Friends in Council (First Series)
by Sir Arthur Helps
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Arthur Helps was born at Streatham on the 10th of July, 1813. He went at the age of sixteen to Eton, thence to Trinity College, Cambridge. Having graduated B.A. in 1835, he became private secretary to the Hon. T. Spring Rice, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Melbourne's Cabinet, formed in April, 1835. This was his position at the beginning of the present reign in June, 1837.

In 1839—in which year he graduated M.A.—Arthur Helps was transferred to the service of Lord Morpeth, who was Irish Secretary in the same ministry. Lord Melbourne's Ministry was succeeded by that of Sir Robert Peel in September, 1841, and Helps then was appointed a Commissioner of French, Danish, and Spanish Claims. In 1841 he published "Essays Written in the Intervals of Business." Their quiet thoughtfulness was in accord with the spirit that had given value to his services as private secretary to two ministers of State. In 1844 that little book was followed by another on "The Claims of Labour," dealing with the relations of employers to employed. There was the same scholarly simplicity and grace of style, the same interest in things worth serious attention. "We say," he wrote, towards the close, "that Kings are God's Vicegerents upon Earth; but almost every human being has, at one time or other of his life, a portion of the happiness of those around him in his power, which might make him tremble, if he did but see it in all its fulness." To this book Arthur Helps added an essay "On the Means of Improving the Health and Increasing the Comfort of the Labouring Classes."

His next book was this First Series of "Friends in Council," published in 1847, and followed by other series in later years. There were many other writings of his, less popular than they would have been if the same abilities had been controlled by less good taste. His "History of the Conquest of the New World" in 1848, and of "The Spanish Conquest of America," in four volumes, from 1855 to 1861, preceded his obtaining from his University, in 1864, the honorary degree of D.C.L. In June, 1860, Arthur Helps was made Clerk of the Privy Council, and held that office of high trust until his death on the 7th of March, 1875. He had become Sir Arthur in 1872. H. M.



None but those who, like myself, have once lived in intellectual society, and then have been deprived of it for years, can appreciate the delight of finding it again. Not that I have any right to complain, if I were fated to live as a recluse for ever. I can add little, or nothing, to the pleasure of any company; I like to listen rather than to talk; and when anything apposite does occur to me, it is generally the day after the conversation has taken place. I do not, however, love good talk the less for these defects of mine; and I console myself with thinking that I sustain the part of a judicious listener, not always an easy one.

Great, then, was my delight at hearing last year that my old pupil, Milverton, had taken a house which had long been vacant in our neighbourhood. To add to my pleasure, his college friend, Ellesmere, the great lawyer, also an old pupil of mine, came to us frequently in the course of the autumn. Milverton was at that time writing some essays which he occasionally read to Ellesmere and myself. The conversations which then took place I am proud to say that I have chronicled. I think they must be interesting to the world in general, though of course not so much so as to me.

Milverton and Ellesmere were my favourite pupils. Many is the heartache I have had at finding that those boys, with all their abilities, would do nothing at the University. But it was in vain to urge them. I grieve to say that neither of them had any ambition of the right kind. Once I thought I had stimulated Ellesmere to the proper care and exertion; when, to my astonishment and vexation, going into his rooms about a month before an examination, I found that, instead of getting up his subjects, like a reasonable man, he was absolutely endeavouring to invent some new method for proving something which had been proved before in a hundred ways. Over this he had wasted two days, and from that moment I saw it was useless to waste any more of my time and patience in urging a scholar so indocile for the beaten path.

What tricks he and Milverton used to play me, pretending not to understand my demonstration of some mathematical problem, inventing all manner of subtle difficulties, and declaring they could not go on while these stumbling-blocks lay in their way! But I am getting into college gossip, which may in no way delight my readers. And I am fancying, too, that Milverton and Ellesmere are the boys they were to me; but I am now the child to them. During the years that I have been quietly living here, they have become versed in the ways of the busy world. And though they never think of asserting their superiority, I feel it, and am glad to do so.

My readers would, perhaps, like one to tell them something of the characters of Ellesmere and Milverton; but it would ill become me to give that insight into them, which I, their college friend and tutor, imagine I have obtained. Their friendship I could never understand. It was not on the surface very warm, and their congeniality seemed to result more from one or two large common principles of thought than from any peculiar similarity of taste, or from great affection on either side. Yet I should wrong their friendship if I were to represent it otherwise than a most true- hearted one; more so, perhaps, than some of softer texture. What needs be seen of them individually will be by their words, which I hope I have in the main retained.

The place where we generally met in fine weather was on the lawn before Milverton's house. It was an eminence which commanded a series of valleys sloping towards the sea. And, as the sea was not more than nine miles off, it was a matter of frequent speculation with us whether the landscape was bounded by air or water. In the first valley was a little town of red brick houses, with poplars coming up amongst them. The ruins of a castle, and some water which, in olden times, had been the lake in "the pleasaunce," were between us and the town. The clang of an anvil, or the clamour of a horn, or busy wheelwright's sounds, came faintly up to us when the wind was south.

I must not delay my readers longer with my gossip, but bring them at once into the conversation that preceded our first reading.


Milverton. I tell you, Ellesmere, these are the only heights I care to look down from, the heights of natural scenery.

Ellesmere. Pooh! my dear Milverton, it is only because the particular mounds which the world calls heights, you think you have found out to be but larger ant-heaps. Whenever you have cared about anything, a man more fierce and unphilosophical in the pursuit of it I never saw. To influence men's minds by writing for them, is that no ambition?

Milverton. It may be, but I have it not. Let any kind critic convince me that what I am now doing is useless, or has been done before, or that, if I leave it undone, some one else will do it to my mind; and I should fold up my papers, and watch the turnips grow in that field there, with a placidity that would, perhaps, seem very spiritless to your now restless and ambitious nature, Ellesmere.

Ellesmere. If something were to happen which will not, then—O Philosophy, Philosophy, you, too, are a good old nurse, and rattle your rattles for your little people, as well as old Dame World can do for hers. But what are we to have to-day for our first reading?

Milverton. An Essay on Truth.

Ellesmere. Well, had I known this before, it is not the novelty of the subject which would have dragged me up the hill to your house. By the way, philosophers ought not to live upon hills. They are much more accessible, and I think quite as reasonable, when, Diogenes-like, they live in tubs upon flat ground. Now for the essay.


Truth is a subject which men will not suffer to grow old. Each age has to fight with its own falsehoods: each man with his love of saying to himself and those around him pleasant things and things serviceable for to-day, rather than the things which are. Yet a child appreciates at once the divine necessity for truth; never asks, "What harm is there in saying the thing that is not?" and an old man finds, in his growing experience, wider and wider applications of the great doctrine and discipline of truth.

Truth needs the wisdom of the serpent as well as the simplicity of the dove. He has gone but a little way in this matter who supposes that it is an easy thing for a man to speak the truth, "the thing he troweth;" and that it is a casual function, which may be fulfilled at once after any lapse of exercise. But, in the first place, the man who would speak truth must know what he troweth. To do that, he must have an uncorrupted judgment. By this is not meant a perfect judgment or even a wise one, but one which, however it may be biassed, is not bought—is still a judgment. But some people's judgments are so entirely gained over by vanity, selfishness, passion, or inflated prejudices and fancies long indulged in; or they have the habit of looking at everything so carelessly, that they see nothing truly. They cannot interpret the world of reality. And this is the saddest form of lying, "the lie that sinketh in," as Bacon says, which becomes part of the character and goes on eating the rest away.

Again, to speak truth, a man must not only have that martial courage which goes out, with sound of drum and trumpet, to do and suffer great things; but that domestic courage which compels him to utter small sounding truths in spite of present inconvenience and outraged sensitiveness or sensibility. Then he must not be in any respect a slave to self-interest. Often it seems as if but a little misrepresentation would gain a great good for us; or, perhaps, we have only to conceal some trifling thing, which, if told, might hinder unreasonably, as we think, a profitable bargain. The true man takes care to tell, notwithstanding. When we think that truth interferes at one time or another with all a man's likings, hatings, and wishes, we must admit, I think, that it is the most comprehensive and varied form of self-denial.

Then, in addition to these great qualities, truth-telling in its highest sense requires a well-balanced mind. For instance, much exaggeration, perhaps the most, is occasioned by an impatient and easily moved temperament which longs to convey its own vivid impressions to other minds, and seeks by amplifying to gain the full measure of their sympathy. But a true man does not think what his hearers are feeling, but what he is saying.

More stress might be laid than has been on the intellectual requisites for truth, which are probably the best part of intellectual cultivation; and as much caused by truth as causing it. {12} But, putting the requisites for truth at the fewest, see of how large a portion of the character truth is the resultant. If you were to make a list of those persons accounted the religious men of their respective ages, you would have a ludicrous combination of characters essentially dissimilar. But true people are kindred. Mention the eminently true men, and you will find that they are a brotherhood. There is a family likeness throughout them.

If we consider the occasions of exercising truthfulness and descend to particulars, we may divide the matter into the following heads: - -truth to oneself—truth to mankind in general—truth in social relations—truth in business—truth in pleasure.

1. Truth to oneself. All men have a deep interest that each man should tell himself the truth. Not only will he become a better man, but he will understand them better. If men knew themselves, they could not be intolerant to others.

It is scarcely necessary to say much about the advantage of a man knowing himself for himself. To get at the truth of any history is good; but a man's own history—when he reads that truly, and, without a mean and over-solicitous introspection, knows what he is about and what he has been about, it is a Bible to him. "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned before the Lord." David knew the truth about himself. But truth to oneself is not merely truth about oneself. It consists in maintaining an openness and justness of soul which brings a man into relation with all truth. For this, all the senses, if you might so call them, of the soul must be uninjured—that is, the affections and the perceptions must be just. For a man to speak the truth to himself comprehends all goodness; and for us mortals can only be an aim.

2. Truth to mankind in general. This is a matter which, as I read it, concerns only the higher natures. Suffice it to say, that the withholding large truths from the world may be a betrayal of the greatest trust.

3. Truth in social relations. Under this head come the practices of making speech vary according to the person spoken to; of pretending to agree with the world when you do not; of not acting according to what is your deliberate and well-advised opinion because some mischief may be made of it by persons whose judgment in this matter you do not respect; of maintaining a wrong course for the sake of consistency; of encouraging the show of intimacy with those whom you never can be intimate with; and many things of the same kind. These practices have elements of charity and prudence as well as fear and meanness in them. Let those parts which correspond to fear and meanness be put aside. Charity and prudence are not parasitical plants which require boles of falsehood to climb up upon. It is often extremely difficult in the mixed things of this world to act truly and kindly too; but therein lies one of the great trials of man, that his sincerity should have kindness in it, and his kindness truth.

4. Truth in business. The more truth you can get into any business, the better. Let the other side know the defects of yours, let them know how you are to be satisfied, let there be as little to be found as possible (I should say nothing), and if your business be an honest one, it will be best tended in this way. The talking, bargaining, and delaying that would thus be needless, the little that would then have to be done over again, the anxiety that would be put aside, would even in a worldly way be "great gain." It is not, perhaps, too much to say, that the third part of men's lives is wasted by the effect, direct or indirect, of falsehoods.

Still, let us not be swift to imagine that lies are never of any service. A recent Prime Minister said, that he did not know about truth always prevailing and the like; but lies had been very successful against his government. And this was true enough. Every lie has its day. There is no preternatural inefficacy in it by reason of its falseness. And this is especially the case with those vague injurious reports which are no man's lies, but all men's carelessness. But even as regards special and unmistakable falsehood, we must admit that it has its success. A complete being might deceive with wonderful effect; however, as nature is always against a liar, it is great odds in the case of ordinary mortals. Wolsey talks of

"Negligence Fit for a fool to fall by,"

when he gives Henry the wrong packet; but the Cardinal was quite mistaken. That kind of negligence was just the thing of which far- seeing and thoughtful men are capable; and which, if there were no higher motive, should induce them to rely on truth alone. A very close vulpine nature, all eyes, all ears, may succeed better in deceit. But it is a sleepless business. Yet, strange to say, it is had recourse to in the most spendthrift fashion, as the first and easiest thing that comes to hand.

In connection with truth in business, it may be observed that if you are a truthful man, you should be watchful over those whom you employ; for your subordinate agents are often fond of lying for your interests, as they think. Show them at once that you do not think with them, and that you will disconcert any of their inventions by breaking in with the truth. If you suffer the fear of seeming unkind to prevent your thrusting well-meant inventions aside, you may get as much pledged to falsehoods as if you had coined and uttered them yourself.

5. Truth in pleasure. Men have been said to be sincere in their pleasures; but this is only that the taste and habits of men are more easily discernible in pleasure than in business. The want of truth is as great a hindrance to the one as to the other. Indeed, there is so much insincerity and formality in the pleasurable department of human life, especially in social pleasures, that instead of a bloom there is a slime upon it, which deadens and corrupts the thing. One of the most comical sights to superior beings must be to see two human creatures with elaborate speech and gestures making each other exquisitely uncomfortable from civility: the one pressing what he is most anxious that the other should not accept, and the other accepting only from the fear of giving offence by refusal. There is an element of charity in all this too; and it will be the business of a just and refined nature to be sincere and considerate at the same time. This will be better done by enlarging our sympathy, so that more things and people are pleasant to us, than by increasing the civil and conventional part of our nature, so that we are able to do more seeming with greater skill and endurance. Of other false hindrances to pleasure, such as ostentation and pretences of all kinds, there is neither charity nor comfort in them. They may be got rid of altogether, and no moaning made over them. Truth, which is one of the largest creatures, opens out the way to the heights of enjoyment, as well as to the depths of self-denial.

It is difficult to think too highly of the merits and delights of truth; but there is often in men's minds an exaggerated notion of some bit of truth, which proves a great assistance to falsehood. For instance, the shame of some particular small falsehood, exaggeration, or insincerity, becomes a bugbear which scares a man into a career of false dealing. He has begun making a furrow a little out of the line, and he ploughs on in it to try and give some consistency and meaning to it. He wants almost to persuade himself that it was not wrong, and entirely to hide the wrongness from others. This is a tribute to the majesty of truth; also to the world's opinion about truth. It proceeds, too, upon the notion that all falsehoods are equal, which is not the case; or on some fond craving for a show of perfection, which is sometimes very inimical to the reality. The practical, as well as the high-minded, view in such cases, is for a man to think how he can be true now. To attain that, it may, even for this world, be worth while for a man to admit that he is inconsistent, and even that he has been untrue. His hearers, did they know anything of themselves, would be fully aware that he was not singular, except in the courage of owning his insincerity.


Ellesmere. That last part requires thinking about. If you were to permit men, without great loss of reputation, to own that they had been insincere, you might break down some of that majesty of truth you talk about. And bad men might avail themselves of any facilities of owning insincerity, to commit more of it. I can imagine that the apprehension of this might restrain a man from making any such admission as you allude to, even if he could make up his mind to do it otherwise.

Milverton. Yes; but can anything be worse than a man going on in a false course? Each man must look to his own truthfulness, and keep that up as well as he can, even at the risk of saying, or doing, something which may be turned to ill account by others. We may think too much about this reflection of our external selves. Let the real self be right. I am not so fanciful as to expect men to go about clamouring that they have been false; but at no risk of letting people see that, or of even being obliged to own it, should they persevere in it.

Dunsford. Milverton is right, I think.

Ellesmere. Do not imagine that I am behind either of you in a wish to hold up truth. My only doubt was as to the mode. For my own part, I have such faith in truth that I take it mere concealment is in most cases a mischief. And I should say, for instance, that a wise man would be sorry that his fellows should think better of him than he deserves. By the way, that is a reason why I should not like to be a writer of moral essays, Milverton—one should be supposed to be so very good.

Milverton. Only by thoughtless people then. There is a saying given to Rousseau, not that he ever did say it, for I believe it was a misprint, but it was a possible saying for him, "Chaque homme qui pense est mechant." Now, without going the length of this aphorism, we may say that what has been well written has been well suffered.

"He best can paint them who has felt them most."

And so, though we should not exactly declare that writers who have had much moral influence have been wicked men, yet we may admit that they have been amongst the most struggling, which implies anything but serene self-possession and perfect spotlessness. If you take the great ones, Luther, Shakespeare, Goethe, you see this at once.

Dunsford. David, St. Paul.

Milverton. Such men are like great rocks on the seashore. By their resistance, terraces of level land are formed; but the rocks themselves bear many scars and ugly indents, while the sea of human difficulty presents the same unwrinkled appearance in all ages. Yet it has been driven back.

Ellesmere. But has it lost any of its bulk, or only gone elsewhere? One part of the resemblance certainly is that these same rocks, which were bulwarks, become, in their turn, dangers.

Milverton. Yes, there is always loss in that way. It is seldom given to man to do unmixed good. But it was not this aspect of the simile that I was thinking of: it was the scarred appearance.

Dunsford. Scars not always of defeat or flight; scars in the front.

Milverton. Ah, it hardly does for us to talk of victory or defeat, in these cases; but we may look at the contest itself as something not bad, terminate how it may. We lament over a man's sorrows, struggles, disasters, and shortcomings; yet they were possessions too. We talk of the origin of evil and the permission of evil. But what is evil? We mostly speak of sufferings and trials as good, perhaps, in their result; but we hardly admit that they may be good in themselves. Yet they are knowledge—how else to be acquired, unless by making men as gods, enabling them to understand without experience. All that men go through may be absolutely the best for them—no such thing as evil, at least in our customary meaning of the word. But, you will say, they might have been created different and higher. See where this leads to. Any sentient being may set up the same claim: a fly that it had not been made a man; and so the end would be that each would complain of not being all.

Ellesmere. Say it all over again, my dear Milverton: it is rather hard. [Milverton did so, in nearly the same words.] I think I have heard it all before. But you may have it as you please. I do not say this irreverently, but the truth is, I am too old and too earthly to enter upon these subjects. I think, however, that the view is a stout-hearted one. It is somewhat in the same vein of thought that you see in Carlyle's works about the contempt of happiness. But in all these cases, one is apt to think of the sage in "Rasselas," who is very wise about human misery till he loses his daughter. Your fly illustration has something in it. Certainly when men talk big about what might have been done for man, they omit to think what might be said, on similar grounds, for each sentient creature in the universe. But here have we been meandering off into origin of evil, and uses of great men, and wickedness of writers, etc., whereas I meant to have said something about the essay. How would you answer what Bacon maintains? "A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure."

Milverton. He is not speaking of the lies of social life, but of self-deception. He goes on to class under that head "vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would." These things are the sweetness of "the lie that sinketh in." Many a man has a kind of mental kaleidoscope, where the bits of broken glass are his own merits and fortunes, and they fall into harmonious arrangements and delight him—often most mischievously and to his ultimate detriment, but they are a present pleasure.

Ellesmere. Well, I am going to be true in my pleasures: to take a long walk alone. I have got a difficult case for an opinion, which I must go and think over.

Dunsford. Shall we have another reading tomorrow?

Milverton. Yes, if you are both in the humour for it.


As the next day was fine, we agreed to have our reading in the same spot that I have described before. There was scarcely any conversation worth noting, until after Milverton had read us the following essay on Conformity.


The conformity of men is often a far poorer thing than that which resembles it amongst the lower animals. The monkey imitates from imitative skill and gamesomeness: the sheep is gregarious, having no sufficient will to form an independent project of its own. But man often loathes what he imitates, and conforms to what he knows to be wrong.

It will ever be one of the nicest problems for a man to solve how far he shall profit by the thoughts of other men, and not be enslaved by them. He comes into the world, and finds swaddling clothes ready for his mind as well as his body. There is a vast scheme of social machinery set up about him; and he has to discern how he can make it work with him and for him, without becoming part of the machinery himself. In this lie the anguish and the struggle of the greatest minds. Most sad are they, having mostly the deepest sympathies, when they find themselves breaking off from communion with other minds. They would go on, if they could, with the opinions around them. But, happily, there is something to which a man owes a larger allegiance than to any human affection. He would be content to go away from a false thing, or quietly to protest against it; but in spite of him the strife in his heart breaks into burning utterance by word or deed.

Few, however, are those who venture, even for the shortest time, into that hazy world of independent thought, where a man is not upheld by a crowd of other men's opinions, but where he must find a footing of his own. Among the mass of men, there is little or no resistance to conformity. Could the history of opinions be fully written, it would be seen how large a part in human proceedings the love of conformity, or rather the fear of non-conformity, has occasioned. It has triumphed over all other fears; over love, hate, pity, sloth, anger, truth, pride, comfort, self-interest, vanity, and maternal love. It has torn down the sense of beauty in the human soul, and set up in its place little ugly idols which it compels us to worship with more than Japanese devotion. It has contradicted Nature in the most obvious things, and been listened to with abject submission. Its empire has been no less extensive than deep-seated. The serf to custom points his finger at the slave to fashion—as if it signified whether it is an old or a new thing which is irrationally conformed to. The man of letters despises both the slaves of fashion and of custom, but often runs his narrow career of thought, shut up, though he sees it not, within close walls which he does not venture even to peep over.

It is hard to say in what department of human thought and endeavour conformity has triumphed most. Religion comes to one's mind first; and well it may when one thinks what men have conformed to in all ages in that matter. If we pass to art, or science, we shall see there too the wondrous slavery which men have endured—from puny fetters, moreover, which one stirring thought would, as we think, have burst asunder. The above, however, are matters not within every one's cognisance; some of them are shut in by learning or the show of it; and plain "practical" men would say, they follow where they have no business but to follow. But the way in which the human body shall be covered is not a thing for the scientific and the learned only: and is allowed on all hands to concern, in no small degree, one half at least of the creation. It is in such a simple thing as dress that each of us may form some estimate of the extent of conformity in the world. A wise nation, unsubdued by superstition, with the collected experience of peaceful ages, concludes that female feet are to be clothed by crushing them. The still wiser nations of the west have adopted a swifter mode of destroying health, and creating angularity, by crushing the upper part of the female body. In such matters nearly all people conform. Our brother man is seldom so bitter against us, as when we refuse to adopt at once his notions of the infinite. But even religious dissent were less dangerous and more respectable than dissent in dress. If you want to see what men will do in the way of conformity, take a European hat for your subject of meditation. I dare say there are twenty-two millions of people at this minute each wearing one of these hats in order to please the rest. As in the fine arts, and in architecture, especially, so in dress, something is often retained that was useful when something else was beside it. To go to architecture for an instance, a pinnacle is retained, not that it is of any use where it is, but in another kind of building it would have been. That style of building, as a whole, has gone out of fashion, but the pinnacle has somehow or other kept its ground and must be there, no one insolently going back to first principles and asking what is the use and object of building pinnacles. Similar instances in dress will occur to my readers. Some of us are not skilled in such affairs; but looking at old pictures we may sometimes see how modern clothes have attained their present pitch of frightfulness and inconvenience. This matter of dress is one in which, perhaps, you might expect the wise to conform to the foolish; and they have.

When we have once come to a right estimate of the strength of conformity, we shall, I think, be more kindly disposed to eccentricity than we usually are. Even a wilful or an absurd eccentricity is some support against the weighty common-place conformity of the world. If it were not for some singular people who persist in thinking for themselves, in seeing for themselves, and in being comfortable, we should all collapse into a hideous uniformity.

It is worth while to analyse that influence of the world which is the right arm of conformity. Some persons bend to the world in all things, from an innocent belief that what so many people think must be right. Others have a vague fear of the world as of some wild beast which may spring out upon them at any time. Tell them they are safe in their houses from this myriad-eyed creature: they still are sure that they shall meet with it some day, and would propitiate its favour at any sacrifice. Many men contract their idea of the world to their own circle, and what they imagine to be said in that circle of friends and acquaintances is their idea of public opinion- -"as if," to use a saying of Southey's, "a number of worldlings made a world." With some unfortunate people, the much dreaded "world" shrinks into one person of more mental power than their own, or perhaps merely of coarser nature; and the fancy as to what this person will say about anything they do, sits upon them like a nightmare. Happy the man who can embark his small adventure of deeds and thoughts upon the shallow waters round his home, or send them afloat on the wide sea of humanity, with no great anxiety in either case as to what reception they may meet with! He would have them steer by the stars, and take what wind may come to them.

A reasonable watchfulness against conformity will not lead a man to spurn the aid of other men, still less to reject the accumulated mental capital of ages. It does not compel us to dote upon the advantages of savage life. We would not forego the hard-earned gains of civil society because there is something in most of them which tends to contract the natural powers, although it vastly aids them. We would not, for instance, return to the monosyllabic utterance of barbarous men, because in any formed language there are a thousand snares for the understanding. Yet we must be most watchful of them. And in all things, a man must beware of so conforming himself as to crush his nature and forego the purpose of his being. We must look to other standards than what men may say or think. We must not abjectly bow down before rules and usages; but must refer to principles and purposes. In few words, we must think, not whom we are following, but what we are doing. If not, why are we gifted with individual life at all? Uniformity does not consist with the higher forms of vitality. Even the leaves of the same tree are said to differ, each one from all the rest. And can it be good for the soul of a man "with a biography of his own like to no one else's," to subject itself without thought to the opinions and ways of others: not to grow into symmetry, but to be moulded down into conformity?


Ellesmere. Well, I rather like that essay. I was afraid, at first, it was going to have more of the fault into which you essay writers generally fall, of being a comment on the abuse of a thing, and not on the thing itself. There always seems to me to want another essay on the other side. But I think, at the end, you protect yourself against misconstruction. In the spirit of the essay, you know, of course, that I quite agree with you. Indeed, I differ from all the ordinary biographers of that independent gentleman, Don't Care. I believe Don't Care came to a good end. At any rate he came to some end. Whereas numbers of people never have beginning, or ending, of their own. An obscure dramatist, Milverton, whom we know of, makes one of his characters say, in reply to some world-fearing wretch:

"While you, you think What others think, or what you think they'll say, Shaping your course by something scarce more tangible Than dreams, at best the shadows on the stream Of aspen leaves by flickering breezes swayed— Load me with irons, drive me from morn till night, I am not the utter slave which that man is Whose sole word, thought, and deed are built on what The world may say of him."

Milverton. Never mind the obscure dramatist. But, Ellesmere, you really are unreasonable, if you suppose that, in the limits of a short essay, you can accurately distinguish all you write between the use and the abuse of a thing. The question is, will people misunderstand you—not, is the language such as to be logically impregnable? Now, in the present case, no man will really suppose it is a wise and just conformity that I am inveighing against.

Ellesmere. I am not sure of that. If everybody is to have independent thought, would there not be a fearful instability and want of compactness? Another thing, too—conformity often saves so much time and trouble.

Milverton. Yes; it has its uses. I do not mean, in the world of opinion and morality, that it should be all elasticity and no gravitation; but at least enough elasticity to preserve natural form and independent being.

Ellesmere. I think it would have been better if you had turned the essay another way, and instead of making it on conformity, had made it on interference. That is the greater mischief and the greater folly, I think. Why do people unreasonably conform? Because they feel unreasonable interference. War, I say, is interference on a small scale compared with the interference of private life. Then the absurdity on which it proceeds; that men are all alike, or that it is desirable that they should be; and that what is good for one is good for all.

Dunsford. I must say, I think, Milverton, you do not give enough credit for sympathy, good-nature, and humility as material elements in the conformity of the world.

Ellesmere. I am not afraid, my dear Dunsford, of the essay doing much harm. There is a power of sleepy conformity in the world. You may just startle your conformists for a minute, but they gravitate into their old way very soon. You talk of their humility, Dunsford, but I have heard people who have conformed to opinions, without a pretence of investigation, as arrogant and intolerant towards anybody who differed from them, as if they stood upon a pinnacle of independent sagacity and research.

Dunsford. One never knows, Ellesmere, on which side you are. I thought you were on mine a minute or two ago; and now you come down upon me with more than Milverton's anti-conforming spirit.

Ellesmere. The greatest mischief, as I take it, of this slavish conformity, is in the reticence it creates. People will be, what are called, intimate friends, and yet no real interchange of opinion takes place between them. A man keeps his doubts, his difficulties, and his peculiar opinions to himself. He is afraid of letting anybody know that he does not exactly agree with the world's theories on all points. There is no telling the hindrance that this is to truth.

Milverton. A great cause of this, Ellesmere, is in the little reliance you can have on any man's secrecy. A man finds that what, in the heat of discussion, and in the perfect carelessness of friendship, he has said to his friend, is quoted to people whom he would never have said it to; knowing that it would be sure to be misunderstood, or half-understood, by them. And so he grows cautious; and is very loth to communicate to anybody his more cherished opinions, unless they fall in exactly with the stream. Added to which, I think there is in these times less than there ever was of a proselytising spirit; and people are content to keep their opinions to themselves—more perhaps from indifference than from fear.

Ellesmere. Yes, I agree with you.

By the way, I think your taking dress as an illustration of extreme conformity is not bad. Really it is wonderful the degree of square and dull hideousness to which, in the process of time and tailoring, and by severe conformity, the human creature's outward appearance has arrived. Look at a crowd of men from a height, what an ugly set of ants they appear! Myself, when I see an Eastern man, one of the people attached to their embassies, sweeping by us in something flowing and stately, I feel inclined to take off my hat to him (only that I think the hat might frighten him), and say, Here is a great, unhatted, uncravated, bearded man, not a creature clipt and twisted and tortured into tailorhood.

Dunsford. Ellesmere broke in upon me just now, so that I did not say all that I meant to say. But, Milverton, what would you admit that we are to conform to? In silencing the general voice, may we not give too much opportunity to our own headstrong suggestions, and to wilful licence?

Milverton. Yes: to be somewhat deaf to the din of the world may be no gain, even loss, if then we only listen more to the worst part of ourselves; but in itself it is a good thing to silence that din. It is at least a beginning of good. If anything good is then gained, it is not a sheepish tendency, but an independent resolve growing out of our nature. And, after all, when we talk of non-conformity, it may only be that we non-conform to the immediate sect of thought or action about us, to conform to a much wider thing in human nature.

Ellesmere. Ah me! how one wants a moral essayist always at hand to enable one to make use of moral essays.

Milverton. Your rules of law are grand things—the proverbs of justice; yet has not each case its specialities, requiring to be argued with much circumstance, and capable of different interpretations? Words cannot be made into men.

Dunsford. I wonder you answer his sneers, Milverton.

Ellesmere. I must go and see whether words cannot be made into guineas: and then guineas into men is an easy thing. These trains will not wait even for critics, so, for the present, good-bye.


Ellesmere soon wrote us word that he would be able to come down again; and I agreed to be at Worth-Ashton (Milverton's house) on the day of his arrival. I had scarcely seated myself at our usual place of meeting before the friends entered, and after greeting me, the conversation thus began:

Ellesmere. Upon my word, you people who live in the country have a pleasant time of it. As Milverton was driving me from the station through Durley Wood, there was such a rich smell of pines, such a twittering of birds, so much joy, sunshine, and beauty, that I began to think, if there were no such place as London, it really would be very desirable to live in the country.

Milverton. What a climax! But I am always very suspicious, when Ellesmere appears to be carried away by any enthusiasm, that it will break off suddenly, like the gallop of a post-horse.

Dunsford. Well, what are we to have for our essay!

Milverton. Despair.

Ellesmere. I feel equal to anything just now, and so, if it must be read sometime or other, let us have it now.

Milverton. You need not be afraid. I want to take away, not to add gloom. Shall I read?

We assented, and he began.


Despair may be serviceable when it arises from a temporary prostration of spirits: during which the mind is insensibly healing, and her scattered power silently returning. This is better than to be the sport of a teasing hope without reason. But to indulge in despair as a habit is slothful, cowardly, short-sighted; and manifestly tends against Nature. Despair is then the paralysis of the soul.

These are the principal causes of despair—remorse, the sorrows of the affections, worldly trouble, morbid views of religion, native melancholy.


Remorse does but add to the evil which bred it, when it promotes, not penitence, but despair. To have erred in one branch of our duties does not unfit us for the performance of all the rest, unless we suffer the dark spot to spread over our whole nature, which may happen almost unobserved in the torpor of despair. This kind of despair is chiefly grounded on a foolish belief that individual words or actions constitute the whole life of man: whereas they are often not fair representatives of portions even of that life. The fragments of rock in a mountain stream may tell much of its history, are in fact results of its doings, but they are not the stream. They were brought down when it was turbid; it may now be clear: they are as much the result of other circumstances as of the action of the stream; their history is fitful: they give us no sure intelligence of the future course of the stream, or of the nature of its waters; and may scarcely show more than that it has not been always as it is. The actions of men are often but little better indications of the men themselves.

A prolonged despair arising from remorse is unreasonable at any age, but if possible, still more so when felt by the young. To think, for example, that the great Being who made us could have made eternal ruin and misery inevitable to a poor half-fledged creature of eighteen or nineteen! And yet how often has the profoundest despair from remorse brooded over children of that age and eaten into their hearts.

There is frequently much selfishness about remorse. Put what has been done at the worst. Let a man see his own evil word, or deed, in full light, and own it to be black as hell itself. He is still here. He cannot be isolated. There still remain for him cares and duties; and, therefore, hopes. Let him not in imagination link all creation to his fate. Let him yet live in the welfare of others, and, if it may be so, work out his own in this way: if not, be content with theirs. The saddest cause of remorseful despair is when a man does something expressly contrary to his character: when an honourable man, for instance, slides into some dishonourable action; or a tender-hearted man falls into cruelty from carelessness; or, as often happens, a sensitive nature continues to give the greatest pain to others from temper, feeling all the time, perhaps, more deeply than the persons aggrieved. All these cases may be summed up in the words, "That which I would not that I do," the saddest of all human confessions, made by one of the greatest men. However, the evil cannot be mended by despair. Hope and humility are the only supports under this burden. As Mr. Carlyle says,

"What are faults, what are the outward details of a life; if the inner secret of it, the remorse, temptations, true, often-baffled, never-ended struggle of it, be forgotten. 'It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.' Of all acts, is not, for a man, repentance the most divine? The deadliest sin, I say, were that same supercilious consciousness of no sin; that is death: the heart so conscious is divorced from sincerity, humility, and fact; is dead: it is 'pure' as dead dry sand is pure. David's life and history, as written for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be the truest emblem ever given of a man's moral progress and warfare here below. All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul towards what is good and best. Struggle often baffled, sore baffled, down as into entire wreck; yet a struggle never ended; ever, with tears, repentance, true unconquerable purpose, begun anew. Poor human nature! is not a man's walking, in truth, always that: a 'succession of falls!' Man can do no other. In this wild element of a Life, he has to struggle onwards; now fallen, deep abased; and ever, with tears, repentance, with bleeding heart, he has to rise again, struggle again still onwards. That his struggle be a faithful unconquerable one: this is the question of questions."


The loss by death of those we love has the first place in these sorrows. Yet the feeling in this case, even when carried to the highest, is not exactly despair, having too much warmth in it for that. Not much can be said in the way of comfort on this head. Queen Elizabeth, in her hard, wise way, writing to a mother who had lost her son, tells her that she will be comforted in time; and why should she not do for herself what the mere lapse of time will do for her? Brave words! and the stern woman, more earnest than the sage in "Rasselas," would have tried their virtue on herself. But I fear they fell somewhat coldly on the mother's ear. Happily, in these bereavements, kind Nature with her opiates, day by day administered, does more than all the skill of the physician moralists. Sir Thomas Browne says,

"Darkness and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us. Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep into stones are fables. Afflictions induce callosities, miseries are slippery, or fall like snow upon us, which, notwithstanding, is no unhappy stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in Nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days, and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions."

The good knight thus makes much comfort out of our physical weakness. But something may be done in a very different direction, namely, by spiritual strength. By elevating and purifying the sorrow, we may take it more out of matter, as it were, and so feel less the loss of what is material about it.

The other sorrows of the affections which may produce despair, are those in which the affections are wounded, as jealousy, love unrequited, friendship betrayed and the like. As, in despair from remorse, the whole life seems to be involved in one action: so in the despair we are now considering, the whole life appears to be shut up in the one unpropitious affection. Yet human nature, if fairly treated, is too large a thing to be suppressed into despair by one affection, however potent. We might imagine that if there were anything that would rob life of its strength and favour, it is domestic unhappiness. And yet how numerous is the bond of those whom we know to have been eminently unhappy in some domestic relation, but whose lives have been full of vigorous and kindly action. Indeed the culture of the world has been largely carried on by such men. As long as there is life in the plant, though it be sadly pent in, it will grow towards any opening of light that is left for it.


This appears too mean a subject for despair, or, at least, unworthy of having any remedy, or soothing thought out of it. Whether a man lives in a large room or a small one, rides or is obliged to walk, gets a plenteous dinner every day, or a sparing one, do not seem matters for despair. But the truth is, that worldly trouble, such for instance, as loss of fortune, is seldom the simple thing that poets would persuade us.

"The little or the much she gave is quietly resigned; Content with poverty, my soul I arm, And virtue, though in rags will keep me warm."

So sings Dryden, paraphrasing Horace, but each of them with their knowledge of the world, cross-questioned in prose, could have told us how the stings of fortune really are felt. The truth is, that fortune is not exactly a distinct isolated thing which can be taken away—"and there an end." But much has to be severed, with undoubted pain in the operation. A man mostly feels that his reputation for sagacity, often his honour, the comfort, too, or supposed comfort, of others are embarked in his fortunes. Mere stoicism, and resolves about fitting fortune to oneself, not oneself to fortune, though good things enough in their way, will not always meet the whole of the case. And a man who could bear personal distress of any kind with Spartan indifference, may suffer himself to be overwhelmed by despair growing out of worldly trouble. A frequent origin of such despair, as indeed of all despair (not by any means excluding despair from remorse), is pride. Let a man say to himself, "I am not the perfect character I meant to be; this is not the conduct I had imagined for myself; these are not the fortunate circumstances I had always intended to be surrounded by." Let him at once admit that he is on a lower level than his ideal one; and then see what is to be done there. This seems the best way of treating all that part of worldly trouble which consists of self- reproval. We scarcely know of any outward life continuously prosperous (and a very dull one it would be): why should we expect the inner life to be one course of unbroken self-improvement, either in prudence, or in virtue?

Before a man gives way to excessive grief about the fortunes of his family being lost with his own, he should think whether he really knows wherein lies the welfare of others. Give him some fairy power, inexhaustible purses or magic lamps, not, however, applying to the mind; and see whether he could make those whom he would favour good or happy. In the East, they have a proverb of this kind, Happy are the children of those fathers who go to the Evil One. But for anything that our Western experience shows, the proverb might be reversed, and, instead of running thus, Happy are the sons of those who have got money anyhow, it might be, Happy are the sons of those who have failed in getting money. In fact, there is no sound proverb to be made about it either way. We know nothing about the matter. Our surest influence for good or evil over others is, through themselves. Our ignorance of what is physically good for any man may surely prevent anything like despair with regard to that part of the fortunes of others dear to us, which, as we think, is bound up with our own.


As religion is the most engrossing subject that can be presented to us, it will be considered in all states of mind and by all minds. It is impossible but that the most hideous and perverted views of religion must arise. To combat the particular views which may be supposed to cause religious despair, would be too theological an undertaking for this essay. One thing only occurs to me to say, namely, that the lives and the mode of speaking about themselves adopted by the founders of Christianity, afford the best contradiction to religious melancholy that I believe can be met with.


There is such a thing. Jacques, without the "sundry contemplation" of his travels, or any "simples" to "compound" his melancholy form, would have ever been wrapped in a "most humorous sadness." It was innate. This melancholy may lay its votaries open to any other cause of despair, but having mostly some touch of philosophy (if it be not absolutely morbid), it is not unlikely to preserve them from any extremity. It is not acute, but chronic.

It may be said in its favour that it tends to make men indifferent to their own fortunes. But then the sorrow of the world presses more deeply upon them. With large open hearts, the untowardness of things present, the miseries of the past, the mischief, stupidity, and error which reign in the world, at times almost crush your melancholy men. Still, out of their sadness may come their strength, or, at least, the best direction of it. Nothing, perhaps, is lost; not even sin—much less sorrow.

Ellesmere. I am glad you have ended as you have: for, previously, you seemed to make too much of getting rid of all distress of mind. I always liked that passage in "Philip van Artevelde," where Father John says,

"He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend. Eternity mourns that."

You have a better memory than I have: how does it go on?

Milverton. "'Tis an ill cure For life's worst ills, to have no time to feel them. Where sorrow's held intrusive and turned out, There wisdom will not enter, nor true power, Nor aught that dignifies humanity."

Still this does not justify despair, which was what I was writing about.

Ellesmere. Perhaps it was not a just criticism of mine. One part of the subject you have certainly omitted. You do not tell us how much there often is of physical disorder in despair. I dare say you will think it a coarse and unromantic mode of looking at things; but I must confess I agree with what Leigh Hunt has said somewhere, that one can walk down distress of mind—even remorse, perhaps.

Milverton. Yes; I am for the Peripatetics against all other philosophers.

Ellesmere. By the way, there is a passage in one of Hazlitt's essays, I thought of while you were reading, about remorse and religious melancholy. He speaks of mixing up religion and morality; and then goes on to say, that Calvinistic notions have obscured and prevented self-knowledge. {42}

Give me the essay—there is a passage I want to look at. This comparison of life to a mountain stream, the rocks brought down by it being the actions, is too much worked out. When we speak of similes not going on four legs, it implies, I think, that a simile is at best but a four-legged animal. Now this is almost a centipede of a simile. I think I have had the same thought as yours here, and I have compared the life of an individual to a curve. You both smile. Now I thought that Dunsford at any rate would be pleased with this reminiscence of college days. But to proceed with my curve. You may have numbers of the points through which it passes given, and yet know nothing of the nature of the curve itself. See, now, it shall pass through here and here, but how it will go in the interval, what is the law of its being, we know not. But this simile would be too mathematical, I fear.

Milverton. I hold to the centipede.

Ellesmere. Not a word has Dunsford said all this time.

Dunsford. I like the essay. I was not criticising as we went along, but thinking that perhaps the greatest charm of books is, that we see in them that other men have suffered what we have. Some souls we ever find who could have responded to all our agony, be it what it may. This at least robs misery of its loneliness.

Ellesmere. On the other hand, the charm of intercourse with our fellows, when we are in sadness, is that they do not reflect it in any way. Each keeps his own trouble to himself, and often pretending to think and care about other things, comes to do so for the time.

Dunsford. Well, but you might choose books which would not reflect your troubles.

Ellesmere. But the fact of having to make a choice to do this, does away, perhaps, with some part of the benefit: whereas, in intercourse with living men, you take what you find, and you find that neither your trouble, nor any likeness of it, is absorbing other people. But this is not the whole reason: the truth is, the life and impulses of other men are catching; you cannot explain exactly how it is that they take you out of yourself.

Milverton. No man is so confidential as when he is addressing the whole world. You find, therefore, more comfort for sorrow in books than in social intercourse. I mean more direct comfort; for I agree with what Ellesmere says about society.

Ellesmere. In comparing men and books, one must always remember this important distinction—that one can put the books down at any time. As Macaulay says, "Plato is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long."

Milverton. Besides, one can manage to agree so well, intellectually, with a book; and intellectual differences are the source of half the quarrels in the world.

Ellesmere. Judicious shelving!

Milverton. Judicious skipping will nearly do. Now when one's friend, or oneself, is crotchety, dogmatic, or disputatious, one cannot turn over to another day.

Ellesmere. Don't go, Dunsford. Here is a passage in the essay I meant to have said something about—"why should we expect the inner life to be one course of unbroken self-improvement," etc.—You recollect? Well, it puts me in mind of a conversation between a complacent poplar and a grim old oak, which I overheard the other day. The poplar said that it grew up quite straight, heavenwards, that all its branches pointed the same way, and always had done so. Turning to the oak, which it had been talking at before for some time, the poplar went on to remark, that it did not wish to say anything unfriendly to a brother of the forest, but those warped and twisted branches seemed to show strange struggles. The tall thing concluded its oration by saying, that it grew up very fast, and that when it had done growing, it did not suffer itself to be made into huge floating engines of destruction. But different trees had different tastes. There was then a sound from the old oak, like an "ah" or a "whew," or, perhaps, it was only the wind amongst its resisting branches; and the gaunt creature said that it had had ugly winds from without and cross-grained impulses from within; that it knew it had thrown out awkwardly a branch here and a branch there, which would never come quite right again it feared; that men worked it up, sometimes for good and sometimes for evil—but that at any rate it had not lived for nothing. The poplar began again immediately, for this kind of tree can talk for ever, but I patted the old oak approvingly and went on.

Milverton. Well, your trees divide their discourse somewhat Ellesmerically: they do not talk with the simplicity La Fontaine's would; but there is a good deal in them. They are not altogether sappy.

Ellesmere. I really thought of this fable of mine the other day, as I was passing the poplar at the end of the valley, and I determined to give it you on the first occasion.

Dunsford. I hope, Ellesmere, you do not intend to put sarcastic notions into the sap of our trees hereabouts. There's enough of sarcasm in you to season a whole forest.

Ellesmere. Dunsford is afraid of what the trees may say to the country gentlemen, and whether they will be able to answer them. I will be careful not to make the trees too clever.

Milverton. Let us go and try if we can hear any more forest talk. The winds, shaped into voices by the leaves, say many things to us at all times.


In the course of our walk Milverton promised to read the following essay on Recreation the next day. I have no note of anything that was said before the reading.


This subject has not had the thought it merits. It seems trivial. It concerns some hours in the daily life of each of us; but it is not connected with any subject of human grandeur, and we are rather ashamed of it. Schiller has some wise, but hard words that relate to it. He perceives the pre-eminence of the Greeks, who could do many things. He finds that modern men are units of great nations; but not great units themselves. And there is some room for this reasoning of his.

Our modern system of division of labour divides wits also. The more necessity there is, therefore, for funding in recreation something to expand men's intelligence. There are intellectual pursuits almost as much divided as pin-making; and many a man goes through some intellectual process, for the greater part of his working hours, which corresponds with the making of a pin's head. Must there not be some danger of a general contraction of mind from this convergence of attention upon something very small, for so considerable a portion of a man's life?

What answer can civilisation give to this? It can say that greater results are worked out by the modern system; that though each man is doing less himself than he might have done in former days, he sees greater and better things accomplished; and that his thoughts, not bound down by his petty occupation, travel over the work of the human family. There is a great deal, doubtless, in this argument; but man is not altogether an intellectual recipient. He is a constructive animal also. It is not the knowledge that you can pour into him that will satisfy him, or enable him to work out his nature. He must see things for himself; he must have bodily work and intellectual work different from his bread-getting work; or he runs the danger of becoming a contracted pedant with a poor mind and a sickly body.

I have seen it quoted from Aristotle, that the end of labour is to gain leisure. It is a great saying. We have in modern times a totally wrong view of the matter. Noble work is a noble thing, but not all work. Most people seem to think that any business is in itself something grand; that to be intensely employed, for instance, about something which has no truth, beauty, or usefulness in it, which makes no man happier or wiser, is still the perfection of human endeavour, so that the work be intense. It is the intensity, not the nature, of the work that men praise. You see the extent of this feeling in little things. People are so ashamed of being caught for a moment idle, that if you come upon the most industrious servants or workmen whilst they are standing looking at something which interests them, or fairly resting, they move off in a fright, as if they were proved, by a moment's relaxation, to be neglectful of their work. Yet it is the result that they should mainly be judged by, and to which they should appeal. But amongst all classes, the working itself, incessant working, is the thing deified. Now what is the end and object of most work? To provide for animal wants. Not a contemptible thing by any means, but still it is not all in all with man. Moreover, in those cases where the pressure of bread-getting is fairly past, we do not often find men's exertions lessened on that account. There enter into their minds as motives, ambition, a love of hoarding, or a fear of leisure—things which, in moderation, may be defended or even justified; but which are not so peremptory, and upon the face of them excellent, that they at once dignify excessive labour.

The truth is, that to work insatiably requires much less mind than to work judiciously, and less courage than to refuse work that cannot be done honestly. For a hundred men whose appetite for work can be driven on by vanity, avarice, ambition, or a mistaken notion of advancing their families, there is about one who is desirous of expanding his own nature and the nature of others in all directions, of cultivating many pursuits, of bringing himself and those around him in contact with the universe in many points, of being a man and not a machine.

It may seem as if the preceding arguments were directed rather against excessive work than in favour of recreation. But the first object in an essay of this kind should be to bring down the absurd estimate that is often formed of mere work. What ritual is to the formalist, or contemplation to the devotee, business is to the man of the world. He thinks he cannot be doing wrong as long as he is doing that.

No doubt hard work is a great police agent. If everybody were worked from morning till night and then carefully locked up, the register of crimes might be greatly diminished. But what would become of human nature? Where would be the room for growth in such a system of things? It is through sorrow and mirth, plenty and need, a variety of passions, circumstances, and temptations, even through sin and misery, that men's natures are developed.

Again, there are people who would say, "Labour is not all; we do not object to the cessation of labour—a mere provision for bodily ends; but we fear the lightness and vanity of what you call recreation." Do these people take heed of the swiftness of thought—of the impatience of thought? What will the great mass of men be thinking of, if they are taught to shun amusements and the thoughts of amusement? If any sensuality is left open to them, they will think of that. If not sensuality, then avarice, or ferocity for "the cause of God," as they would call it. People who have had nothing else to amuse them have been very apt to indulge themselves in the excitement of persecuting their fellow creatures.

Our nation, the northern part of it especially, is given to believe in the sovereign efficacy of dulness. To be sure, dulness and solid vice are apt to go hand in hand. But then, according to our notions, dulness is in itself so good a thing—almost a religion.

Now, if ever a people required to be amused, it is we sad-hearted Anglo-Saxons. Heavy eaters, hard thinkers, often given up to a peculiar melancholy of our own, with a climate that for months together would frown away mirth if it could—many of us with very gloomy thoughts about our hereafter—if ever there were a people who should avoid increasing their dulness by all work and no play, we are that people. "They took their pleasure sadly," says Froissart, "after their fashion." We need not ask of what nation Froissart was speaking.

There is a theory which has done singular mischief to the cause of recreation and of general cultivation. It is that men cannot excel in more things than one; and that if they can, they had better be quiet about it. "Avoid music, do not cultivate art, be not known to excel in any craft but your own," says many a worldly parent, thereby laying the foundation of a narrow, greedy character, and destroying means of happiness and of improvement which success, or even real excellence, in one profession only cannot give. This is, indeed, a sacrifice of the end of living for the means.

Another check to recreation is the narrow way in which people have hitherto been brought up at schools and colleges. The classics are pre-eminent works. To acquire an accurate knowledge of them is an admirable discipline. Still, it would be well to give a youth but few of these great works, and so leave time for various arts, accomplishments, and knowledge of external things exemplified by other means than books. If this cannot be done but by over-working, then it had better not be done; for of all things, that must be avoided. But surely it can be done. At present, many a man who is versed in Greek metre, and afterwards full of law reports, is childishly ignorant of Nature. Let him walk with an intelligent child for a morning, and the child will ask him a hundred questions about sun, moon, stars, plants, birds, building, farming, and the like, to which he can give very sorry answers, if any; or, at the best, he has but a second-hand acquaintance with Nature. Men's conceits are his main knowledge. Whereas, if he had any pursuits connected with Nature, all Nature is in harmony with it, is brought into his presence by it, and it affords at once cultivation and recreation.

But, independently of those cultivated pursuits which form a high order of recreation, boyhood should never pass without the boy's learning several modes of recreation of the humbler kind. A parent or teacher seldom does a kinder thing by the child under his care than when he instructs it in some manly exercise, some pursuit connected with Nature out of doors, or even some domestic game. In hours of fatigue, anxiety, sickness, or worldly ferment, such means of amusement may delight the grown-up man when other things would fail.

An indirect advantage, but a very considerable one, attendant upon various modes of recreation, is, that they provide opportunities of excelling in something to boys and men who are dull in things which form the staple of education. A boy cannot see much difference between the nominative and the genitive cases—still less any occasion for aorists—but he is a good hand at some game or other; and he keeps up his self-respect, and the respect of others for him, upon his prowess in that game. He is better and happier on that account. And it is well, too, that the little world around him should know that excellence is not all of one form.

There are no details about recreation in this essay, the object here being mainly to show the worth of recreation, and to defend it against objections from the over-busy and the over-strict. The sense of the beautiful, the desire for comprehending Nature, the love of personal skill and prowess, are not things implanted in men merely to be absorbed in producing and distributing the objects of our most obvious animal wants. If civilisation required this, civilisation would be a failure. Still less should we fancy that we are serving the cause of godliness when we are discouraging recreation. Let us be hearty in our pleasures, as in our work, and not think that the gracious Being Who has made us so open-hearted to delight, looks with dissatisfaction at our enjoyment, as a hard taskmaster might, who in the glee of his slaves could see only a hindrance to their profitable working. And with reference to our individual cultivation, we may remember that we are not here to promote incalculable quantities of law, physic, or manufactured goods, but to become men—not narrow pedants, but wide-seeing, mind- travelled men. Who are the men of history to be admired most? Those whom most things became—who could be weighty in debate, of much device in council, considerate in a sick-room, genial at a feast, joyous at a festival, capable of discourse with many minds, large-souled, not to be shrivelled up into any one form, fashion, or temperament. Their contemporaries would have told us that men might have various accomplishments and hearty enjoyments, and not for that be the less effective in business, or less active in benevolence. I distrust the wisdom of asceticism as much as I do that of sensuality; Simeon Stylites no less than Sardanapalus.


Ellesmere. You alluded to Schiller at the beginning of the essay: can you show me his own words? I have a lawyer's liking for the best evidence.

Milverton. When we go in, I will show you some passages which bear me out in what I have made him say—at least, if the translation is faithful. {53}

Ellesmere. I have had a great respect for Schiller ever since I heard that saying of his about death, "Death cannot be an evil, for it is universal."

Dunsford. Very noble and full of faith.

Ellesmere. Touching the essay, I like it well enough; but, perhaps, people will expect to find more about recreation itself—not only about the good of it, but what it is, and how it is to be got.

Milverton. I do not incline to go into detail about the matter. The object was to say something for the respectability of recreation, not to write a chapter of a book of sports. People must find out their own ways of amusing themselves.

Ellesmere. I will tell you what is the paramount thing to be attended to in all amusements—that they should be short. Moralists are always talking about "short-lived" pleasures: would that they were!

Dunsford. Hesiod told the world, some two thousand years ago, how much greater the half is than the whole.

Ellesmere. Dinner-givers and managers of theatres should forthwith be made aware of that fact. What a sacrifice of good things, and of the patience and comfort of human beings, a cumbrous modern dinner is! I always long to get up and walk about.

Dunsford. Do not talk of modern dinners. Think what a Roman dinner must have been.

Milverton. Very true. It has always struck me that there is something quite military in the sensualism of the Romans—an "arbiter bibendi" chosen, and the whole feast moving on with fearful precision and apparatus of all kinds. Come, come! the world's improving, Ellesmere.

Ellesmere. Had the Romans public dinners? Answer me that. Imagine a Roman, whose theory, at least, of a dinner was that it was a thing for enjoyment, whereas we often look on it as a continuation of the business of the day—I say, imagine a Roman girding himself up, literally girding himself up to make an after-dinner speech.

Milverton. I must allow that is rather a barbarous practice.

Ellesmere. If charity, or politics, cannot be done without such things, I suppose they are useful in their way; but let nobody ever imagine that they are a form of pleasure. People smearing each other over with stupid flattery, and most of the company being in dread of receiving some compliment which should oblige them to speak!

Dunsford. I should have thought, now, that you would always have had something to say, and therefore that you would not be so bitter against after-dinner speaking.

Ellesmere. No; when I have nothing to say, I can say nothing.

Milverton. Would it not be a pleasant thing if rich people would ask their friends sometimes to public amusements—order a play for them, for instance—or at any rate, provide some manifest amusement? They might, occasionally with great advantage, abridge the expense of their dinners; and throw it into other channels of hospitality.

Ellesmere. Ah, if they would have good acting at their houses, that would be very delightful; but I cannot say that the being taken to any place of public amusement would much delight me. By the way, Milverton, what do you say of theatres in the way of recreation? This decline of the drama, too, is a thing you must have thought about: let us hear your notions.

Milverton. I think one of the causes sometimes assigned, that reading is more spread, is a true and an important one; but, otherwise, I fancy that the present decline of the drama depends upon very small things which might be remedied. As to a love of the drama going out of the human heart, that is all nonsense. Put it at the lowest, what a great pleasure it is to hear a good play read. And again, as to serious pursuits unfitting men for dramatic entertainments, it is quite the contrary. A man, wearied with care and business, would find more change of ideas with less fatigue, in seeing a good play, than in almost any other way of amusing himself.

Dunsford. What are the causes then of the decline of the drama?

Milverton. In England, or rather in London,—for London is England for dramatic purposes; in London, then, theatrical arrangements seem to be framed to drive away people of sense. The noisome atmosphere, the difficult approach, the over-size of the great theatres, the intolerable length of performances.

Ellesmere. Hear! hear!

Milverton. The crowding together of theatres in one part of the town, the lateness of the hours—

Ellesmere. The folly of the audience, who always applaud in the wrong place—

Dunsford. There is no occasion to say any more; I am quite convinced.

Milverton. But these annoyances need not be. Build a theatre of moderate dimensions; give it great facility of approach; take care that the performances never exceed three hours; let lions and dwarfs pass by without any endeavour to get them within the walls; lay aside all ambition of making stage waves which may almost equal real Ramsgate waves to our cockney apprehensions. Of course there must be good players and good plays.

Ellesmere. Now we come to the part of Hamlet.

Milverton. Good players and good plays are both to be had if there were good demand for them. But, I was going to say, let there be all these things, especially let there be complete ventilation, and the theatre will have the most abundant success. Why, that one thing alone, the villainous atmosphere at most public places, is enough to daunt any sensible man from going to them.

Dunsford. There should be such a choice of plays—not merely Chamberlain-clipt—as any man or woman could go to.

Milverton. There should be certainly, but how is such a choice to be made, if the people who could regulate it, for the most part, stay away? It is a dangerous thing, the better classes leaving any great source of amusement and instruction wholly, or greatly, to the less refined classes.

Dunsford. Yes, I must confess it is.

Great part of your arguments apply to musical as well as to theatrical entertainments. Do you find similar results with respect to them?

Milverton. Why, they are not attended by any means as they would be, or made what they might be, if the objections I mentioned were removed.

Dunsford. What do you say to the out-of-door entertainments for a town population?

Milverton. As I said before, my dear Dunsford, I cannot give you a chapter of a "Book of Sports." There ought, of course, to be parks for all quarters of the town: and I confess it would please me better to see, in holiday times and hours of leisure, hearty games going on in these parks, than a number of people sauntering about in uncomfortably new and unaccustomed clothes.

Ellesmere. Do you not see, Dunsford, that, like a cautious official man, he does not want to enter into small details, which have always an air of ridicule? He is not prepared to pledge himself to cricket, golf, football, or prisoner's bars; but in his heart he is manifestly a Young Englander—without the white waistcoat. Nothing would please him better than to see in large letters, on one of those advertising vans, "Great match! Victoria Park!! Eleven of Fleet Street against the Eleven of Saffron Hill!!!"

Milverton. Well, there is a great deal in the spirit of Young England that I like very much, indeed that I respect.

Ellesmere. I should like the Young England party better myself if I were quite sure there was no connection between them and a clan of sour, pity-mongering people, who wash one away with eternal talk about the contrast between riches and poverty; with whom a poor man is always virtuous; and who would, if they could, make him as envious and as discontented as possible.

Milverton. Nothing can be more strikingly in contrast with such thinkers than Young England. Young Englanders, according to the best of their theories, ought to be men of warm sympathy with all classes. There is no doubt of this, that very seldom does any good thing arise, but there comes an ugly phantom of a caricature of it, which sidles up against the reality, mouths its favourite words as a third-rate actor does a great part, under-mimics its wisdom, over- acts its folly, is by half the world taken for it, goes some way to suppress it in its own time, and, perhaps, lives for it in history.

Ellesmere. Well brought out, that metaphor, but I don't know that it means more than that the followers of a system do in general a good deal to corrupt it, or that when a great principle is worked into human affairs, a considerable accretion of human folly and falseness mostly grows round it: which things some of us had a suspicion of before.

Dunsford. To go back to the subject. What would you do for country amusements, Milverton? That is what concerns me, you know.

Milverton. Athletic amusements go on naturally here: do not require so much fostering as in towns. The commons must be carefully kept: I have quite a Cobbettian fear of their being taken away from us under some plausible pretext or other. Well, then, it strikes me that a great deal might be done to promote the more refined pleasures of life among our rural population. I hope we shall live to see many of Hullah's pupils playing an important part in this way. Of course, the foundation for these things may best be laid at schools; and is being laid in some places, I am happy to say.

Ellesmere. Humph, music, sing-song!

Milverton. Don't you observe, Dunsford, that when Ellesmere wants to attack us, and does not exactly see how, he mutters to himself sarcastically, sneering himself up, as it were, to the attack.

Ellesmere. You and Dunsford are both wild for music, from barrel- organs upwards.

Milverton. I confess to liking the humblest attempts at melody.

Dunsford. I feel as Sir Thomas Browne tells us he felt, that "even that vulgar and tavern music, which makes one man merry, another mad, strikes in me a deep fit of devotion and a profound contemplation of the first composer. There is something in it of divinity more than the ear discovers; it is an hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole world and creatures of God: such a melody to the ear as the whole world well understood, would afford the understanding."

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