THE RECREATIONS OF A COUNTRY PARSON.
A. K. H. BOYD.
CHAPTER I. CONCERNING THE PARSON'S CHOICE
CHAPTER II. CONCERNING DISAPPOINTMENT AND SUCCESS
CHAPTER III. CONCERNING SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS
CHAPTER IV. CONCERNING CHURCHYARDS
CHAPTER V. CONCERNING SUMMER DAYS
CHAPTER VI. CONCERNING SCREWS
CHAPTER VII. CONCERNING SOLITARY DAYS
CHAPTER VIII. CONCERNING GLASGOW DOWN THE WATER
CHAPTER IX. CONCERNING MAN AND HIS DWELLING-PLACE
CHAPTER X. LIFE AT THE WATER-CURE
CHAPTER XI. CONCERNING FRIENDS IN COUNCIL
CHAPTER XII. CONCERNING THE PULPIT IN SCOTLAND
CHAPTER XIII. CONCERNING FUTURE TEARS
CHAPTER XIV. CONCLUSION
CONCERNING THE PARSON'S CHOICE BETWEEN TOWN AND COUNTRY.
One very happy circumstance in a clergyman's lot, is that he is saved from painful perplexity as regards his choice of the scene in which he is to spend his days and years. I am sorry for the man who returns from Australia with a large fortune; and with no further end in life than to settle down somewhere and enjoy it. For in most cases he has no special tie to any particular place; and he must feel very much perplexed where to go. Should any person who may read this page cherish the purpose of leaving me a hundred thousand pounds to invest in a pretty little estate, I beg that he will at once abandon such a design. He would be doing me no kindness. I should be entirely bewildered in trying to make up my mind where I should purchase the property. I should be rent asunder by conflicting visions of rich English landscape, and heathery Scottish hills: of seaside breezes, and inland meadows: of horse-chestnut avenues, and dark stern pine-woods. And after the estate had been bought, I should always be looking back and thinking I might have done better. So, on the whole, I would prefer that my reader should himself buy the estate, and bequeath it to me: and then I could soon persuade myself that it was the prettiest estate and the pleasantest neighbourhood in Britain.
Now, as a general rule, the Great Disposer says to the parson, Here is your home, here lies your work through life: go and reconcile your mind to it, and do your best in it. No doubt there are men in the Church whose genius, popularity, influence, or luck is such, that they have a bewildering variety of livings pressed upon them: but it is not so with ordinary folk; and certainly it was not so with me. I went where Providence bade me go, which was not where I had wished to go, and not where I had thought to go. Many who know me through the pages which make this and a preceding volume, have said, written, and printed, that I was specially cut out for a country parson, and specially adapted to relish a quiet country life. Not more, believe me, reader, than yourself. It is in every man who sets himself to it to attain the self-same characteristics. It is quite true I have these now: but, a few years since, never was mortal less like them. No cockney set down near Sydney Smith at Foston-le-Clay: no fish, suddenly withdrawn from its native stream: could feel more strange and cheerless than did I when I went to my beautiful country parish, where I have spent such happy days, and which I have come to love so much.
I have said that the parson is for the most part saved the labour of determining where he shall pitch his tent: his place and his path in life are marked out for him. But he has his own special perplexity and labour: quite different from those of the man to whom the hundred thousand pounds to invest in land are bequeathed: still, as some perhaps would think, no less hard. His work is to reconcile his mind to the place where God has set him. Every mortal must, in many respects, face one of these two trials. There is all the world before you, where to choose; and then the struggle to make a decided choice with which you shall on reflection remain entirely satisfied. Or there is no choice at all: the Hand above gives you your place and your work; and then there is the struggle heartily and cheerfully to acquiesce in the decree as to which you were not consulted.
And this is not always an easy thing; though I am sure that the man who honestly and Christianly tries to do it, will never fail to succeed at last. How curiously people are set down in the Church; and indeed in all other callings whatsoever! You find men in the last places they would have chosen; in the last places for which you would say they are suited. You pass a pretty country church, with its parsonage hard-by embosomed in trees and bright with roses. Perhaps the parson of that church had set his heart on an entirely different kind of charge: perhaps he is a disappointed man, eager to get away, and (the very worst possible policy) trying for every vacancy of which he can hear. You think, as you pass by, and sit down on the churchyard wall, how happy you could be in so quiet and sweet a spot: well, if you are willing to do a thing, it is pleasant: but if you are struggling with a chain you cannot break, it is miserable. The pleasantest thing becomes painful, if it is felt as a restraint. What can be cosier than the warm environment of sheet and blanket which encircles you in your snug bed? Yet if you awake during the night at some alarm of peril, and by a sudden effort try at once to shake yourself clear of these trammels, you will, for the half-minute before you succeed, feel that soft restraint as irksome as iron fetters. 'Let your will lead whither necessity would drive,' said Locke, 'and you will always preserve your liberty.' No doubt, it is wise advice; but how to do all that?
Well, it can be done: but it costs an effort. Great part of the work of the civilized and educated man consists of that which the savage, and even the uneducated man, would not regard as work at all. The things which cost the greatest effort may be done, perhaps, as you sit in an easy chair with your eyes shut. And such an effort is that of making up our mind to many things, both in our own lot, and in the lot of others. I mean not merely the intellectual effort to look at the success of other men and our own failure in such a way as that we shall be intellectually convinced that, we have no right to complain of either: I do not mean merely the labour to put things in the right point of view: but the moral effort to look fairly at the facts not in any way disguised,—not tricked out by some skilful art of putting things;—and yet to repress all wrong feeling;—all fretfulness, envy, jealousy, dislike, hatred. I do not mean, to persuade ourselves that the grapes are sour; but (far nobler surely) to be well aware that they are sweet, and yet be content that another should have them and not we. I mean the labour, when you have run in a race and been beaten, to resign your mind to the fact that you have been beaten, and to bear a kind feeling towards the man who beat you. And this is labour, and hard labour; though very different from that physical exertion which the uncivilized man would understand by the word. Every one can understand that to carry a heavy portmanteau a mile is work. Not every one remembers that the owner of the portmanteau, as he walks on carrying nothing weightier than an umbrella, may be going through exertion much harder than that of the porter. Probably St. Paul never spent days of harder work in all his life, than the days he spent lying blind at Damascus, struggling to get free from the prejudices and convictions of all his past years, and resolving—on the course he would pursue in the years to come.
I know that in all professions and occupations to which men can devote themselves, there is such a thing as com petition: and wherever there is competition, there will be the temptation to envy, jealousy, and detraction, as regards a man's competitors: and so there will be the need of that labour and exertion which lie in resolutely trampling that temptation down. You are quite certain, rny friend, as you go on through life, to have to make up your mind to failure and disappointment on your own part, and to seeing other men preferred before you. When these tilings come, there are two ways of meeting them. One is, to hate and vilify those who surpass you, either in merit or in success: to detract from their merit and under-rate their success: or, if you must admit some merit, to bestow upon it very faint praise. Now, all this is natural enough; but assuredly it is neither a right nor a happy course to follow. The other and better way is, to fight these tendencies to the death: to struggle against them, to pray against them: to resign yourself to God's good will: to admire and love the man who beats you. This course is the right one, and the happy one. I believe the greatest blessing God can send a man, is disappointment, rightly met and used. There is no more ennobling discipline: there is no discipline that results in a happier or kindlier temper of mind. And in honestly fighting against the evil impulses which have been mentioned, you will assuredly get help and strength to vanquish them. I have seen the plain features look beautiful, when man or woman was faithfully by God's grace resisting wrong feelings and tendencies, such as these. It is a noble end to attain, and it is well worth all the labour it costs, to resolutely be resigned, cheerful, and kind, when you feel a strong inclination to be discontented, moody, and bitter of heart. Well said a very wise mortal, 'Better is he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.' And that ruling of the spirit which is needful to rightly meet disappointment, brings out the best and noblest qualities that can be found in man.
Sometimes, indeed, even in the parson's quiet life, he may know something of the first perplexity of which we have been thinking: the perplexity of the man who is struggling to make up his mind where he is to settle down for the remainder of life. And it is not long since such a perplexity came my way. For I had reached a spot in my onward path at which I must make a decided choice. I must go either to the right or the left: for, as Goldsmith has remarked with great force, when the road you are pursuing parts into several roads, you must be careful to follow only one. And I had to decide between country and town. I had to resolve whether I was to remain in that quiet cure of souls about which I formerly told you; or go into the hard work and hurry of a large parish in a certain great city.
I had been for more than five years in that sweet country place: it seemed a very long time as the days passed over. Even slow-growing ivy grew feet longer in that time, and climbing roses covered yards and yards of wall. And for very many months I thought that here I was to live and die, and never dreamt of change. Not indeed that my tastes were always such. At the beginning of that term of years, when I went down each Sunday morning to preach in the plain little church to a handful of quiet rustic people, I used to think of a grand edifice where once upon a time, at my first start in my profession, I had preached each afternoon for many months to a very large congregation of educated folk; and I used to wonder whether my old friends remembered and missed me. Once there was to me a fascination about that grand church, and all connected with it: now it is to me no more than it is to every one else, and I pass near it almost every day and hardly look at it. Other men have taken my old place in it, and had the like feelings, and got over them. Several of these men I never saw: how much I should like to shake each man's hand! But all these fancies were long, long ago: I was pleased to be a country parson, and to make the best of it. Friends, who have held like stations in life, have you not felt, now and then, a little waking up of old ideas and aspirations? All this, you thought, was not what you once had wished, and pictured to yourself. You vainly fancied, in your student days, that you might reach a more eminent place and greater usefulness. I know, indeed, that even such as have gone very unwillingly to a little remote country parish, have come most heartily to enjoy its peaceful life: have grown fond of that, as they never thought to do. I do not mean that you need affectedly talk, after a few months there, as if you had lived in the country all your life, and as if your thoughts had from childhood run upon horses, turnips, and corn. But in sober earnest, as weeks pass over, you gain a great interest in little country cares; and you discover that you may be abundantly useful, and abundantly laborious, amid a small and simple population.
Yet sometimes, my clever friend, I know you sit down on a green bank, under the trees, and look at your little church. You think, of your companions and competitors in College days, filling distinguished places in life: and, more particularly, of this and that friend in your own calling, who preaches to as many people on one Sunday as you do in half a year. Fine fellows they were: and though you seldom meet now, you are sure they are faithful, laborious, able, and devoted ministers: God bless them all! You wonder how they can do so much work; and especially how they have confidence to preach to so large and intelligent congregations. For a certain timidity, and distrust of his own powers, grows upon the country parson. He is reaching the juster estimate of himself, indeed: yet there is something not desirable in the nervous dislike to preach in large churches and to cultivated people which is sure to come. And little things worry him, which would not worry a mind kept more upon the stretch. It is possible enough that among the Cumberland hills, or in curacies like Sydney Smith's on Salisbury Plain, or wandering sadly by the shore of Shetland fiords, there may be men who had in them the makings of eminent preachers; but whose powers have never been called out, and are rusting sadly away: and in whom many petty cares are developing a pettiness of nature.
I have observed that in those advertisements which occasionally appear in certain newspapers, offering for sale the next presentation to some living in the Church, the advertiser, after pointing out the various advantages of the situation, frequently sums up by stating that the population of the parish is very small, and so the clergyman's duty very light. I always read such a statement with great displeasure. For it seems to imply, that a clergyman's great object is, to enjoy his benefice and do as little duty as possible in return for it. I suppose it need not be proved, that if such were truly the great object of any parson, he has no business to be in the Church at all. Failing health, or powers overdriven, may sometimes make even the parson whose heart is in his work desire a charge whose duty and responsibility are comparatively small: but I firmly believe that in the case of the great majority of clergymen, it is the interest and delight they feel in their work, and not its worldly emolument, that mainly attach them to their sacred profession: and thus that the more work they have to do (provided their strength be equal to it), the more desirable and interesting they hold their charge to be. And I believe that the earnest pastor, settled in some light and pleasant country charge, will oftentimes, even amid his simple enjoyment of that pleasant life, think that perhaps he would be more in the path of duty, if, while the best years of his life are passing on, he were placed where he might serve his Master in a larger sphere.
And thinking now and then in this fashion, I was all of a sudden asked to undertake a charge such as would once have been my very ideal: and in that noble city where my work began, and so which has always been very dear. But I felt that everything was changed. Before these years of growing experience, I dare say I should not have feared to set myself even to work as hard; but now I doubted greatly whether I should prove equal to it. That time in the country had made me sadly lose confidence. And I thought it would be very painful and discouraging to go to preach to a large congregation, and to see it Sunday by Sunday growing less, as people got discontented and dropped away.
But happily, those on whom I leant for guidance and advice, were more hopeful than myself; and so I came away from my beautiful country parish. You know, my friends, who have passed through the like, the sorrow to look for the last time at each kind homely face: the sorrow to turn away from the little church where you have often preached to very small congregations: the sorrow to leave each tree you have planted, and the evergreens whose growth you have watched, year by year. Soon, you are in all the worry of what in Scotland we call a flitting: the house and all its belongings are turned upside down. The kindness of the people comes out with tenfold strength when they know how soon you are to part. And some, to whom you had tried to do little favours, and who had somewhat disappointed you by the slight sense of them they had shown, now testify by their tears a hearty regard which you never can forget.
The Sunday comes when you enter your old pulpit for the last time. You had prepared your sermon in a room from which the carpet had been removed, and amid a general confusion and noise of packing. The church is crowded in a fashion never seen before. You go through the service, I think, with a sense of being somewhat stunned and bewildered. And in the closing sentences of your sermon, you say little of yourself; but in a few words, very hard to speak, you thank your old friends for their kindness to you through the years you have passed together; and you give them your parting advice, in some sentence which seems to contain the essence of all you meant to teach in all these Sundays; and you say farewell, farewell.
You are happy, indeed, if after all, though quitting your country parsonage, and turning over a new leaf in life, you have not to make a change so entire as that from country to town generally is: if, like me, you live in the most beautiful city in Britain: a city where country and town are blended together: where there are green gardens, fields, and trees: shady places into which you may turn from the glaring streets, into verdure as cool and quiet as ever, and where your little children can roll upon the grass, and string daisies as of old; streets, from every opening in which you look out upon blue hills and blue sea. No doubt, the work is very hard, and very constant; and each Sunday is a very exciting and exhausting day. You will understand, my friend, when you go to such a charge, what honour is due to those venerable men who have faithfully and efficiently done the duty of the like for thirty or forty years. You will look at them with much interest: you will receive their kindly counsel with great respect. You will feel it somewhat trying and nervous work to ascend your pulpit; and to address men and women who in mental cultivation, and in things much more important, are more than equal to yourself. And as you walk down; always alone, to church each Sunday morning, you will very earnestly apply for strength and wisdom beyond your own, in a certain Quarter where they will never be sought in vain. Yet you will delight in all your duty: and you will thank God you feel that were your work in life to choose again, you would give yourself to the noblest task that can be undertaken by mortal, with a resolute purpose firmer a thousand times than even the enthusiastic preference of your early youth. The attention and sympathy with which your congregation will listen to your sermons, will be a constant encouragement and stimulus; and you will find friends so dear and true, that yon. will hope never to part from them while life remains. In such a life, indeed, these Essays, which never would have been begun had my duty been always such, must be written in little snatches of time: and perhaps a sharp critic could tell, from internal evidence, which of them have been written in the country and which in the town. I look up from the table at which I write: and the roses, honeysuckle, and the fuchsias, of a year since, are far away: through the window I discover lofty walls, whose colour inclines to black. Yet I have not regretted the day, and I do not believe I ever will regret the day, when I ceased to be a Country Parson.
CONCERNING DISAPPOINTMENT AND SUCCESS.
Russet woods of Autumn, here you are once more! I saw you, golden and brown, in the afternoon sunshine to-day. Crisp leaves were falling, as I went along the foot-path through the woods: crisp leaves lie upon the green graves in the churchyard, fallen from the ashes: and on the shrubbery walks, crisp leaves from the beeches, accumulated where the grass bounds the gravel, make a warm edging, irregular, but pleasant to see. It is not that one is 'tired of summer:' but there is something soothing and pleasing about the autumn days. There is a great clearness of the atmosphere sometimes; sometimes a subdued, gray light is diffused everywhere. In the country, there is often, on these afternoons, a remarkable stillness in the air, amid which you can hear a withering leaf rustling down. I will not think that the time of bare branches and brown grass is so very near as yet; Nature is indeed decaying, but now we have decay only in its beautiful stage, wherein it is pensive, but not sad. It is but early in October; and we, who live in the country all through the winter, please ourselves with the belief that October is one of the finest months of the year, and that we have many warm, bright, still days yet before us. Of course we know we are practising upon ourselves a cheerful, transparent delusion; even as the man of forty-eight often declares that about forty-eight or fifty is the prime of life. I like to remember that Mrs. Hemans was describing October, when she began her beautiful poem on The Battle of Morgarlen, by saying that, 'The wine-month shone in its golden prime:' and I think that in these words the picture presented to the mind of an untravelled Briton, is not the red grapes hanging in blushing profusion, but rather the brown, and crimson, and golden woods, in the warm October sunshine. So, you russet woods of autumn, you are welcome once more; welcome with all your peculiar beauty, so gently enjoyable by all men and women who have not used up life; and with all your lessons, so unobtrusive, so touching, that have come home to the heart of human generations for many thousands of years. Yesterday was Sunday; and I was preaching to my simple rustics an autumn sermon from the text We all do fade as a leaf. As I read out the text, through a half-opened window near me, two large withered oak-leaves silently floated into the little church in the view of all the congregation. I could not but pause for a minute till they should preach their sermon before I began mine. How simply, how unaffectedly, with what natural pathos they seemed to tell their story! It seemed as if they said, Ah you human beings, something besides us is fading; here we are, the things like which you fade!
And now, upon this evening, a little sobered by the thought that this is the fourth October which has seen this hand writing that which shall attain the authority of print, I sit down to begin an essay which is to be written leisurely as recreation and not as work. I need not finish this essay, unless I choose, for six weeks to come: so I have plenty of time, and I shall never have to write under pressure. That is pleasant. And I write under another feeling, more pleasing and encouraging still. I think that in these lines I am addressing many unknown friends, who, though knowing nothing more of me than they can learn from pages which I have written, have come gradually not to think of me as a stranger. I wish here to offer my thanks to many whose letters, though they were writing only to a shadow, have spoken in so kindly a fashion of the writer's slight productions, that they have given me much enjoyment in the reading, and much encouragement to go on. To all my correspondents, whether named or nameless, I now, in a moral sense, extend a friendly hand. As to the question sometimes put, who the writer is, that is of no consequence. But as to what he is, I think, intelligent readers of his essays, you will gradually and easily see that.
It is a great thing to write leisurely, and with a general feeling of kindliness and satisfaction with everybody; but there is a further reason why one should set to work at once. I feel I must write now, before my subject loses its interest; and before the multitude of thoughts, such as they are, which have been clustering round it since it presented itself this afternoon in that walk through the woods, have faded away. It is an unhappy thing, but it is the fact with many men, that if you do not seize your fancies when they come to you, and preserve them upon the written page, you lose them altogether. They go away, and never come back. A little while ago I pulled out a drawer in this table whereon I write; and I took out of it a sheet of paper, on which there are written down various subjects for essays. Several are marked with a large cross; these are the essays which are beyond the reach of fate: they are written and printed. Several others have no cross; these are the subjects of essays which are yet to be written. But upon four of those subjects I look at once with interest and sorrow. I remember when I wrote down their names, what a vast amount, as I fancied, I had to say about them: and all experience failed to make me feel that unless those thoughts were seized and chronicled at once, they would go away and never come back again. How rich the subjects appeared to me, I well remember! Now they are lifeless, stupid things, of which it is impossible to make anything. Before, they were like a hive, buzzing with millions of bees. Now they are like the empty hive, when the life and stir and bustle of the bees are gone. O friendly reader, what a loss it was to you, that the writer did not at once sit down and sketch out his essays, Concerning Things Slowly Learnt; and Concerning Growing Old! And two other subjects of even greater value were, Concerning the Practical Effect of Illogical Reasons, and An Estimate of the Practical Influence of False Assertions. How the hive was buzzing when these titles were written down: but now I really hardly remember anything of what I meant to say, and what I remember appears wretched stuff. The effervescence has gone from the champagne; it is flat and dead. Still, it is possible that these subjects may recover their interest; and the author hereby gives notice that he reserves the right of producing an essay upon each of them. Let no one else infringe his vested claims.
There is one respect in which I have often thought that there is a curious absence of analogy between the moral and the material worlds. You are in a great excitement about something or other; you are immensely interested in reaching some aim; you are extremely angry and ferocious at some piece of conduct; let us suppose. Well, the result is that you cannot take a sound, clear, temperate view of the circumstances; you cannot see the case rightly; you actually do see it very wrongly. You wait till a week or a month passes; till some distance, in short, intervenes between you and the matter; and then your excitement, your fever, your wrath, have gone down, as the matter has lost its freshness; and now you see the case calmly, you see it very differently indeed from the fashion in which you saw it first; you conclude that now you see it rightly. One can think temperately now of the atrocities of the mutineers in India, It does riot now quicken your pulse to think of them. You have not now the burning desire you once felt, to take a Sepoy by the throat and cut him to pieces with a cat-of-nine-tails. The common consent of mankind has decided that you have now attained the right view. I ask, is it certain that in all cases the second thought is the best;—is the right thought, as well as the calmest thought? Would it be just to say (which would be the material analogy) that you have the best view of some great rocky island when you have sailed away from it till it has turned to a blue cloud on the horizon; rather than when its granite and heather are full in view, close at hand? I am not sure that in every case the calmer thought is the right thought, the distant view the right view. You have come to think indifferently of the personal injury, of the act of foul cruelty and falsehood, which once roused you to flaming indignation. Are you thinking rightly too? Or has not just such an illusion been practised upon your mental view, as is played upon your bodily eye when looking over ten miles of sea upon Staffa? You do not see the basaltic columns now; but that is because you see wrongly. You do not burn at the remembrance of the wicked lie, the crafty misrepresentation, the cruel blow; but perhaps you ought to do so. And now (to speak of less grave matters) when all I had to say about Growing Old seems very poor, do I see it rightly? Do I see it as my reader would always have seen it? Or has it faded into falsehood, as well as into distance and dimness? When I look back, and see my thoughts as trash, is it because they are trash and no better? When I look back, and see Ailsa as a cloud, is it because it is a cloud and nothing more? Or is it, as I have already suggested, that in one respect the analogy between the moral and the material fails.
I am going to write Concerning Disappointment and Success. In the days when I studied metaphysics, I should have objected to that title, inasmuch as the antithesis is imperfect between the two things named in it. Disappointment and Success are not properly antithetic; Failure and Success are. Disappointment is the feeling caused by failure, and caused also by other things besides failure. Failure is the thing; disappointment is the feeling caused by the thing; while success is the thing, and not the feeling. But such minute points apart, the title I have chosen brings out best the subject about which I wish to write. And a very wide subject it is; and one of universal interest.
I suppose that no one will dispute the fact that in this world there are such things as disappoititment and success. I do not mean merely that each man's lot has its share of both; I mean that there are some men whose life on the whole is a failure, and that there are others whose life on the whole is a success. You and I, my reader, know better than to think that life is a lottery; but those who think it a lottery, must see that there are human beings who draw the prizes, and others who draw the blanks. I believe in Luck, and Ill Luck, as facts; of course I do not believe the theory which common consent builds upon these facts. There is, of course, no such thing as chance; this world is driven with far too tight a rein to permit of anything whatsoever falling out in a way properly fortuitous. But it cannot be denied that there are persona with whom everything goes well, and other persons with whom everything goes ill. There are people who invariably win at what are called games of chance. There are people who invariably lose. You remember when Sydney Smith lay on his deathbed, how he suddenly startled the watchers by it, by breaking a long silence with a sentence from one of his sermons, repeated in a deep, solemn voice, strange from the dying man: His life had been successful at last; but success had come late; and how much of disappointment he had known! And though he had tried to bear up cheerily under his early cares, they had sunk in deep. 'We speak of life as a journey,' he said, 'but how differently is that journey performed! Some are borne along their path in luxury and ease; while some must walk it with naked feet, mangled and bleeding.'
Who is there that does not sometimes, on a quiet evening, even before he has attained to middle age, sit down and look back upon his college days, and his college friends; and think sadly of the failures, the disappointments, the broken hearts, which have been among those who all started fair and promised well? How very much has after life changed the estimates which we, formed in those days, of the intellectual mark and probable fate of one's friends and acquaintances! You remember the dense, stolid dunces of that time: you remember the men who sat next you in the lecture-room, and never answered rightly a question that was put to them: you remember how you used to wonder if they would always be the dunces they were then. Well, I never knew a man who was a dunce at twenty, to prove what might be called a brilliant or even a clever man in after life; but we have all known such do wonderfully decently. You did not expect much of them, you see. You did not try them by an exacting standard. If a monkey were to write his name, you would be so much surprised at seeing him do it at all, that you would never think of being surprised that he did not do it very well. So, if a man you knew as a remarkably stupid fellow preaches a decent sermon, you hardly think of remarking that it is very common-place and dull, you are so much pleased and surprised' to find that the man can preach at all. And then, the dunces of college days are often sensible, though slow and in this world, plain plodding common sense is very likely in the long run to beat erratic brilliancy. The tortoise passes the hare. I owe an apology to Lord Campbell for even naming him on the same page on which stands the name of dunce: for assuredly in shrewd, massive sense, as well as in kindness of manner, the natural outflow of a kind and good heart, no judge ever surpassed him. But I may fairly point to his career of unexampled success as an instance which proves my principle. See how that man of parts which are sound and solid, rather than brilliant or showy, has won the Derby and the St. Ledger of the law: has filled with high credit the places of Chief Justice of England and Lord Chancellor. And contrast his eminently successful and useful course with that of the fitful meteor, Lord Brougham. What a great, dazzling genius Brougham unquestionably is; yet his greatest admirer must admit that his life has been a brilliant failure. But while you, thoughtful reader, in such a retrospect as I have been supposing, sometimes wonder at the decent and reasonable success of the dunce, do you not often lament over the fashion in which those who promised well, and even brilliantly, have disappointed the hopes entertained of them? What miserable failures such have not unfrequently made! And not always through bad conduct either: not always, though sometimes, by taking to vicious courses; but rather by a certain want of tact and sense, or even by just somehow missing the favourable tide. You have got a fair living and a fair standing in the Church; you have held them for eight or ten years; when some evening as you are sitting in your study or playing with your children, a servant tells you, doubtfully, that a man is waiting to see you. A poor, thin, shabbily-dressed fellow comes in, and in faltering tones begs for the lean of five shillings. Ah, with what a start you recognise him! It is the clever fellow whom you hardly beat at college, who was always so lively and merry, who sang so nicely, and was so much asked out into society. You had lost sight of him for several years; and now here he is, shabby, dirty, smelling of whisky, with bloated face and trembling hand: alas, alas, ruined! Oh, do not give him up. Perhaps you can do something for him. Little kindness he has known for very long. Give him the five shillings by all means; but next morning see you go out, and try what may be done to lift him out of the slough of despond, and to give him a chance for better days! I know that it may be all in vain; and that after years gradually darkening down you may some day, as you pass the police-office, find a crowd at the door, and learn that they have got the corpse of the poor suicide within. And even when the failure is not so utter as this, you find, now and then, as life goes onward, that this and that old acquaintance has, you cannot say how, stepped out of the track, and is stranded. He went into the Church: he is no worse preacher or scholar than many that succeed; but somehow he never gets a living. You sometimes meet him in the street, threadbare and soured: he probably passes you without recognising you. O reader, to whom God has sent moderate success, always be chivalrously kind and considerate to such a disappointed man!
I have heard of an eminent man who, when well advanced in years, was able to say that through all his life he had never set his mind on anything which he did not succeed in attaining. Great and little aims alike, he never had known what it was to fail. What a curious state of feeling it would be to most men to know themselves able to assert so much! Think of a mind in which disappointment is a thing unknown! I think that one would be oppressed by a vague sense of fear in regarding one's self as treated by Providence in a fashion so different from the vast majority of the race. It cannot be denied that there are men in this world in whose lot failure seems to be the rule. Everything to which they put their hand breaks down or goes amiss. But most human beings can testify that their lot, like their abilities, their stature, is a sort of middling thing. There is about it an equable sobriety, a sort of average endurableness. Some things go well: some things go ill. There is a modicum of disappointment: there is a modicum of success. But so much of disappointment comes to the lot of almost all, that there is no object in nature at which we all look with so much interest as the invariably lucky man—the man whom all this system of things appears to favour. You knew such a one at school: you knew him at college: you knew him at the bar, in the Church, in medicine, in politics, in society. Somehow he pushes his way: things turn up just at the right time for him: great people take a fancy to him: the newspapers cry him up. Let us hope that you do not look at him with any feeling of envy or bitterness; but you cannot help looking at him with great interest, he is so like yourself, and at the same time so very unlike you. Philosophers tell us that real happiness is very equally distributed; but there is no doubt that there is a tremendous external difference between the man who lives in a grand house, with every appliance of elegance and luxury, with plump servants, fine horses, many carriages, and the poor struggling gentleman, perhaps a married curate, whose dwelling is bare, whose dress is poor, whose fare is scanty, whose wife is careworn, whose children are ill-fed, shabbily dressed, and scantily educated. It is conceivable that fanciful wants, slights, and failures, may cause the rich man as much and as real suffering as substantial wants and failures cause the poor; but the world at large will recognise the rich man's lot as one of success, and the poor man's as one of failure.
This is a world of competition. It is a world full of things that many people wish to get, and that all cannot get at once; and to say this is much as to say that this is a world of failure and disappointments. All things desirable, by their very existence imply the disappointment of some. When you, my reader, being no longer young, look with a philosophic eye at some pretty girl entering a drawing-room, you cannot but reflect, as you survey the pleasing picture, and more especially when you think of the twenty thousand pounds—Ah! my gentle young friend, you will some day make one heart very jolly, but a great many more extremely envious, wrathful, and disappointed. So with all other desirable things; so with a large living in the Church; so with aliy place of dignity; so with a seat on the bench; so with the bishopric; so with the woolsack; so with the towers of Lambeth. So with smaller matters; so with a good business in the greengrocery line; so with a well-paying milk-walk; so with a clerk's situation of eighty pounds a year; so with an errand boy's place at three shillings a week, which thirty candidates want, and only one can get. Alas for our fallen race! Is it not part, at least, of some men's pleasure in gaining some object which has been generally sought for, to think of the mortification of the poor fellows that failed?
Disappointment, in short, may come and must come wherever man can set his wishes and his hopes. The only way not to be disappointed when a thing turns out against you, is not to have really cared how the thing went. It is not a truism to remark that this is impossible if you did care. Of course you are not disappointed at failing of attaining an end which you did not care whether you attained or not; but men seek very few such ends. If a man has worked day and night for six weeks in canvassing his county, and then, having been ignominiously beaten, on the following day tells you he is not in the least degree disappointed, he might just as trulv assure you, if you met him walking up streaming with water from a river into which he had just fallen, that he is not the least wet. No doubt there is an elasticity in the healthy mind which very soon tides it over even a severe disappointment; and no doubt the grapes which are unattainable do sometimes in actual fact turn sour. But let no man tell us that he has not known the bitterness of disappointment for at least a brief space, if he have ever from his birth tried to get anything, great or small, and yet not got it. Failure is indeed a thing of all degrees, from the most fanciful to the most weighty: disappointment is a thing of all degrees, from the transient feeling that worries for a minute, to the great crushing blow that breaks the mind's spring for ever. Failure is a fact which reaches from the poor tramp who lies down by the wayside to die, up to the man who is only made Chief Justice when he wanted the Chancellorship, or who dies Bishop of London when he had set his heart upon being Archbishop of Canterbury; or to the Prime Minister, unrivalled in eloquence, in influence, in genius, with his fair domains and his proud descent, but whose horse is beaten after being first favourite for the Derby. Who shall say that either disappointed man felt less bitterness and weariness of heart than the other? Each was no more than disappointed; and the keenness of disappointment bears no proportion to the reality of the value of the object whose loss caused it. And what endless crowds of human beings, children and old men, nobles and snobs, rich men and poor, know the bitterness of disappointment from day to day. It begins from the child shedding many tears when the toy bought with the long-hoarded pence is broken the first day it comes home; it goes on to the Duke expecting the Garter, who sees in the newspaper. at breakfast that the yards of blue ribbon have been given to another. What a hard time his servants have that day. How loudly he roars at them, how willingly would he kick them! Little recks he that forenoon of his magnificent castle and his ancestral woods. It may here be mentioned that a very pleasing opportunity is afforded to malignant people for mortifying a clever, ambitious man, when any office is vacant to which it is known he aspires. A judge of the Queen's Bench has died: you, Mr. Verjuice, know how Mr. Swetter, Q. C., has been rising at the bar; you know how well he deserves the ermine. Well, walk down to his chambers; go in and sit down; never mind how busy he is—your time is of no value—and talk of many different men as extremely suitable for the vacant seat on the bench, but never in the remotest manner hint at the claims of Swetter himself. I have often seen the like done. And you, Mr. Verjuice, may conclude almost with certainty that in doing all this you are vexing and mortifying a deserving man. And such a consideration will no doubt be compensation sufficient to your amiable nature for the fact that every generous muscular Christian would like to take you by the neck, and swing your sneaking carcase out of the window.
Even a slight disappointment, speedily to be repaired, has in it something that jars painfully the mechanism of the mind. You go to the train, expecting a friend, certainly. He does not come. Now this worries you, even though you receive at the station a telegraphic message that he will be by the train which follows in two hours. Your magazine fails to come by post on the last day of the month; you have a dull, vague sense of something wanting for an hour or two, even though you are sure that you will have it next morning. And indeed a very krge share of the disappointments of civilized life are associated with the post-office. I do not suppose the extreme case of the poor fellow who calls at the office expecting a letter containing the money without which he cannot see how he is to get through the day; nor of the man who finds no letter on the day when he expects to hear how it fares with a dear relative who is desperately sick. I am thinking merely of the lesser disappointments which commonly attend post-time: the Times not coming when you were counting with more than ordinary certainty on its appearing; the letter of no great consequence, which yet you would have liked to have had. A certain blankness—a feeling difficult to define—attends even the slightest disappointment; and the effect of a great one is very stunning and embittering indeed. You remember how the nobleman in Ten Thousand a Year, who had been refused a seat in the Cabinet, sympathized with poor Titmouse's exclamation when, looking at the manifestations of gay life in Hyde-park, and feeling his own absolute exclusion from it, he consigned everything to perdition. All the ballads of Professor Aytoun and Mr. Theodore Martin are admirable, but there is none which strikes me as more so than the brilliant imitation of Locksley Hall, And how true to nature the state of mind ascribed to the vulgar snob who is the hero of the ballad, who, bethinking himself of his great disappointment when his cousin married somebody else, bestowed his extremest objurgations upon all who had abetted the hateful result, and then summed up thus comprehensively:—
Cursed be the foul apprentice, who his loathsome fees did earn; Cursed be the clerk and parson; CURSED BE THE WHOLE CONCERN!
It may be mentioned here as a fact to which experience will testify, that such disappointments as that at the railway station and the post-office are most likely to come when you are counting with absolute certainty upon things happening as you wish; when not a misgiving has entered your mind as to your friend's arriving or your letter coining. A little latent fear in your soul that you may possibly be disappointed, seems to have a certain power to fend off disappointment, on the same principle on which taking out an umbrella is found to prevent rain. What you are prepared for rarely happens. The precise thing you expected comes not once in a thousand times. A confused state of mind results from long experience of such cases. Your real feeling often is: Such a thing seems quite sure to happen; I may say I expect it to happen; and yet I don't expect it, because I do: for experience has taught me that the precise thing which I expect, which I think most likely, hardly ever comes. I am not prepared to side with a thoughtless world, which is ready to laugh at the confused statement of the Irishman who had killed his pig. It is not a bull; it is a great psychological fact that is involved in his seemingly contradictory declaration—'It did not weigh as much as I expected, and I never thought it would!'
When young ladies tell us that such and such a person 'has met with a disappointment,' we all understand what is meant. The phrase, though it is conventionally intelligible enough, involves a fallacy: it seems to teach that the disappointment of the youthful heart in the matter of that which in its day is no doubt the most powerful of all the affections, is by emphasis the greatest disappointment which a human being can ever know. Of course that is an entire mistake. People get over that disappointment not but what it may leave its trace, and possibly colour the whole of remaining life; sometimes resulting in an unlovely bitterness and hardness of nature; sometimes prolonging even into age a lingering thread of old romance, and keeping a kindly corner in a heart which worldly cares have in great measure deadened. But the disappointment which has its seat in the affections is outgrown as the affections themselves are outgrown, as the season of their predominance passes away; and the disappointment which sinks the deepest and lasts the longest of all the disappointments which are fanciful rather than material, is that which reaches a man through his ambition and his self-love,—principles in his nature which outlast the heyday of the heart's supremacy, and which endure to man's latest years. The bitter and the enduring disappointment to most human beings is that which makes them feel, in one way or other, that they are less wise, clever, popular, graceful, accomplished, tall, active, and in short fine, than they had fancied themselves to be. But it is only to a limited portion of human kind that such words as disappointment and success are mainly suggestive of gratified or disappointed ambition, of happy or blighted affection; to the great majority they are suggestive rather of success or non-success in earning bread and cheese, in finding money to pay the rent, in generally making the ends meet. You are very young, my reader, and little versed in the practical affairs of ordinary life, if you do not know that such prosaic matters make to most men the great aim of their being here, so far as that aim is bounded by this world's horizon. The poor cabman is successful or is disappointed, according as he sees, while the hours of the day are passing over, that he is making up or not making up the shillings he must hand over to his master at night, before he has a penny to get food for his wife and children. The little tradesman is successful or the reverse, according as he sees or does not see from week to week such a small accumulation of petty profits as may pay his landlord, and leave a little margin by help of which he and his family may struggle on. And many an educated man knows the analogous feelings. The poor barrister, as he waits for the briefs which come in so slowly—the young doctor, hoping for patients—understand them all. Oh what slight, fanciful things, to such men, appear such disappointments as that of the wealthy proprietor who fails to carry his county, or the rich mayor or provost who fails of being knighted!
There is an extraordinary arbitrariness about the way in which great success is allotted in this world. Who shall say that in one case out of every two, relative success is in proportion to relative merit? Nor need this be said in anything of a grumbling or captious spirit. It is but repeating what a very wise man said long ago, that 'the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.' I suppose no one will say that the bishops are the greatest men in the Church of England, or that every Chief Justice is a greater man than every puisne judge. Success is especially arbitrary in cases where it goes by pure patronage: in many such cases the patron would smile at your weakness if you fancied that the desire to find the best man ever entered his head. In the matter of the bench and bar, where tangible duties are to be performed, a patron is compelled to a certain amount of decency; for, though he may not pretend to seek for the fittest man, he must at least profess to have sought a fit man. No prime minister dare appoint a blockhead a judge, without at least denying loudly that he is a blockhead. But the arbitrariness of success is frequently the result of causes quite apart from any arbitrariness in the intention of the human disposer of success; a Higher Hand seems to come in here. The tide of events settles the matter: the arbitrariness is in the way in which the tide of events sets. Think of that great lawyer and great man, Sir Samuel Romilly. Through years of his practice at the bar, he himself, and all who knew him, looked to the woolsack as his certain destination. You remember the many entries in his diary bearing upon the matter; arid I suppose the opinion of the most competent was clear as to his unrivalled fitness for the post. Yet all ended in nothing. The race was not to the swift. The first favourite was beaten, and more than one outsider has carried ofil the prize for which he strove in vain. Did any mortal ever dream, during his days of mediocrity at the bar, or his time of respectability as a Baron of the Exchequer, that Sir R. M. Rolfe was the future Chancellor? Probably there is no sphere in which there is more of disappointment and heartburning than the army. It must be supremely mortifying to a grey-headed veteran, who has served his country for forty years, to find a beardless Guardsman put over his head into the command of his regiment, and to see honours and emoluments showered upon that fair-weather colonel. And I should judge that the despatch written by a General after an important battle must be a source of sad disappointment to many who fancied that their names might well be mentioned there. But after all, I do not know but that it tends to lessen disappointment, that success should be regarded as going less by merit than by influence or good luck. The disappointed man can always soothe himself with the fancy that he deserved to succeed. It would be a desperately mortifying thing to the majority of mankind, if it were distinctly ascertained that each man gets just what he deserves. The admitted fact that the square man, is sometimes put in the round hole, is a cause of considerable consolation to all disappointed men, and to their parents, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers.
No stronger proof can be adduced of the little correspondence that often exists between success and merit, than the fact that the self-same man, by the exercise of the self-same powers, may at one time starve and at another drive his carriage and four. When poor Edmund Kean was acting in barns to country bumpkins, and barely rinding bread for his wife and child, he was just as great a genius as when he was crowding Drury Lane. When Brougham presided in the House of Lords, he was not a bit better or greater than when he had hung about in the Parliament House at Edinburgh, a briefless and suspected junior barrister. When all London crowded to see the hippopotamus, he was just the animal that he was a couple of years later, when no one took the trouble of looking at him. And when George Stephenson died, amid the applause and gratitude of all the intelligent men in Britain, he was the same man, maintaining the same principle, as when men of science and of law regarded as a mischievous lunatic the individual who declared that some day the railroad would be the king's highway, and mail-coaches would be drawn by steam.
As to the very highest prizes of human affairs, it is, I believe, admitted on all hands, that these generally fall to second-rate men. Civilized nations have found it convenient entirely to give up the hallucination that the monarch is the greatest, wisest, and best man in his dominions. Nobody supposes that. And in the case of hereditary dynasties, such an end is not even aimed at. But it is curious to find how with elective sovereignties it is just the same way. The great statesmen of America have very rarely attained to the dignity of President of the United States. Not Clays and Webstcrs have had their four years at the White House. And even Cardinal Wiseman candidly tells us that the post which is regarded by millions as the highest which can be held by mortal, is all but systematically given to judicious mediocrity. A great genius will never be Pope. The coach must not be trusted to too dashing a charioteer. Give us the safe and steady man. Everybody knows that the same usage applies to the Primacy in England. Bishops must be sensible; but archbishops are by some regarded with suspicion if they have ever committed themselves to sentiments more startling than that two and two make four. Let me suppose, my reader, that you have met with great success: I mean success which is very great in your own especial field. The lists are just put out, and you are senior wrangler; or you have got the gold medal in some country grammar-school. The feeling in both cases is the same. In each case there combines with the exultant emotion, an intellectual conception that you are one of the greatest of the human race. Well, was not the feeling a strange one? Did you not feel somewhat afraid? It seemed too much. Something was sure to come, you thought, that would take you down. Few are burdened with such a feeling; but surely there is something alarming in great success. You were a barber's boy: you are made a peer. Surely you must go through life with an ever-recurring emotion of surprise at finding yourself where you are. It must be curious to occupy a place whence you look down upon the heads of most of your kind. A duke gets accustomed to it; but surely even he must sometimes wonder how he comes to be placed so many degrees above multitudes who deserve as well. Or do such come to fancy that their merit is equal to their success; and that by as much as they are better off than other men, they are better than other men? Very likety they do. It is all in human nature. And I suppose the times have been in which it would have been treasonable to hint that a man with a hundred thousand pounds a year was not at least two thousand times as good as one with fifty.
The writer always feels a peculiar sympathy with failure, and with people who are suffering from disappointment, great or small. It is not that he himself is a disappointed man. No; he has to confess, with deep thankfulness, that his success has far, very far, transcended his deserts. And, like many other men, he has found that one or two events in his life, which seemed disappointments at the time, were in truth great and signal blessings. Still, every one has known enough of the blank, desolate feeling of disappointment, to sympathize keenly with the disappointments of others. I feel deeply for the poor Punch and Judy man, simulating great excitement in the presence of a small, uninterested group, from which people keep dropping away. I feel for the poor barn-actor, who discovers, on his first entrance upon his rude stage, that the magnates of the district, who promised to be present at the performance, have not come. You have gone to see a panorama, or to hear a lecture on phrenology. Did you not feel for the poor fellow, the lecturer or exhibitor, when ne came in ten minutes past the hour, and found little but empty benches? Did you not see what a chill fell upon him: how stupified he seemed: in short, how much disappointed he was? And if the money he had hoped to earn that evening was to pay the lodgings in which he and his wife were staying, you may be sure there was a heart sickness about his disappointment far beyond the mortification of mere self-love. When a rainy day stops a pic-nic, or mars the enjoyment of it, although the disappointment is hardly a serious one, still it is sure to cause so much real suffering, that only rancorous old ladies will rejoice in the fact. It is curious how men who have known disappointment themselves, and who describe it well, seem to like to paint lives which in the meantime are all hope and success. There is Mr. Thackeray. With what sympathy, with what enjoyment, he shows us the healthy, wealthy, hopeful youths, like Clive Newcome, or young Pendennis, when it was all sunshine around the young prince! And yet how sad a picture of life he gives us in The Newcomes. It would not have done to make it otherwise: it is true, though sad: that history of the good and gallant gentleman, whose life was a long disappointment, a long failure in all on which he had set his heart; in his early love, in his ambitious plans for his son, even in his hopes for his son's happiness, in his own schemes of fortune, till that life of honour ended in the almshouse at last. How the reader wishes that the author would make brighter days dawn upon his hero! But the author cannot: he must hold on unflinchingly as fate. In such a story as his, truth can no more be sacrificed to our wishes than in real life we know it to be. Well, all disappointment is discipline; and received in a right spirit, it may prepare us for better things elsewhere. It has been said that heaven is a place for those who failed on earth. The greatest hero is perhaps the man who does his very best, and signally fails, and still is not embittered by the failure. And looking at the fashion in which an unseen Power permits wealth and rank and influence to go sometimes in this world, we are possibly justified in concluding that in His judgment the prizes of this Vanity Fair are held as of no great account. A life here, in which you fail of every end you seek, yet which disciplines you for a better, is assuredly not a failure.
What a blessing it would be, if men's ambition were in every case made to keep pace with their ability. Very much disappointment arises from a man's having an absurd over-estimate of his own powers, which leads him, to use an expressive Scotticism, to even himself to some position for which he is utterly unfit, and which he has no chance at all of reaching. A lad comes to the university who has been regarded in his own family as a great genius, and who has even distinguished himself at some little country school. What a rude shock to the poor fellow's estimate of himself; what a smashing of the hopes of those at home, is sure to come when he measures his length with his superiors; and is compelled, as is frequently the case, to take a third or fourth-rate position. If you ever read the lives of actors (and every one ought, for they show you a new and curious phase of life), you must have smiled to see the ill-spelled, ungrarnmatical letters in which some poor fellow writes to a London manager for an engagement, and declares that he feels within him the makings of a greater actor than Garrick or Kean. How many young men who go into the Church fancy that they are to surpass Melvill or Chalmers! No doubt, reader, you have sometimes come out of a church, where you had heard a preacher aiming at the most ambitious eloquence, who evidently had not the slightest vocation that way; and you have thought it would be well if no man ever wished to be eloquent who had it not in him to be so. Would that the principle were universally true! Who has not sometimes been amused iff passing along the fashionable street of a great city, to see a little vulgar snob dressed out within an inch of his life, walking along, evidently fancying that he looks like a gentleman, and that he is the admired of all admirers? Sometimes, in a certain street which I might name, I have witnessed such a spectacle, sometimes with amusement, oftener with sorrow and pity, as I thought of the fearful, dark surmises which must often cross the poor snob's mind, that he is failing in his anxious endeavours. Occasionally, too, I have beheld a man bestriding a horse in that peculiar fashion which may be described as his being on the outside of the animal, slipping away over the hot stones, possibly at a trot, and fancying ivthough with many suspicions to the contrary; that he is witching the world with noble horsemanship. What a pity that such poor fellows will persist in aiming at what they cannot achieve! What mortification and disappointment they must often know! The horse backs on to the pavement, into a plate-glass window, just as Maria, for whose sake the poor screw was hired, is passing by. The boys halloo in derision; and some ostler, helpful, but not complimentary, extricates the rider, and says, 'I see you have never been on 'ossback before; you should not have pulled the curb-bit that way!' And when the vulgar dandy, strutting along, with his Brummagem jewellery, his choking collar, and his awfully tight boots which cause him agony, meets the true gentleman; how it rushes upon him that he himself is only a humbug! How the poor fellow's heart sinks!
Turning from such inferior fields of ambition as these, I think how often it happens that men come to some sphere in life with a flourish of trumpets, as destined to do great things, and then fail. There is a modest, quiet self-confidence, without which you will hardly get on in this world; but I believe, as a general rule, that the men who have attained to very great success have started with very moderate expectations. Their first aim was lowly; and the way gradually opened before them. Their ambition, like their success, went on step by step; they did not go at the top of the tree at once. It would be easy to mention instances in which those who started with high pretensions have been taught by stern fact to moderate them; in which the man who came over from the Irish bar intending to lead the Queen's Bench, and become a Chief Justice, was glad, after thirty years of disappointment, to get made a County Court judge. Not that this is always so; sometimes pretension, if big enough, secures success. A man setting up as a silk-mercer in a strange town, is much likelier to succeed if he opens a huge shop, painted in flaring colours and puffed by enormous bills and vast advertising vans, than if he set up in a modest way, in something like proportion to his means. And if he succeeds, well; if he fails, his creditors bear the loss. A great field has been opened for the disappointment of men who start with the flourish of trumpets already mentioned, by the growing system of competitive examinations. By these, your own opinion of yourself, and the home opinion of you, are brought to a severe test. I think with sympathy of the disappointment of poor lads who hang on week after week, hoping to hear that they have succeeded in gaining the coveted appointment, and then learn that they have failed. I think with sympathy of their poor parents. Even when the prize lost is not substantial pudding, but only airy praise, it is a bitter thing to lose it, after running the winner close. It must be a supremely irritating and mortifying thing to be second wrangler. Look at the rows of young fellows, sitting with their papers before them at a Civil Service Examination, and think what interest and what hopes are centred on every one of them. Think how many count on great success, kept up to do so by the estimation in which they are held at home. Their sisters and their mothers think them equal to anything. Sometimes justly; sometimes the fact justifies the anticipation. When Baron Alderson went to Cambridge, he tells us that he would have spurned the offer of being second man of his year; and sure enough, he was out of sight the first. But for one man of whom the home estimation is no more than just, there are ten thousand in whose case, to strangers, it appears simply preposterous.
There is one sense in which all after-life may be said to be a disappointment. It is far different from that which it was pictured by early anticipations and hopes. The very greatest material success still leaves the case thus. And no doubt it seems strange to many to look back on the fancies of youth, which experience has sobered down. When you go back, my reader, to the village where you were brought up, don't you remember how you used to fancy that when you were a man you would come to it in your carriage and four? This, it is unnecessary to add, you have not yet done. You thought likewise that when you came back you would be arrayed in a scarlet coat, possibly in a cuirass of steel; whereas in fact you have come to the little inn where nobody knows you to spend the night, and you are wandering along the bank of the river (how little changed!) in a shooting-jacket of shepherd's plaid. You intended to marry the village grocer's pretty daughter; and for that intention probably you were somewhat hastily dismissed to a school a hundred miles off; but this evening as you passed the shop you discovered her, a plump matron, calling to her children in a voice rather shrill than sweet; and you discovered from the altered sign above the door that her father is dead, and that she has married the shopman, your hated rival of former years. And yet how happily the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb! You are not the least mortified. You are much amused that your youthful fancies have been blighted. It would have been fearful to have married that excellent individual; the shooting-jacket is greatly more comfortable than the coat of mail; and as for the carriage and four, why, even if you could afford them, you would seldom choose to drive four horses. And it is so with the more substantial anticipations of maturer years. The man who, as already mentioned, intended to be a Chief Justice, is quite happy when he is made a County Court judge. The man who intended to eclipse Mr. Dickens in the arts of popular authorship is content and proud to be the great writer of the London Journal. The clergyman who would have liked a grand cathedral like York Minster is perfectly pleased with his little country church, ivy-green and grey. We come, if we are sensible folk, to be content with what we can get, though we have not what we could wish.
Still, there are certain cases in which this can hardly be so. A man of sense can bear cheerfully the frustration of the romantic fancies of childhood and youth; but not many are so philosophical in regard to the comparatively reasonable anticipations of more reasonable years. When you got married at five-and-forty, your hopes were not extravagant. You knew quite well you were not winning the loveliest of her sex, and indeed you felt you had no right to expect to do so. You were well aware that in wisdom, knowledge, accomplishment, amiability, you could not reasonably look for more than the average of the race. But you thought you might reasonably look for that: and now, alas, alas! you find you have not got it. How have I pitied a worthy and sensible man, listening to his wife making a fool of herself before a large company of people! How have I pitied such a one, when I heard his wife talking the most idiotical nonsense; or when I saw her flirting scandalously with a notorious scapegrace; or learned of the large parties which she gave in his absence, to the discredit of her own character and the squandering of his hard-earned gains! No habit, no philosophy, will ever reconcile a human being of right feeling to such a disappointment as that. And even a sadder thing than this—one of the saddest things in life—is when a man begins to feel that his whole life is a failure; not merely a failure as compared with the vain fancies of youth, but a failure as compared with his sobered convictions of what he ought to have been and what he might have been. Probably, in a desponding mood, we have all known the feeling; and even when we half knew it was morbid and transient, it was a very painful one. But painful it must be beyond all names of pain, where it is the abiding, calm, sorrowful conviction of the man's whole being. Sore must be the heart of the man of middle age, who often thinks that he is thankful his father is in his grave, and so beyond mourning over his son's sad loss in life. And even when the stinging sense of guilt is absent, it is a mournful thing for one to feel that he has, so to speak, missed stays in his earthly voyage, and run upon a mud-bank which he can never get off: to feel one's self ingloriously and uselessly stranded, while those who started with us pass by with gay flag and swelling sail. And all this may be while it is hard to know where to attach blame; it may be when there was nothing worse to complain of than a want of promptitude, resolution, and tact, at the one testing time. Every one knows the passage in point in Shakspeare.
Disappointment, I have said, is almost sure to be experienced in a greater or less degree, so long as anything remains to be wished or sought. And a provision is made for the indefinite continuance of disappointment in the lot of even the most successful of men, by the fact in rerum naturu that whenever the wants felt on a lower level are supplied, you advance to a higher platform, where a new crop of wants is felt. Till the lower wants are supplied you never feel the higher; and accordingly people who pass through life barely succeeding in gaining the supply of the lower wants, will hardly be got to believe that the higher wants are ever really felt at all. A man who is labouring anxiously to earn food and shelter for his children—who has no farther worldly end, and who thinks he would be perfectly happy if he could only be assured on New Year's day that he would never fail in earning these until the thirty-first of December, will hardly believe you when you tell him that the Marquis at the castle is now utterly miserable because the King would not give him a couple of yards of blue or green ribbon. And it is curious in how many cases worldly-successful men mount, step after step, into a new series of wants, implying a new set of mortifications and disappointments. A person begins as a small tradesman; all he aims at is a maintenance for him and his. That is his first aim. Say he succeeds in reaching it. A little ago he thought he would have been quite content could he only do that. But from his new level he sees afar a new peak to climb; now he aims at a fortune. That is his next aim. Say he reaches it. Now he buys an estate; now he aims at being received and admitted as a country gentleman; and the remainder of his life is given to striving for social recognition in the county. How he schemes to get the baronet to dine with him, and the baronet's lady to call upon his homely spouse! And every one has remarked with amusement the hive of petty mortifications, failures, and disappointments, through which he fights his way, till, as it may chance, he actually gains a dubious footing in the society he seeks, or gives up the endeavour as a final failure. Who shall say that any one of the successive wants the man has felt is more fanciful, less real, than any other? To Mr. Oddbody, living in his fine house, it is just as serious an aim to get asked to the Duke's ball, as in former days it was to Jack Oddbody to carry home on Saturday night the shillings which were to buy his bread and cheese.
And another shade of disappointment which keeps pace with all material success is that which arises, not from failing to get a thing, but from getting it and then discovering that it is not what we had fancied—that it will not make us happy. Is not this disappointment ft It everywhere? When the writer was a little boy, he was promised that on a certain birthday a donkey should be bought for his future riding. Did not he frequently allude to it in conversation with his companions? Did not he plague the servants for information as to the natural history and moral idiosyncrasy of donkeys? Did not the long-eared visage appear sometimes through his dreams? Ah, the donkey came! Then followed the days of being pitched over his head; the occasions on which the brute of impervious hide rushed through hedges and left me sticking in them: happiness was no nearer, though the donkey was there. Have you not, my philosophic friend, had your donkey? I mean your moral donkey. Yes, and scores of such. When you were a schoolboy, longing for the holidays, have you not chalked upon doors the legend—OH FOR AUGUST! Vague, delightful visions of perfect happiness were wrapped up in the words. But the holidays came, as all holidays have done and will do; and in a few days you were heartily wearied of them. When you were spoony about Marjory Anne, you thought that once your donkey came, once you were fairly married and settled, what a fine thing it would be! I do not say a syllable against that youthful matron; but I presume you have discovered that she falls short of perfection, and that wedded life has its many cares. You thought you would enjoy so much the setting-up of your carriage; your wife and you often enjoyed it by anticipation on dusty summer days: but though all very well, wood and iron and leather never made the vehicle that shall realize your anticipations. The horses were often lame; the springs would sometimes break; the paint was always getting scratched and the lining cut. Oh, what a nuisance is a carriage! You fancied you would be perfectly happy when you retired from business and settled in the country. What a comment upon such fancies is the fashion in which retired men of business haunt the places of their former toils like unquiet ghosts! How sick they get of the country! I do not think of grand disappointments of the sort; of the satiety of Vathek, turning sickly away from his earthly paradise at Cintra; nor of the graceful towers I have seen rising from a woody cliff above a summer sea, and of the story told me of their builder, who, after rearing them, lost interest in them, and in sad disappointment left them to others, and went back to the busy town wherein he had made his wealth. I think of men, more than one or two, who rented their acre of land by the sea-side, and built their pretty cottage, made their grassplots and trained their roses, and then in unaccustomed idleness grew weary of the whole and sold their place to some keen bargain-maker for a tithe of what it cost them.
Why is it that failure in attaining ambitious ends is so painful? When one has honestly done one's best, and is beaten after all, conscience must be satisfied: the wound is solely to self-love; and is it not to the discredit of our nature that that should imply such a weary, blank, bitter feeling as it often does? Is it that every man has within his heart a lurking belief that, notwithstanding the world's ignorance of the fact, there never was in the world anybody so remarkable as himself? I think that many mortals need daily to be putting down a vague feeling which really comes to that. You who have had experience of many men, know that you can hardly over-estimate the extent and depth of human vanity. Never be afraid but that nine men out of ten will swallow with avidity flattery, however gross; especially if it ascribe to them those qualities of which they are most manifestly deficient.
A disappointed man looks with great interest at the man who has obtained what he himself wanted. Your mother, reader, says that her ambition for you would be entirely gratified if you could but reach a certain place which some one you know has held for twenty years. You look at him with much curiosity; he appears very much like yourself; and, curiously, he does not appear particularly happy. Oh, reader, whatever you do—though last week he gained without an effort what you have been wishing for all your life—do not hate him. Resolve that you will love and wish well to the man who fairly succeeded where you fairly failed. Go to him and get acquainted with him: if you and he are both true men, you will not find it a difficult task to like him. It is perhaps asking too much of human nature to ask you to do all this in the case of the man who has carried off the woman you loved; but as regards anything else, do it all. Go to your successful rival, heartily congratulate him. Don't be Jesuitical; don't merely felicitate the man; put down the rising feeling of envy: that is always out-and-out wrong. Don't give it a moment's quarter. You clerks in an office, ready to be angry with a fellow-clerk who gets the chance of a trip to Scotland on business, don't give in to the feeling. Shake hands with him all round, and go in a body with him to Euston Square, and give him three cheers as he departs by the night mail. And you, greater mortals—you, rector of a beautiful parish, who think you would have done for a bishop as well as the clergyman next you who has got the mitre; you, clever barrister, sure some day to be solicitor-general, though sore to-day because a man next door has got that coveted post before you; go and see the successful man—go forthwith, congratulate him heartily, say frankly you wish it had been you: it will do oreat good both to him and to yourself. Let it not be that envy—that bitter and fast-growing fiend—shall be suffered in your heart for one minute. When I was at college I sat on the same bench with a certain man. We were about the same age. Now, I am a country parson, and he is a cabinet minister. Oh, how he has distanced poor me in the race of life! Well, he had a tremendous start, no doubt. Now, shall I hate him? Shall I pitch into him, rake up all his errors of youth, tell how stupid he was (though indeed he was not stupid), and bitterly gloat over the occasion on which he fell on the ice and tore his inexpressibles in the presence of a grinning throng? No, my old fellow-student, who hast now doubtless forgotten my name, though I so well remember yours, though you got your honours possibly in some measure from the accident of your birth, you have nobly justified their being given you so early; and so I look on with interest to your loftier advancement yet, and I say—God bless you!
I think, if I were an examiner at one of the Universities, that I should be an extremely popular one. No man should ever be plucked. Of course it would be very wrong, and, happily, the work is in the hands of those who are much fitter for it; but, instead of thinking solely and severely of a man's fitness to pass, I could not help thinking a great deal of the heartbreak it would be to the poor fellow and his family if he were turned. It would be ruin to any magazine to have me for its editor. I should always be printing all sorts of rubbishing articles, which are at present consigned to the Balaam-box. I could not bear to grieve and disappoint the young lady who sends her gushing verses. I should be picturing to myself the long hours of toil that resulted in the clever lad's absurd attempt at a review, and all his fluttering hopes and fears as to whether it was to be accepted or not. No doubt it is by this mistaken kindness that institutions are damaged and ruined. The weakness of a sympathetic bishop burdens the Church with a clergy-man who for many years will be an injury to her; and it would have been far better even for the poor fellow himself to have been decidedly and early kept out of a vocation for which he is wholly unfit. I am far from saying that the resolute examiner who plucks freely, and the resolute editor who rejects firmly, are deficient in kindness of heart, or even in vividness of imagination to picture what they are doing: though much of the suffering and disappointment of this world is caused by men who are almost unaware of what they do. Like the brothers of Isabella, in Keats' beautiful poem,
Half ignorant, they turn an easy wheel, That sets sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.
Yet though principle and moral decision may be in you sufficient to prevent your weakly yielding to the feeling, be sure you always sympathize with failure;—honest, laborious failure. And I think all but very malicious persons generally do sympathize with it. It is easier to sympathize with failure than with success. No trace of envy comes in to mar your sympathy, and you have a pleasant sense that you are looking down from a loftier elevation. The average man likes to have some one to look down upon—even to look down upon kindly. I remember being greatly touched by hearing of a young man of much promise, who went to preach his first sermon in a little church by the sea-shore in a lonely highland glen. He preached his sermon, and got on pretty fairly; but after service he went down to the shore of the far-sounding sea, and wept to think how sadly he had fallen short of his ideal, how poor was his appearance compared to what he had intended and hoped. Perhaps a foolish vanity and self-conceit was at the foundation of his disappointment; but though I did not know him at all, I could not but have a very kindly sympathy for him. I heard, years afterwards, with great pleasure, that he had attained to no small eminence and success as a pulpit orator; and I should not have alluded to him here but for the fact that in early youth, and amid greater expectations of him, he passed away from this life of high aims and poor fulfilments. I think how poor Keats, no doubt morbidly ambitious as well as morbidly sensitive, declared in his preface to Endymion that 'there is no fiercer hell than failure in a great attempt.'
Most thoughtful men must feel it a curious and interesting study, to trace the history of the closing days of those persons who have calmly and deliberately, in no sudden heat of passion, taken away their own life. In such cases, of course, we see the sense of failure, absolute and complete. They have quietly resolved lo give up life as a losing game. You remember the poor man who, having spent his last shilling, retired to a wood far from human dwellings, and there died voluntarily by starvation. He kept a diary of those days of gradual death, setting out his feelings both of body and mind. No nourishment passed his lips after he had chosen his last resting-place, save a little water, which he dragged himself to a pond to drink. He was not discovered till he was dead; but his melancholy chronicle appeared to have been carried down to very near the time when he became unconscious. I remember its great characteristic appeared to be a sense of utter failure. There seemed to be no passion, none of the bitter desperate resolution which prompts the energetic 'Anywhere, anywhere, out of the world;' but merely a weary, lonely wish to creep quietly away. I have no look but one of sorrow and pity to cast on the poor suicide's grave. I think the common English verdict is right as well as charitable, which supposes that in every such case reason has become unhinged, and responsibility is gone. And what desperate misery, what a black horrible anguish of heart, whether expressing itself calmly or feverishly, must have laid its gripe upon a human being before it can overcome in him the natural clinging to life, and make him deliberately turn his back upon 'the warm precincts of the cheerful day.' No doubt it is the saddest of all sad ends; but I do not forget that a certain Authority, the highest of all authorities, said to all human beings, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' The writer has, in the course of his duty, looked upon more than one suicide's dead face; and the lines of Hood appeared to sketch the fit feeling with which to do so:—
Owning her weakness, Her evil behaviour; And leaving, with meekness, Her soul to her Saviour.
What I have just written recalls to me, by some link of association, the words I once heard a simple old Scotch-woman utter by her son's deathbed. He was a young man of twenty-two, a pious and good young man, and I had seen him very often throughout his gradual decline. Calling one morning, I found he was gone, and his mother begged me to come and see his face once more; and standing for the last time by him, I said (and I could say them honestly) some words of Christian comfort to the poor old woman. I told her, in words far better than any of my own, how the Best Friend of mankind had said, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die.' I remember well her answer. 'Aye,' said she, 'he gaed away trusting in that; and he'll be sorely disappointed if he doesna' find it so.' Let me venture to express my hope, that when my readers and I pass within the veil, we may run the risk of no other disappointment than that these words should prove false; and then it will be well with us. There will be no disappointment there, in the sense of things failing to come up to our expectations.
Let it be added, that there are disappointments with which even the kindest hearts will have no sympathy, and failures over which we may without malignity rejoice. You do not feel very deeply for the disappointed burglar, who retires from your dwelling at 3 A. M., leaving a piece of the calf of his leg in the jaws of your trusty watch-dog; nor for the Irish bog-trotter who (poor fellow), from behind the hedge, misses his aim at the landlord who fed him and his family through the season of famine. You do not feel very deeply for the disappointment of the friend, possibly the slight acquaintance, who with elongated face retires from your study, having failed to persuade you to attach your signature to a bill for some hundreds of pounds 'just as a matter of form.' Very likely he wants the money; so did the burglar: but is that any reason why you should give it to him? Refer him to the wealthy and influential relatives of whom he has frequently talked to you; tell him they are the very people to assist him in such a case with their valuable autograph. As for yourself, tell him you know what you owe to your children and yourself; and say that the slightest recurrence to such a subject must be the conclusion of all intercourse between you. Ah, poor disappointed fellow! How heartless it is in you to refuse to pay, out of your hard earnings, the money which he so jauntily and freely spent!
How should disappointment be met? Well, that is far too large a question to be taken up at this stage of my essay, though there are various suggestions which I should like to make. Some disappointed men take to gardening and farming; and capital things they are. But when disappointment is extreme, it will paralyse you so that you will suffer the weeds to grow up all about you, without your having the heart to set your mind to the work of having the place made neat. The state of a man's garden is a very delicate and sensitive test as to whether he is keeping hopeful and well-to-do. It is to me a very sad sight to see a parsonage getting a dilapidated look, and the gravel walks in its garden growing weedy. The parson must be growing old and poor. The parishioners tell you how trim and orderly everything was when he came first to the parish. But his affairs have become embarrassed, or his wife and children are dead; and though still doing his duty well, and faithfully, he has lost heart and interest in these little matters; and so things are as you see.