with that wistful half-expectancy so characteristic of anglers, did not at once commence to wind up their lines. I was, therefore, just on the point of setting them an example when one of them exclaimed excitedly, 'Wait a second; I had such a lovely bite!' That was all; but it gave us a fresh lease of life. For half an hour we forgot the hardening cold and the deepening gloom, and chatted again as merrily as when we baited our hooks for the first time. It was a bite; that was all. But, oh, the thrill of a bite when patience is flagging and endurance ebbing out!
It is because of a certain cynical tendency to deride the value of a bite that I have decided to spend the evening with my pen. 'A bite!' says somebody, with a fine guffaw. 'And what on earth is the good of a bite, I should like to know? A bite is neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring! A bite is of no use for breakfast, dinner, tea, or supper! Bites can neither be fried nor boiled, measured nor weighed. A bite, indeed!'—and once more the cynic loses himself in laughter. That is all he knows about it, and it merely supplies us with another evidence of the superficiality of cynicism. The critic is sometimes right, but the cynic is never right; and the roar of laughter that I hear from the cynic's chair, as he talks about bites, is, therefore, rightly translated and interpreted, a kind of thunderous applause. Why, in some respects, a bite is better than a fish. Only very occasionally does a fish look as well on the bank or in the boat as it appeared to the excited imagination of the angler when he first felt the flutter on the line. I have caught thousands of fish in my time; but most of them I have dismissed from memory as soon as they went flapping into the basket. But some of the bites that I have had! I catch myself wondering now what beauteous monsters they can have been.
'Well, and how many did you catch?' I am regularly asked on my return.
'Oh, a couple of dozen or so; but, oh, I had such a bite! . . .'
And so on. It is the bite that lingers fondly in the memory, that haunts the fancy for days afterwards, and that rushes back upon the angler in his dreams.
'Oh, I've lost him!' one of my companions called out from the other end of the boat this afternoon. 'He got off the line just after I started to draw him in; such a lovely bite; I'm sure it was the biggest fish we've had round here this afternoon!'
Of course it was! The bite is always the biggest fish. There is something very charming—something of which the cynic knows nothing at all—about this propensity of ours to attribute superlative qualities to the unrealized. It is a species of philosophic chivalry. It is a courtesy that we extend to the unknown. We do not know whether the joys that never visited us were really great or small, so we gallantly allow them the benefit of the doubt. The geese that came waddling over the hill are geese, all of them, and as geese we write them down; but the geese that never came over the hill are swans every one, and no swans that we have fed beside the lake glided hither and thither half as gracefully.
A young girl comes to my study. She is tall and comely, and her face reveals a quiet beauty. But she is dressed in black, and the marks of a great sorrow are stamped upon her pale, drawn countenance. My heart goes out to her as she tells her story. It was so entirely unexpected, so totally unthought of, this sudden loss of her lover. Just as she was dreaming of orange-blossoms for her own hair, her fingers were employed upon a wreath of lilies for his bier. As she sat in the church on that dark and dreadful day, the organ that she fancied greeting her with a wedding march set all the aisles shuddering to a dirge. And her unfinished bridal array had all been laid aside that she might garb her graceful form in gloom. As I looked into her sad eyes, swollen with weeping, I fancied that I could see into her very soul, and scan the secret pictures she had painted there. The happy wedding, with all its nonsense and solemnity, its laughter and its tears; the pretty little home, with his chair of honour, like a throne, facing hers; his homecoming evening by evening, and the welcome she would give him; the children, too—the sons so handsome and the girls so fair! What art gallery contains paintings so perfect? I saw them all—these lovely visions hung with crape! And as I saw them, I reverenced our sweet human habit of attributing impossible glories to the unrealized.
And what about the parents of the baby I buried yesterday? Are there no pictures in these stricken souls worth viewing? As you pass through these chambers of imagery, and view one of these exquisitely painted pictures after another, you have the whole splendid career mapped out before you. Such triumphs, such honours, such laurels for his brow! The glory of the life that would have been is spread out before their fancy, sketched in the fairest colours! Thus tenderly do we set a halo on the forehead of the unrealized! Thus charitably do we let the fancy play about the fish we never caught! Let the cynic hush his sacrilegious laughter! There is something about all this that is very human, and very beautiful.
And just because it is so beautiful, it is worth analysing, this thrill of joy that I feel when the fish tugs at my line. I shall try to take the sensation to pieces, in order that I may find out exactly of what it consists. I suppose that, really, the secret is: I am pleased to feel that my bait has some attraction for the fish that I now know to be there. It is horrid to keep on fishing whilst your mind is haunted by the suspicion that your hooks are bare, or that they are baited in such a way that they make no appeal to the fish that may be swarming around you. The sudden bite settles all that, and you feel every faculty start up to vigorous life once more.
Now, as a matter of fact, there are few things more pathetic than the feeling that sometimes steals over the best of men, that there is nothing in them to attract the affection, the friendship, and the confidence of others. The classical instance is the case of Mark Rutherford. How his lonely soul ached for comradeship! 'I wanted a friend,' he says. 'How the dream haunted me! It made me restless and anxious at the sight of every new face, wondering whether at last I had found that for which I searched as if for the kingdom of heaven. God knows that I would have stood against a wall and have been shot for any man whom I loved as cheerfully as I would have gone to bed, but nobody seemed to wish for such a love or to know what to do with it!' Here is the poor fisherman, who feels that he has no bait that the fish want. It was not as though he caught the perch whilst the cod fought shy of him. 'I was avoided,' he says elsewhere, 'both by the commonplace and by those who had talent. Commonplace persons avoided me because I did not chatter, and persons of talent because I stood for nothing—there was nothing in me!' But, just as he was giving up, Mark Rutherford felt the line tremble, and knew the ecstasy of a bite! He was suddenly befriended. 'Oh, the transport of it!' he exclaims. 'It was as if water had been poured on a burnt hand, or some miraculous Messiah had soothed the delirium of a fever-stricken sufferer, and replaced his visions of torment with dreams of Paradise.' The world holds more of this sort of thing than we think. A writer who cannot get readers, a preacher who cannot get hearers, a tradesman who cannot get customers—it is the same old trouble. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until the whole world seems to be pouring its contempt upon the unhappy fisherman. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until a man feels that there is nothing in him, nothing in him, nothing in him; and the contempt of his fellows leads to the anguish and hollow laughter of self-derision. Oh, what a bite means at such an hour! 'Blessed are they,' exclaims poor Mark Rutherford, 'who heal us of our self-despisings! Of all services which can be done to man, I know of none more precious.'
But even a bite may do a man a great deal of harm unless he thinks it out very carefully. It is certainly very annoying, after waiting so long, to feel that the fish has come—and gone again! A fisherman must guard against being soured and embittered just at that point. It was the tragedy of Miss Havisham. Everybody who has read Great Expectations remembers Miss Havisham. In some respects she is Dickens' most striking and dramatic character. Poor Miss Havisham had been disappointed on her wedding-day; and, in revenge, she remained for the rest of her life dressed just as she was dressed when the blow staggered her. When Pip came upon her, years afterwards, she was still wearing her faded wedding-dress. She still had the withered flowers in her hair, although her hair was whiter than the dress itself. For the dress was yellow with age, and everything she wore had long since lost its lustre. 'I saw, too,' says Pip, 'that the bride within the bridal-dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure, upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.' Poor Pip! And poor Miss Havisham! Miss Havisham had lost her fish just as she was in the very act of landing him. And she had let it sour and spoil her, and Pip was frightened at the havoc it had wrought.
The peril touches life at every point. It especially affects those of us who are called to be fishers of men. It is a great art, this human angling, and needs infinite tact, and infinite subtilty, and infinite patience. And, above all, it needs a resolute determination never on any account whatever to be soured by disappointment. When I am tempted to wind up my line, and give the whole thing up in despair, I revive my flagging enthusiasm by recalling the rapture of my earlier catches. What angler ever forgets the wild transport of landing his first salmon? What minister ever forgets the spot on which he knelt with his first convert? In the long and tedious hours when the waiting is weary, and the nibblings vexatious, and the bites disappointing, let him live on these wealthy memories as the bees live in the winter on the honey that they gathered in the summer-time. Yes, let him think about those unforgettable triumphs, and let him talk about them. They make great talking. And as he recalls and recites the thrilling story, the leaden moments will simply fly, the old glow will steal back into his fainting soul, and, long before he has finished his tale, he will find his fingers busy with another glorious prize.
LANDLORD AND TENANT
I heard a capital story the other evening under the most astonishing circumstances. It was at a public meeting connected with a religious conference. A certain minister rose to address us. We knew from past experience that we should have a most suggestive and stimulating address. But, somehow, it did not occur to us that we should be favoured with a story. And when this grave and sedate member of our assembly suddenly launched out into the intricacies of his tale, it was as great a surprise as though the haildrops turned out to be diamonds, or Vesuvius had begun to pour forth gold. Before we knew what had happened, we were electrified by the story of a man who dwelt in a very comfortable house, with a large, light, airy cellar. The river ran near by. One day the river overflowed, the cellar was flooded, and all the hens that he kept in it were drowned. The next day he bounced off to see the landlord.
'I have come,' he said, 'to give you notice. I wish to leave the house.'
'How is that?' asked the astonished landlord. 'I thought you liked it so much. It is a very comfortable, well-built house, and cheap.'
'Oh, yes,' the tenant replied, 'but the river has overflowed into my cellar, and all my hens are drowned.'
'Oh, don't let that make you give up the house,' the landlord reasoned; 'try ducks!'
I entirely forget—I most fervently hope that my friend will never see this lamentable confession of mine!—I entirely forget what he made of this delightful story. But, looking back on it now, I can see quite clearly that half the philosophy of life is wrapped up in its delicious folds. It raises the question at the very outset as to how far I am under any obligation to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The river has flooded my cellar and drowned all my hens. Very well. Now two courses are open to me. Shall I grin and bear it? or shall I make a change? I must remember that it is very nice living on the banks of the river. There is the boat-house at the foot of the garden. What delightful hours we have spent gliding up and down the bends and reaches of the tranquil stream, watching the reflections in the water, and picnicking under the willows on its grassy banks! How the children love to come down here and feed the swans as the graceful creatures glide proudly hither and thither, seeming to be conscious that their beauty richly deserves all the homage that is paid to it! The fishing, too! The whirr of the line, and the bend of the rod, and the splash of the trout; why, there was more concentrated excitement in some of those tremendous moments than in all the politics and battles since the world began! And the bathing! On those hot summer days when the very air seemed to scorch the skin, how exquisite those swirling waters seemed! Am I to give up all this enjoyment because, once in five years perhaps, the swollen stream floods my cellar and drowns my hens? That is the question, and it is a live question too.
Now the trouble is a little deeper than appears on the surface. For if I persuade myself that it is my duty to bounce off down to the owner of the house and give him notice to quit, I shall soon find myself spending a considerable proportion of my time in waiting upon my landlords. In the next house to which I go I shall not only miss the boating and fishing and bathing, but I shall within six months discover other disadvantages quite as grave as the occasional flooding of my riverside cellar. And then I shall have to move again. And moving will become a habit with me. And, on the whole, it is a bad habit. It may be good for the hens; but there are other things to be considered besides hens. The solar system is not kept in operation solely for the benefit of the hens in the cellar. There are the children, and, with all respect for the fowl-yard, children are as much worthy of consideration as chickens. It is not good for children to be everlastingly moving. It is good for them to have sacred and beautiful memories of the home of their childhood. It is good for them to feed the swans, and play under the willows, year in and year out, and to retain the swans and the willows as part of the background with which memory will always paint the picture of their infancy. It is good for children to feel a certain fixity and stability about home and school and friends.
George Gissing pathetically tells how the spirit of dereliction stole into the life of Godwin Peak. It was all owing to the family gipsyings. 'As a result of the family's removal first from London to the farm, and then into Twybridge, Godwin had no friends of old standing. A boy reaps advantage from the half-parental kindness of men and women who have watched his growth from infancy; in general it affects him as a steadying influence, keeping before his mind the social bonds to which his behaviour owes allegiance. Godwin had no ties which bound him strongly to any district.' He was like a ship that belongs to no port in particular, and that drifts hither and thither about the world as fugitive commissions may arise.
The finest of all the fine arts is the art of putting up with nasty things. It is not very nice to have all your hens drowned. You get fond of hens. And apart from the financial loss involved, there is a sense of bereavement in seeing all your choice Dorkings, your favourite Leghorns, your lovely Orpingtons, or your beautiful Silver Wyandottes all lying dead and bedraggled in the muddy cellar. Few things are more disconcerting. And yet I am writing this article for no other purpose than to assert that the best thing to do, if you must have hens, is to bury these as quickly as possible and send down to the market for a fresh supply. It is certainly gratifying to one's pride as a tenant to feel that one has a grievance and can now show his glorious independence of the landlord. There is always a pleasurable piquancy in being able to resign, or dismiss somebody, or give notice. But my interest is every bit as well worth considering as my dignity. And whilst my dignity clamours to get even with the landlord, my interest reminds me of the swans and the willows, the boating and the fishing. My dignity shouts angrily about my dead fens; but my interest whispers significantly about my living children. So that, all things considered, it is better to bury the hens and the hatchet at the same time. I may quit my riverside residence and have a waterproof fowl-run in another street; but when I see somebody else taking his children out in my old boat, I shall only bite my lip and wish that I had quietly restocked my chicken-run. It may be a most iniquitous proceeding on the part of the landlord to allow the river to flood my cellar but, thinking it over calmly, I am convinced that it is my duty as a Christian to forgive him. And it always pays a man to do his duty.
I had thought of devoting a paragraph to ministers and deacons. But perhaps I had better not. These matters are very intricate and very delicate, and need a tenderer touch than mine. Things will sometimes go wrong. The river will rise. The cellar gets flooded, and the hens get drowned. But, really, I am certain that, nine times out of ten, perhaps ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it is better to bury the poor birds quietly and say no more about it. I don't know quite how to apply this parable. I was afraid I should get out of my depth if I ventured into such matters. But suppose that the minister finds some morning that his cellar is flooded and his pet birds drowned. Of course, it is pleasant to send in your resignation and say that you will not stand it. And yet, and yet—rivers will rise; it is a way that rivers have; and the Church Secretary, when he receives the resignation, feels as helpless as the landlord. And has the minister any guarantee that the next river on the banks of which he builds his nest will never rise? And, even if he is certain of perfection in the fields to which he flies, is he quite justified in avenging his dead hens by imperilling his living children and his living church?
Or perhaps I have misinterpreted the story. I am really very nervous about it, and feel that I have plunged into things too high for me. Perhaps the minister is the landlord. It is through his wickedness that the river has risen and drowned some of the Church's best hens, or at least ruffled the fine feathers of some of the Church's best birds. It is the easiest thing in the world to give him notice to quit. And it accords magnificently with the dignity of the situation. But are we quite sure that the poor minister made the river rise? That is the question the tenant ought to consider. Was it the landlord's fault? I repeat that rivers will rise at times, generally at storm times. The Nile and the Tigris used to rise in prehistoric times. It is a way rivers have. I really think that it will be as well to say no more about it. Try to smooth down the ruffled feathers and forget. It may not have been his fault; and, anyhow, we shall be saying good-bye to a good many delightful experiences if we part company.
And, really, when you think it over quietly, there seems to be a great deal in the landlord's suggestion: 'Try ducks!' Of course, ducks are the very thing for a riverside dwelling. Every change, however small, should be dictated by reason and not by caprice. This was the essential difference between the stupid tenant and the wise landlord. The tenant said, 'I will make a fundamental change, and I will make it capriciously—I will leave the house!' The landlord said, 'Why not make an incidental change, and make it reasonably? Try ducks!' I have in my time seen great numbers of people, among all kinds and conditions of men, throw up their riverside dwellings in high dudgeon because their hens were drowned in the cellar. But among my saddest letters I find some from those who tell me how they miss the swans and the boat-house, the trout and the willows, and how sincerely they wish now that they had tried ducks. But it is too late; the flashing stream is the paradise of other tenants; and the children's most romantic memory of childhood twines itself about the fun of getting the piano and the dining-room table in and out of the different doors. We may easily form a stupid habit of giving the landlord notice whenever the river happens to rise; and we forget that it is from just such movements—such goings and such stayings—that life as a whole takes its tint and colour. Destiny is made of trifles. Our weal and our woe are determined by comparatively insignificant issues. Somebody has finely said that we make our decisions, and then our decisions turn round and make us.
Now let nobody suppose that I am deprecating a change. On the contrary, I am advocating a change. It will never do to let the fowls drown, and to take no steps to prevent a recurrence of any such disaster. I hold no brief for stagnation. I am merely insisting that the change must commend itself to heart and conscience and reason. It must be a forward move. Look at this, for example. It is from Stanley's Life of Arnold: 'We are all in the midst of confusion,' Arnold writes from Laleham, 'the books all packed and half the furniture; and on Tuesday, if God will, we shall leave this dear place, this nine-years' home of such exceeding happiness. But it boots not to look backwards. Forward, forward, forward, should be one's motto.' And thus Arnold moved to Rugby, and made history! There are times when the landlord's gate is the high-road to glory.
The whole matter is capable of the widest application, and must be scientifically treated. Man is always finding his fowls drowned in the cellar and going the wrong way to put things right. Generally speaking, it must be confessed that he is too fond of rushing off to the landlord. In his Travels in Russia, Theophile Gautier has a striking word concerning this perilous proclivity. 'Whatever is of real use to man,' he says, 'was invented from the beginning of the world, and all the people who have come along since have worn their brains out to find something new, but have made no improvements. Change is far from being progress; it is not yet proved that steamers are better than sailing-vessels, or railways than horse traffic. For my part, I believe that men will end in returning to the old methods, which are always the best.' I do not agree with the first part of Gautier's statement. It is not likely. But when he says that we are getting back to our starting-point, his contention is indisputable. In the beginning, man was alone with his earth; and all that he did, he did in the sweat of his brow. Then came the craze for machinery, and the world became a network of wires and a wilderness of whirling wheels. But we are beginning to recognize that it has been a ridiculous mistake. The thing is too clumsy and too complicated. Mr. Marconi has already taught us to feel half ashamed of the wires. And Mr. H. G. Wells predicts that in forty years' time all the activities of a larger and busier world will be driven by invisible currents of power, and the whole of our industrial machinery will have gone to the scrap-heap. Man will find himself once more alone with his world, but it will be a world that has taken him into its confidence and revealed to him its wonderful secrets. He will look back with a smile on the age of screaming syrens and snorting engines, of racing pistons and whirling wheels. He will be amazed at his own earlier readiness to resort to such a cumbrous and complicated system when a smaller transition would have ushered him into his kingdom.
The whole drift of our modern scientific development is away from our clinking mechanical complexities and back towards the great primal simplicities. We have been too fond of the drastic and dramatic course, too fond of bouncing off to the landlord. We are too apt to involve ourselves in a big move when we might have gained our point by simply trying ducks. We love the things that are burdensome, the ways that are involved, the paths that lead to headache and heartache. It is a very ancient and very human tendency. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Galatians to reprove in them the same sad blunder. 'O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?' They had abandoned the simplicities under the lure of the complexities. The Church that was urged by her Lord to return to her first love had made the same mistake. We are too prone to scorn the simple and the obvious. We forsake the fountain of living water, and hew out to ourselves clumsy cisterns. We neglect the majestic simplicities of the gospel, and involve our tired brains and hungry hearts in tortuous systems that lead us a long, long way from home. The landlord is right. The simplest course is almost always the safest.
THE CORNER CUPBOARD
Is there a case on record of a really unsuccessful search? I doubt it. I believe it to be positively and literally true that he that seeketh, findeth. I do not mean that a man will always find what he seeks. I do not know that the promise implies that. I fancy it covers a far wider range, and embraces a much ampler truth. Yes, I doubt if any man ever yet sought without finding. When I was a boy I lost my peg-top. It was a somewhat expensive one, owing partly to the fact that it would really spin. I noticed this peculiarity about it whilst it was still the property of its previous possessor. I had several tops; indeed, my pockets bulged out with my ample store, but none of them would spin. After pointing out to the owner of the coveted top the frightful unsightliness of his treasure, and in other ways seeking to lower the price likely to be demanded as soon as negotiations opened, I at length secured the top in return for six marbles, a redoubtable horse chestnut, and a knife with a broken blade. My subsequent alarm, on missing so costly a possession, can be readily imagined. I could not be expected to endure so serious a deprivation without making a desperate effort to retrieve my fallen fortunes. I therefore proclaimed to all and sundry my inflexible determination to ransack the house from the top brick of the chimney to the darkest recesses of the cellar in quest of my vanished treasure. I began with a queer old triangular cupboard that occupied one corner of the kitchen. And in the deepest and dustiest corner of the top shelf of that cavernous old cupboard, what should I find but the cricket ball that I had lost the previous summer? My excitement was so great that I almost fell off the table on which I was standing. As soon as the flicker of my candle fell on the ball I distinctly remembered putting it there. I argued that it was the only place in the house that I could reach, and that my brother couldn't, and consequently the only place in the house that was really safe. The fact that the ball had remained there, untouched, all through the cricket season abundantly demonstrated the justice of my conclusion. My jubilation was so exuberant that it drove all thought of the peg-top out of my mind. There is such a thing as the expulsive power of an old affection as well as the expulsive power of a new affection. My delight over my new-found cricket ball entirely dispelled my grief over my missing peg-top. Indeed, I am not sure to this day whether I ever saw that peg-top again. I may have inadvertently deposited it on a shelf that my brother could reach; but after the lapse of so many years I will endeavour to harbour no dark suspicions. In any case, it does not matter. What is a paltry peg-top compared with a half-guinea cricket ball? I had sought, and I had found. I had not found what I had sought, nor had I sought what I had found. Perhaps if I had continued my search for the peg-top with the enthusiasm and assiduity with which I had lugged the kitchen table up to the corner cupboard, I should have found it. Perhaps if I had searched for the cricket ball with the same zest that marked my quest of the peg-top, I should have found it. But that is not my point. My point is the point with which I set out. I do not believe that a case of a really unsuccessful search has ever been recorded. He that seeketh, findeth, depend upon it.
The days of the peg-top and the cricket ball seem a long way behind me now, and I am glad that the fate of the queer old corner cupboard has been mercifully hidden from my eyes. But, by sea and land, the principle that I first discovered when I stood on tiptoe on the kitchen table has followed me all down the years. The secret that I learned that day has acted like a talisman, and has turned every spot that I have visited into an enchanted ground. Even my study table is not immune from its magic spell. A more prosaic spectacle never met the eye. The desk, the pigeon-holes, the drawers, and the piles of papers might have to do with a foundry or a fish-market, so very unromantic do they appear. And yet, what times I have whenever I manage to lose something! It is almost worth while losing something just for the fun of looking for it! If a catalogue or a circular will only go astray, all the excitements of a chase lie open before me. And the things that I shall find! I shall come on letters that will make me laugh and letters that will make me cry. Hullo, what's this? Dear me, I must write to so-and-so, or he will think I have forgotten him! And just look here! I must run round and see what's-his-name this afternoon, and fix this matter up. And so I go on. The probability is that I shall no more find the catalogue that set me searching than I found the peg-top in the days of auld lang syne; but what has that to do with it? Look at the things I have found, the memories I have revived, the tasks that have been suggested! Life has been incalculably enriched by the fruits of this search through the papers on my study table. If I do not find the peg-top-papers for which I sought, I have found cricket-ball-papers immensely more valuable, and the rapture of my sensational discoveries renders the fate of my poor peg-top-papers a matter of comparative indifference. The series of thrills produced by such a search is reminiscent of the emotions with which I enjoyed my first magic-lantern entertainment. On they came, one after another, those wonderful, wonderful pictures in the darkness. On they came, one after another, these startling surprises from out these musty-fusty piles of papers. A search is really a marvellous experience. The imagination flies with lightning rapidity from one world of things to another and another as the papers rustle between the fingers. John Ploughman used to say that, even if the fowls got nothing by it, it did them good to scratch. I am not a poultry expert, as I am frequently reminded, but I dare say that there is a wealth of wisdom in the observation. At any rate, I know that, in my own case, the success or failure of my search expeditions stand in no way related to the original object of my quest. I never remember having set out to look for a thing, and afterwards regretted having done so.
I was wondering the other day if the same principle applied to other people, and I cruelly determined on a little experiment. My girls collect orchids, and much of their time in the city is spent in recounting the foraging expeditions that they have conducted in happy days gone by, and in anticipating similar adventures in the golden times before them. Some of the pleasantest holidays that we have enjoyed together have been spent away in the heart of the bush where Nature runs riot and revels in undisturbed profusion. It is delightful to see them come traipsing along the track through the bush, their faces flushed with the excitement of their foray, and their arms filled with the booty they have gathered. They are tired, evidently, but not too tired to run when they catch sight of us. 'Look at this!' cries one; and 'Isn't that a pretty colour?' asks the other. 'Did you ever see one that shape before?' 'Fancy finding one of these!' And so on. And then the evening is spent in pressing and classifying the treasures they have gathered.
One day they came back, earlier than usual, and showed us their discoveries.
'But, oh, father, it was an awful shame! You know that kind that Ella Simpson showed us once, and told us they were very rare? Well, we found one of those, a real beauty, away over in that valley beyond the sandhills; and on the way home we lost it. Wasn't it a pity?'
'Do you mean the little pale blue one, with the orange fringe?' I inquired.
'Yes, and it was just in full flower, and ready for picking.'
'It was a pity,' I confessed, 'for, do you know I specially want one of those. Do you think you could go back and try hard to find one?'
They agreed. I advised them to search with the greatest care, and to poke into places that they had not disturbed before. They returned an hour later with no further specimen of the blue and orange variety, although on a subsequent date they succeeded in unearthing one, but they were rejoicing over a number of very rare specimens that are now considered among the most valuable in their collection.
In It is Never Too Late to Mend, Charles Reade has a story that is right into our hands just here. 'Once upon a time,' he makes one of his characters say, 'once upon a time there was an old chap who had heard about treasure being found in odd places, a pot full of guineas or something; and it took root in his heart. One morning he comes down and says to his wife, "It is all right, old woman; I've found the treasure!" "No, have you, though?" says she. "Yes," says he; "leastways, it is as good as found; it is only waiting till I've had my breakfast, and then I'll go out and fetch it in!" "La, John, but how did you find it!" "It was revealed to me in a dream," says John, as grave as a judge; "it is under a tree in the orchard." After breakfast they went to the plantation, but John could not again recognize the tree. "Drat your stupid old head," cried his wife, "why didn't you put a nick on the right one at the time?" But John was not to be beaten. He resolved to dig under every tree. How the neighbours laughed! But springtime came. Out burst the trees. "Wife," says he, "our bloom is richer than I have known it this many a year; it is richer than our neighbours'!" Bloom dies, and then out come about a million little green things quite hard. In the autumn the old trees were staggering, and the branches down to the ground with the crop; and so the next year, and the next; sometimes more, sometimes less, according to the year. The trees were old, and wanted a change. His letting in the air to them, and turning the subsoil up to the frost and sun, had renewed their youth.' And so poor John found his treasure. It was not exactly the pot of guineas that he sought; but it was just as valuable, and probably afforded him a deeper gratification. He did not find what he sought, but who shall say that his search was unsuccessful? He that seeketh, findeth. There is no case on record of a really fruitless search.
Mr. Gilbert West and Lord Lyttelton once undertook to organize a campaign to expose the fictitious character of the biblical narrative. In order to make their attack the more damaging and the more effective they agreed to specialize. Mr. West promised to study thoroughly the story of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lord Lyttelton selected as the point of his assault the record of the conversion of Paul. They separated; and each began a careful and exhaustive search for inaccuracies, incongruities, and contradictions in the documents. They were engaged in exposing error, they said, and in searching after truth. Yes, they were searching after truth, and they sought with earnestness and sincerity. They were searching after truth, and they found it. For when, at the appointed time, they met to arrange the details of their projected campaign, each had to confess to the other that he had become convinced of the authenticity of the records and had yielded to the claims of Christ! Here was a search! Here was a find! They sought what they never found, and they found what they never sought. Was the search unsuccessful? Seekers after truth, they called themselves; and did they not find the Truth? Like the Magi, they followed a star in the firmament with which they were familiar. But, to their amazement, the star led them to the Saviour, and neither of them ever regretted participating in so astonishing a quest.
'And thus,' as Oliver Cromwell finely says, 'to be a seeker is to be of the best sect next to a finder, and such an one shall every faithful humble seeker be at the end.' It always seems to me that the old Puritan's lovely letter to his daughter, the letter from which I have just quoted, is the gem of Carlyle's great volume. Bridget was twenty-two at the time. 'Your sister,' her father tells her, 'is exercised with some perplexed thoughts. She sees her own vanity and carnal mind, and, bewailing it, she seeks after what will satisfy. And thus to be a seeker is to be of the best sect next to a finder, and such an one shall every faithful humble seeker be at the end. Happy seeker; happy finder! Dear heart, press on! Let not husband, let not anything, cool thy affections after Christ!'
With which strong, tender, fatherly words from an old soldier to his young daughter we may very well take leave of the subject. 'Happy seeker; happy finder! Dear heart, press on!' Oliver Cromwell knew that there is no such thing as a fruitless search. If we do not come upon our shining treasure in the exact form that our ignorance had fancied, we discover it after a similitude that a much higher wisdom has ordained. But the point is that we do find it. That was the lesson that I learned as I peered into the abysmal darkness of the mysterious old cupboard in my childhood, and the longer I live the more certain I become of its truth.
WITH THE WOLVES IN THE WILD
I like to think that Jesus spent forty nights of His wondrous life out in the Wild with the wolves. 'He was with the wild beasts,' Mark tells us, and the statement is not recorded for nothing. Night is the great leveller. Desert and prairie are indistinguishable in the night. Night folds everything in sable robes, and the loveliest landscape is one with the dreariest prospect. North and South, East and West, are all alike in the night. Here is the Wild of the West. 'A vast silence reigned,' Jack London tells us. 'The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter—the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild—the savage, frozen-hearted Northern Wild!' Here, I say, is the Wild. And here is the life of the Wild: 'Bill opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind. Instead, he pointed towards the wall of darkness that pressed about them from every side. There was no suggestion of form in the utter blackness; only could be seen a pair of eyes gleaming like live coals. Henry indicated with his hand a second pair and a third. A circle of the gleaming eyes had drawn about their camp. Now and again a pair of eyes moved, or disappeared to appear again a moment later.'
What did it mean—those restless flashing eyes, like fireflies breaking across the surface of the darkness? It simply meant that they were in the Wild at night, and they were with the wild beasts. And what does it mean, this vivid fragment from my Bible? It means that He was in the Wild at night, night after night for forty nights, and He was with the wild beasts. He heard the roar of the lion as it awoke the echoes of the slumbering forest. He saw the hyena pass stealthily near Him in the track of a timid deer, and watched the cheetah prowl through the brushwood in pursuit of a young gazelle. He heard the squeal of the hare as the crouching fox sprang out; and the flutter of the partridge as the jackal seized its prey. He heard the slither of the viper as it glided through the grass beside His head; and was startled by the shrieking of the nightbirds, and the flapping of their wings, as they whirled and swooped about Him. And He too saw the gleaming eyes of the hungry wolves as they drew their fierce cordon around Him. For He was out in the Wild for forty nights, and He was with the wild beasts.
And yet He was unhurt! Now why was He unharmed those forty nights with the scrub around Him alive with claws and talons and fangs? He was with the wild beasts, Mark tells us, and yet no lion sprang upon Him; no lone wolf slashed at Him with her frightful fangs; no serpent bit Him.
'Henry,' said one of Jack London's heroes to the other, as they watched the wolfish eyes flashing hither and thither in the darkness, 'it's an awful misfortune to be out of ammunition!'
But He was unarmed and unprotected! No blade was in His hand; no ring of fire blazed round about Him to affright the prowling brutes. And yet He was unharmed! Not a tooth nor a claw left scratch or gash upon Him! Why was it? It will never do to fall back upon the miraculous, for the very point of the story of the Temptation is His sublime refusal to sustain Himself by superhuman aid. By the employment of miracle He could easily have commanded the stones to become bread, and He might thus have grandly answered the taunt of the Tempter and have appeased the gnawings of His body's hunger at one and the same time. But it would have spoiled everything. He went into the Wild to be tempted 'like as we are tempted'; and since miracle is not at our disposal He would not let it be at His. It is impossible, therefore, to suppose that He scorned the aid of miracle to protect Him from hunger, but called in the aid of miracle to protect Him from the beasts.
Now in order to solve this problem I turned to my Bible, beginning at the very beginning. And there, in the very first chapter, I found the explanation. 'Have dominion,' God said, 'over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.' There was nothing really miraculous in Christ's authority over the fish. I never see a man dangling with a line without a sigh for our lost dominion. There was nothing really miraculous in Christ's immunity from harm. The wolves did not tear Him; He told them not to do so. He was a man, just such a man as God meant all men to be. And therefore He 'had dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.' He was unscathed in the midst of the wolves, not because He was superhuman, but because He was truly human. We are something less than human, the wrecks and shadows of men. Having forfeited the authority of our humanity, the fish no longer obey us, and we have perforce to dangle for them with hooks and strings. The wolves and the tigers no longer stand off at our command, and we have to fall back upon camp-fires and pistols. It is very humiliating! The crown is fallen from our heads, and all things finned and furred and feathered mock us in our shame. But Thine, O Man of men, is the power and the dominion, and all the creatures of the Wild obey Thee! 'He was with the wild beasts.'
What did those wild, dumb, eloquent eyes say to Jesus as they looked wonderingly at Him out there in the Wild? As they bounded out of the thicket, crouched, stared at Him, and slunk away, what did they say to Him, those great lean wolves? And what did He say to them? Animals are such eloquent things, especially at such times. 'The foxes have holes,' Jesus said, long afterwards, remembering as He said it how He watched the creatures of the Wild seek out their lairs. 'And the birds of the air have nests,' He said, remembering the twittering and fluttering in the boughs above His head as the feathered things settled down for the night. 'But the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head,' He concluded, as He thought of those long, long nights in the homeless Wild. Did He mean that the wolves were better off than He was? We are all tempted to think so when the conflict is pressing too hardly upon us. There seems to be less choice, and therefore less responsibility, among the beasts of the field; less play of right and wrong. 'I think,' said Walt Whitman—
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained; I stand and look at them sometimes an hour at a stretch. They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.
Was some flitting, hovering thought like this part of the Temptation in the Wild? Is that what Mark means when he says so significantly that 'He was with the wild beasts'? Surely; for He was tempted in all points like as we are, and we have all been tempted in this. 'Good old Carlo!' we have said, as we patted the dog's head, looking down out of our eyes of anguish into his calm, impassive gaze. 'Good old Carlo, you don't know anything of such struggles, old boy!' And we have fancied for a moment that Carlo had the best of it. It was a black and blasphemous thought, and He struck it away, as we should strike at a hawk that fluttered in front of our faces and threatened to pick at our eyes. But for one moment it hovered before Him, and He caught its ugly glance. It is a very ugly glance. Our capacity for great inward strife and for great inward suffering is the one proof we have that we were made in the image of God.