The Map of Life - Conduct and Character
by William Edward Hartpole Lecky
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The Rt. Hon. W. E. H. LECKY.

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Conduct and Character



'La vie n'est pas un plaisir ni une douleur, mais une affaire grave dont nous sommes charges, et qu'il faut conduire et terminer a notre honneur' TOCQUEVILLE

New Impression

Longmans, Green, and Co. 39 Paternoster Row, London New York and Bombay 1904

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Bibliographical Note.

First printed, 8vo, September 1899. Reprinted November 1899; December 1899; January 1900 (with corrections). Cabinet Edition, Crown 8vo, February 1901. Reprinted December, 1902. July, 1904



How far reasoning on happiness is of any use 1 The arguments of the Determinist 2 The arguments for free will 3 Securus judicat orbis terrarum 5


Happiness a condition of mind and often confused with the means of attaining it 7 Circumstances and character contribute to it in different degrees 7 Religion, Stoicism, and Eastern nations seek it mainly by acting on disposition 7 Sensational philosophies and industrial and progressive nations seek it chiefly in improved circumstances 8 English character 8 Action of the body on happiness 10 Influence of predispositions in reasonings on life 12 Promotion of health by legislation, fashion and self-culture 12 Slight causes of life failures 14 Effects of sanitary reform 14 Diminished disease does not always imply a higher level of health 15 Two causes depressing health 16 Encroachments on liberty in sanitary legislation 16 Sanitary education—its chief articles—its possible exaggeration 17 Constant thought about health not the way to attain it 18


Some general rules of happiness—1. A life full of work.—Happiness should not be the main object of pursuit 19 Carlyle on Ennui 20 2. Aim rather at avoiding suffering than attaining pleasure 21 3. The greatest pleasures and pains in spheres accessible to all 22 4. Importance and difficulty of realising our blessings while they last 24 Comparison and contrast 26 Content not the quality of progressive societies 27 The problem of balancing content and the desire for progress 28 What civilisation can do for happiness 28


The relation of morals to happiness.—The Utilitarian justification of virtue insufficient 30 Power of man to aim at something different from and higher than happiness 32 General coincidence of duty and happiness 33 The creation of unselfish interests one of the chief elements of happiness 34 Burke on a well-ordered life 35 Improvement of character more within our power than improvement of intellect 36 High moral qualities often go with low intellectual power 36 Dangers attaching to the unselfish side of our nature.—Active charity personally supervised least subject to abuse 37 Disproportioned compassion 38 Treatment of animals 41


Changes of morals chiefly in the proportionate value attached to different virtues 44 Military, civic, and intellectual virtues 44 The mediaeval type 45 Modifications introduced by Protestantism 47 Bossuet and Louis XIV. 48 Persecution.—Operations at childbirth.—Usury 50 Every great religion and philosophic system produces or favours a distinct moral type 51 Variations in moral judgments 51 Complexity of moral influences of modern times.—The industrial type 53 Qualified by other influences 54 Unnecessary suffering 57 Goethe's exposition of modern morals 58 Morals hitherto too much treated negatively 59 Possibility of an over-sensitive conscience 60 Increased sense of the obligations of an active life 61


In the guidance of life action more important than pure reasoning 62 The enforcement of active duty now specially needed 62 Temptations to luxurious idleness 63 Rectification of false ideals.—The conqueror 64 The luxury of ostentation 64 Glorification of the demi-monde 66 Study of ideals 67 The human mind more capable of distinguishing right from wrong than of measuring merit and demerit 67 Fallibility of moral judgments 68 Rules for moral judgment 73


The school of Rousseau considers man by nature wholly good 76 Other schools maintain that he is absolutely depraved 76 Exaggerations of these schools 78 The restraining conscience distinctively human.—Comparison with the animals 79 Reality of human depravity.—Illustrated by war 81 Large amount of pure malevolence.—Political crime.—The press 83 Mendacity in finance 85 The sane view of human character 86 We learn with age to value restraints, to expect moderately and value compromise 86


Moral compromise a necessity in life.—Statement of Newman 88 Impossibility of acting on it 88 Moral considerations though the highest must not absorb all others 90 Truthfulness—cases in which it may be departed from 91

Moral compromise in war War necessarily stimulates the malevolent passions and practises deception 92 Rights of war in early stages of civilisation 93 Distinction between Greeks and Barbarians 94 Roman moralists insisted on just causes of war and on formal declaration 95 Treatment of prisoners.—Combatants and non-combatants 95 Treatment of private property 96 Lawful and unlawful methods of conducting war 96 Abdication by the soldier of private judgment and free will 98 Distinctions and compromises 99 Cases in which the military oath may be broken.—Illegal orders 100 Violation of religious obligations.—The Sepoy mutiny 101 The Italian conscript.—Fenians in the British army 104


Moral compromise in the law What advocates may and may not do 108 Inevitable temptations of the profession 109 Its condemnation by Swift, Arnold, Macaulay, Bentham 109 Its defence by Paley, Johnson, Basil Montagu 110 How far a lawyer may support a bad case.—St. Thomas Aquinas and Catholic casuists 111 Sir Matthew Hale.—General custom in England 113 Distinction between the etiquette of prosecution and of defence 113 The case of Courvoisier 114 Statement of Lord Brougham 115 The license of cross-examination.—Technicalities defeating justice 116 Advantage of trial by jury 119 Necessity of the profession of advocate 119

Moral compromise in politics Necessity of party 120 How far conscientious differences should impair party allegiance 121 Lines of conduct adopted when such differences arise 121 Parliamentary obstruction 123 Moral difficulties inseparable from party 124 Evil of extreme view of party allegiance.—Government and the Opposition 125 Relations of members to their constituents 127 Votes given without adequate knowledge 131 Diminished power of the private member 134



Duty of a statesman when the interests and wishes of his nation conflict 136 Nature and extent of political trusteeship 137 Temperance questions 138 Legitimate and illegitimate time-serving 141 Education questions 141 Inconsistency in politics—how far it should be condemned 147 The conduct of Peel in 1829 and 1845 148 The conduct of Disraeli in 1867 149 Different degrees of weight to be attached to party considerations 151 Temptations to war 153 Temptations of aristocratic and of democratic governments 155 Necessity of assimilating legislation 157 Legislation violating contracts.—Irish land legislation 158 Questions forced into prominence for party objects 164 The judgment of public servants who have committed indefensible acts 165 The French coup d'etat of 1851 166 Judgments passed upon it 177 Probable multiplication of coups d'etat 182 Governor Eyre 184 The Jameson raid 185 How statesmen should deal with political misdeeds 190 The standard of international morals—questions connected with it 191 The ethics of annexation 195 Political morals and public opinion 196


Moral compromise in the Church Difficulties of reconciling old formularies with changed beliefs 198 Cause of some great revolutions of belief.—The Copernican system.—Discovery of Newton 198 The antiquity of the world, of death, and of man 200 The Darwinian theory 201 Comparative mythology.—Biblical criticism.—Scientific habits of thought 201 General incorporation of new ideas into the Church 204 Growth of the sacerdotal spirit 204 The two theories of the Reformation 205 Modern Ritualism 210 Its various elements of attraction 211 Diversity of teaching has not enfeebled the Church 213 Its literary activity.—Proofs that the Church is in touch with educated laymen 214 Its political influence—how far this is a test of vitality 218 Its influence on education 219 Its spiritual influence 220 How far clergymen who dissent from parts of its theology can remain within it 221 Newman on a Latitudinarian establishment 223 Obligations imposed on the clergy by the fact of Establishment 224 Attitude of laymen towards the Church 225 Increasing sense of the relativity of belief 226 This tendency strengthens with age 227 The conflict between belief and scepticism 229 Power of religion to undergo transformation 229 Probable influence of the sacerdotal spirit on the Church 231



A sound judgment of our own characters essential to moral improvement 235 Analogies between character and taste 236 The strongest desire generally prevails, but desires may be modified 238 Passions and habits 239 Exaggerated regard for the future.—A happy childhood 239 Choice of pleasures.—Athletic games 240 The intellectual pleasures 242 Their tendency to enhance other pleasures.—Importance of specialisation 243 And of judicious selection 243 Education may act specially on the desires or on the will 245 Modern education and tendencies of the former kind 245 Old Catholic training mainly of the will.—Its effects 247 Anglo-Saxon types in the seventeenth century 248 Capriciousness of willpower—heroism often succumbs to vice 249 Courage—its varieties and inconsistencies 250 The circumstances of life the school of will.—Its place in character 251 Dangers of an early competence.—Choice of work 252 Choice of friends.—Effect of early friendship on character 254 Mastery of will over thoughts.—Its intellectual importance 255 Its importance in moral culture 255 Great difference among men in this respect 256 Means of governing thought 258 The dream power—its great place in life 258 Especially in the early stages of humanity 261 Moral safety valves—danger of inventing unreal crimes 262 Character of the English gentleman 266 Different ways of treating temptation 266



Henry Taylor on its relation to character 268 Difference between real and professed beliefs about money 268 Its relation to happiness in different grades of life 269 The cost of pleasures 275 Lives of the millionaires 281 Leaders of Society 284 The great speculator 287 Expenditure in charity.—Rules for regulating it 288 Advantages and disadvantages of a large very wealthy class in a nation 292 Directions in which philanthropic expenditure may be best turned 296



Its importance and the motives that lead to it 300 The moral and intellectual qualities it specially demands 302 Duty to the unborn.—Improvident marriages 305 The doctrine of heredity and its consequences 306 Religious celibacy 308 Marriages of dissimilar types often peculiarly happy 309 Marriages resulting from a common weakness 310 Independent spheres in marriage.—Effect on character 311 The age of marriage 312 Increased independence of women 314



Success depends more on character than on intellect 316 Especially that accessible to most men and most conducive to happiness 317 Strength of will, tact and judgment.—Not always joined 317 Their combination a great element of success 318 Good nature 319 Tact: its nature and its importance 320 Its intellectual and moral affinities 323 Value of good society in cultivating it.—Newman's description of a gentleman 324 Disparities between merit and success 326 Success not universally desired 326



Rebellion of human nature against the essential conditions of life 328 Time 'the stuff of life' 330 Various ways of treating it 330 Increased intensity of life 331 Sleep 332 Apparent inequalities of time 335 The tenure of life not too short 337 Old age 341 The growing love of rest.—How time should be regarded 341



Death terrible chiefly through its accessories 343 Pagan and Christian ideas about it 344 Premature death 349 How easily the fear of death is overcome 351 The true way of regarding it 352



One of the first questions that must naturally occur to every writer who deals with the subject of this book is, what influence mere discussion and reasoning can have in promoting the happiness of men. The circumstances of our lives and the dispositions of our characters mainly determine the measure of happiness we enjoy, and mere argument about the causes of happiness and unhappiness can do little to affect them. It is impossible to read the many books that have been written on these subjects without feeling how largely they consist of mere sounding generalities which the smallest experience shows to be perfectly impotent in the face of some real and acute sorrow, and it is equally impossible to obtain any serious knowledge of the world without perceiving that a large proportion of the happiest lives and characters are to be found where introspection, self-analysis and reasonings about the good and evil of life hold the smallest place. Happiness, indeed, like health, is one of the things of which men rarely think except when it is impaired, and much that has been written on the subject has been written under the stress of some great depression. Such writers are like the man in Hogarth's picture occupying himself in the debtors' prison with plans for the payment of the National Debt. There are moments when all of us feel the force of the words of Voltaire: 'Travaillons sans raisonner, c'est le seul moyen de rendre la vie supportable.'

That there is much truth in such considerations is incontestable, and it is only within a restricted sphere that the province of reasoning extends. Man comes into the world with mental and moral characteristics which he can only very imperfectly influence, and a large proportion of the external circumstances of his life lie wholly or mainly beyond his control. At the same time, every one recognises the power of skill, industry and perseverance to modify surrounding circumstances; the power of temperance and prudence to strengthen a naturally weak constitution, prolong life, and diminish the chances of disease; the power of education and private study to develop, sharpen and employ to the best advantage our intellectual faculties. Every one also recognises how large a part of the unhappiness of most men may be directly traced to their own voluntary and deliberate acts. The power each man possesses in the education and management of his character, and especially in the cultivation of the dispositions and tendencies which most largely contribute to happiness, is less recognised and is perhaps less extensive, but it is not less real.

The eternal question of free will and determinism here naturally meets us, but on such a subject it is idle to suppose that a modern writer can do more than define the question and state his own side. The Determinist says that the real question is not whether a man can do what he desires, but whether he can do what he does not desire; whether the will can act without a motive; whether that motive can in the last analysis be other than the strongest pleasure. The illusion of free will, he maintains, is only due to the conflict of our motives. Under many forms and disguises pleasure and pain have an absolute empire over conduct. The will is nothing more than the last and strongest desire; or it is like a piece of iron surrounded by magnets and necessarily drawn by the most powerful; or (as has been ingeniously imagined) like a weathercock, conscious of its own motion, but not conscious of the winds that are moving it. The law of compulsory causation applies to the world of mind as truly as to the world of matter. Heredity and Circumstance make us what we are. Our actions are the inevitable result of the mental and moral constitutions with which we came into the world, operated on by external influences.

The supporters of free will, on the other hand, maintain that it is a fact of consciousness that there is a clear distinction between the Will and the Desires, and that although they are closely connected no sound analysis will confuse them. Coleridge ingeniously compared their relations to 'the co-instantaneous yet reciprocal action of the air and the vital energy of the lungs in breathing.'[1] If the will is powerfully acted on by the desires, it has also in its turn a power of acting upon them, and it is not a mere slave to pleasure and pain. The supporters of this view maintain that it is a fact of the plainest consciousness that we can do things which we do not like; that we can suspend the force of imperious desires, resist the bias of our nature, pursue for the sake of duty the course which gives least pleasure without deriving or expecting from it any pleasure, and select at a given moment between alternate courses. They maintain that when various motives pass before the mind, the mind retains a power of choosing and judging, of accepting and rejecting; that it can by force of reason or by force of imagination bring one motive into prominence, concentrating its attention on it and thus intensifying its power; that it has a corresponding power of resisting other motives, driving them into the background and thus gradually diminishing their force; that the will itself becomes stronger by exercise, as the desires do by indulgence. The conflict between the will and the desires, the reality of self-restraint and the power of Will to modify character, are among the most familiar facts of moral life. In the words of Burke, 'It is the prerogative of man to be in a great degree a creature of his own making.' There are men whose whole lives are spent in willing one thing and desiring the opposite, and all morality depends upon the supposition that we have at least some freedom of choice between good and evil. 'I ought,' as Kant says, necessarily implies 'I can.' The feeling of moral responsibility is an essential part of healthy and developed human nature, and it inevitably presupposes free will. The best argument in its favour is that it is impossible really to disbelieve it. No human being can prevent himself from viewing certain acts with an indignation, shame, remorse, resentment, gratitude, enthusiasm, praise or blame, which would be perfectly unmeaning and irrational if these acts could not have been avoided. We can have no higher evidence on the subject than is derived from this fact. It is impossible to explain the mystery of free will, but until a man ceases to feel these emotions he has not succeeded in disbelieving in it. The feelings of all men and the vocabularies of all languages attest the universality of the belief.

Newman, in a well-known passage in his 'Apologia,' describes the immense effect which the sentence of Augustine, 'Securus judicat orbis terrarum,' had upon his opinions in determining him to embrace the Church of Rome. The force of this consideration in relation to the subject to which Dr. Newman refers does not appear to have great weight. It means only that at a time when the Christian Church included but a small fraction of the human race; when all questions of orthodoxy or the reverse were practically in the hands of the priesthood; when ignorance, credulity and superstition were at their height and the habits of independence and impartiality of judgment running very low; and when every kind of violent persecution was directed against those who dissented from the prevailing dogmas,—certain councils of priests found it possible to attain unanimity on such questions as the two natures in Christ or the relations of the Persons in the Trinity, and to expel from the Church those who differed from their views, and that the once formidable sects which held slightly different opinions about these inscrutable relations gradually faded away. Such an unanimity on such subjects and attained by such methods does not appear to me to carry with it any overwhelming force. There are, however, a certain number of beliefs that are not susceptible of demonstrative proof, and which must always rest essentially on the universal assent of mankind. Such is the existence of the external world. Such, in my opinion, is the existence of a distinction between right and wrong, different from and higher than the distinction between pleasure and pain, and subsisting in all human nature in spite of great diversities of opinion about the acts and qualities that are comprised in either category; and such also is the kindred belief in a self-determining will. If men contend that these things are mere illusions and that their faculties are not to be trusted, it will no doubt be difficult or impossible to refute them; but a scepticism of this kind has no real influence on either conduct or feeling.


[1] Aids to Reflection, p. 68.


Men continually forget that Happiness is a condition of Mind and not a disposition of circumstances, and one of the most common of errors is that of confusing happiness with the means of happiness, sacrificing the first for the attainment of the second. It is the error of the miser, who begins by seeking money for the enjoyment it procures and ends by making the mere acquisition of money his sole object, pursuing it to the sacrifice of all rational ends and pleasures. Circumstances and Character both contribute to Happiness, but the proportionate attention paid to one or other of these great departments not only varies largely with different individuals, but also with different nations and in different ages. Thus Religion acts mainly in the formation of dispositions, and it is especially in this field that its bearing on human happiness should be judged. It influences, it is true, vastly and variously the external circumstances of life, but its chief power of comforting and supporting lies in its direct and immediate action upon the human soul. The same thing is true of some systems of philosophy of which Stoicism is the most conspicuous. The paradox of the Stoic that good and evil are so entirely from within that to a wise man all external circumstances are indifferent, represents this view of life in its extreme form. Its more moderate form can hardly be better expressed than in the saying of Dugald Stewart that 'the great secret of happiness is to study to accommodate our own minds to things external rather than to accommodate things external to ourselves.'[2] It is eminently the characteristic of Eastern nations to place their ideals mainly in states of mind or feeling rather than in changes of circumstances, and in such nations men are much less desirous than in European countries of altering the permanent conditions of their lives.

On the other hand, the tendency of those philosophies which treat man—his opinions and his character—essentially as the result of circumstances, and which aggrandise the influence of the external world upon mankind, is in the opposite direction. All the sensational philosophies from Bacon and Locke to our own day tend to concentrate attention on the external circumstances and conditions of happiness. And the same tendency will be naturally found in the most active, industrial and progressive nations; where life is very full and busy; where its competitions are most keen; where scientific discoveries are rapidly multiplying pleasures or diminishing pains; where town life with its constant hurry and change is the most prominent. In such spheres men naturally incline to seek happiness from without rather than from within, or, in other words, to seek it much less by acting directly on the mind and character than through the indirect method of improved circumstances.

English character on both sides of the Atlantic is an eminently objective one—a character in which thoughts, interests and emotions are most habitually thrown on that which is without. Introspection and self-analysis are not congenial to it. No one can compare English life with life even in the Continental nations which occupy the same rank in civilisation without perceiving how much less Englishmen are accustomed either to dwell upon their emotions or to give free latitude to their expression. Reticence and self-restraint are the lessons most constantly inculcated. The whole tone of society favours it. In times of great sorrow a degree of shame is attached to demonstrations of grief which in other countries would be deemed perfectly natural. The disposition to dilate upon and perpetuate an old grief by protracted mournings, by carefully observed anniversaries, by long periods of retirement from the world, is much less common than on the Continent and it is certainly diminishing. The English tendency is to turn away speedily from the past, and to seek consolation in new fields of activity. Emotions translate themselves speedily into action, and they lose something of their intensity by the transformation. Philanthropy is nowhere more active and more practical, and religion has in few countries a greater hold on the national life, but English Protestantism reflects very clearly the national characteristics. It, no doubt, like all religions, lays down rules for the government of thought and feeling, but these are of a very general character. Preeminently a regulator of conduct, it lays comparatively little stress upon the inner life. It discourages, or at least neglects that minutely introspective habit of thought which the confessional is so much calculated to promote, which appears so prominently in the writings of the Catholic Saints, and which finds its special representation in the mystics and the religious contemplative orders. Improved conduct and improved circumstances are to an English mind the chief and almost the only measures of progress.

That this tendency is on the whole a healthy one, I, at least, firmly believe, but it brings with it certain manifest limitations and somewhat incapacitates men from judging other types of character and happiness. The part that circumstances play in the formation of our characters is indeed very manifest, and it is a humiliating truth that among these circumstances mere bodily conditions which we share with the animals hold a foremost place. In the long run and to the great majority of men health is probably the most important of all the elements of happiness. Acute physical suffering or shattered health will more than counterbalance the best gifts of fortune, and the bias of our nature and even the processes of our reasoning are largely influenced by physical conditions. Hume has spoken of that 'disposition to see the favourable rather than the unfavourable side of things which it is more happiness to possess than to be heir to an estate of 10,000l. a year;' but this gift of a happy temperament is very evidently greatly due to bodily conditions. On the other hand, it is well known how speedily and how powerfully bodily ailments react upon our moral natures. Every one is aware of the morbid irritability that is produced by certain maladies of the nerves or of the brain; of the deep constitutional depression which often follows diseases of the liver, or prolonged sleeplessness and other hypochondriacal maladies, and which not only deprives men of most of their capacity of enjoyment, but also infallibly gives a colour and a bias to their reasonings on life; of the manner in which animal passions as well as animal spirits are affected by certain well-known conditions of age and health. In spite of the 'coelum non animum mutant' of Horace, few men fail to experience how different is the range of spirits in the limbo-like atmosphere of a London winter and beneath the glories of an Italian sky or in the keen bracing atmosphere of the mountain side, and it is equally apparent how differently we judge the world when we are jaded by a long spell of excessive work or refreshed after a night of tranquil sleep. Poetry and Painting are probably not wrong in associating a certain bilious temperament with a predisposition to envy, or an anaemic or lymphatic temperament with a saintly life, and there are well-attested cases in which an acute illness has fundamentally altered characters, sometimes replacing an habitual gloom by buoyancy and light.[3] That invaluable gift which enables some men to cast aside trouble and turn their thoughts and energies swiftly and decisively into new channels can be largely strengthened by the action of the will, but according to some physiologists it has a well-ascertained physical antecedent in the greater or less contractile power of the blood-vessels which feed the brain causing the flow of blood into it to be stronger or less rapid. If it be true that 'a healthy mind in a healthy body' is the supreme condition of happiness, it is also true that the healthy mind depends more closely than we like to own on the healthy body.

These are but a few obvious instances of the manner in which the body acts upon happiness. They do not mean that the will is powerless in the face of bodily conditions, but that in the management of character it has certain very definite predispositions to encounter. In reasonings on life, even more than on other things, a good reasoner will consider not only the force of the opposing arguments, but also the bias to which his own mind is subject. To raise the level of national health is one of the surest ways of raising the level of national happiness, and in estimating the value of different pleasures many which, considered in themselves, might appear to rank low upon the scale, will rank high, if in addition to the immediate and transient enjoyment they procure, they contribute to form a strong and healthy body. No branch of legislation is more really valuable than that which is occupied with the health of the people, whether it takes the form of encouraging the means by which remedies may be discovered and diffused, or of extirpating by combined efforts particular diseases, or of securing that the mass of labour in the community should as far as possible be carried on under sound sanitary conditions. Fashion also can do much, both for good and ill. It exercises over great multitudes an almost absolute empire, regulating their dress, their education, their hours, their amusements, their food, their scale of expenditure; determining the qualities to which they principally aspire, the work in which they may engage, and even the form of beauty which they most cultivate. It is happy for a nation when this mighty influence is employed in encouraging habits of life which are beneficial or at least not gravely prejudicial to health. Nor is any form of individual education more really valuable than that which teaches the main conditions of a healthy life and forms those habits of temperance and self-restraint that are most likely to attain it.

With its great recuperative powers Youth can do with apparent impunity many things which in later life bring a speedy Nemesis; but on the other hand Youth is pre-eminently the period when habits and tastes are formed, and the yoke which is then lightly, willingly, wantonly assumed will in after years acquire a crushing weight. Few things are more striking than the levity of the motives, the feebleness of the impulses under which in youth fatal steps are taken which bring with them a weakened life and often an early grave. Smoking in manhood, when practised in moderation, is a very innocent and probably beneficent practice, but it is well known how deleterious it is to young boys, and how many of them have taken to it through no other motive than a desire to appear older than they are—that surest of all signs that we are very young. How often have the far more pernicious habits of drinking, or gambling, or frequenting corrupt society been acquired through a similar motive, or through the mere desire to enjoy the charm of a forbidden pleasure or to stand well with some dissipated companions! How large a proportion of lifelong female debility is due to an early habit of tight lacing, springing only from the silliest vanity! How many lives have been sacrificed through the careless recklessness which refused to take the trouble of changing wet clothes! How many have been shattered and shortened by excess in things which in moderation are harmless, useful, or praiseworthy,—by the broken blood-vessel, due to excess in some healthy athletic exercise or game; by the ruined brain overstrained in order to win some paltry prize! It is melancholy to observe how many lives have been broken down, ruined or corrupted in attempts to realise some supreme and unattainable desire; through the impulse of overmastering passion, of powerful and perhaps irresistible temptation. It is still sadder to observe how large a proportion of the failures of life may be ultimately traced to the most insignificant causes and might have been avoided without any serious effort either of intellect or will.

The success with which medicine and sanitary science have laboured to prolong life, to extirpate or diminish different forms of disease and to alleviate their consequences is abundantly proved. In all civilised countries the average of life has been raised, and there is good reason to believe that not only old age but also active, useful, enjoyable old age has become much more frequent. It is true that the gain to human happiness is not quite as great as might at first sight be imagined. Death is least sad when it comes in infancy or in extreme old age, and the increased average of life is largely due to the great diminution in infant mortality, which is in truth a very doubtful blessing. If extreme old age is a thing to be desired, it is perhaps chiefly because it usually implies a constitution which gives many earlier years of robust and healthy life. But with all deductions the triumphs of sanitary reform as well as of medical science are perhaps the brightest page in the history of our century. Some of the measures which have proved most useful can only be effected at some sacrifice of individual freedom and by widespread coercive sanitary regulations, and are thus more akin to despotism than to free government. How different would have been the condition of the world, and how far greater would have been the popularity of strong monarchy if at the time when such a form of government generally prevailed rulers had had the intelligence to put before them the improvement of the health and the prolongation of the lives of their subjects as the main object of their policy rather than military glory or the acquisition of territory or mere ostentatious and selfish display!

There is, however, some reason to believe that the diminution of disease and the prolongation of average human life are not necessarily or even generally accompanied by a corresponding improvement in general health. 'Acute diseases,' says an excellent judge, 'which are eminently fatal, prevail, on the contrary, in a population where the standard of health is high.... Thus a high rate of mortality may often be observed in a community where the number of persons affected with disease is small, and on the other hand general physical depression may concur with the prevalence of chronic maladies and yet be unattended with a great proportion of deaths.'[4] An anaemic population, free from severe illness, but living habitually at a low level of health and with the depressed spirits and feeble capacity of enjoyment which such a condition produces, is far from an ideal state, and there is much reason to fear that this type is an increasing one. Many things in modern life, among which ill-judged philanthropy and ill-judged legislation have no small part, contribute to produce it, but two causes probably dominate over all others. The one is to be found in sanitary science itself, which enables great numbers of constitutionally weak children who in other days would have died in infancy to grow up and marry and propagate a feeble offspring. The other is the steady movement of population from the country to the towns, which is one of the most conspicuous features of modern civilisation. These two influences inevitably and powerfully tend to depress the vitality of a nation, and by doing so to lower the level of animal spirits which is one of the most essential elements of happiness. Whether our improved standards of living and our much greater knowledge of sanitary conditions altogether counteract them is very doubtful.

In this as in most questions affecting life there are opposite dangers to be avoided, and wisdom lies mainly in a just sense of proportion and degree. That sanitary reform, promoted by governments, has on the whole been a great blessing seems to me scarcely open to reasonable question, but many of the best judges are of opinion that it may easily be pushed to dangerous extremes. Pew things are more curious than to observe how rapidly during the past generation the love of individual liberty has declined; how contentedly the English race are submitting great departments of their lives to a web of regulations restricting and encircling them. Each individual case must be considered on its merits, and few persons will now deny that the right of adult men and women to regulate the conditions of their own work and to determine the risks that they will assume may be wisely infringed in more cases than the Manchester School would have admitted. At the same time the marked tendency of this generation to extend the stringency and area of coercive legislation in the fields of industry and sanitary reform is one that should be carefully watched. Its exaggerations may in more ways than one greatly injure the very classes it is intended to benefit.

A somewhat corresponding statement may be made about individual sanitary education. It is, as I have said, a matter of the most vital importance that we should acquire in youth the knowledge and the habits that lead to a healthy life. The main articles of the sanitary creed are few and simple. Moderation and self-restraint in all things—an abundance of exercise, of fresh air, and of cold water—a sufficiency of steady work not carried to excess—occasional change of habits and abstinence from a few things which are manifestly injurious to health, are the cardinal rules to be observed. In the great lottery of life, men who have observed them all may be doomed to illness, weak vitality, and early death, but they at least add enormously to the chances of a strong and full life. The parent will need further knowledge for the care of his children, but for self-guidance little more is required, and with early habits an observance of the rules of health becomes almost instinctive and unconscious. But while no kind of education is more transcendently important than this, it is not unfrequently carried to an extreme which defeats its own purpose. The habit that so often grows upon men with slight chronic maladies, or feeble temperament, or idle lives, of making their own health and their own ailments the constant subject of their thoughts soon becomes a disease very fatal to happiness and positively injurious to health. It is well known how in an epidemic the panic-stricken are most liable to the contagion, and the life of the habitual valetudinarian tends promptly to depress the nerve energy which provides the true stamina of health. In the words of an eminent physician, 'It is not by being anxious in an inordinate or unduly fussy fashion that men can hope to live long and well. The best way to live well is to work well. Good work is the daily test and safeguard of personal health.... The practical aim should be to live an orderly and natural life. We were not intended to pick our way through the world trembling at every step.... It is worse than vain, for it encourages and increases the evil it attempts to relieve.... I firmly believe one half of the confirmed invalids of the day could be cured of their maladies if they were compelled to live busy and active lives and had no time to fret over their miseries.... One of the most seductive and mischievous of errors in self-management is the practice of giving way to inertia, weakness and depression.... Those who desire to live should settle this well in their minds, that nerve power is the force of life and that the will has a wondrously strong and direct influence over the body through the brain and the nervous system.'[5]


[2] Active and Moral Powers, ii. 312.

[3] Much curious information on this subject will be found in Cabanis' Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme.

[4] Kay's Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes, p. 75.

[5] Mortimer Granville's How to Make the Best of Life.


Before entering into a more particular account of the chief elements of a happy life it may be useful to devote a few pages to some general considerations on the subject.

One of the first and most clearly recognised rules to be observed is that happiness is most likely to be attained when it is not the direct object of pursuit. In early youth we are accustomed to divide life broadly into work and play, regarding the first as duty or necessity and the second as pleasure. One of the great differences between childhood and manhood is that we come to like our work more than our play. It becomes to us, if not the chief pleasure, at least the chief interest of our lives, and even when it is not this, an essential condition of our happiness. Few lives produce so little happiness as those that are aimless and unoccupied. Apart from all considerations of right and wrong, one of the first conditions of a happy life is that it should be a full and busy one, directed to the attainment of aims outside ourselves. Anxiety and Ennui are the Scylla and Charybdis on which the bark of human happiness is most commonly wrecked. If a life of luxurious idleness and selfish ease in some measure saves men from the first danger, it seldom fails to bring with it the second. No change of scene, no multiplicity of selfish pleasures will in the long run enable them to escape it. As Carlyle says, 'The restless, gnawing ennui which, like a dark, dim, ocean flood, communicating with the Phlegethons and Stygian deeps, begirdles every human life so guided—is it not the painful cry even of that imprisoned heroism?... You ask for happiness. "Oh give me happiness," and they hand you ever new varieties of covering for the skin, ever new kinds of supply for the digestive apparatus.... Well, rejoice in your upholsteries and cookeries if so be they will make you "happy." Let the varieties of them be continual and innumerable. In all things let perpetual change, if that is a perpetual blessing to you, be your portion instead of mine. Incur the prophet's curse and in all things in this sublunary world "make yourselves like unto a wheel." Mount into your railways; whirl from place to place at the rate of fifty or, if you like, of five hundred miles an hour; you cannot escape from that inexorable, all-encircling ocean moan of ennui. No; if you could mount to the stars and do yacht voyages under the belts of Jupiter or stalk deer on the ring of Saturn it would still begirdle you. You cannot escape from it; you can but change your place in it without solacement except one moment's. That prophetic Sermon from the Deeps will continue with you till you wisely interpret it and do it or else till the Crack of Doom swallow it and you.'[6]

It needs but a few years of life experience to realise the profound truth of this passage. An ideal life would be furnished with abundant work of a kind that is congenial both to our intellects and our characters and that brings with it much interest and little anxiety. Few of us can command this. Most men's work is largely determined for them by circumstances, though in the guidance of life there are many alternatives and much room for skilful pilotage. But the first great rule is that we must do something—that life must have a purpose and an aim—that work should be not merely occasional and spasmodic, but steady and continuous. Pleasure is a jewel which will only retain its lustre when it is in a setting of work, and a vacant life is one of the worst of pains, though the islands of leisure that stud a crowded, well-occupied life may be among the things to which we look back with the greatest delight.

Another great truth is conveyed in the saying of Aristotle that a wise man will make it his aim rather to avoid suffering than to attain pleasure. Men can in reality do very little to mitigate the force of the great bereavements and the other graver calamities of life. All our systems of philosophy and reasoning are vain when confronted with them. Innate temperament which we cannot greatly change determines whether we sink crushed beneath the blow or possess the buoyancy that can restore health to our natures. The conscious and deliberate pursuit of pleasure is attended by many deceptions and illusions, and rarely leads to lasting happiness. But we can do very much by prudence, self-restraint and intelligent regulation so to manage life as to avoid a large proportion of its calamities and at the same time, by preserving the affections pure and undimmed, by diversifying interests and forming active habits, to combat its tedium and despondency.

Another truth is that both the greatest pleasures and the keenest pains of life lie much more in those humbler spheres which are accessible to all than on the rare pinnacles to which only the most gifted or the most fortunate can attain. It would probably be found upon examination that most men who have devoted their lives successfully to great labours and ambitions, and who have received the most splendid gifts from Fortune, have nevertheless found their chief pleasure in things unconnected with their main pursuits and generally within the reach of common men. Domestic pleasures, pleasures of scenery, pleasures of reading, pleasures of travel or of sport have been the highest enjoyment of men of great ambition, intellect, wealth and position. There is a curious passage in Lord Althorp's Life in which that most popular and successful statesman, towards the close of his long parliamentary life, expressed his emphatic conviction that 'the thing that gave him the greatest pleasure in the world' was 'to see sporting dogs hunt.'[7] I can myself recollect going over a country place with an old member of Parliament who had sat in the House of Commons for nearly fifty years of the most momentous period of modern English history. If questioned he could tell about the stirring scenes of the great Reform Bill of 1832, but it was curious to observe how speedily and inevitably he passed from such matters to the history of the trees on his estate which he had planted and watched at every stage of their growth, and how evidently in the retrospect of life it was to these things and not to the incidents of a long parliamentary career that his affections naturally turned. I once asked an illustrious public man who had served his country with brilliant success in many lands, and who was spending the evening of his life as an active country gentleman in a place which he dearly loved, whether he did not find this sphere too contracted for his happiness. 'Never for a day,' he answered; 'and in every country where I have been, in every post which I have filled, the thought of this place has always been at the back of my mind.' A great writer who had devoted almost his whole life to one gigantic work, and to his own surprise brought it at last to a successful end, sadly observed that amid the congratulations that poured in to him from every side he could not help feeling, when he analysed his own emotions, how tepid was the satisfaction which such a triumph could give him, and what much more vivid gratification he had come to take in hearing the approaching steps of some little children whom he had taught to love him.

It is one of the paradoxes of human nature that the things that are most struggled for and the things that are most envied are not those which give either the most intense or the most unmixed joy. Ambition is the luxury of the happy. It is sometimes, but more rarely, the consolation and distraction of the wretched; but most of those who have trodden its paths, if they deal honestly with themselves, will acknowledge that the gravest disappointments of public life dwindle into insignificance compared with the poignancy of suffering endured at the deathbed of a wife or of a child, and that within the small circle of a family life they have found more real happiness than the applause of nations could ever give.

Look down, look down from your glittering heights, And tell us, ye sons of glory, The joys and the pangs of your eagle flights, The triumph that crowned the story,

The rapture that thrilled when the goal was won, The goal of a life's desire; And a voice replied from the setting sun, Nay, the dearest and best lies nigher.

How oft in such hours our fond thoughts stray To the dream of two idle lovers; To the young wife's kiss; to the child at play; Or the grave which the long grass covers!

And little we'd reck of power or gold, And of all life's vain endeavour, If the heart could glow as it glowed of old, And if youth could abide for ever.

Another consideration in the cultivation of happiness is the importance of acquiring the habit of realising our blessings while they last. It is one of the saddest facts of human nature that we commonly only learn their value by their loss. This, as I have already noticed, is very evidently the case with health. By the laws of our being we are almost unconscious of the action of our bodily organs as long as they are working well. It is only when they are deranged, obstructed or impaired that our attention becomes concentrated upon them. In consequence of this a state of perfect health is rarely fully appreciated until it is lost and during a short period after it has been regained. Gray has described the new sensation of pleasure which convalescence gives in well-known lines:

See the wretch who long has tost On the thorny bed of pain, At length repair his vigour lost And breathe and walk again; The meanest floweret of the vale, The simplest note that swells the gale, The common sun, the air, the skies, To him are opening Paradise.

And what is true of health is true of other things. It is only when some calamity breaks the calm tenor of our ways and deprives us of some gift of fortune we have long enjoyed that we feel how great was the value of what we have lost. There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed. Sometimes, indeed, our perception of this contrast brings with it a lasting and salutary result. In the medicine of Nature a chronic and abiding disquietude or morbidness of temperament is often cured by some keen though more transient sorrow which violently changes the current of our thoughts and imaginations.

The difference between knowledge and realisation is one of the facts of our nature that are most worthy of our attention. Every human mind contains great masses of inert, passive, undisputed knowledge which exercise no real influence on thought or character till something occurs which touches our imagination and quickens this knowledge into activity. Very few things contribute so much to the happiness of life as a constant realisation of the blessings we enjoy. The difference between a naturally contented and a naturally discontented nature is one of the marked differences of innate temperament, but we can do much to cultivate that habit of dwelling on the benefits of our lot which converts acquiescence into a more positive enjoyment. Religion in this field does much, for it inculcates thanksgiving as well as prayer, gratitude for the present and the past as well as hope for the future. Among secular influences, contrast and comparison have the greatest value. Some minds are always looking on the fortunes that are above them and comparing their own penury with the opulence of others. A wise nature will take an opposite course and will cultivate the habit of looking rather at the round of the ladder of fortune which is below our own and realising the countless points in which our lot is better than that of others. As Dr. Johnson says, 'Few are placed in a situation so gloomy and distressful as not to see every day beings yet more forlorn and miserable from whom they may learn to rejoice in their own lot.'

The consolation men derive amid their misfortunes from reflecting upon the still greater misfortunes of others and thus lightening their own by contrast is a topic which must be delicately used, but when so used it is not wrong and it often proves very efficacious. Perhaps the pleasure La Rochefoucauld pretends that men take in the misfortunes of their best friends, if it is a real thing, is partly due to this consideration, as the feeling of pity which is inspired by some sudden death or great trouble falling on others is certainly not wholly unconnected with the realisation that such calamities might fall upon ourselves. It is worthy of notice, however, that while all moralists recognise content as one of the chief ingredients of happiness, some of the strongest influences of modern industrial civilisation are antagonistic to it. The whole theory of progress as taught by Political Economy rests upon the importance of creating wants and desires as a stimulus to exertion. There are countries, especially in southern climates, where the wants of men are very few, and where, as long as those wants are satisfied, men will live a careless and contented life, enjoying the present, thinking very little of the future. Whether the sum of enjoyment in such a population is really less than in our more advanced civilisation is at least open to question. It is a remark of Schopenhauer that the Idyll, which is the only form of poetry specially devoted to the description of human felicity, always paints life in its simplest and least elaborated form, and he sees in this an illustration of his doctrine that the greatest happiness will be found in the simplest and even most uniform life provided it escapes the evil of ennui. The political economist, however, will pronounce the condition of such a people as I have described a deplorable one, and in order to raise them his first task will be to infuse into them some discontent with their lot, to persuade them to multiply their wants and to aspire to a higher standard of comfort, to a fuller and a larger existence. A discontent with existing circumstances is the chief source of a desire to improve them, and this desire is the mainspring of progress. In this theory of life, happiness is sought, not in content, but in improved circumstances, in the development of new capacities of enjoyment, in the pleasure which active existence naturally gives. To maintain in their due proportion in our nature the spirit of content and the desire to improve, to combine a realised appreciation of the blessings we enjoy with a healthy and well-regulated ambition, is no easy thing, but it is the problem which all who aspire to a perfect life should set before themselves. In medio tutissimus ibis is eminently true of the cultivation of character, and some of its best elements become pernicious in their extremes. Thus prudent forethought, which is one of the first conditions of a successful life, may easily degenerate into that most miserable state of mind in which men are perpetually anticipating and dwelling upon the uncertain dangers and evils of an uncertain future. How much indeed of the happiness and misery of men may be included under those two words, realisation and anticipation!

There is no such thing as a Eudaemometer measuring with accuracy the degrees of happiness realised by men in different ages, under different circumstances, and with different characters. Perhaps if such a thing existed it might tend to discourage us by showing that diversities and improvements of circumstances affect real happiness in a smaller degree than we are accustomed to imagine. Our nature accommodates itself speedily to improved circumstances, and they cease to give positive pleasure while their loss is acutely painful. Advanced civilisation brings with it countless and inestimable benefits, but it also brings with it many forms of suffering from which a ruder existence is exempt. There is some reason to believe that it is usually accompanied with a lower range of animal spirits, and it is certainly accompanied with an increased sensitiveness to pain. Some philosophers have contended that this is the best of all possible worlds. It is difficult to believe so, as the whole object of human effort is to make it a better one. But the success of that effort is more apparent in the many terrible forms of human suffering which it has abolished or diminished than in the higher level of positive happiness that has been attained.


[6] Latter-day Pamphlets: 'Jesuitism.'

[7] Le Marchant's Life of Althorp, p. 143.


Though the close relationship that subsists between morals and happiness is universally acknowledged, I do not belong to the school which believes that pleasure and pain, either actual or anticipated, are the only motives by which the human will can be governed; that virtue resolves itself ultimately into well-considered interest and finds its ultimate reason in the happiness of those who practise it; that 'all our virtues,' as La Rochefoucauld has said, 'end in self-love as the rivers in the sea.' Such a proverb as 'Honesty is the best policy' represents no doubt a great truth, though it has been well said that no man is really honest who is only honest through this motive, and though it is very evident that it is by no means an universal truth but depends largely upon changing and precarious conditions of laws, police, public opinion, and individual circumstances. But in the higher realms of morals the coincidence of happiness and virtue is far more doubtful. It is certainly not true that the highest nature is necessarily or even naturally the happiest. Paganism has produced no more perfect type than the profoundly pathetic figure of Marcus Aurelius, while Christianity finds its ideal in one who was known as the 'Man of Sorrows.' The conscience of Mankind has ever recognised self-sacrifice as the supreme element of virtue, and self-sacrifice is never real when it is only the exchange of a less happiness for a greater one. No moral chemistry can transmute the worship of Sorrow, which Goethe described as the essence of Christianity, into the worship of happiness, and probably with most men health and temperament play a far larger part in the real happiness of their lives than any of the higher virtues. The satisfaction of accomplished duty which some moralists place among the chief pleasures of life is a real thing in so far as it saves men from internal reproaches, but it is probable that it is among the worst men that pangs of conscience are least dreaded, and it is certainly not among the best men that they are least felt. Conscience, indeed, when it is very sensitive and very lofty, is far more an element of suffering than the reverse. It aims at an ideal higher than we can attain. It takes the lowest view of our own achievements. It suffers keenly from the many shortcomings of which it is acutely sensible. Far from indulging in the pleasurable retrospect of a well-spent life, it urges men to constant, painful, and often unsuccessful effort. A nature that is strung to the saintly or the heroic level will find itself placed in a jarring world, will provoke much friction and opposition, and will be pained by many things in which a lower nature would placidly acquiesce. The highest form of intellectual virtue is that love of truth for its own sake which breaks up prejudices, tempers enthusiasm by the full admission of opposing arguments and qualifying circumstances, and places in the sphere of possibility or probability many things which we would gladly accept as certainties. Candour and impartiality are in a large degree virtues of temperament; but no one who has any real knowledge of human nature can doubt how much more pleasurable it is to most men to live under the empire of invincible prejudice, deliberately shutting out every consideration that could shake or qualify cherished beliefs. 'God,' says Emerson, 'offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please. You can never have both.' One of the strongest arguments of natural religion rests upon the fact that virtue so often fails to bring its reward; upon the belief that is so deeply implanted in human nature that this is essentially unjust and must in some future state be remedied.

For such reasons as these I believe it to be impossible to identify virtue with happiness, and the views of the opposite school seem to me chiefly to rest upon an unnatural and deceptive use of words. Even when the connection between virtue and pleasure is most close, it is true, as the old Stoics said, that though virtue gives pleasure, this is not the reason why a good man will practise it; that pleasure is the companion and not the guide of his life; that he does not love virtue because it gives pleasure, but it gives pleasure because he loves it.[8] A true account of human nature will recognise that it has the power of aiming at something which is different from happiness and something which may be intelligibly described as higher, and that on the predominance of this loftier aim the nobility of life essentially depends. It is not even true that the end of man should be to find peace at the last. It should be to do his duty and tell the truth.

But while this great truth of the existence of a higher aim than happiness should be always maintained, the relations between morals and happiness are close and intimate and well worthy of investigation. As far as the lower or more commonplace virtues are concerned there can be no mistake. It is very evident that a healthy, long and prosperous life is more likely to be attained by industry, moderation and purity than by the opposite courses. It is very evident that drunkenness and sensuality ruin health and shorten life; that idleness, gambling and disorderly habits ruin prosperity; that ill-temper, selfishness and envy kill friendship and provoke animosities and dislike; that in every well-regulated society there is at least a general coincidence between the path of duty and the path of prosperity; dishonesty, violence and disregard for the rights of others naturally and usually bringing their punishment either from law or from public opinion or from both. Bishop Butler has argued that the general tendency of virtue to lead to happiness and the general tendency of vice to lead to unhappiness prove that even in its present state there is a moral government of the world, and whatever controversy may be raised about the inference there can at least be no doubt about the substantial truth of the facts. Happiness, as I have already said, is best attained when it is not the direct or at least the main object that is aimed at. A wasted and inactive life not only palls in itself but deprives men of the very real and definite pleasure that naturally arises from the healthful activity of all our powers, while a life of egotism excludes the pleasures of sympathy which play so large a part in human happiness. One of the lessons which experience most clearly teaches is that work, duty and the discipline of character are essential elements of lasting happiness. The pleasures of vice are often real, but they are commonly transient and they leave legacies of suffering, weakness, or care behind them. The nobler pleasures for the most part grow and strengthen with advancing years. The passions of youth, when duly regulated, gradually transform themselves into habits, interests and steady affections, and it is in the long forecasts of life that the superiority of virtue as an element of happiness becomes most apparent.

It has been truly said that such words as 'pastime' and 'diversion' applied to our pleasures are among the most melancholy in the language, for they are the confession of human nature that it cannot find happiness in itself, but must seek for something that will fill up time, will cover the void which it feels, and divert men's thoughts from the conditions and prospects of their own lives. How much of the pleasure of Society, and indeed of all amusements, depends on their power of making us forget ourselves! The substratum of life is sad, and few men who reflect on the dangers and uncertainties that surround it can find it even tolerable without much extraneous aid. The first and most vital of these aids is to be found in the creation of strong interests. It is one of the laws of our being that by seeking interests rather than by seeking pleasures we can best encounter the gloom of life. But those only have the highest efficiency which are of an unselfish nature. By throwing their whole nature into the interests of others men most effectually escape the melancholy of introspection; the horizon of life is enlarged; the development of the moral and sympathetic feelings chases egotistic cares, and by the same paradox that we have seen in other parts of human nature men best attain their own happiness by absorbing themselves in the pursuit of the happiness of others.

The aims and perspective of a well-regulated life have never, I think, been better described than in one of the letters of Burke to the Duke of Richmond. 'It is wise indeed, considering the many positive vexations and the innumerable bitter disappointments of pleasure in the world, to have as many resources of satisfaction as possible within one's power. Whenever we concentre the mind on one sole object, that object and life itself must go together. But though it is right to have reserves of employment, still some one object must be kept principal; greatly and eminently so; and the other masses and figures must preserve their due subordination, to make out the grand composition of an important life.'[9] It is equally true that among these objects the disinterested and the unselfish should hold a predominant place. With some this side of their activity is restricted to the narrow circle of home or to the isolated duties and charities of their own neighbourhood. With others it takes the form of large public interests, of a keen participation in social, philanthropic, political or religious enterprises. Character plays a larger part than intellect in the happiness of life, and the cultivation of the unselfish part of our nature is not only one of the first lessons of morals but also of wisdom.

Like most other things its difficulties lie at the beginning, and it is by steady practice that it passes into a second and instinctive nature. The power of man to change organically his character is a very limited one, but on the whole the improvement of character is probably more within his reach than intellectual development. Time and Opportunity are wanting to most men for any considerable intellectual study, and even were it otherwise every man will find large tracts of knowledge and thought wholly external to his tastes, aptitudes and comprehension. But every one can in some measure learn the lesson of self-sacrifice, practise what is right, correct or at least mitigate his dominant faults. What fine examples of self-sacrifice, quiet courage, resignation in misfortune, patient performance of painful duty, magnanimity and forgiveness under injury may be often found among those who are intellectually the most commonplace!

The insidious growth of selfishness is a disease against which men should be most on their guard; but it is a grave though a common error to suppose that the unselfish instincts may be gratified without restraint. There is here, however, one important distinction to be noted. The many and great evils that have sprung from lavish and ill-considered charities do not always or perhaps generally spring from any excess or extravagance of the charitable feeling. They are much more commonly due to its defect. The rich man who never cares to inquire into the details of the cases that are brought before him or to give any serious thought to the ulterior consequences of his acts, but who is ready to give money at any solicitation and who considers that by so doing he has discharged his duty, is far more likely to do harm in this way than the man who devotes himself to patient, plodding, house to house work among the poor. The many men and the probably still larger number of women who give up great portions of their lives to such work soon learn to trace with considerable accuracy the consequences of their charities and to discriminate between the worthy and the unworthy. That such persons often become exclusive and one-sided, and acquire a kind of professional bent which induces them to subordinate all national considerations to their own subject and lose sight of the true proportion of things, is undoubtedly true, but it will probably not be found with the best workers that such a life tends to unduly intensify emotion. As Bishop Butler has said with profound truth, active habits are strengthened and passive impressions weakened by repetition, and a life spent in active charitable work is quite compatible with much sobriety and even coldness of judgment in estimating each case as it arises. It is not the surgeon who is continually employed in operations for the cure of his patients who is most moved at the sight of suffering.

This is, I believe, on the whole true, but it is also true that there are grave diseases which attach themselves peculiarly to the unselfish side of our nature, and they are peculiarly dangerous because men, feeling that the unselfish is the virtuous and nobler side of their being, are apt to suffer these tendencies to operate without supervision or control. Yet it is hardly possible to exaggerate the calamities that have sprung from misjudged unselfish actions. The whole history of religious persecution abundantly illustrates it, for there can be little question that a large proportion of the persecutors were sincerely seeking what they believed to be the highest good of mankind. And if this dark page of human history is now almost closed, there are still many other ways in which a similar evil is displayed. Crotchets, sentimentalities and fanaticisms cluster especially around the unselfish side of our nature, and they work evil in many curious and subtle ways. Few things have done more harm in the world than disproportioned compassion. It is a law of our being that we are only deeply moved by sufferings we distinctly realise, and the degrees in which different kinds of suffering appeal to the imagination bear no proportion to their real magnitude. The most benevolent man will read of an earthquake in Japan or a plague in South America with a callousness he would never display towards some untimely death or some painful accident in his immediate neighbourhood, and in general the suffering of a prominent and isolated individual strikes us much more forcibly than that of an undistinguished multitude. Few deaths are so prominent, and therefore few produce such widespread compassion, as those of conspicuous criminals. It is no exaggeration to say that the death of an 'interesting' murderer will often arouse much stronger feelings than were ever excited by the death of his victim; or by the deaths of brave soldiers who perished by disease or by the sword in some obscure expedition in a remote country. This mode of judgment acts promptly upon conduct. The humanitarian spirit which mitigates the penal code and makes the reclamation of the criminal a main object is a perfectly right thing as long as it does not so far diminish the deterrent power of punishment as to increase crime, and as long as it does not place the criminal in a better position of comfort than the blameless poor, but when these conditions are not fulfilled it is much more an evil than a good. The remote, indirect and unrealised consequences of our acts are often far more important than those which are manifest and direct, and it continually happens that in extirpating some concentrated and obtrusive evil, men increase or engender a diffused malady which operates over a far wider area. How few, for example, who share the prevailing tendency to deal with every evil that appears in Society by coercive legislation adequately realise the danger of weakening the robust, self-reliant, resourceful habits on which the happiness of Society so largely depends, and at the same time, by multiplying the functions and therefore increasing the expenses of government, throwing new and crushing burdens on struggling industry! How often have philanthropists, through a genuine interest for some suffering class or people, advocated measures which by kindling, prolonging, or enlarging a great war would infallibly create calamities far greater than those which they would redress! How often might great outbursts of savage crime or grave and lasting disorders in the State, or international conflicts that have cost thousands of lives, have been averted by a prompt and unflinching severity from which an ill-judged humanity recoiled! If in the February of 1848 Louis Philippe had permitted Marshal Bugeaud to fire on the Revolutionary mob at a time when there was no real and widespread desire for revolution in France, how many bloody pages of French and European history might have been spared!

Measures guaranteeing men, and still more women, from excessive labour, and surrounding them with costly sanitary precautions, may easily, if they are injudiciously framed, so handicap a sex or a people in the competition of industry as to drive them out of great fields of industry, restrict their means of livelihood, lower their standard of wages and comfort, and thus seriously diminish the happiness of their lives. Injudicious suppressions of amusements that are not wholly good, but which afford keen enjoyment to great masses, seldom fail to give an impulse to other pleasures more secret and probably more vicious. Injudicious charities, or an extravagant and too indulgent poor law administration, inevitably discourage industry and thrift, and usually increase the poverty they were intended to cure. The parent who shrinks from inflicting any suffering on his child, or withholding from him any pleasure that he desires, is not laying the foundation of a happy life, and the benevolence which counteracts or obscures the law of nature that extravagance, improvidence and vice lead naturally to ruin, is no real kindness either to the upright man who has resisted temptation or to the weak man whose virtue is trembling doubtfully in the balance. Nor is it in the long run for the benefit of the world that superior ability or superior energy or industry should be handicapped in the race of life, forbidden to encounter exceptional risks for the sake of exceptional rewards, reduced by regulations to measures of work and gain intended for the benefit of inferior characters or powers.

The fatal vice of ill-considered benevolence is that it looks only to proximate and immediate results without considering either alternatives or distant and indirect consequences. A large and highly respectable form of benevolence is that connected with the animal world, and in England it is carried in some respects to a point which is unknown on the Continent. But what a strange form of compassion is that which long made it impossible to establish a Pasteur Institute in England, obliging patients threatened with one of the most horrible diseases that can afflict mankind to go—as they are always ready to do—to Paris, in order to undergo a treatment which what is called the humane sentiment of Englishmen forbid them to receive at home! What a strange form of benevolence is that which in a country where field sports are the habitual amusement of the higher ranks of Society denounces as criminal even the most carefully limited and supervised experiments on living animals, and would thus close the best hope of finding remedies for some of the worst forms of human suffering, the one sure method of testing supposed remedies which may be fatal or which may be of incalculable benefit to mankind! Foreign critics, indeed, often go much further and believe that in other forms connected with this subject public opinion in England is strangely capricious and inconsistent. They compare with astonishment the sentences that are sometimes passed for the ill-treatment of a woman and for the ill-treatment of a cat; they ask whether the real sufferings caused by many things that are in England punished by law or reprobated by opinion are greater than those caused by sports which are constantly practised without reproach; and they are apt to find much that is exaggerated or even fantastic in the great popularity and elaboration of some animal charities.[10] At the same time in our own country the more recognised field sports greatly trouble many benevolent natures. I will here only say that while the positive benefits they produce are great and manifest, those who condemn them constantly forget what would be the fate of the animals that are slaughtered if such sports did not exist, and how little the balance of suffering is increased or altered by the destruction of beings which themselves live by destroying. As a poet says—

The fish exult whene'er the seagull dies, The salmon's death preserves a thousand flies.

On most of these questions the effect on human character is a more important consideration than the effect on animal happiness. The best thing that legislation can do for wild animals is to extend as far as possible to harmless classes a close time, securing them immunity while they are producing and supporting their young. This is the truest kindness, and on quite other grounds it is peculiarly needed, as the improvement of firearms and the increase of population have completely altered, as far as man is concerned, the old balance between production and destruction, and threaten, if unchecked, to lead to an almost complete extirpation of great classes of the animal world. It is melancholy to observe how often sensitive women who object to field sports and who denounce all experiments on living animals will be found supporting with perfect callousness fashions that are leading to the wholesale destruction of some of the most beautiful species of birds, and are in some cases dependent upon acts of very aggravated cruelty.


[8] Seneca, De Vita Beata.

[9] Burke's Correspondence, i. 376, 377.

[10] As I am writing these pages I find the following paragraph in a newspaper which may illustrate my meaning:—'DOGS' NURSING. A case was heard at the Brompton County Court on Friday in which some suggestive evidence was given of the medical treatment of dogs. The proprietor of a dogs' infirmary at Tattersall's Corner sued Mr. Harding Cox for the board and lodging of seven dogs, and the regime was explained. They are fed on essence of meat, washed down with port wine, and have as a digestive eggs beaten up in milk and arrowroot. Medicated baths and tonics are also supplied, and occasionally the animals are treated to a day in the country. This course of hygiene necessitated an expenditure of ten shillings a week. The defendant pleaded that the charges were excessive, but the judge awarded the plaintiff L25. How many hospital patients receive such treatment?'—Daily Express, February 16, 1897.


The illustrations given in the last chapter will be sufficient to show the danger of permitting the unselfish side of human nature to run wild without serious control by the reason and by the will. To see things in their true proportion, to escape the magnifying influence of a morbid imagination, should be one of the chief aims of life, and in no fields is it more needed than in those we have been reviewing. At the same time every age has its own ideal moral type towards which the strongest and best influences of the time converge. The history of morals is essentially a history of the changes that take place not so much in our conception of what is right and wrong as in the proportionate place and prominence we assign to different virtues and vices. There are large groups of moral qualities which in some ages of the world's history have been regarded as of supreme importance, while in other ages they are thrown into the background, and there are corresponding groups of vices which are treated in some periods as very serious and in others as very trivial. The heroic type of Paganism and the saintly type of Christianity in its purest form, consist largely of the same elements, but the proportions in which they are mixed are altogether different. There are ages when the military and civic virtues—the qualities that make good soldiers and patriotic citizens—dominate over all others. The self-sacrifice of the best men flows habitually in these channels. In such an age integrity in business relations and the domestic virtues which maintain the purity of the family may be highly valued, but they are chiefly valued because they are essential to the well-being of the State. The soldier who has attained to the highest degree the best qualities of his profession, the patriot who sacrifices to the services of the State his comforts, his ambitions and his life, is the supreme model, and the estimation in which he is held is but little lowered even though he may have been guilty, like Cato, of atrocious cruelty to his slaves, or, like some of the heroes of ancient times, of scandalous forms of private profligacy.

There are other ages in which military life is looked upon by moralists with disfavour, and in which patriotism ranks very low in the scale of virtues, while charity, gentleness, self-abnegation, devotional habits, and purity in thought, word and act are pre-eminently inculcated. The intellectual virtues, again, which deal with truth and falsehood, form a distinct group. The habit of mind which makes men love truth for its own sake as the supreme ideal, and which turns aside from all falsehood, exaggeration, party or sectarian misrepresentation and invention, is in no age a common one, but there are some ages in which it is recognised and inculcated as virtue, while there are others in which it is no exaggeration to say that the whole tendency of religious teaching has been to discourage it. During many centuries the ascetic and purely ecclesiastical standard of virtue completely dominated. The domestic virtues, though clearly recognised, held altogether a subordinate place to what were deemed the higher virtues of the ascetic celibate. Charity, though nobly cultivated and practised, was regarded mainly through a dogmatic medium and practised less for the benefit of the recipient than for the spiritual welfare of the donor.

In the eyes of multitudes the highest conception of a saintly life consisted largely if not mainly in complete detachment from secular interests and affections. No type was more admired, and no type was ever more completely severed from all active duties and all human relations than that of the saint of the desert or of the monk of one of the contemplative orders. To die to the world; to become indifferent to its aims, interests and pleasures; to measure all things by a standard wholly different from human happiness, to live habitually for another life was the constant teaching of the saints. In the stress laid on the cultivation of the spiritual life the whole sphere of active duties sank into a lower plane; and the eye of the mind was turned upwards and inwards and but little on the world around. 'Happy,' said one saint, 'is the mind which sees but two objects, God and self, one of which conceptions fills it with a sovereign delight and the other abases it to the extremest dejection.'[11] 'As much love as we give to creatures,' said another saint, 'just so much we steal from the Creator.'[12] 'Two things only do I ask,' said a third,[13] 'to suffer and to die.' 'Forsake all,' said Thomas a Kempis, 'and thou shalt find all. Leave desire and thou shalt find rest.' 'Unless a man be disengaged from the affection of all creatures he cannot with freedom of mind attend unto Divine things.'

The gradual, silent and half-unconscious modification in the type of Morals which took place after the Reformation was certainly not the least important of its results. If it may be traced in some degree to the distinctive theology of the Protestant Churches, it was perhaps still more due to the abolition of clerical celibacy which placed the religious teachers in the centre of domestic life and in close contact with a large circle of social duties. There is even now a distinct difference between the morals of a sincerely Catholic and a sincerely Protestant country, and this difference is not so much, as controversialists would tell us, in the greater and the less as in the moral type, or, in other words, in the different degrees of importance attached to different virtues and vices. Probably nowhere in the world can more beautiful and more reverent types be found than in some of the Catholic countries of Europe which are but little touched by the intellectual movements of the age, but no good observer can fail to notice how much larger is the place given to duties which rest wholly on theological considerations, and how largely even the natural duties are based on such considerations and governed, limited, and sometimes even superseded by them. The ecclesiastics who at the Council of Constance induced Sigismund to violate the safe-conduct he had given, and, in spite of his solemn promise, to condemn Huss to a death of fire,[14] and the ecclesiastics who at the Diet of Worms vainly tried to induce Charles V. to act with a similar perfidy towards Luther, represent a conception of morals which is abundantly prevalent in our day. It is no exaggeration to say that in Catholic countries the obligation of truthfulness in cases in which it conflicts with the interests of the Church rests wholly on the basis of honour, and not at all on the basis of religion. In the estimates of Catholic rulers no impartial observer can fail to notice how their attitude towards the interest of the Church dominates over all considerations of public and private morals.

In past ages this was much more the case. The Church filled in the minds of men a place at least equal to that of the State in the Roman Republic. Men who had made great sacrifices for it and rendered great services to it were deemed, beyond all others, the good men, and in those men things which we should regard as grossly criminal appeared mere venial frailties. Let any one who doubts this study the lives of the early Catholic saints, and the still more instructive pages in which Gregory of Tours and other ecclesiastical annalists have described the characters and acts of the more prominent figures in the secular history of their times, and he will soon feel that he has passed into a moral atmosphere and is dealing with moral measurements and perspectives wholly unlike those of our own day.[15]

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