HotFreeBooks.com
The Recreations of A Country Parson
by A. K. H. Boyd
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

I have been amused by the way in which some people meet disappointment. They think it a great piece of worldly wisdom to deny that they have ever been disappointed at all. Perhaps it might be so, if the pretext were less transparent than it is. An old lady's son is plucked at an examination for a civil appointment. She takes up the ground that it is rather a credit to be plucked; that nearly everybody is plucked; that all the cleverest fellows are plucked; and that only stupid fellows are allowed to pass. When the examiners find a clever man, they take a pleasure in plucking him. A number of the cleverest men in England can easily put out a lad of one-and-twenty. Then, shifting her ground, she declares the examination was ridiculously easy: her son was rejected because he could not tell what two and two amount to: because he did not know the name of the river on which London is built: because he did not (in his confusion) know his own name. She shows you the indignant letter which the young man wrote to her, announcing the scandalous injustice with which he was treated. You remark three words misspelt in the first five lines; and you fancy you have fathomed the secret of the plucking.

I have sometimes tried, but in vain, to discover the law which regulates the attainment of extreme popularity. Extreme popularity, in this country and age, appears a very arbitrary thing. I defy any person to predict a priori what book, or song, or play, or picture, is to become the rage,—to utterly transcend all competition. I believe, indeed, that there cannot be popularity for even a short time, without some kind or degree of merit to deserve it; and in any case there is no other standard to which one can appeal than the deliberate judgment of the mass of educated persons. If you are quite convinced that a thing is bad which all such think good, why, of course you are wrong. If you honestly think Shakspeare a fool, you are aware you must be mistaken. And so, if a book, or a picture, or a play, or a song, be really good, and if it be properly brought before the public notice, you may, as a general rule, predict that it will attain a certain measure of success. But the inexplicable thing—the thing of which I am quite unable to trace the law—is extreme success. How is it that one thing shoots ahead of everything else of the same class; and without being materially better, or even materially different, leaves everything else out of sight behind? Why is it that Eclipse is first and the rest nowhere, while the legs and wind of Eclipse are no whit better than the legs and wind of all the rest? If twenty novels of nearly equal merit are published, it is not impossible that one shall dart ahead of the remaining nineteen; that it shall be found in every library; that Mr. Mudie may announce that he has 3250 copies of it; that it shall be the talk of every circle; its incidents set to music, its plot dramatized; that it shall count readers by thousands while others count readers by scores; while yet one cannot really see why any of the others might not have taken its place. Or of a score of coarse comic songs, nineteen shall never get beyond the walls of the Cyder Cellars (I understand there is a place of the name), while the twentieth, no wise superior in any respect, comes to be sung about the streets, known by everybody, turned into polkas and quadrilles and in fact to become for the time one of the institutions of this great and intelligent country. I remember how, a year or two since, that contemptible Rat-catcher's Daughter, without a thing to recommend it, with no music, no wit, no sentiment, nothing but vulgar brutality, might be heard in every separate town of England and Scotland, sung about the streets by every ragged urchin; while the other songs of the vivacious Cowell fell dead from his lips. The will of the sovereign people has decided that so it shall be. And as likings and dislikings in most cases are things strongly felt, but impossible to account for even by the person who feels them, so is it ffith the enormous admiration, regard, and success which fall to the lot of many to whom popularity is success. Actors, statesmen, authors, preachers, have often in England their day of quite undeserved popular ovation; and by and bye their day of entire neglect. It is the rocket and the stick. We are told that Bishop Butler, about the period of the great excesses of the French Revolution, was walking in his garden with his chaplain. After a long fit of musing, the Bishop turned to the chaplain, and asked the question whether nations might not go mad, as well as individuals? Classes of society, I think, may certainly have attacks of temporary insanity on some one point. The Jenny Lind fever was such an attack. Such was the popularity of the boy-actor Betty. Such the popularity of the Small Coal Man some time in the last century; such that of the hippopotamus at the Regent's Park; such that of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

But this essay must have an end. It is far too long already. I am tired of it, and a fortiori my reader must be so. Let me try the effect of an abrupt conclusion.



CHAPTER III.

CONCERNING SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS;

SOME THOUGHTS UPON THE SWING OF THE PENDULUM.



[Footnote: For the suggestion of the subject of this essay, and for many valuable hints as to its treatment, I am indebted to the kindness of the Archbishop of Dublin. Indeed, in all that part of the essay which treats of Secondary Vulgar Errwi, I have done little more than expand and illustrate the skeleton of thought supplied to me by Archbishop Whately.]

I have eaten up all the grounds of my tea, said, many years since, in my hearing, in modest yet triumphant tones, a little girl of seven years old. I have but to close my eyes, and I see all that scene again, almost as plainly as ever. Six or seven children (I am one of them) are sitting round a tea-table; their father and mother are there too; and an old gentleman, who is (in his own judgment) one of the wisest of men. I see the dining-room, large and low-ceilinged; the cheerful glow of the autumnal fire; the little faces in the soft candle-light, for glaring gas was there unknown. There had been much talk about the sinfulness of waste—of the waste of even very little things. The old gentleman, so wise (in his own judgment, and indeed in my judgment at that period), was instilling into the children's minds some of those lessons which are often impressed upon children by people (I am now aware) of no great wisdom or cleverness. He had dwelt at considerable length upon the sinfulness of wasting anything; likewise on the sinfulness of children being saucy or particular as to what they should eat. He enforced, with no small solemnity, the duty of children's eating what was set before them without minding whether it was good or not, or at least without minding whether they liked it or not. The poor little girl listened to all that was said, and of course received it all as indubitably true. Waste and sauciness, she saw, were wrong, so she judged that the very opposite of waste and sauciness must be right. Accordingly, she thought she would turn to use something that was very small, but still something that ought not to be wasted. Accordingly, she thought she would show the docility of her taste by eating up something that was very disagreeable. Here was an opportunity at once of acting out the great principles to which she had been listening. And while a boy, evidently destined to be a metaphysician, and evidently possessed of the spirit of resistance to constituted authority whether in government or doctrine, boldly argued that it could not be wicked in him to hate onions, because God had made him so that he did hate onions, and (going still deeper into things) insisted that to eat a thing when you did not want it was wasting it much more truly than it would be wasting it to leave it; the little girl ate up all the grounds left in her teacup, and then announced the fact with considerable complacency.

Very, very natural. The little girl's act was a slight straw showing how a great current sets. It was a fair exemplification of a tendency which is woven into the make of our being. Tell the average mortal that it is wrong to walk on the left side of the road, and in nine cases out of ten he will conclude that the proper thing must be to walk on the right side of the road; whereas in actual life, and in almost all opinions, moral, political, and religious, the proper thing is to walk neither on the left nor the right side, but somewhere about the middle. Say to the ship-master, You are to sail through a perilous strait; you will have the raging Scylla on one hand as you go. His natural reply will be, Well, I will keep as far away from it as possible; I will keep close by the other side. But the rejoinder must be, No, you will be quite as ill off there; you will be in equal peril on the other side: there is Charybdis. What you have to do is to keep at a safe distance from each. In avoiding the one, do not run into the other.

It seems to be a great law of the universe, that Wrong lies upon either side of the way, and that Right is the narrow path between. There are the two ways of doing wrong—Too Much and Too Little. Go to the extreme right hand, and you are wrong; go to the extreme left hand, and you are wrong too. That you may be right, you have to keep somewhere between these two extremes: but not necessarily in the exact middle. All this, of course, is part of the great fact that in this world Evil has the advantage of Good. It is easier to go wrong than right.

It is very natural to think that if one thing or course be wrong, its reverse must be right. If it be wrong to walk towards the east, surely it must be right to walk towards the west. If it be wrong to dress in black, it must be right to dress in white. It is somewhat hard to say, Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt—to declare, as if that were a statement of the whole truth, that fools mistake reverse of wrong for right. Fools do so indeed, but not fools only. The average Jiuman being, with the most honest intentions, is prone to mistake reverse of wrong for right. We are fond, by our natural constitution, of broad distinctions—of classifications that put the whole interests and objects of this world to iho Tight-hand and to the left. We long for Aye or No—for Heads or Tails. We are impatient of limitations, qualifications, restrictions. You remember how Mr. Micawber explained the philosophy of income and expenditure, and urged people never to run in debt. Income, said he, a hundred pounds a year; expenditure ninety-nine pounds nineteen shillings: Happiness. Income, a hundred pounds a year; expenditure a hundred pounds and one shilling: Misery. You see the principle involved is, that if you are not happy, you must be miserable—that if you are not miserable, you must be happy. If you are not any particular thing, then you are its opposite. If you are not For, then you are Against. If you are not black, many men will jump to the conclusion that you are white: the fact probably being that you are gray. If not a Whig, you must be a Tory: in truth, you are a Liberal-Conservative. We desiderate in all things the sharp decidedness of the verdict of a jury—Guilty or Not Guilty. We like to conclude that if a man be not very good, then he is very bad; if not very clever, then very stupid; if not very wise, then a fool: whereas in fact, the man probably is a curious mixture of good and evil, strength and weakness, wisdom and folly, knowledge and ignorance, cleverness and stupidity.

Let it be here remarked, that in speaking of it as an error to take reverse of wrong for right, I use the words in their ordinary sense, as generally understood. In common language the reverse of a thing is taken to mean the thing at the opposite end of the scale from it. Thus, black is the reverse of white, bigotry of latitudinarianism, malevolence of benevolence, parsimony of extravagance, and the like. Of course, in strictness, these things are not the reverse of one another. In strictness, the reverse of wrong always is right; for, to speak with severe precision, the reverse of steering upon Scylla is simply not steering upon Scylla; the reverse of being extravagant is not being parsimonious—it is simply not being extravagant; the reverse of walking eastward is not walking westward—it is simply not walking eastward. And that may include standing still, or walking to any point of the compass except the east. But I understand the reverse of a thing as meaning the opposite extreme from it. And you see, the Latin words quoted above are more precise than the English. It is severely true, that while fools think to shun error on one side, they run into the contrary error—i. e., the error that lies equi-distant, or nearly equi-distant, on the other side of the line of right.

One class of the errors into which men are prone to run under this natural impulse are those which have been termed Secondary Vulgar Errors. A vulgar error, you will understand, my reader, does not by any means signify an error into which only the vulgar are likely to fall. It does not by any means signify a mistaken belief which will be taken up only by inferior and uneducated minds. A vulgar error means an error either in conduct or belief into which man, by the make of his being, is likely to fall. Now, people a degree wiser and more thoughtful than the mass, discover that these vulgar errors are errors. They conclude that their opposites (i. e., the things at the other extremity of the scale) must be right; and by running into the opposite extreme they run just as far wrong upon the other side. There is too great a reaction. The twig was bent to the right—they bend it to the left, forgetting that the right thing was that the twig should be straight. If convinced that waste and sauciness are wrong, they proceed to eat the grounds of their tea; if convinced that self-indulgence is wrong, they conclude that hair-shirts and midnight floggings are right; if convinced that the Church of Rome has too many ceremonies, they resolve that they will have no ceremonies at all; if convinced that it is unworthy to grovel in the presence of a duke, they conclude that it will be a fine thing to refuse the duke ordinary civility; if convinced that monarehs are not much wiser or better than other human beings, they run off into the belief that all kings have been little more than incarnate demons; if convinced that representative government often works very imperfectly, they raise a cry for imperialism; if convinced that monarchy has its abuses, they call out for republicanism; if convinced that Britain has many things which are not so good as they ought to be, they keep constantly extolling the perfection of the United States.

Now, inasmuch as a rise of even one step in the scale of thought elevates the man who has taken it above the vast host of men who have never taken even that one step, the number of people who (at least in matters of any moment) arrive at the Secondary Vulgar Error is much less than the number of the people who stop at the Primary Vulgar Error. Very great multitudes of human beings think it a very fine thing, the very finest of all human things, to be very rich. A much smaller number, either from the exercise of their own reflective powers, or from the indoctrination of romantic novels and overdrawn religious books, run to the opposite extreme: undervalue wealth, deny that it adds anything to human comfort and enjoyment, declare that it is an unmixed evil, profess to despise it. I dare say that many readers of the Idylls of the King will so misunderstand that exquisite song of 'Fortune and her Wheel,' as to see in it only the charming and sublime embodiment of a secondary vulgar error,—the error, to wit, that wealth and outward circumstances are of no consequence at all. To me that song appears rather to take the further step, and to reach the conclusion in which is embodied the deliberate wisdom of humankind upon this matter: the conclusion which shakes from itself on either hand either vulgar error: the idolization of wealth on the one side, the contempt of it on the other: and to convey the sobered judgment that while the advantages and refinements of fortune are so great that no thoughtful man can long despise it, the responsibilities and temptations of it are so great that no thoughtful man will much repine if he fail to reach it; and thus that we may genially acquiesce in that which it pleases God to send. Midway between two vulgar errors: steering a sure track between Scylla and Charybdis: the grovelling multitude to the left, the romantic few to the right; stand the words of inspired wisdom. The pendulum had probably oscillated many times between the two errors, before it settled at the central truth; 'Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.'

But although these errors of reaction are less common than the primary vulgar errors, they are better worth noticing: inasmuch as in many cases they are the errors of the well-intentioned. People fall into the primary vulgar errors without ever thinking of right or wrong: merely feeling an impulse to go there, or to think thus. But worthy folk, for the most part, fall into the secondary vulgar errors, while honestly endeavouring to escape what they have discerned to be wrong. Not indeed that it is always in good faith that men run to the opposite extreme. Sometimes they do it in pet and perversity, being well aware that they are doing wrong. You hint to some young friend, to whom you are nearly enough related to be justified in doing so, that the dinner to which he has invited you, with several others, is unnecessarily fine, is somewhat extravagant, is beyond what he can afford. The young friend asks you back in a week or two, and sets before you a feast of salt herrings and potatoes. Now the fellow did not run into this extreme with the honest intention of doing right. He knew perfectly well that this was not what you meant. He did not go through this piece of folly in the sincere desire to avoid the other error of extravagance. Or, you are a country clergyman. You are annoyed, Sunday by Sunday, by a village lad who, from enthusiasm or ostentation, sings so loud in church as to disturb the whole congregation. You hint to him, as kindly as you can, that there is something very pleasing about the softer tones of his voice, and that you would like to hear them more frequently. But the lad sees through your civil way of putting the case. His vanity is touched. He sees you mean that you don't like to hear him bellow: and next Sunday you will observe that he shuts up his hymn-book in dudgeon, and will not sing at all. Leave the blockhead to himself Do not set yourself to stroke down his self-conceit: he knows quite well he is doing wrong: there is neither sense nor honesty in what he does. You remark at dinner, while staying with a silly old gentleman, that the plum-pudding, though admirable, perhaps errs on the side of over-richness; next day he sets before you a mass of stiff paste with no plums at all, and says, with a look of sly stupidity, 'Well, I hope you are satisfied now.' Politeness prevents your replying, 'No, you don't. You know that is not what I meant. You are a fool.' You remember the boy in Pickwick, who on his father finding fault with him for something wrong he had done, offered to kill himself if that would be any satisfaction to his parent. In this case you have a more recondite instance of this peculiar folly. Here the primary course is tacitly assumed, without being stated. The primary impulse of the human being is to take care of himself; the opposite of that of course is to kill himself. And the boy, being chidden for doing something which might rank under the general head of taking care of himself, proposed (as that course appeared unsatisfactory) to take the opposite one. 'You don't take exercise enough,' said a tutor to a wrong-headed boy who was under his care: 'you ought to walk more.' Next morning the perverse fellow entered the breakfast parlour in a fagged condition, and said, with the air of a martyr, 'Well, I trust I have taken exercise enough to-day: I have walked twenty miles this morning.' As for all such manifestations of the disposition to run into opposite extremes, let them be treated as manifestations of pettedness, perversity, and dishonesty. In some cases a high-spirited youth may be excused them; but, for the most part, they come with doggedness, wrong-headedness, and dense stupidity. And any pretext that they are exhibited with an honest intention to do right, ought to be regarded as a transparently false pretext.

I have now before me a list (prepared by a much stronger hand than mine) of honest cases in which men, avoiding Scylla, run into Charybdis: in which men, thinking to bend the crooked twig straight, bend it backwards. But before mentioning these, it may be remarked, that there is often such a thing as a reaction from a natural tendency, even when that natural tendency is not towards what may be called a primary vulgar error. The law of reaction extends to all that human beings can ever feel the disposition to think or do. There are, doubtless, minds of great fixity of opinion and motive: and there are certain things, in the case of almost all men, as regards which their belief and their active bias never vary through life: but with most human beings, with nations, with humankind, as regards very many and very important matters, as surely and as far as the pendulum has swung to the right, so surely and so far will it swing to the left. I do not say that an opinion in favour of monarchy is a primary vulgar error; or that an opinion in favour of republicanism is a secondary: both may be equally right: but assuredly each of these is a reaction from the other. America, for instance, is one great reaction from Europe. The principle on which these reactionary swings of the pendulum take place, is plain. Whatever be your present position, you feel its evils and drawbacks keenly. Your feeling of the present evil is much more vivid than your imagination of the evil which is sure to be inherent in the opposite system, whatever that may be. You live in a country where the national Church is Presbyterian. You see, day by day, many inconveniences and disadvantages inherent in that form of church government. It is of the nature of evil to make its presence much more keenly felt than the presence of good. So while keenly alive to the drawbacks of presbytery, you are hardly conscious of its advantages. You swing over, let us suppose, to the other end: you swing over from Scotland into England, from presbytery to episcopacy. For awhile you are quite delighted to find yourself free from the little evils of which you had been wont to complain. But by and bye the drawbacks of episcopacy begin to push themselves upon your notice. You have escaped one set of disadvantages: you find that you have got into the middle of another. Scylla no longer bellows in your hearing; but Charybdis whirls you round. You begin to feel that the country and the system yet remain to be sought, in which some form of evil, of inconvenience, of worry, shall not press you. Am I wrong in fancying, dear friends more than one or two, that but for very shame the pendulum would swing back again to the point from which it started: and you, kindly Scots, would find yourselves more at home in kindly and homely Scotland, with her simple forms and faith? So far as my experience has gone, I think that in all matters not of vital moment, it is best that the pendulum should stay at the end of the swing where it first found itself: it will be in no more stable position at the other end: and it will somehow feel stranger-like there. And you, my friend, though in your visits to Anglican territory you heartily conform to the Anglican Church, and enjoy as much as mortal san her noble cathedrals and her stately worship; still I know that after all, you cannot shake off the spell in which the old remembrances of your boyhood have bound you. I know that your heart warms to the Burning Bush; [Footnote: The scutcheon of the Church of Scotland.] and that it will, till death chills it.

A noteworthy fact in regard to the swing of the pendulum, is that the secondary tendency is sometimes found in the ruder state of society, and the less reflective man. Naturalness comes last. The pendulum started from naturalness: it swung over into artificiality: and with thoughtful people it has swung back to naturalness again. Thus it is natural, when in danger, to be afraid. It is natural, when you are possessed by any strong feeling, to show it. You see all this in children: this is the point which the pendulum starts from. It swings over, and we find a reaction from this. The reaction is, to maintain and exhibit perfect coolness and indifference in danger; to pretend to be incapable of fear. This state of things we find in the Red Indian, a rude and uncivilized being. But it is plain that with people who are able to think, there must be a reaction from this. The pendulum cannot long stay in a position which flies so completely in the face of the law of gravitation. It is pure nonsense to talk about being incapable of fear. I remember reading somewhere about Queen Elizabeth, that 'her soul was incapable of fear.' That statement is false and absurd. You may regard fear as unmanly and unworthy: you may repress the manifestations of it; but the state of mind which (in beings not properly monstrous or defective) follows the perception of being in danger, is fear. As surely as the perception of light is sight, so surely is the perception of danger fear. And for a man to say that his soul is incapable of fear, is just as absurd as to say that from a peculiarity of constitution, when dipped in water, he does not get wet. You, human being, whoever you may be, when you are placed in danger, and know you are placed in danger, and reflect on the fact, you feel afraid. Don't vapour and say no; we know how the mental machine must work, unless it be diseased. Now, the thoughtful man admits all this: he admits that a bullet through his brain would be a very serious thing for himself, and like-wise for his wife and children: he admits that he shrinks from such a prospect; he will take pains to protect himself from the risk; but he says that if duty requires him to run the risk he will run it. This is the courage of the civilized man as opposed to the blind, bull-dog insensibility of the savage. This is courage—to know the existence of danger, but to face it nevertheless. Here, under the influence of longer thought, the pendulum has swung into common sense, though not quite back to the point from which it started. Of course, it still keeps swinging about in individual minds. The other day I read in a newspaper a speech by a youthful rifleman, in which he boasted that no matter to what danger exposed, his corps would never take shelter behind trees and rocks, but would stand boldly out to the aim of the enemy. I was very glad to find this speech answered in a letter to the Times, written by a rifleman of great experience and proved bravery. The experienced man pointed out that the inexperienced man was talking nonsense: that true courage appeared in manfully facing risks which were inevitable, but not in running into needless peril: and that the business of a soldier was to be as useful to his country and as destructive to the enemy as possible, and not to make needless exhibitions of personal foolhardiness. Thus swings the pendulum as to danger and fear. The point of departure, the primary impulse, is,

1. An impulse to avoid danger at all hazards: i. e., to run away, and save yourself, however discreditably.

The pendulum swings to the other extremity, and we have the secondary impulse—

2. An impulse to disregard danger, and even to run into it, as if it were of no consequence at all; i. e., young rifleman foolhardiness, and Red Indian insensibility.

The pendulum comes so far back, and rests at the point of wisdom:

3. A determination to avoid all danger, the running into which would do no good, and which may be avoided consistently with honour; but manfully to face danger, however great, that comes in the way of duty.

But after all this deviation from the track, I return to my list of Secondary Vulgar Errors, run into with good and honest intentions. Here is the first—

Don't you know, my reader, that it is natural to think very bitterly of the misconduct which affects yourself? If a man cheats your friend, or cheats your slight acquaintance, or cheats some one who is quite unknown to you, by selling him a lame horse, you disapprove his conduct, indeed, but not nearly so much as if he had cheated yourself. You learn that Miss Limejuice has been disseminating a grossly untrue account of some remarks which you made in her hearing: and your first impulse is to condemn her malicious falsehood, much more severely than if she had merely told a few lies about some one else. Yet it is quite evident that if we were to estimate the doings of men with perfect justice, we should fix solely on the moral element in their doings; and the accidental circumstance of the offence or injury to ourselves would be neither here nor there. The primary vulgar error, then, in this case is, undue and excessive disapprobation of misconduct from which we have suffered. No one but a very stupid person would, if it were fairly put to him, maintain that this extreme disapprobation was right: but it cannot be denied that this is the direction to which all human beings are likely, at first, to feel an impulse to go. A man does you some injury: you are much angrier than if he had done the like injury to some one else. You are much angrier when your own servants are guilty of little neglects and follies, than when the servants of your next neighbour are guilty in a precisely similar degree. The Prime Minister (or Chancellor) fails to make you a Queen's Counsel or a Judge: you are much more angry than if he had overlooked some other man, of precisely equal merit. And I do not mean merely that the injury done to yourself comes more home to you, but that positively you think it a worse thing. It seems as if there were more of moral evil in it. The boy who steals your plums seems worse than other boys stealing other plums. The servant who sells your oats and starves your horses, seems worse than other servants who do the like. It is not merely that you feel where the shoe pinches yourself, more than where it pinches another: that is all quite right. It is that you have a tendency to think it is a worse shoe than another which gives an exactly equal amount of pain. You are prone to dwell upon and brood over the misconduct which affected yourself.

Well, you begin to see that this is unworthy, that selfishness and mortified conceit are at the foundation of it. You determine that you will shake yourself free from this vulgar error. What more magnanimous, you think, than to do the opposite of the wrong thing? Surely it will be generous, and even heroic, to wholly acquit the wrong-doer, and even to cherish him for a bosom friend. So the pendulum swings over to the opposite extreme, and you land in the secondary vulgar error. I do not mean to say that in practice many persons are likely to thus bend the twig backwards; but it is no small evil to think that it would be a right thing, and a fine thing, to do even that which you never intend to do. So you write an essay, or even a book, the gist of which is that it is a grand thing to select for a friend and guide the human being who has done you signal injustice and harm. Over that book, if it be a prettily written tale, many young ladies will weep: and though without the faintest intention of imitating your hero's behaviour, they will think that it would be a fine thing if they did so. And it is a great mischief to pervert the moral judgment and falsely to excite the moral feelings. You forget that wrong is wrong, though it be done against yourself, and that you have no right to acquit the wrong to yourself as though it were no wrong at all. That lies beyond your province. You may forgive the personal offence, but it does not rest with you to acquit the guilt. You have no right to confuse moral distinctions by practically saying that wrong is not wrong, because it is done against you. All wrong is against very many things and very grave things, besides being against you. It is not for you to speak in the name of God and the universe. You may not wish to say much about the injury done to yourself, but there it is; and as to the choosing for your friend the man who has greatly injured you, in most cases such a choice would be a very unwise one, because in most cases it would amount to this—that you should select a man for a certain post mainly because he has shown himself possessed of qualities which unfit him for that post. That surely would be very foolish. If you had to appoint a postman, would you choose a man because he had no legs? And what is very foolish can never be very magnanimous.

The right course to follow lies between the two which have been set out. The man who has done wrong to you is still a wrong-doer. The question you have to consider is, What ought your conduct to be towards a wrong-doer? Let there be no harbour given to any feeling of personal revenge. But remember that it is your duty to disapprove what is wrong, and that it is wisdom not too far to trust a man who has proved himself unworthy to be trusted. I have no feeling of selfish bitterness against the person who deceived me deliberately and grossly, yet I cannot but judge that deliberate and gross deceit is bad; and I cannot but judge that the person who deceived me once might, if tempted, deceive me again: so he shall not have the opportunity. I look at the horse which a friend offers me for a short ride. I discern upon the knees of the animal a certain slight but unmistakeable roughness of the hair. That horse has been down; and if I mount that horse at all (which I shall not do except in a case of necessity), I shall ride him with a tight rein, and with a sharp look-out for rolling stones.

Another matter in regard to which Scylla and Charybdis are very discernible, is the fashion in which human beings think and speak of the good or bad qualities of their friends.

The primary tendency here is to blindness to the faults of a friend, and over-estimate of his virtues and qualifications. Most people are disposed extravagantly to over-value anything belonging to or connected with themselves. A farmer tells you that there never were such turnips as his turnips; a schoolboy thinks that the world cannot show boys so clever as those with whom he is competing for the first place in his class; a clever student at college tells you what magnificent fellows are certain of his compeers—how sure they are to become great men in life. Talk of Tennyson! You have not read Smith's prize poem. Talk of Macaulay! Ah, if you could see Brown's prize essay! A mother tells you (fathers are generally less infatuated) how her boy was beyond comparison the most distinguished and clever in his class—how he stood quite apart from, any of the others. Your eye happens to fall a day or two afterwards upon the prize-list advertised in the newspapers, and you discover that (curiously) the most distinguished and clever boy in that particular school is rewarded with the seventh prize. I dare say you may have met with families in which there existed the most absurd and preposterous belief as to their superiority, social, intellectual, and moral, above other families which were as good or better. And it is to be admitted, that if you are happy enough to have a friend whose virtues and qualifications are really high, your primary tendency will probably be to fancy him a great deal cleverer, wiser, and better than, he really is, and to imagine that he possesses no faults at all. The over-estimate of his good qualities will be the result of your seeing them constantly, and having their excellence much pressed on your attention, while from not knowing so well other men who are quite as good, you are led to think that those good qualities are more rare and excellent than in fact they are. And you may possibly regard it as a duty to shut your eyes to the faults of those who are dear to you, and to persuade yourself, against your judgment, that they have no faults or none worth thinking of. One can imagine a child painfully struggling to be blind to a parent's errors, and thinking it undutiful and wicked to admit the existence of that: which is too evident. And if you know well a really good and able man, you will very naturally think his goodness and his ability to be relatively much greater than they are. For goodness and ability are in truth very noble things: the more you look at them the more you will feel this: and it is natural to judge that what is so noble cannot be very common; whereas in fact there is much more good in this world than we are ready to believe. If you find an intelligent person who believes that some particular author is by far the best in the language, or that some particular composer's music is by far the finest, or that some particular preacher is by far the most eloquent and useful, or that some particular river has by far the finest scenery, or that some particular sea-side place has by far the most bracing and exhilarating air, or that some particular magazine is ten thousand miles ahead of all competitors, the simple explanation in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is this—that the honest individual who holds these overstrained opinions knows a great deal better than he knows any others, that author, that music, that preacher, that river, that sea-side place, that magazine. He knows how good they are: and not having much studied the merits of competing things, he does not know that these are very nearly as good.

But I do not think that there is any subject whatever in regard to which it is so capricious and arbitrary whether you shall run it into Scylla or into Charybdis. It depends entirely on how it strikes the mind, whether you shall go off a thousand miles to the right or a thousand miles to the lefn You know, if you fire a rifle-bullet at an iron-coated ship, the bullet, if it impinge upon the iron plate at A, may glance away to the west, while if it impinge upon the iron plate at B, only an inch distant from A, it may glance off towards the directly opposite point of the compass. A very little thing makes all the difference. You stand in the engine-room of a steamer; you admit the steam to the cylinders, and the paddles turn ahead; a touch of a lever, you admit the selfsame steam to the selfsame cylinders, and the paddles turn astern. It is so oftentimes in the moral world. The turning of a straw decides whether the engines shall work forward or backward.

Now, given a friend, to whom you are very warmly attached: it is a toss-up whether your affection for your friend shall make you,

1. Quite blind to his faults; or,

2. Acutely and painfully alive to his faults.

Sincere affection may impel either way. Your friend, for instance, makes a speech at a public dinner. He makes a tremendously bad speech. Now, your love for him may lead you either

1. To fancy that his speech is a remarkably good one; or,

2. To feel acutely how bad his speech is, and to wish you could sink through the floor for very shame.

If you did not care for him at all, you would not mind a bit whether he made a fool of himself or not. But if you really care for him, and if the speech be really very bad, and if you are competent to judge whether speeches in general be bad or not, I do not see how you can escape falling either into Scylla or Charybdis. And accordingly, while there are families in which there exists a preposterous over-estimate of the talents and acquirements of their several members, there are other families in which the rifle-bullet has glanced off in the opposite direction, and in which there exists a depressing and unreasonable under-estimate of the talents and acquirements of their several members. I have known such a thing as a family in which certain boys during their early education had it ceaselessly drilled into them that they were the idlest, stupidest, and most ignorant boys in the world. The poor little fellows grew up under that gloomy belief: for conscience is a very artificial thing, and you may bring up very good boys in the belief that they are very bad. At length, happily, they went to a great public school; and like rockets they went up forthwith to the top of their classes, and never lost their places there. From school they went to the university, and there won honours more eminent than had ever been won before. It will not surprise people who know much of human nature, to be told that through this brilliant career of school and college work the home belief in their idleness and ignorance continued unchanged, and that hardly at its end was the toil-worn senior wrangler regarded as other than an idle and useless blockhead. Now, the affection which prompts the under-estimate may be quite as real and deep as that which prompts the over-estimate, but its manifestation is certainly the less amiable and pleasing. I have known a successful author whose relatives never believed, till the reviews assured them of it, that his writings were anything but contemptible and discreditable trash.

I have been speaking of an honest though erroneous estimate of the qualities of one's friends, rather than of any expression of that estimate. The primary tendency is to an over-estimate; the secondary tendency is to an under-estimate. A commonplace man thinks there never was mortal so wise and good as the friend he values; a man who is a thousandth part of a degree less common-place resolves that he will keep clear of that error, and accordingly he feels bound to exaggerate the failings of his friend and to extenuate his good qualities. He thinks that a friend's judgment is very good and sound, and that he may well rely upon it; but for fear of showing it too much regard, he probably shows it too little. He thinks that in some dispute his friend is right; but for fear of being partial he decides that his friend is wrong. It is obvious that in any instance in which a man, seeking to avoid the primary error of over-estimating his friend, falls into the secondary of under-estimating him, he will (if any importance be attached to his judgment) damage his friend's character; for most people will conclude that he is saying of his friend the best that can be said; and that if even he admits that there is so little to approve about his friend, there must be very little indeed to approve: whereas the truth may be, that he is saying the worst that can be said—that no man could with justice give a worse picture of the friend's character.

Not very far removed from this pair of vulgar errors stand the following:

The primary vulgar error is, to set up as an infallible oracle one whom we regard as wise—to regard any question as settled finally if we know what is his opinion upon it. You remember the man in the Spectator who was always quoting the sayings of Mr. Nisby. There was a report in London that the Grand Vizier was dead. The good man was uncertain whether to believe the report or not. He went and talked with Mr. Nisby and returned with his mind reassured. Now, he enters in his diary that 'the Grand Vizier was certainly dead.' Considering the weakness of the reasoning powers of many people, there is something pleasing after all in this tendency to look round for somebody stronger upon whom they may lean. It is wise and natural in a scarlet-runner to climb up something, for it could not grow up by itself; and for practical purposes it is well that in each household there should be a little Pope, whose dicta on all topics shall be unquestionable. It saves what is to many people the painful effort of making up their mind what they are to do or to think. It enables them to think or act with much greater decision and confidence. Most men have always a lurking distrust of their own judgment, unless they find it confirmed by that of somebody else. There are very many decent commonplace people who, if they had been reading a book or article and had been thinking it very fine, would, if you were resolutely and loudly to declare in their hearing that it was wretched trash, begin to think that it was wretched trash too.

The primary vulgar error, then, is to regard as an oracle one whom we esteem as wise; and the secondary, the Charybdis opposite to this Scylla, is, to entertain an excessive dread of being too much led by one whom we esteem as wise. I mean an honest candid dread. I do not mean a petted, wrong-headed, pragmatical determination to let him see that you can think for yourself. You see, rny friend, I don't suppose you to be a self-conceited fool. You remember how Presumption, in the Pilgrim's Progress, on being offered some good advice, cut his kind adviser short by declaring that Every tub must stand on its own bottom. We have all known men, young and old, who, upon being advised to do something which they knew they ought to do, would, out of pure perversity and a wrong-headed independence, go and do just the opposite thing. The secondary error of which I am now thinking is that of the man who honestly dreads making too much of the judgment of any mortal: and who, acting from a good intention, probably goes wrong in the same direction as the wrong-headed conceited man. Now, don't you know that to such an extent does this morbid fear of trusting too much to any mortal go in some men, that in their practical belief you would think that the fact of any man being very wise was a reason why his judgment should be set aside as unworthy of consideration; and more particularly, that the fact of any man being supposed to be a powerful reasoner, was quite enough to show that all he says is to go for nothing? You are quite aware how jauntily some people use this last consideration, to sweep away at once all the reasons given by an able and ingenious speaker or writer. And it cuts the ground effectually from under his feet. You state an opinion, somewhat opposed to that commonly received. An honest, stupid person meets it with a surprised stare. You tell him (I am recording what I have myself witnessed) that you have been reading a work on the subject by a certain prelate: you state as well as you can the arguments which are set forth by the distinguished prelate. These arguments seem of great weight. They deserve at least to be carefully considered. They seem to prove the novel opinion to be just: they assuredly call on candid minds to ponder the whole matter well before relapsing into the old current way of thinking. Do you expect that the honest, stupid person will judge thus? If so, you are mistaken. He is not shaken in the least by all these strong reasons. The man who has set these reasons forth is known to be a master of logic: that is good ground why all his reasons should count for nothing. Oh, says the stupid, honest person, we all know that the Archbishop can prove anything! And so the whole thing is finally settled.

I have a considerable list of instances in which the reaction from an error on one side of the line of right, lands in error equally distant from the line of right on the other side: but it is needless to go on to illustrate these at length; the mere mention of them will suffice to suggest many thoughts to the intelligent reader. A primary vulgar error, to which very powerful minds have frequently shown a strong tendency, is bigoted intolerance: intolerance in politics, in religion, in ecclesiastical affairs, in morals, in anything. You may safely say that nothing but most unreasonable bigotry would lead a Tory to say that all Whigs are scoundrels, or a Whig to Bay that all Tories are bloated tyrants or crawling sycophants. I must confess that, in severe reason, it is impossible entirely to justify the Churchman who holds that all Dissenters are extremely bad; though (so does inveterate prepossession warp the intellect) I have also to admit that it appears to me that for a Dissenter to hold that there is little or no good in the Church is a great deal worse. There is something fine, however, about a heartily intolerant man: you like him, though you disapprove of him. Even if I were inclined to Whiggery, I should admire the downright dictum of Dr. Johnson, that the devil was the first Whig. Even if I were a Nonconformist, I should like Sydney Smith the better for the singular proof of his declining strength which he once adduced: 'I do believe,' he said, 'that if you were to put a knife into my hand, I should not have vigour enough to stick it into a Dissenter!' The secondary error in this respect is a latitudinarian liberality which regards truth and falsehood as matters of indifference. Genuine liberality of sentiment is a good thing, and difficult as it is good: but much liberality, political and religious, arises really from the fact, that the liberal man does not care a rush about the matter in debate. It is very easy to be tolerant in a case in which you have no feeling whatever either way. The Churchman who does not mind a bit whether the Church stands or falls, has no difficulty in tolerating the enemies and assailants of the Church. It is different with a man who holds the existence of a national Establishment as a vital matter. And I have generally remarked that when clergymen of the Church profess extreme catholicity of spirit, and declare that they do not regard it as a thing of the least consequence whether a man be Churchman or Dissenter, intelligent Nonconformists receive such protestations with much contempt, and (possibly with injustice) suspect their utterer of hypocrisy. If you really care much about any principle; and if you regard it as of essential importance; you cannot help feeling a strong impulse to intolerance of those who decidedly and actively differ from you.

Here are some further vulgar errors, primary and secondary:

Primary—Idleness, and excessive self-indulgence;

Secondary—Penances, and self-inflicted tortures.

Primary—Swallowing whole all that is said or done by one's party;

Secondary—Dread of quite agreeing, or quite disagreeing on any point with any one; and trying to keep at exactly an equal distance from each.

Primary—Following the fashion with indiscriminate ardour;

Secondary—Finding a merit in singularity, as such.

Primary—Being quite captivated with thought which is striking and showy, but not sound;

Secondary—Concluding that whatever is sparkling must be unsound.

I hardly know which tendency of the following is the primary, and which the secondary; but I am sure that both exist. It may depend upon the district of country, and the age of the thinker, which of the two is the action and which the reaction:

1. Thinking a clergyman a model of perfection, because he is a stout dashing fellow who plays at cricket and goes out fox-hunting; and, generally, who flies in the face of all conventionalism;

2. Thinking a clergyman a model of perfection because he is of very grave and decorous deportment; never plays at cricket, and never goes out fox-hunting; and, generally, conforms carefully to all the little proprieties.

1. Thinking a bishop a model prelate because he has no stiffness or ceremony about him, but talks frankly to everybody, and puts all who approach him at their ease;

2. Thinking a bishop a model prelate because he never descends from his dignity; never forgets that he is a bishop, and keeps all who approach him in their proper places.

1. Thinking the Anglican Church service the best, because it is so decorous, solemn, and dignified;

2. Thinking the Scotch Church service the best, because it is so simple and so capable of adaptation to all circumstances which may arise.

1. Thinking an artisan a sensible right-minded man, knowing his station, because he is always very respectful in his demeanour to the squire, and great folks generally;

2. Thinking an artisan a fine, manly, independent fellow, because he is always much less respectful in his demeanour to the squire than he is to other people.

1. Thinking it a fine thing to be a fast, reckless, swaggering, drinking, swearing reprobate: Being ashamed of the imputation of being a well-behaved and (above all) a pious and conscientious young man: Thinking it manly to do wrong, and washy to do right;

2. Thinking it a despicable thing to be a fast, reckless, swaggering, drinking, swearing reprobate: Thinking it is manly to do right, and shameful to do wrong.

1. That a young man should begin his letters to his father with HONOURED SIR; and treat the old gentleman with extraordinary deference upon all occasions:

2. That a young man should begin his remarks to his father on any subject with, I SAY, GOVERNOR; and treat the old gentleman upon all occasions with no deference at all.

But indeed, intelligent reader, the swing of the pendulum is the type of the greater amount of human opinion and human feeling. In individuals, in communities, in parishes, in little country towns, in great nations, from hour to hour, from week to week, from century to century, the pendulum swings to and fro. From Yes on the one side to No on the other side of almost all conceivable questions, the pendulum swings. Sometimes it swings over from Yes to No in a few hours or days; sometimes it takes centuries to pass from the one extremity to the other. In feeling, in taste, in judgment, in the grandest matters and the least, the pendulum swings. From Popery to Puritanism; from Puritanism back towards Popery; from Imperialism to Republicanism, and back towards Imperialism again; from Gothic architecture to Palladian, and from Palladian back to Gothic; from hooped petticoats to drapery of the scantiest, and from that backwards to the multitudinous crinoline; from crying up the science of arms to crying it down, and back; from the schoolboy telling you that his companion Brown is the jolliest fellow, to the schoolboy telling you that his companion Brown is a beast, and back again; from very high carriages to very low ones and back; from very short horsetails to very long ones and back again—the pendulum swings. In matters of serious judgment it is comparatively easy to discern the rationale of this oscillation from side to side. It is that the evils of what is present are strongly felt, while the evils of what is absent are forgotten; and so, when the pendulum has swung over to A, the evils of A send it flying over to B, while when it reaches B the evils of B repel it again to A. In matters of feeling it is less easy to discover the how and why of the process: we can do no more than take refuge in the general belief that nature loves the swing of the pendulum. There are people who at one time have an excessive affection for some friend, and at another take a violent disgust at him: and who (though sometimes permanently remaining at the latter point) oscillate between these positive and negative poles. You, being a sensible man, would not feel very happy if some men were loudly crying you up: for you would be very sure that in a little while they would be loudly crying you dovvn. If you should ever happen to feel for one day an extraordinary lightness and exhilaration of spirits, you will know that you must pay for all this the price of corresponding depression—the hot fit must be counterbalanced by the cold. Let us thank God that there are beliefs and sentiments as to which the pendulum does not swing, though even in these I have known it do so. I have known the young girl who appeared thoroughly good and pious, who devoted herself to works of charity, and (with even an over-scrupulous spirit) eschewed vain company: and who by and bye learned to laugh at all serious things, and ran into the utmost extremes of giddiness and extravagant gaiety. And not merely should all of us be thankful if we feel that in regard to the gravest sentiments and beliefs our mind and heart remain year after year at the same fixed point: I think we should be thankful if we find that as regards our favourite books and authors our taste remains unchanged; that the calm judgment of our middle age approves the preferences of ten years since, and that these gather strength as time gives them the witchery of old remembrances and associations. You enthusiastically admired Byron once, you estimate him very differently now. You once thought Festus finer than Paradise Loft, but you have swung away from that. But for a good many years you have held by Wordsworth, Shakspeare, and Tennyson, and this taste you are not likely to outgrow. It is very curious to look over a volume which we once thought magnificent, enthralling, incomparable, and to wonder how on earth we ever cared for that stilted rubbish. No doubt the pendulum swings quite as decidedly to your estimate of yourself as to your estimate of any one else. It would be nothing at all to have other people attacking and depreciating your writings, sermons, and the like, if you yourself had entire confidence in them. The mortifying thing is when your own taste and judgment say worse of your former productions than could be said by the most unfriendly critic; and the dreadful thought occurs, that if you yourself to-day think so badly of what you wrote ten years since, it is probable enough that on this day ten years hence (if you live to see it) you may think as badly of what you are writing to-day. Let us hope not. Let us trust that at length a standard of taste and judgment is reached from which we shall not ever materially swing away. Yet the pendulum will never be quite arrested as to your estimate of yourself. Now and then you will think yourself a block-head: by and bye you will think yourself very clever; and your judgment will oscillate between these opposite poles of belief. Sometimes you will think that your house is remarkably comfortable, sometimes that it is unendurably uncomfortable; sometimes you will think that your place in life is a very dignified and important one, sometimes that it is a very poor and insignificant one; sometimes you will think that some misfortune or disappointment which has befallen you is a very crushing one; sometimes you will think that it is better as it is. Ah, my brother, it is a poor, weak, wayward thing, the human heart!

You know, of course, how the pendulum of public opinion swings backwards and forwards. The truth lies somewhere about the middle of the arc it describes, in most cases. You know how the popularity of political men oscillates, from A, the point of greatest popularity, to B, the point of no popularity at all. Think of Lord Brougham. Once the pendulum swung far to the right: he was the most popular man in Britain. Then, for many years, the pendulum swung far to the left, into the cold regions of unpopularity, loss of influence, and opposition benches. And now, in his last days, the pendulum has come over to the right again. So with lesser men. When the new clergyman comes to a country parish, how high his estimation! Never was there preacher so impressive, pastor so diligent, man so frank and agreeable. By and bye his sermons are middling, his diligence middling; his manners rather stiff or rather too easy. In a year or two the pendulum rests at its proper point: and from that time onward the parson gets, in most cases, very nearly the credit he deserves. The like oscillation of public opinion and feeling exists in the case of unfavourable as of favourable judgments. A man commits a great crime. His guilt is thought awful. There is a general outcry for his condign punishment. He is sentenced to be hanged. In a few days the tide begins to turn. His crime was not so great. He had met great provocation. His education had been neglected. He deserves pity rather than reprobation. Petitions are got up that he should be let off; and largely signed by the self-same folk who were loudest in the outcry against him. And instead of this fact, that those folk were the keenest against the criminal, being received (as it ought) as proof that their opinion is worth nothing at all, many will receive it as proof that their opinion is entitled to special consideration. The principle of the pendulum in the matter of criminals is well understood by the Old Bailey practitioners of New York and their worthy clients. When a New Yorker is sentenced to be hanged, he remains as a cool as cucumber; for the New York law is, that a year must pass between the sentence and the execution. And long before the year passes, the public sympathy has turned in the criminal's favour. Endless petitions go up for his pardon. Of course he gets off. And indeed it is not improbable that he may receive a public testimonial. It cannot be denied that the natural transition in the popular feeling is from applauding a man to hanging him, and from hanging a man to applauding him.

Even so does the pendulum swing, and the world run away!



CHAPTER IV.

CONCERNING CHURCHYARDS.



Many persons do not like to go near a churchyard: some do not like even to hear a churchyard mentioned. Many others feel an especial interest in that quiet place—an interest which is quite unconnected with any personal associations with it. A great deal depends upon habit; and a great deals turns, too, on whether the churchyard which we know best is a locked-up, deserted, neglected place, all grown over with nettles; or a spot not too much retired, open to all passers-by, with trimly-mown grass and neat gravelled walks. I do not sympathize with the taste which converts a burying-place into a flower-garden or a fashionable lounge for thoughtless people: let it be the true 'country churchyard,' only with some appearance of being remembered and cared for. For myself, though a very commonplace person, and not at all sentimentally inclined, I have a great liking for a churchyard. Hardly a day passes on which I do not go and walk up and down for a little in that which surrounds my church. Probably some people may regard me as extremely devoid of occupation, when I confess that daily, after breakfast, and before sitting down to my work (which is pretty hard, though they may not think so), I walk slowly down to the churchyard, which is a couple of hundred yards off, and there pace about for a few minutes, looking at the old graves and the mossy stones. Nor is this only in summer-time, when the sward is white with daisies, when the ancient oaks around the gray wall are leafy and green, when the passing river flashes bright through their openings and runs chiming over the warm stones, and when the beautiful hills that surround the quiet spot at a little distance are flecked with summer light and shade; but in winter too, when the bare branches look sharp against the frosty sky, and the graves look like wavelets on a sea of snow. Now, if I were anxious to pass myself off upon my readers as a great and thoughtful man, I might here give an account of the profound thoughts which I think in my daily musings in my pretty churchyard. But, being an essentially commonplace person (as I have no doubt about nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand of my readers also are), I must here confess that generally I walk about the churchyard, thinking and feeling nothing very particular. I do not believe that ordinary people, when worried by some little care, or pressed down by some little sorrow, have only to go and muse in a churchyard in order to feel how trivial and transient such cares and sorrows are, and how very little they ought to vex us. To commonplace mortals, it is the sunshine within the breast that does most to brighten; and the thing that has most power to darken is the shadow there. And the scenes and teachings of external nature have, practically, very little effect indeed. And so, when musing in the churchyard, nothing grand, heroical, philosophical, or tremendous ever suggests itself to me. I look with pleasure at the neatly cut walks and grass. I peep in at a window of the church, and think how I am to finish my sermon for next Sunday. I read over the inscriptions on the stones which mark where seven of my predecessors sleep. I look vacantly at the lichens and moss which have overgrown certain tombstones three or four centuries old. And occasionally I think of what and where I shall be, when the village mason, whistling cheerfully at his task, shall cut out my name and years on the stone which will mark my last resting-place. But all these, of course, are commonplace thoughts, just what would occur to anybody else, and really not worth repeating.

And yet, although 'death, and the house appointed for all living,' form a topic which has been treated by innumerable writers, from the author of the book of Job to Mr. Dickens; and although the subject might well be vulgarized by having been, for many a day, the stock resort of every commonplace aimer at the pathetic; still the theme is one which never can grow old. And the experience and the heart of most men convert into touching eloquence even the poorest formula of set phrases about the tremendous Fact. Nor are we able to repress a strong interest in any account of the multitude of fashions in which the mortal part of man has been disposed of, after the great change has passed upon it. In a volume entitled God's Acre, written by a lady, one Mrs. Stone, and published a year or two since, you may find a great amount of curious information upon such points: and after thinking of the various ways of burial described, I think you will return with a feeling of home and of relief to the quiet English country churchyard. I should think that the shocking and revolting description of the burning of the remains of Shelley, published by Mr. Trelawney, in his Last Days of Shelhy and Byron, will go far to destroy any probability of the introduction of cremation in this country, notwithstanding the ingenuity and the eloquence of the little treatise published about two years ago by a Member of the College of Surgeons, whose gist you will understand from its title, which is Burning the Dead; or, Urn-Sepulture Religiously, Socially, and Generally considered; with Suggestions for a Revival of the Practice, as a Sanitary Measure. The choice lies between burning and burying: and the latter being universally accepted in Britain, it remains that it be carried out in the way most decorous as regards the deceased, and most soothing to the feelings of surviving friends. Every one has seen burying-places of all conceivable kinds, and every one knows how prominent a feature they form in the English landscape. There is the dismal corner in the great city, surrounded by blackened walls, where scarce a blade of grass will grow, and where the whole thing is foul and pestilential. There is the ideal country churchyard, like that described by Gray, where the old elms and yews keep watch over the graves where successive generations of simple rustics have found their last resting-place, and where in the twilight the owls hoot from the tower of the ivy-covered church. There is the bare enclosure, surrounded by four walls, and without a tree, far up the lonely Highland hill-side; and more lonely still, the little gray stone, rising above the purple heather, where rude letters, touched up by Old Mortality's hands, tell that one, probably two or three, rest beneath, who were done to death for what they firmly believed was their Redeemer's cause, by Claverhouse or Dalyell. There is the churchyard by the bleak sea-shore, where coffins have been laid bare by the encroaching waves; and the niche in cathedral crypt, or the vault under the church's floor. I cannot conceive anything more irreverent than the American fashion of burying in unconsecrated earth, each family having its own place of interment in the corner of its own garden: unless it be the crotchet of the silly old peer, who spent the last years of his life in erecting near his castle-door, a preposterous building, the progress of which he watched day by day with the interest of a man who had worn out all other interest, occasionally lying down in the stone coffin which he had caused to be prepared, to make sure that it would fit him. I feel sorry, too, for the poor old Pope, who when he dies is laid on a shelf above a door in St. Peter's, where he remains till the next Pope dies, and then is put out of the way to make room for him; nor do I at all envy the noble who has his family vault filled with coffins covered with velvet and gold, occupied exclusively by corpses of good quality. It is better surely to be laid, as Allan Cunningham wished, where we shall 'not be built over;' where 'the wind shall blow and the daisy grow upon our grave.' Let it be among our kindred, indeed, in accordance with the natural desire; but not on dignified shelves, not in aristocratic vaults, but lowly and humbly, where the Christian dead sleep for the Resurrection. Most people will sympathize so far with Beattie, though his lines show that he was a Scotchman, and lived where there are not many trees:—

Mine be the breezy hill that skirts the down, Where a green grassy turf is all I crave, With here and there a violet bestrown, Fast by a brook, or fountain's murmuring wave; And many an evening sun shine sweetly on my grave!

But it depends entirely upon individual associations and fancies where one would wish to rest after life's fitful fever: and I have hardly ever been more deeply impressed than by certain lines which I cut out of an old newspaper when I was a boy, and which set out a choice far different from that of The Minstrel. They are written by Mr. Westwood, a true poet, though not known as he deserves to be. Here they are:—

Not there, not there! Not in that nook, that ye deem so fair;— Little reck I of the blue bright sky, And the stream that floweth so murmuringly, And the bending boughs, and the breezy air— Not there, good friends, not there!

In the city churchyard, where the grass Groweth rank and black, and where never a ray Of that self-same sun doth find its way Through the heaped-up houses' serried mass— Where the only sounds are the voice of the throng, And the clatter of wheels as they rush along— Or the plash of the rain, or the wind's hoarse cry, Or the busy tramp of the passer-by, Or the toll of the bell on the heavy air— Good friends, let it be there!

I am old, my friends—I am very old— Fourscore and five—and bitter cold Were that air on the hill-side far away; Eighty full years, content, I trow, Have I lived in the home where ye see me now, And trod those dark streets day by day, Till my soul doth love them; I love them all, Each battered pavement, and blackened wall, Each court and corner. Good sooth! to me They are all comely and fair to see— They have old faces—each one doth tell A tale of its own, that doth like me well— Sad or merry, as it may be, From the quaint old book of my history. And, friends, when this weary pain is past, Fain would I lay me to rest at last In their very midst;—full sure am I, How dark soever be earth and sky, I shall sleep softly—I shall know That the things I loved so here below Are about me still—so never care That my last home looketh all bleak and bare— Good friends, let it be there!

Some persons appear to think that it argues strength of mind and freedom from unworthy prejudice, to profess great indifference as to what becomes of their mortal part after they die. I have met with men who talked in a vapouring manner about leaving their bodies to be dissected; and who evidently enjoyed the sensation which such sentiments produced among simple folk. Whenever I hear any man talk in this way, my politeness, of course, prevents my telling him that he is an uncommonly silly person; but it does not prevent my thinking him one. It is a mistake to imagine that the soul is the entire man. Human nature, alike here and hereafter, consists of soul and body in union; and the body is therefore justly entitled to its own degree of thought and care. But the point, indeed, is not one to be argued; it is, as it appears to me, a matter of intuitive judgment and instinctive feeling; and I apprehend that this feeling and judgment have never appeared more strongly than in the noblest of our race. I hold by Burke, who wrote, 'I should like that my dust should mingle with kindred dust; the good old expression, "family burying-ground," has something pleasing in it, at least to me.' Mrs. Stone quotes Lady Murray's account of the death of her mother, the celebrated Grissell Baillie, which shows that that strong-minded and noble-hearted woman felt the natural desire:—

The next day she called me: gave directions about some few things: said she wished to be carried home to lie by my father, but that perhaps it would be too much trouble and inconvenience to us at that season, therefore left me to do as I pleased; but that, in a black purse in her cabinet, I would find money sufficient to do it, which she had kept by her for that use, that whenever it happened, it might not straiten us. She added, 'I have now no more to say or do:' tenderly embraced me, and laid down her head upon the pillow, and spoke little after that.

An instance, at once touching and awful, of care for the body after the soul has gone, is furnished by certain well-known lines written by a man not commonly regarded as weak-minded or prejudiced; and engraved by his direction on the stone that marks his grave. If I am wrong, I am content to go wrong with Shakspeare:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear To dig the dust enclosed here: Blest be the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.

The most eloquent exposition I know of the religious aspect of the question, is contained in the concluding sentences of Mr. Melvill's noble sermon on the 'Dying Faith of Joseph.' I believe my readers will thank me for quoting it:—

It is not a Christian thing to die manifesting indifference as to what is done with the body. That body is redeemed: not a particle of its dust but was bought with drops of Christ's precious blood. That body is appointed to a glorious condition; not a particle of the corruptible but what shall put on incorruption; of the mortal that shall not assume immortality. The Christian knows this: it is not the part of a Christian to seem unmindful of this. He may, therefore, as he departs, speak of the place where he would wish to be laid. 'Let me sleep,' he may say, 'with my father and my mother, with my wife and my children; lay me not here, in this distant land, where my dust cannot mingle with its kindred. I would he chimed to my grave by my own village bell, and have my requiem sung where I was baptized into Christ.' Marvel ye at such last words? Wonder ye that one, whose spirit is just entering the separate state, should have this care for the body which he is about to leave to the worms? Nay, he is a believer in Jesus as 'the Resurrection and the Life:' this belief prompts his dying words; and it shall have to be said of him as of Joseph, that 'by faith,' yea, 'by faith,' he 'gave commandment concerning his bones!'

If you hold this belief, my reader, you will look at a neglected churchyard with much regret; and you will highly approve of all endeavours to make the burying-place of the parish as sweet though solemn a spot as can be found within it. I have lately read a little tract, by Mr. Hill, the Rural Dean of North Frome, in the Diocese of Hereford, entitled Thoughts on Churches and Churchyards, which is well worthy of the attentive perusal of the country clergy. Its purpose is to furnish practical suggestions for the maintenance of decent propriety about the church and churchyard. I am not, at present, concerned with that part of the tract which relates to churches; but I may remark, in passing, that Mr. Hill's views upon that subject appear to me distinguished by great good sense, moderation, and taste. He does not discourage country clergymen, who have but limited means with which to set about ordering and beautifying their churches, by suggesting arrangements on too grand and expensive a scale: on the contrary, he enters with hearty sympathy into all plans for attaining a simple and inexpensive seemliness where more cannot be accomplished. And I think he hits with remarkable felicity the just mean between an undue and excessive regard to the mere externalities of worship, and a puritanical bareness and contempt for material aids, desiring, in the words of Archbishop Bramhall, that 'all be with due moderation, so as neither to render religion sordid and sluttish, nor yet light and garish, but comely and venerable.'

Equally judicious, and equally practical, are Mr. Hill's hints as to the ordering of churchyards. He laments that churchyards should ever be found where long, rank grass, briers, and nettles abound, and where neatly kept walks and graves are wanting. He goes on:—

And yet, how trifling an amount of care and attention would suffice to render neat, pretty, and pleasant to look upon, that which has oftentimes an unpleasing, desolate, and painful aspect. A few sheep occasionally (or better still, the scythe and shears now and then employed), with a trifling attention to the walks, once properly formed and gravelled, will suffice, when the fences are duly kept, to make any churchyard seemly and neat: a little more than this will make it ornamental and instructive.

It is possible that many persons might feel that flower-beds and shrubberies are not what they would wish to see in a churchyard; they might think they gave too garden-like and adorned a look to so solemn and sacred a spot; persons will not all think alike on such a matter: and yet something may be done in this direction with an effect which would please everybody. A few trees of the arbor vitae, the cypress, and the Irish yew, scattered here and there, with tirs in the hedge-rows or boundary fences, would be unobjectionable; while wooden baskets, or boxes, placed by the sides of the walks, and filled in summer with the fuchsia or scarlet geranium, would give our churchyards an exceedingly pretty, and perhaps not unsuitable appearance. Little clumps of snowdrops and primroses might also be planted here and there; for flowers may fitly spring up, bloom, and fade away, in a spot which so impressively tells us of death and resurrection: and where sheep even are never admitted, all these methods for beautifying a churchyard may be adopted. Shrubs and flowers on and near the graves, as is so universal in Wales; independently of their pretty effect, show a kindly feeling for the memory of those whose bodies rest beneath them; and how far to be preferred to those enormous and frightful masses of brick or stone which the country mason has, alas, so plentifully supplied!

In the case of a clergyman, a taste for keeping his churchyard in becoming order is just like a taste for keeping his garden and shrubbery in order: only let him begin the work, and the taste will grow. There is latent in the mind of every man, unless he be the most untidy and unobservant of the species, a love for well-mown grass and for sharply outlined gravel-walks. My brethren, credite experto. I did not know that in my soul there was a chord that vibrated responsive to trim gravel and grass, till I tried, and lo! it was there. Try for yourselves: you do not know, perhaps, the strange affinities that exist between material and immaterial nature. If any youthful clergyman shall read these lines, who knows in his conscience that his churchyard-walks are grown up with weeds, and the graves covered with nettles, upon sight hereof let him summon his man-servant, or get a labourer if he have no man-servant. Let him provide a reaping-hook and a large new spade. These implements will suffice in the meantime. Proceed to the churchyard: do not get disheartened at its neglected look, and turn away. Begin at the entrance-gate. Let all the nettles and long grass for six feet on. either side of the path be carefully cut down and gathered into heaps. Then mark out with a line the boundaries of the first ten yards of the walk. Fall to work and cut the edges with the spade; clear away the weeds and grass that have overspread the walk, also with the spade. In a little time you will feel the fascination of the sharp outline of the walk against the grass on each side. And I repeat, that to the average human being there is something inexpressibly pleasing in that sharp outline. By the time the ten yards of walk are cut, you will find that you have discovered a new pleasure and a new sensation; and from that day will date a love of tidy walks and grass;—and what more is needed to make a pretty churchyard? The fuchsias, geraniums, and so forth, are of the nature of luxuries, and they will follow in due time: but grass and gravel are the foundation of rustic neatness and tidiness.

As for the treatise on Burning the Dead, it is interesting and eloquent, though I am well convinced that its author has been putting forih labour in vain. I remember the consternation with which I read the advertisements announcing its publication. I made sure that it must be the production of one of those wrong-headed individuals who are always proposing preposterous things, without end or meaning. Why on earth should we take to burning the dead? What is to be gained by recurring to a heathen rite, repudiated by the early Christians, who, as Sir Thomas Browne tells us, 'stickt not to give their bodies to be burnt in their lives, but detested that mode after death?' And wherefore do anything so horrible, and so suggestive of cruelty and sacrilege, as to consign to devouring flames even the unconscious remains of a departed friend? But after reading the essay, I feel that the author has a great deal to say in defence of his views. I am obliged to acknowledge that in many cases important benefits would follow the adoption of urn-sepulture. The question to be considered is, what is the best way to dispose of the mortal part of man when the soul has left it? A first suggestion might be to endeavour to preserve it in the form and features of life; and, accordingly, in many countries and ages, embalming in its various modifications has been resorted to. But all attempts to prevent the human frame from obeying the Creator's law of returning to the elements have miserably failed. And surely it is better a thousand times to 'bury the dead from our sight,' than to preserve a hideous and revolting mockery of the beloved form. The Egyptian mummies every one has heard of; but the most remarkable instance of embalming in recent times is that of the wife of one Martin Van Butchell, who, by her husband's desire, was embalmed in the year 1775, by Dr. William Hunter and Mr. Carpenter, and who may be seen in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. She was a beautiful woman, and all that skill and science could do were done to preserve her in the appearance of life; but the result is nothing short of shocking and awful. Taking it, then, as admitted, that the body must return to the dust from whence it was taken, the next question is, How? How shall dissolution take place with due respect to the dead, and with least harm to the health and the feelings of the living?

The two fashions which have been universally used are, burial and burning. It has so happened that burial has been associated with Christianity, and burning with heathenism; but I shall admit at once that the association is not essential, though it would be hard, without very weighty reason indeed, to deviate from the long-remembered 'earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.' But such weighty reason the author of this treatise declares to exist. The system of burial, he says, is productive of fearful and numberless evils and dangers to the living. In the neighbourhood of any large burying-place, the air which the living breathe, and the water which they drink, are impregnated with poisons the most destructive of health and life. Even where the damage done to air and water is inappreciable by our senses, it is a predisposing cause of headache, dysentery, sore throat, and low fever;' and it keeps all the population around in a condition in which they are the ready prey of all forms of disease. I shall not shock my readers by relating a host of horrible facts, proved by indisputable evidence, which are adduced by the surgeon to show the evils of burial: and all these evils, he maintains, may be escaped by the revival of burning. Four thousand human beings die every hour; and only by that swift and certain method can the vast mass of decaying matter which, while decaying, gives off the most subtle and searching poisons, be resolved with the elements without injury or risk to any one. So convinced has the French Government become of the evils of burial that it has patronized and encouraged one M. Bonneau, who proposes that instead of a great city having its neighbouring cemeteries, it should be provided with a building called The Sarcophagus, occupying an elevated situation, to which the bodies of rich and poor should be conveyed, and there reduced to ashes by a powerful furnace. And then M. Bonneau, Frenchman all over, suggests that the ashes of our friends might be preserved in a tasteful manner; the funeral urn, containing these ashes, 'replacing on our consoles and mantelpieces the ornaments of bronze clocks and china vases now found there.' Our author, having shown that burning would save us from the dangers of burying, concludes his treatise by a careful description of the manner in which he would carry out the burning process. And certainly his plan contains as little to shock one as may be, in carrying out a system necessarily suggestive of violence and cruelty. There is nothing like the repulsiveness of the Hindoo burning, only half carried out, or even of Mr. Trelawney's furnace for burning poor Shelley. I do not remember to have lately read anything more ghastly and revolting than the entire account of Shelley's cremation. It says much for Mr. Trelawney's nerves, that he was able to look on at it; and it was no wonder that it turned Byron sick, and that Mr. Leigh Hunt kept beyond the sight of it. I intended to have quoted the passage from Mr. Trelawney's book, but I really cannot venture to do so. But it is right to say that there were very good reasons for resorting to that melancholy mode of disposing of the poet's remains, and that Mr. Trelawney did all he could to accomplish the burning with efficiency and decency: though the whole story makes one feel the great physical difficulties that stand in the way of carrying out cremation successfully. The advocate of urn-sepulture, however, is quite aware of this, and he proposes to use an apparatus by which they would be entirely overcome. It is only fair to let him speak for himself; and I think the following passage will be read with interest:—

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse