The Pocket R.L.S.
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 3 out of 4
aiming, and after an hour's talk, back and forward, to
convey the purport of a single principle or a single
The cruellist lies are often told in silence. A man may
have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth, and
yet come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile
calumniator. And how many loves have perished because,
from pride, or spite, or diffidence, or that unmanly shame
which withholds a man from daring to betray emotion, a
lover, at the critical point of the relation, has but hung
his head and held his tongue? And, again, a lie may be
told by a truth, or a truth conveyed through a lie. Truth
to facts is not always truth to sentiment; and part of the
truth, as often happens in answer to a question, may be the
foulest calumny. A fact may be an exception; but the
feeling is the law, and it is that which you must neither
garble nor belie. The whole tenor of a conversation is a
part of the meaning of each separate statement; the
beginning and the end define and travesty the intermediate
conversation. You never speak to God; you address a
fellow-man, full of his own tempers: and to tell truth,
rightly understood, is not to state the true facts, but to
convey a true impression ; truth in spirit, not truth to
letter, is the true veracity.
He talked for the pleasure of airing himself. He was
essentially glib, as becomes the young advocate, and
essentially careless of the truth, which is the mark of the
young ass; and so he talked at random. There was no
particular bias, but that one which is indigenous and
universal, to flatter himself, and to please and interest
the present friend.
How wholly we all lie at the mercy of a single prater, not
needfully with any malign purpose! And if a man but talk
of himself in the right spirit, refers to his virtuous
actions by the way, and never applies to them the name of
virtues, how easily his evidence is accepted in the court
of public opinion!
In one word, it must always be foul to tell what is false;
and it can never be safe to suppress what is true.
Conclusions, indeed, are not often reached by talk any more
than by private thinking. That is not the profit. The
profit is in the exercise, and above all in the experience;
for when we reason at large on any subject, we review our
state and history in life. From time to time, however, and
specially, I think, in talking art, talk becomes effective,
conquering like war, widening the boundaries of knowledge
like an exploration.
Natural talk, like ploughing, should turn up a large
surface of life, rather than dig mines into geological
strata. Masses of experience, anecdote, incident,
cross-lights, quotation, historical instances, the whole
flotsam and jetsam of two minds forced in and in upon the
matter in hand from every point of the compass, and from
every degree of mental elevation and abasement--these are
the material with which talk is fortified, the food on which
the talkers thrive. Such argument as is proper to the exercise
should still be brief and seizing. Talk should proceed by
instances; by the apposite, not the expository. It should
keep close along the lines of humanity, near the bosoms and
businesses of men, at the level where history, fiction, and
experience intersect and illuminate each other.
There can be no fairer ambition than to excel in talk; to
be affable, gay, ready, clear and welcome; to have a fact,
a thought, or an illustration, pat to every subject; and
not only to cheer the flight of time among our intimates,
but bear our part in that great international congress,
always sitting, where public wrongs are first declared,
public errors first corrected, and the course of public
opinion shaped, day by day, a little nearer to the right.
No measure comes before Parliament but it has been long ago
prepared by the grand jury of the talkers; no book is
written that has not been largely composed by their
assistance. Literature in many of its branches is no other
than the shadow of good talk; but the imitation falls far
short of the original in life, freedom, and effect. There
are always two to a talk, giving and taking, comparing
experience and according conclusions. Talk is fluid,
tentative, continually 'in further search and progress';
while written words remain fixed, become idols even to the
writer, found wooden dogmatisms, and preserve flies of
obvious error in the amber of the truth. Last and chief,
while literature, gagged with linsey-woolsey, can only deal
with a fraction of the life of man, talk goes fancy free
and may call a spade a spade. Talk has none of the
freezing immunities of the pulpit. It cannot, even if it
would, become merely aesthetic or merely classical like
literature. A jest intervenes, the solemn humbug is
dissolved in laughter, and speech runs forth out of the
contemporary groove into the open fields of nature, cheery
and cheering, like schoolboys out of school. And it is in
talk alone that we can learn our period and ourselves. In
short, the first duty of a man is to speak; that is his
chief business in this world; and talk, which is the
harmonious speech of two or more, is by far the most
accessible of pleasures. It costs nothing in money; it is
all profit; it completes our education, founds and fosters
our friendships, and can be enjoyed at any age and in
almost any state of health.
And it happens that literature is, in some ways, but an
indifferent means to such an end. Language is but a poor
bull's-eye lantern wherewith to show off the vast cathedral
of the world; and yet a particular thing once said in words
is so definite and memorable, that it makes us forget the
absence of. the many which remain unexpressed; like a
bright window in a distant view, which dazzles and confuses
our sight of its surroundings. There are not words enough
in all Shakespeare to express the merest fraction of a
man's experience in an hour. The speed of the eyesight and
the hearing, and the continual industry of the mind,
produce; in ten minutes, what it would require a laborious
volume to shadow forth by comparisons and roundabout
approaches. If verbal logic were sufficient, life would be
as plain sailing as a piece of Euclid. But, as a matter of
fact, we make a travesty of the simplest process of thought
when we put it into words; for the words are all coloured
and forsworn, apply inaccurately, and bring with them, from
former uses, ideas of praise and blame that have nothing to
do with the question in hand. So we must always see to it
nearly, that we judge by the realities of life and not by
the partial terms that represent them in man's speech; and
at times of choice, we must leave words upon one side, and
act upon those brute convictions, unexpressed and perhaps
inexpressible, which cannot be flourished in an argument,
but which are truly the sum and fruit of our experience.
Words are for communication, not for judgment. This is
what every thoughtful man knows for himself, for only fools
and silly schoolmasters push definitions over far into the
domain of conduct; and the majority of women, not learned
in these scholastic refinements, live all-of-a-piece and
unconsciously, as a tree grows, without caring to put a
name upon their acts or motives.
The correction of silence is what kills; when you know you
have transgressed, and your friend says nothing and avoids
your eye. If a man were made of gutta-percha, his heart
would quail at such a moment. But when the word is out,
the worst is over; and a fellow with any good-humour at all
may pass through a perfect hail of witty criticism, every
bare place on his soul hit to the quick with a shrewd
missile, and reappear, as if after a dive, tingling with a
fine moral reaction, and ready, with a shrinking readiness,
one-third loath, for a repetition of the discipline.
All natural talk is a festival of ostentation; and by the
laws of the game each accepts and fans the vanity of the
other. It is from that reason that we venture to lay
ourselves so open, that we dare to be so warmly eloquent,
and that we swell in each other's eyes to such a vast
proportion. For talkers, once launched, begin to overflow
the limits of their ordinary selves, tower up to the height
of their secret pretensions, and give themselves out for
the heroes, brave, pious, musical, and wise, that in their
most shining moments they aspire to be. So they weave for
themselves with words and for a while inhabit a palace of
delights, temple at once and theatre, where they fill the
round of the world's dignities, and feast with the gods,
exulting in Kudos. And when the talk is over, each goes
his way, still flushed with vanity and admiration, still
trailing clouds of glory; each declines from the height of
his ideal orgie, not in a moment, but by slow declension.
No man was ever so poor that he could express all he has in
him by words, looks, or actions; his true knowledge is
eternally incommunicable, for it is a knowledge of himself;
and his best wisdom comes to him by no process of the mind,
but in a supreme self-dictation, which keeps varying from
hour to hour in its dictates with the variation of events
Overmastering pain--the most deadly and tragical element in
life--alas! pain has its own way with all of us; it breaks
in, a rude visitant, upon the fairy garden where the child
wanders in a dream, no less surely than it rules upon the
field of battle, or sends the immortal war-god whimpering
to his father; and innocence, no more than philosophy, can
protect us from this sting.
Where did you hear that it was easy to be honest? Do you
find that in your Bible? Easy? It is easy to be an ass
and follow the multitude like a blind, besotted bull in a
stampede; and that, I am well aware, is what you and Mrs.
Grundy mean by being honest. But it will not bear the
stress of time nor the scrutiny of conscience.
Though I have all my life been eager for legitimate
distinction, I can lay my hand upon my heart, at the end of
my career, and declare there is not one--no, nor yet life
itself--which is worth acquiring or preserving at the
slightest cost of dignity.
For surely, at this time of the day in the nineteenth
century, there is nothing that an honest man should fear
more timorously than getting and spending more than he
It remains to be seen, by each man who would live a true
life to himself and not a merely specious life to society,
how many luxuries he truly wants and to how many he merely
submits as to a social propriety; and all these last he
will immediately forswear. Let him do this, and he will be
surprised to find how little money it requires to keep him
in complete contentment and activity of mind and senses.
Life at any level among the easy classes is conceived upon
a principle of rivalry, where each man and each household
must ape the tastes and emulate the display of others.
One is delicate in eating, another in wine, a third in
furniture or works of art or dress; and I, who care
nothing for any of these refinements, who am perhaps a
plain athletic creature and love exercise, beef, beer,
flannel-shirts, and a camp bed, am yet called upon to
assimilate all these other tastes and make these foreign
occasions of expenditure my own. It may be cynical; I am
sure I will be told it is selfish; but I will spend my money
as I please and for my own intimate personal gratification,
and should count myself a nincompoop indeed to lay out the
colour of a halfpenny on any fancied social decency or duty.
I shall not wear gloves unless my hands are cold, or unless
I am born with a delight in them. Dress is my own affair,
and that of one other in the world; that, in fact, and for
an obvious reason, of any woman who shall chance to be in
love with me. I shall lodge where I have a mind. If I
do not ask society to live with me, they must be silent;
and even if I do, they have no further right but to
refuse the invitation.
To a gentleman is to be one all the world over, and in
every relation and grade of society. It is a high calling,
to which a man must first be born, and then devote himself
for life. And, unhappily, the manners of a certain
so-called upper grade have a kind of currency, and meet
with a certain external acceptation throughout all the
others, and this tends to keep us well satisfied with
slight acquirements and the amateurish accomplishments
of a clique. But manners, like art, should be human
Respectability is a very thing in its way, but it does not
rise superior to all considerations. I would not for a
moment venture to hint that it was a matter of taste; but I
think I will go as far as this: that if a position is
admittedly unkind, uncomfortable, unnecessary, and
superfluously useless, although it were as respectable as
the Church of England, the sooner a man is out of it, the
better for himself and all concerned.
After all, I thought, our satirist has just gone far enough
into his neighbours to find that the outside is false,
without caring to go farther and discover what is really
true. He is content to find that things are not what they
seem, and broadly generalises from it that they do not
exist at all. He sees our virtues are not what they
pretend they are; and, on the strength of that, he denies
us the possession of virtue altogether. He has learned the
first lesson, that no man is wholly good; but he has not
even suspected that there is another equally true, to wit,
that no man is wholly bad.
Or take the case of men of letters. Every piece of work
which is not as good as you can make it, which you have
palmed off imperfect, meagrely thought, niggardly in
execution, upon mankind, who is your paymaster on parole,
and in a sense your pupil, every hasty or slovenly or
untrue performance, should rise up against you in the court
of your own heart and condemn you for a thief.
Sympathy is a thing to be encouraged, apart from humane
considerations, because it supplies us with the materials
for wisdom. It is probably more instructive to entertain a
sneaking kindness for any unpopular person.... than to give
way to perfect raptures of moral indignation against his
In the best fabric of duplicity there is some weak point,
if you can strike it, which will loosen all.
It is at best but a pettifogging, pickthank business to
decompose actions into little personal motives, and explain
heroism away. The Abstract Bagman will grow like an
Admiral at heart, not by ungrateful carping, but in a heat
After an hospital, what uglier piece is there in
civilisation than a court of law? Hither come envy,
malice, and all uncharitableness to wrestle it out in
public tourney; crimes, broken fortunes, severed
households, the knave and his victim, gravitate to this low
building with the arcade. To how many has not St. Giles's
bell told the first hour after ruin? I think I see them
pause to count the strokes and wander on again into the
moving High Street, stunned and sick at heart.
There are two things that men should never weary of--
goodness and humility.
It is not enough to have earned our livelihood. Either the
earning itself should have been serviceable to mankind, or
something else must follow. To live is sometimes very
difficult, but it is never meritorious in itself; and we
must have a reason to allege to our own conscience why we
should continue to exist upon this crowded earth. If
Thoreau had simply dwelt in his house at Walden, a lover of
trees, birds, and fishes, and the open air and virtue, a
reader of wise books, an idle, selfish self-improver, he
would have managed to cheat Admetus, but, to cling to
metaphor, the devil would have had him in the end. Those
who can avoid toil altogether and dwell in the Arcadia of
private means, and even those who can, by abstinence,
reduce the necessary amount of it to some six weeks a year,
having the more liberty, have only the higher moral
obligation to be up and doing in the interest of man.
A man may have done well for years, and then he may fail;
he will hear of his failure. Or he may have done well for
years, and still do well, but the critic may have tired of
praising him, or there may have sprung up some new idol of
the instant, some 'dust a little gilt,' to whom they now
prefer to offer sacrifice. Here is the obverse and the
reverse of that empty and ugly thing called popularity.
Will any man suppose it worth gaining?
Among sayings that have a currency in spite of being wholly
false upon the face of them for the sake of a half-truth
upon another subject which is accidentally combined with
the error, one of the grossest and broadest conveys the
monstrous proposition that it is easy to tell the truth and
hard to tell a lie. I wish heartily it were. But the
truth is one; it has first to be discovered, then justly
and exactly uttered.
For such things as honour and love and faith are not only
nobler than food and drink, but indeed I think that we
desire them more, and suffer more sharply for their
There is a strong feeling in favour of cowardly and
prudential proverbs. The sentiments of a man while he is
full of ardour and hope are to be received, it is supposed,
with some qualification. But when the same person has
ignominiously failed and begins to eat up his words, he
should be listened to like an oracle. Most of our pocket
wisdom is conceived for the use of mediocre people, to
discourage them from ambitious attempts, and generally
console them in their mediocrity. And since mediocre
people constitute the bulk of humanity, this is no doubt
very properly so. But it does not follow that the one sort
of proposition is any less true than the other, or that
Icarus is not to be more praised, and perhaps more envied,
than Mr. Samuel Budgett the successful merchant.
'You know it very well, it cannot in any way help that you
should brood upon it, and I sometimes wonder whether you
and I--who are a pair of sentimentalists--are quite good
judges of plain men.'
For, after all, we are vessels of a very limited content.
Not all men can read all books; it is only in a chosen few
that any man will find his appointed food; and the fittest
lessons are the most, palatable, and make themselves
welcome to the mind.
It is all very fine to talk about tramps and morality. Six
hours of police surveillance (such as I have had) or one
brutal rejection from an inn-door change your views upon
the subject like a course of lectures. As long as you keep
in the upper regions, with all the world bowing to you as
you go, social arrangements have a very handsome air; but
once get under the wheels and you wish society were at the
devil. I will give most respectable men a fortnight of
such a life, and then I will offer them twopence for what
remains of their morality.
I hate cynicism a great deal worse than I do the devil;
unless, perhaps, the two were the same thing? And yet 'tis
a good tonic; the cold tub and bath-towel of the
sentiments; and positively necessary to life in cases of
Most men, finding themselves the authors of their own
disgrace, rail the louder against God or destiny. Most
men, when they repent, oblige their friends to share the
bitterness of that repentance.
Delay, they say, begetteth peril; but it is rather this
itch of doing that undoes men.
Every man has a sane spot somewhere.
That is never a bad wind that blows where we want to go.
It is a great thing if you can persuade people that they
are somehow or other partakers in a mystery. It makes them
But it is an evil age for the gypsily inclined among men.
He who can sit squarest on a three-legged stool, he it is
who has the wealth and glory.
For truth that is suppressed by friends is the
readiest weapon of the enemy.
But O, what a cruel thing is a farce to those
engaged in it!
It is not always the most faithful believer who
makes the cunningest apostle.
Vanity dies hard; in some obstinate cases
it outlives the man.
A man may live in dreams, and yet be unprepared
for their realisation.
'Be soople, Davie, in things immaterial.'
No class of man is altogether bad; but each
has its own faults and virtues.
But it is odd enough, the very women who profess
most contempt for mankind as a sex seem to find even
its ugliest particulars rather lively and high-minded
in their own sons.
To cling to what is left of any damaged quality
is virtue in the man.
But we have no bravery nowadays, and, even in books,
must all pretend to be as dull and foolish
as our neighbours.
It always warms a man to see a woman brave.
Condescension is an excellent thing, but it is strange
how one-sided the pleasure of it is!
Some strand of our own misdoing is involved
in every quarrel.
There was never an ill thing made better by meddling.
Let any man speak long enough, he will get believers.
Every one lives by selling something, whatever
be his right to it.
A man dissatisfied with endeavour is a man
tempted to sadness.
Drama is the poetry of conduct, romance the
poetry of circumstance.
It is one of the most common forms of depreciation to throw
cold water on the whole by adroit over-commendation of a
part, since everything worth judging, whether it be a man,
a work of art, or only a fine city, must be judged upon its
merits as a whole.
I wonder, would a negative be found enticing? for, from the
negative point of view, I flatter myself this volume has a
certain stamp. Although it runs to considerably over a
hundred pages, it contains not a single reference to the
imbecility of God's universe, nor so much as a single hint
that I could have made a better one myself--I really do not
know where my head can have been.
It's deadly commonplace, but, after all, the commonplaces
are the great poetic truths.
Those who try to be artists use, time after time, the
matter of their recollections, setting and resetting little
coloured memories of men and scenes, rigging up (it may be)
some especial friend in the attire of a buccaneer, and
decreeing armies to manoeuvre, or murder to be done, on the
playground of their youth. But the memories are a fairy
gift which cannot be worn out in using. After a dozen
services in various tales, the little sunbright pictures of
the past still shine in the mind's eye with not a lineament
defaced, not a tint impaired. GLUCK UND UNGLUCK WIRD
GESANG, if Goethe pleases; yet only by endless avatars, the
original re-embodying after each. So that a writer, in
time, begins to wonder at the perdurable life of these
impressions; begins, perhaps, to fancy that he wrongs them
when he weaves them in with fiction; and looking back on
them with ever-growing kindness, puts them at last,
substantive jewels, in a setting of their own.
Place them in a hospital, put them in a jail in
yellow overalls, do what you will, young Jessamy
finds young Jenny.
'You fret against the common law,' I said. 'You rebel
against the voice of God, which He has made so winning to
convince, so imperious to command. Hear it, and how it
speaks between us! Your hand clings to mine, your heart
leaps at my touch, the unknown elements of which we are
compounded awake and run together at a look; the clay of
the earth remembers its independent life, and yearns to
join us; we are drawn together as the stars are turned
about in space, or as the tides ebb and flow; by things
older and greater than we ourselves.'
'Olalla,' I said, 'the soul and the body are one, and
mostly so in love. What the body chooses, the soul loves;
where the body clings, the soul cleaves; body for body,
soul to soul, they come together at God's signal; and the
lower part (if we can call aught low) is only the footstool
and foundation of the highest.'
She sent me away, and yet I had but to call upon her name
and she came to me. These were but the weaknesses of
girls, from which even she, the strangest of her sex, was
For even in love there are unlovely humours; ambiguous
acts, unpardonable words, may yet have sprung from a kind
sentiment. If the injured one could read your heart,
you may be sure that he would understand and pardon;
but, alas! the heart cannot be shown--it has to be
demonstrated in words.
There is no greater wonder than the way the face of a
young woman fits in a man's mind, and stays there, and
he could never tell you why; it just seems it was the
thing he wanted.
There are many matters in which you may waylay Destiny, and
bid him stand and deliver. Hard work, high thinking,
adventurous excitement, and a great deal more that forms a
part of this or the other person's spiritual bill of fare,
are within the reach of almost any one who can dare a
little and be patient. But it is by no means in the way of
every one to fall in love....A wet rag goes safely by the
fire; and if a man is blind, he cannot expect to be much
impressed by romantic scenery. Apart from all this, many
lovable people miss each other in the world, or meet under
some unfavourable star.
To deal plainly, if they only married when they fell in
love, most people would die unwed; and among the others,
there would be not a few tumultuous households. The Lion
is the King of Beasts, but he is scarcely suitable for a
domestic pet. In the same way, I suspect love is rather
too violent a passion to make, in all cases, a good
domestic sentiment. Like other violent excitements, it
throws up not only what is best, but what is worst and
smallest, in men's characters. Just as some people are
malicious in drink, or brawling and virulent under the
influence of religious feeling, some are moody, jealous,
and exacting when they are in love, who are honest,
downright, good-hearted fellows enough in the everyday
affairs and humours of the world.
There is only one event in life which really astonishes a
man and startles him out of his prepared opinions.
Everything else befalls him very much as he expected.
Event succeeds to event, with an agreeable variety indeed,
but with little that is either startling or intense; they
form together no more than a sort of background, or running
accompaniment to the man's own reflections; and he falls
naturally into a cool, curious, and smiling habit of mind,
and builds himself up in a conception of life which expects
to-morrow to be after the pattern of to-day and yesterday.
He may be accustomed to the vagaries of his friend and
acquaintances under the influence of love. He may sometime
look forward to it for himself with an incomprehensible
expectation. But it is a subject in which neither
intuition nor the behaviour of others will help the
philosopher to the truth. There is probably nothing
rightly thought or rightly written on this matter of love
that is not a piece of the person's experience.
It is the property of things seen for the first time, or
for the first time after long, like the flowers in spring,
to re-awaken in us the sharp edge of sense, and that
impression of mystic strangeness which otherwise passes out
of life with the coming years; but the sight of a loved
face is what renews a man's character from the fountain
Nothing is given for nothing in this world; there can be no
true love, even on your own side, without devotion;
devotion is the exercise of love, by which it grows; but if
you will give enough of that, if you will pay the price in
a sufficient 'amount of what you call life,' why then,
indeed, whether with wife or comrade, you may have months
and even years of such easy, natural, pleasurable, and yet
improving intercourse as shall make time a moment and
kindness a delight.
Love is not blind, nor yet forgiving. 'O yes, believe me,'
as the song says, 'Love has eyes!' The nearer the
intimacy, the more cuttingly do we feel the unworthiness of
those we love; and because you love one, and would die for
that love to-morrow, you have not forgiven, and you never
will forgive that friend's misconduct. If you want a
person's faults, go to those who love him. They will
not tell you, but they know. And herein lies the
magnanimous courage of love, that it endures this
knowledge without change.
Certainly, whatever it may be with regard to the world at
large, this idea of beneficent pleasure is true as between
the sweethearts. To do good and communicate is the lover's
grand intention. It is the happiness of the other that
makes his own most intense gratification. It is not
possible to disentangle the different emotions, the pride,
humility, pity, and passion, which are excited by a look of
happy love or an unexpected caress. To make one's self
beautiful, to dress the hair, to excel in talk, to do
anything and all things that puff out the character and
attributes and make them imposing in the eyes of others,
is not only to magnify one's self, but to offer the most
delicate homage at the same time. And it is in this latter
intention that they are done by lovers, for the essence of
love is kindness; and, indeed, it may be best defined as
passionate kindness; kindness, so to speak, run mad and
become importunate and violent.
What sound is so full of music as one's own name uttered
for the first time in the voice of her we love!
We make love, and thereby ourselves fall the deeper in it.
It is with the heart only that one captures a heart.
O, have it your own way; I am too old a hand to argue with
young gentlemen who choose to fancy themselves in love;
I have too much experience, thank you.
And love, considered as a spectacle, must have attractions
for many who are not of the confraternity. The sentimental
old maid is a commonplace of the novelists; and he must be
rather a poor sort of human being, to be sure, who can look
on at this pretty madness without indulgence and sympathy.
For nature commends itself to people with a most
insinuating art; the busiest is now and again arrested
by a great sunset; and you may be as pacific or as
cold-blooded as you will, but you cannot help some emotion
when you read of well-disputed battles, or meet a pair of
lovers in the lane.
Jealousy, at any rate, is one of the consequences of love;
you may like it or not, at pleasure; but there it is.
With our chosen friends, on the other hand, and still more
between lovers (for mutual understanding is love's
essence), the truth is easily indicated by the one and
aptly comprehended by the other. A hint taken, a look
understood, conveys the gist of long and delicate
explanations; and where the life is known even YEA and NAY
become luminous. In the closest of all relations--that of
a love well founded and equally shared-speech is half
discarded, like a roundabout, infantile process or a
ceremony of formal etiquette; and the two communicate
directly by their presences, and with few looks and fewer
words contrive to share their good and evil and uphold each
other's hearts in joy.
And yet even while I was exulting in my solitude I became
aware of a strange lack. I wished a companion to lie near
me in the starlight, silent and not moving, but ever within
touch. For there is a fellowship more quiet even than
solitude, and which, rightly understood, is solitude made
perfect. And to live out of doors with the woman a man
loves is of all lives the most complete and free.
The flower of the hedgerow and the star of heaven satisfy
and delight us: how much more the look of the exquisite
being who was created to bear and rear, to madden and
So strangely are we built: so much more strong is the love
of woman than the mere love of life.
You think that pity--and the kindred sentiments-have the
greatest power upon the heart. I think more nobly of
women. To my view, the man they love will first of all
command their respect; he will be steadfast-proud, if you
please; dry-possibly-but of all things steadfast. They
will look at him in doubt; at last they will see that stern
face which he presents to all of the rest of the world
soften to them alone. First, trust, I say. It is so that
a woman loves who is worthy of heroes.
The sex likes to pick up knowledge and yet preserve its
superiority. It is good policy, and almost necessary in
the circumstances. If a man finds a woman admires him,
were it only for his acquaintance with geography, he will
begin at once to build upon the admiration. It is only by
unintermittent snubbing that the pretty ones can keep us in
our place. Men, as Miss Howe or Miss Harlowe would have
said, 'are such encroachers.' For my part, I am body and
soul with the women; and after a well-married couple, there
is nothing so beautiful in the world as the myth of the
divine huntress. It is no use for a man to take to the
woods; we know him; Anthony tried the same thing long ago,
and had a pitiful time of it by all accounts. But there is
this about some women, which overtops the best gymnosophist
among men, that they suffice themselves, and can walk in a
high and cold zone without the countenance of any trousered
being. I declare, although the reverse of a professed
ascetic, I am more obliged to women for this ideal than I
should be to the majority of them, or indeed to any but
one, for a spontaneous kiss. There is nothing so
encouraging as the spectacle of self-sufficiency. And when
I think of the slim and lovely maidens, running the woods
all night to the note of Diana's horn; moving among the old
oaks, as fancy-free as they; things of the forest and the
starlight, not touched by the commotion of man's hot and
turbid life-although there are plenty other ideals that I
should prefer--I find my heart beat at the thought of this
one. 'Tis to fail in life, but to fail with what a grace!
That is not lost which is not regretted. And where--here
slips out the male--where would be much of the glory of
inspiring love, if there were no contempt to overcome?
The drawing-room is, indeed, an artificial place; it is so
by our choice and for our sins. The subjection of women;
the ideal imposed upon them from the cradle, and worn, like
a hair-shirt, with so much constancy; their motherly,
superior tenderness to man's vanity and self-importance;
their managing arts-the arts of a civilised slave among
good-natured barbarians-are all painful ingredients and all
help to falsify relations. It is not till we get clear of
that amusing artificial scene that genuine relations are
founded, or ideas honestly compared. In the garden, on the
road or the hillside, or TETE-A-TETE and apart from
interruptions, occasions arise when we may learn much from
any single woman; and nowhere more often than in married
life. Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by
disputes. The disputes are valueless; they but ingrain the
difference; the heroic heart of woman prompting her at once
to nail her colours to the mast. But in the intervals,
almost unconsciously and with no desire to shine, the whole
material of life is turned over and over, ideas are struck
out and shared, the two persons more and more adapt their
notions one to suit the other, and in process of time,
without sound of trumpet, they conduct each other into new
worlds of thought.
Kirstie was now over fifty, and might have sat to a
sculptor. Long of limb, and still light of foot,
deep-breasted, robust-loined, her golden hair not yet mingled
with any trace of silver, the years had but caressed and
embellished her. By the lines of a rich and vigorous
maternity, she seemed destined to be the bride of heroes
and the mother of their children.
And lastly, he was dark and she fair, and he was male and
she female, the everlasting fountain of interest.
The effervescency of her passionate and irritable nature
rose within her at times to bursting point. This is the
price paid by age for unseasonable ardours of feeling.
Weir must have supposed his bride to be somewhat suitable;
perhaps he belonged to that class of men who think a weak
head the ornament of women--an opinion invariably punished
in this life.
Never ask women folk. They're bound to answer 'No.' God
never made the lass that could resist the temptation.
It is an odd thing how happily two people, if there are
two, can live in a place where they have no acquaintance.
I think the spectacle of a whole life in which you have no
part paralyses personal desire. You are content to become
a mere spectator. The baker stands in his door; the
colonel with his three medals goes by to the CAFE at night;
the troops drum and trumpet and man the ramparts as bold as
so many lions. It would task language to say how placidly
you behold all this. In a place where you have taken some
root you are provoked out of your indifference; you have a
hand in the game--your friends are fighting with the army.
But in a strange town, not small enough to grow too soon
familiar, nor so large as to have laid itself out for
travellers, you stand so far apart from the business that
you positively forget it would be possible to go nearer;
you have so little human interest around you that you do
not remember yourself to be a man.
Pity was her weapon and her weakness. To accept the loved
one's faults, although it has an air of freedom, is to kiss
Marriage is a step so grave and decisive that it attracts
light-headed, variable men by its very awfulness. They
have been so tried among the inconstant squalls and
currents, so often sailed for islands in the air or lain
becalmed with burning heart, that they will risk all for
solid ground below their feet. Desperate pilots, they run
their sea-sick, weary bark upon the dashing rocks. It
seems as if marriage were the royal road through life, and
realised, on the instant, what we have all dreamed on
summer Sundays when the bells ring, or at night when we
cannot sleep for the desire of living. They think it will
sober and change them. Like those who join a brotherhood,
they fancy it needs but an act to be out of the coil and
clamour for ever. But this is a wile of the devil's. To
the end, spring winds will sow disquietude, passing faces
leave a regret behind them, and the whole world keep
calling and calling in their ears. For marriage is like
life in this-that it is a field of battle, and not a bed of
For there is something in marriage so natural and inviting,
that the step has an air of great simplicity and ease; it
offers to bury for ever many aching preoccupations; it is
to afford us unfailing and familiar company through life;
it opens up a smiling prospect of the blest and passive
kind of love, rather than the blessing and active; it is
approached not only through the delights of courtship, but
by a public performance and repeated legal signatures. A
man naturally thinks it will go hard within such august
And yet there is probably no other act in a man's life so
hot-headed and foolhardy as this one of marriage.
Again, when you have married your wife, you would think you
were got upon a hilltop, and might begin to go downward by
an easy slope. But you have only ended courting to begin
marriage. Falling in love and winning love are often
difficult tasks to overbearing and rebellious spirits; but
to keep in love is also a business of some importance, to
which both man and wife must bring kindness and goodwill.
The true love story commences at the altar, when there lies
before the married pair a most beautiful contest of wisdom
and generosity, and a life-long struggle towards an
unattainable ideal. Unattainable? Ay, surely unattainable,
from the very fact that they are two instead of one.
When the generation is gone, when the play is over, when
the thirty years' panorama has been withdrawn in tatters
from the stage of the world, we may ask what has become of
these great, weighty, and undying loves and the sweethearts
who despised mortal conditions in a fine credulity; and
they can only show us a few songs in a bygone taste, a few
actions worth remembering, and a few children who have
retained some happy stamp from the disposition of their
Hope looks for unqualified success; but Faith counts
certainly on failure, and takes honourable defeat to be a
form of victory. In the first, he expects an angel for a
wife; in the last, he knows that she is like himself-
erring, thoughtless, and untrue; but like himself also,
filled with a struggling radiancy of better things, and
adorned with ineffective qualities. You may safely go to
school with hope; but, ere you marry, should have learned
the mingled lesson of the world: that dolls are stuffed
with sawdust, and yet are excellent playthings; that hope
and love address themselves to a perfection never realised,
and yet, firmly held, become the salt and staff of life;
that you yourself are compacted of infirmities, perfect,
you might say, in imperfections, and yet you have a
something in you lovable and worth preserving; and that,
while the mass of mankind lies under this scurvy
condemnation, you will scarce find one but, by some
generous reading, will become to you a lesson, a model, and
a noble spouse through life. So thinking, you will
constantly support your own unworthiness, and easily
forgive the failings of your friend. Nay, you will be
wisely glad that you retain the sense of blemishes; for the
faults of married people continually spur up each of them,
hour by hour, to do better and to meet and love upon a
higher ground. And ever, between the failures, there will
come glimpses of kind virtues to encourage and console.
But it is the object of a liberal education not only to
obscure the knowledge of one sex by another, but to magnify
the natural differences between the two. Man is a creature
who lives not upon bread alone, but principally by
catchwords; and the little rift between the sexes is
astonishingly widened by simply teaching one set of
catchwords to the girls and another to the boys. To the
first, there is shown but a very small field of experience,
and taught a very trenchant principle for judgment and
action; to the other, the world of life is more largely
displayed, and their rule of conduct is proportionally
widened. They are taught to follow different virtues, to
hate different vices, to place their ideal, even for each
other, in different achievements. What should be the
result of such a course? When a horse has run away, and
the two flustered people in the gig have each possessed
themselves of a rein, we know the end of that conveyance
will be in the ditch. So, when I see a raw youth and a
green girl, fluted and fiddled in a dancing measure into
that most serious contract, and setting out upon life's
journey with ideas so monstrously divergent, I am not
surprised that some make shipwreck, but that any
come to port.
Those who have a few intimates are to be avoided; while
those who swim loose, who have their hat in their hand all
along the street, who can number an infinity of
acquaintances, and are not chargeable with any one friend,
promise an easy disposition and no rival to the wife's
influence. I will not say they are the best of men, but
they are the stuff out of which adroit and capable women
manufacture the best husbands.
A ship captain is a good man to marry if it is a marriage
of love, for absences are a good influence in love, and
keep it bright and delicate; but he is just the worst man
if the feeling is more pedestrian, as habit is too
frequently torn open and the solder has never time to set.
A certain sort of talent is almost indispensable for people
who would spend years together and not bore themselves to
death. But the talent, like the agreement, must be for and
about life. To dwell happily together,. they should be
versed in the niceties of the heart, and born with a
faculty for willing compromise. The woman must be talented
as a woman, and it will not much matter although she is
talented in nothing else. She must know HER METIER DE
FEMME, and have a fine touch for the affections. And it is
more important that a person should be a good gossip, and
talk pleasantly and smartly of common friends and the
thousand and one nothings of the day and hour, than that
she should speak with the tongues of men and angels; for a
while together by the fire happens more frequently in
marriage than the presence of a distinguished foreigner to
dinner.... You could read Kant by yourself, if you wanted;
but you must share a joke with some one else. You can
forgive people who do not follow you through a
philosophical disquisition; but to find your wife laughing
when you had tears in your eyes, or staring when you
were in a fit of laughter, would go some way towards a
dissolution of the marriage.
Now this is where there should be community between man and
wife. They should be agreed on their catchword in FACTS OF
RELIGION, OR FACTS OF SCIENCE, OR SOCIETY, MY DEAR; for
without such an agreement all intercourse is a painful
strain upon the mind....
For there are differences which no habit nor affection can
reconcile, and the Bohemian must not intermarry with the
Pharisee. Imagine Consuelo as Mrs. Samuel Budgett, the
wife of the successful merchant! The best of men and the
best of women may sometimes live together all their lives,
and, for want of some consent on fundamental questions,
hold each other lost spirits to the end.
Marriage is of so much use to women, opens out to her so
much more of life, and puts her in the way of so much more
freedom and usefulness, that, whether she marry ill or
well, she can hardly miss some benefit. It is true,
however, that some of the merriest and most genuine of
women are old maids; and that those old maids, and wives
who are unhappily married, have often most of the true
The fact is, we are much more afraid of life than our
ancestors, and cannot find it in our hearts either to marry
or not to marry. Marriage is terrifying, but so is a cold
and forlorn old age. People who share a cell in the
Bastile, or are thrown together on an uninhabited isle, if
they do not immediately fall to fisticuffs, will find some
possible ground of compromise. They will learn each
other's ways and humours, so as to know where they must go
warily, and where they may lean their whole weight. The
discretion of the first years becomes the settled habit of
the last; and so, with wisdom and patience, two lives may
grow indissolubly into one.
'Well, an ye like maids so little, y'are true natural man;
for God made them twain by intention, and brought true love
into the world, to be man's hope and woman's comfort.'
There are no persons so far away as those who are both
married and estranged, so that they seem out of earshot, or
to have no common tongue.
My idea of man's chief end was to enrich the world with
things of beauty, and have a fairly good time myself while
But the gymnast is not my favourite; he has little or no
tincture of the artist in his composition; his soul is
small and pedestrian, for the most part, since his
profession makes no call upon it, and does not accustom him
to high ideas. But if a man is only so much of an actor
that he can stumble through a farce, he is made free of a
new order of thoughts. He has something else to think
about beside the money-box. He has a pride of his own,
and, what is of far more importance, he has an aim before
him that he can never quite attain. He has gone upon a
pilgrimage that will last him his life long, because there
is no end to it short of perfection. He will better
himself a little day by day; or, even if he has given up
the attempt, he will always remember that once upon a time
he had conceived this high ideal, that once upon a time he
fell in love with a star. 'Tis better to have loved and
lost.' Although the moon should have nothing to say to
Endymion, although he should settle down with Audrey and
feed pigs, do you not think he would move with a better
grace and cherish higher thoughts to the end? The louts he
meets at church never had a fancy above Audrey's snood; but
there is a reminiscence in Endymion's heart that, like a
spice, keeps it fresh and haughty.
People do things, and suffer martyrdom, because they have
an inclination that way. The best artist is not the man
who fixes his eye on posterity, but the one who loves the
practice of his art. And instead of having a taste for
being successful merchants and retiring at thirty, some
people have a taste for high and what we call heroic forms
These are predestined; if a man love the labour of any
trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods
have called him.
The incommunicable thrill of things, that is the tuning-
fork by which we test the flatness of our art. Here it is
that Nature teaches and condemns, and still spurs us up to
further effort and new failure.
To please is to serve; and so far from its being difficult
to instruct while you amuse, it is difficult to do the one
thoroughly without the other.
We shall never learn the affinities of beauty, for they lie
too deep in nature and too far back in the mysterious
history of man.
Mirth, lyric mirth, and a vivacious contentment are of the
very essence of the better kind of art.
This is the particular crown and triumph of the artist--not
to be true merely, but to be lovable; not simply to
convince, but to enchant.
Life is hard enough for poor mortals, without having it
indefinitely embittered for them by bad art.
So that the first duty of any man who is to write is
intellectual. Designedly or not, he has so far set himself
up for a leader in the minds of men; and he must see that
his own mind is kept supple, charitable, and bright.
Everything but prejudice should find a voice through him;
he should see the good in all things; where he has even a
fear that he does not wholly understand, there he should be
wholly silent; and he should recognise from the first that
he has only one tool in his workshop, and that tool
Through no art beside the art of words can the kindness of
a man's affections be expressed. In the cuts you shall
find faithfully paraded the quaintness and the power, the
triviality and the surprising freshness of the author's
fancy; there you shall find him outstripped in ready
symbolism and the art of bringing things essentially
invisible before the eyes: but to feel the contact of
essential goodness, to be made in love with piety, the book
must be read and not the prints examined.
And then I had an idea for John Silver from which I
promised myself funds of entertainment: to take an admired
friend of mine (whom the reader very likely knows and
admires as much as I do), to deprive him of all his finer
qualities and higher graces of temperament, to leave him
with nothing but his strength, his courage, his quickness,
and his magnificent geniality, and to try to express these
in terms of the culture of a raw tarpaulin, such physical
surgery is, I think, a common way of 'making character';
perhaps it is, indeed, the only way. We can put in the
quaint figure that spoke a hundred words with us yesterday
by the wayside; but do we know him? Our friend with his
infinite variety and flexibility, we know-but can we put
him in? Upon the first, we must engraft secondary and
imaginary qualities, possibly all wrong; from the second,
knife in hand, we must cut away and deduct the needless
arborescence of his nature, but the trunk and the few
branches that remain we may at least be fairly sure of.
In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the
process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we
should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves,
and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the
busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep
or of continuous thought. The words, if the book be
eloquent, should run thenceforward in our ears like the
noise of breakers, and the story, if it be a story, repeat
itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye.
The obvious is not of necessity the normal; fashion rules
and deforms; the majority fall tamely into the contemporary
shape, and thus attain, in the eyes of the true observer,
only a higher power of insignificance; and the danger is
lest, in seeking to draw the normal, a man should draw the
null, and write the novel of society instead of the romance
There is a kind of gaping admiration that would fain roll
Shakespeare and Bacon into one, to have a bigger thing to
gape at; and a class of men who cannot edit one author
without disparaging all others.
Style is the invariable mark of any master; and for the
student who does not aspire so high as to be numbered with
the giants, it is still the one quality in which he may
improve himself at will. Passion, wisdom, creative force,
the power of mystery or colour, are allotted in the hour of
birth, and can be neither learned nor stimulated. But the
just and dexterous use of what qualities we have, the
proportion of one part to another and to the whole, the
elision of the useless, the accentuation of the important,
and the preservation of a uniform character end to end--
these, which taken together constitute technical
perfection, are to some degree within the reach of industry
and intellectual courage.
The love of words and not a desire to publish new
discoveries, the love, of form and not a novel reading of
historical events, mark the vocation of the writer and the
The life of the apprentice to any art is both unstrained
and pleasing; it is strewn with small successes in the
midst of a career of failure, patiently supported; the
heaviest scholar is conscious of a certain progress; and if
he come not appreciably nearer to the art of Shakespeare,
grows letter-perfect in the domain of A-B, ab.
The fortune of a tale lies not alone in the skill of him
that writes, but as much, perhaps, in the inherited
experience of him who reads; and when I hear with a
particular thrill of things that I have never done or seen,
it is one of that innumerable army of my ancestors
rejoicing in past deeds. Thus novels begin to touch not
the fine DILETTANTI but the gross mass of mankind, when
they leave off to speak of parlours and shades of manner
and still-born niceties of motive, and begin to deal with
fighting, sailoring, adventure, death or childbirth; and
thus ancient outdoor crafts and occupations, whether Mr.
Hardy wields the shepherd's crook or Count Tolstoi swings
the scythe, lift romance into a near neighbourhood with
epic. These aged things have on them the dew of man's
morning; they lie near, not so much to us, the semi-
artificial flowerets, as to the trunk and aboriginal
taproot of the race. A thousand interests spring up in the
process of the ages, and a thousand perish; that is now an
eccentricity or a lost art which was once the fashion of an
empire; and those only are perennial matters that rouse us
to-day, and that roused men in all epochs of the past.
L'ART DE BIEN DIRE is but a drawing-room accomplishment
unless it be pressed into the service of the truth. The
difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what
you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him
precisely as you wish. This is commonly understood in the
case of books or set orations; even in making your will, or
writing an explicit letter, some difficulty is admitted by
the world. But one thing you can never make Philistine
natures understand; one thing, which yet lies on the
surface, remains as unseizable to their wits as a high
flight of metaphysics-namely, that the business of life is
mainly carried on by means of this difficult art of
literature, and according to a man's proficiency in that
art shall be the freedom and fulness of his intercourse
with other men. Anybody, it is supposed, can say what he
means; and, in spite of their notorious experience to the
contrary, people so continue to suppose.
Even women, who understand men so well for practical
purposes, do not know them well enough for the purposes of
art. Take even the very best of their male creations, take
Tito Melema, for instance, and you will find he has an
equivocal air, and every now and again remembers he has a
comb in the back of his head. Of course, no woman will
believe this, and many men will be so polite as to humour
A dogma learned is only a new error--the old one was
perhaps as good; but a spirit communicated is a perpetual
possession. These best teachers climb beyond teaching to
the plane of art; it is themselves, and what is best in
themselves, that they communicate.
In this world of imperfections we gladly welcome even
partial intimacies. And if we find but one to whom we can
speak out our heart freely, with whom we can walk in love
and simplicity without dissimulation, we have no ground of
quarrel with the world or God.
But we are all travellers in what John Bunyan calls the
wilderness of this world-all, too, travellers with a
donkey; and the best that we find in our travels is an
honest friend. He is a fortunate voyager who finds many.
We travel, indeed, to find them. They are the end and the
reward of life. They keep us worthy of. ourselves; and
when we are alone, we are only nearer to the absent.
We are all INCOMPRIS, only more or less concerned for the
mischance; all trying wrongly to do right; all fawning at
each other's feet like dumb, neglected lap-dogs. Sometimes
we catch an eye-this is our opportunity in the ages-and we
wag our tail with a poor smile. 'IS THAT ALL?' All? If
you only knew! But how can they know? They do not love
us; the more fools we to squander life on the indifferent.
But the morality of the thing, you will be glad to hear,
is excellent; for it is only by trying to understand
others that we can get our own hearts understood; and
in matters of human feeling the clement judge is the
most successful pleader.
There is no friendship so noble, but it is the product of
the time; and a world of little finical observances, and
little frail proprieties and fashions of the hour, go to
make or to mar, to stint or to perfect, the union of
spirits the most loving and the most intolerant of such
interference. The trick of the country and the age steps
in even between the mother and her child, counts out their
caresses upon niggardly fingers, and says, in the voice of
authority, that this one thing shall be a matter of
confidence between them, and this other thing shall not.
There is not anything more bitter than to lose a
The habitual liar may be a very honest fellow, and live
truly with his wife and friends; while another man who
never told a formal falsehood in his life may yet be
himself one lie-heart and face, from top to bottom. This
is the kind of lie which poisons intimacy. And, vice
versa, veracity to sentiment, truth in a relation, truth to
your own heart and your friends, never to feign or falsify
emotion -that is the truth which makes love possible and
But surely it is no very extravagant opinion that it is
better to give than to receive, to serve than to use our
companions; and, above all, where there is no question of
service upon either side, that it is good to enjoy their
company like a natural man.
A man who has a few friends, or one who has a dozen (if
there be any one so wealthy on this earth), cannot forget
on how precarious a base his happiness reposes; and how by
a stroke or two of fate--a death, a few light words, a
piece of stamped paper, or a woman's bright eyes--he may be
left in a month destitute of all.
In these near intimacies, we are ninety-nine times
disappointed in our beggarly selves for once that we are
disappointed in our friend; that it is we who seem most
frequently undeserving of the love that unites us; and that
it is by our friend's conduct that we are continually
rebuked and yet strengthened for a fresh endeavour.
'There are some pains,' said he, 'too acute for
consolation, or I would bring them to my kind consoler.'
But there are duties which come before gratitude and
offences which justly divide friends, far more
Life, though largely, is not entirely carried on by
literature. We are subject to physical passions and
contortions; the voice breaks and changes, and speaks by
unconscious and winning inflections; we have legible
countenances, like an open book; things that cannot be said
look eloquently through the eyes; and the soul, not locked
into the body as a dungeon, dwells ever on the threshold
with appealing signals. Groans and tears, looks and
gestures, a flush or a paleness, are often the most clear
reporters of the heart, and speak more directly to the
hearts of others.
We are different with different friends; yet if we look
closely we shall find that every such relation reposes on
some particular apotheosis of oneself; with each friend,
although we could not distinguish it in words from any
other, we have at least one special reputation to preserve:
and it is thus that we run, when mortified, to our friend
or the woman that we love, not to hear ourselves called
better, but to be better men in point of fact. We seek
this society to flatter ourselves with our own good
conduct. And hence any falsehood in the relation, any
incomplete or perverted understanding, will spoil even the
pleasure of these visits.
But it follows that since they are neither of them so good
as the other hopes, and each is, in a very honest manner,
playing a part above his powers, such an intercourse must
often be disappointing to both.
It is the mark of a modest man to accept his friendly
circle ready-made from the hands of opportunity; and that
was the lawyer's way. His friends were those of his own
blood, or those whom he had known the longest; his
affections, like ivy, were the growth of time, they implied
no aptness in the object.
Of those who are to act influentially on their fellows, we
should expect always something large and public in their
way of life, something more or less urbane and
comprehensive in their sentiment for others. We should not
expect to see them spend their sympathy in idyls, however
beautiful. We should not seek them among those who, if
they have but a wife to their bosom, ask no more of
womankind, just as they ask no more of their own sex, if
they can find a friend or two for their immediate need.
They will be quick to feel all the pleasures of our
association-not the great ones alone, but all. They will
know not love only, but all those other ways in which man
and woman mutually make each other happy-by sympathy, by
admiration, by the atmosphere they bear about them-down to
the mere impersonal pleasure of passing happy faces in the
street. For, through all this gradation, the difference of
sex makes itself pleasurably felt. Down to the most
lukewarm courtesies of life, there is a special chivalry
due and a special pleasure received, when the two sexes are
brought ever so lightly into contact. We love our mothers
otherwise than we love our fathers; a sister is not as a
brother to us; and friendship between man and woman, be it
never so unalloyed and innocent, is not the same as
friendship between man and man. Such friendship is not
even possible for all. To conjoin tenderness for a woman
that is not far short of passionate with such
disinterestedness and beautiful gratuity of affection as
there is between friends of the same sex, requires no
ordinary disposition in the man. For either it would
presuppose quite womanly delicacy of perception, and, as it
were, a curiosity in shades of differing sentiment; or it
would mean that he had accepted the large, simple divisions
of society: a strong and positive spirit robustly virtuous,
who has chosen a better part coarsely, and holds to it
steadfastly, with all its consequences of pain to himself
and others; as one who should go straight before him on a
journey, neither tempted by wayside flowers nor very
scrupulous of small lives under foot.
I could have thought he had been eaves-dropping at the
doors of my heart, so entire was the coincidence between
his writing and my thought.
A knowledge that another has felt as we have felt, and seen
things, even as they are little things, not much otherwise
than we have seen them, will continue to the end to be one
of life's choicest pleasures.
The morning drum-call on my eager ear
Thrills unforgotten yet; the morning dew
Lies yet undried along my field of noon.
But now I pause at whiles in what I do,
And count the bell, and tremble lest I hear
(My work untrimmed) the sunset gun too soon.
The ground of all youth's suffering, solitude, hysteria,
and haunting of the grave, is nothing else than naked,
ignorant selfishness. It is himself that he sees dead;
those are his virtues that are forgotten; his is the vague
epitaph. Pity him but the more, if pity be your cue; for
where a man is all pride, vanity, and personal aspiration,
he goes through fire unshielded. In every part and corner
of our life, to lose oneself is to be gainer; to forget
oneself is to be happy; and this poor, laughable, and
tragic fool has not yet learned the rudiments; himself,
giant Prometheus, is still ironed on the peaks of Caucasus.
But by and by his truant interests will leave that tortured
body, slip abroad and gather flowers. Then shall death
appear before him in an altered guise; no longer as a doom
peculiar to himself, whether fate's crowning injustice or
his own last vengeance upon those who fail to value him;
but now as a power that wounds him far more tenderly, not
without solemn compensations, taking and giving, bereaving
and yet storing up.
The interests of youth are rarely frank; his passions, like
Noah's dove, come home to roost. The fire, sensibility,
and volume of his own nature, that is all that he has
learned to recognise. The tumultuary and gray tide of
life, the empire of routine, the unrejoicing faces of his
elders, fill him with contemptuous surprise; there also he
seems to walk among the tombs of spirits; and it is only in
the course of years, and after much rubbing with his
fellow-men, that he begins by glimpses to see himself from
without and his fellows from within: to know his own for
one among the thousand undenoted countenances of the city
street, and to divine in others the throb of human agony
and hope. In the meantime he will avoid the hospital
doors, the pale faces, the cripple, the sweet whiff of
chloroform-for there, on the most thoughtless, the pains of
others are burned home; but he will continue to walk, in a
divine self-pity, the aisles of the forgotten graveyard.
The length of man's life, which is endless to the brave and
busy, is scorned by his ambitious thought. He cannot bear
to have come for so little, and to go again so wholly. He
cannot bear, above all, in that brief scene, to be still
idle, and by way of cure, neglects the little that he has
to do. The parable of the talent is the brief, epitome of
youth. To believe in immortality is one thing, but it is
first needful to believe in life. Denunciatory preachers
seem not to suspect that they may be taken gravely and in
evil part; that young men may come to think of time as of a
moment, and with the pride of Satan wave back the
inadequate gift. Yet here is a true peril; this it is that
sets them to pace the graveyard alleys and to read, with
strange extremes of pity and derision, the memorials
of the dead.
Books were the proper remedy: books of vivid human import,
forcing upon their minds the issues, pleasures, busyness,
importance, and immediacy of that life in which they stand;
books of smiling or heroic temper, to excite or to console;
books of a large design, shadowing the complexity of that
game of consequences to which we all sit down, the hanger-
back not least. But the average sermon flees the point,
disporting itself in that eternity of which we know, and
need to know, so little; avoiding the bright, crowded, and
momentous fields of life where destiny awaits us.
And so in the majority of cases, a man who fancies himself
dying will get cold comfort from the very youthful view
expressed in this essay. He, as a living man, has some to
help, some to love, some to correct; it may be some to
punish. These duties cling, not upon humanity, but upon
the man himself. It is he, not another, who is one woman's
son and a second woman's husband, and a third woman's
father. That life which began so small has now grown, with
a myriad filaments, into the lives of others. It is not
indispensable; another will take the place and shoulder the
discharged responsibilities; but the better the man and the
nobler his purposes, the more will he be tempted to regret
the extinction of his powers and the deletion of his
personality. To have lived a generation is not only to
have grown at home in that perplexing medium, but to have
assumed innumerable duties. To die at such an age has,
for all but the entirely base, something of the air
of a betrayal.
Even if death catch people, like an open pitfall, and in
mid-career, laying out vast projects, and planning
monstrous foundations, flushed with hope, and their mouths
full of boastful language, they should be at once tripped
up and silenced: is there not something brave and spirited
in such a termination? and does not life go down with a
better grace, foaming in full body over a precipice, than
miserably straggling to an end in sandy deltas? When the
Greeks made their fine saying that those whom the gods love
die young, I cannot help believing they had this sort of
death also in their eye. For, surely, at whatever age it
overtake the man, this is to die young.
And so they were at last in 'their resting graves.' So long
as men do their duty, even if it be greatly in a
misapprehension, they will be leading pattern lives; and
whether or not they come to lie beside a martyrs' monument,
we may be sure they will find a safe haven somewhere in the
providence of God. It is not well to think of death,
unless we temper the thought with that of heroes who
despised it. Upon what ground, is of small account; if it
be only the bishop who was burned for his faith in the
antipodes, his memory lightens the heart and makes us walk
undisturbed among graves. And so the martyrs' monument is
a wholesome spot in the field of the dead; and as we look
upon it, a brave influence comes to us from the land of
those who have won their discharge, and in another phrase
of Patrick Walker's, got 'cleanly off the stage.'
It is not only our enemies, those desperate characters-it
is we ourselves who know not what we do;-thence springs the
glimmering hope that perhaps we do better than we think:
that to scramble through this random business with hands
reasonably clean, to have played the part of a man or woman
with some reasonable fulness, to have often resisted the
diabolic, and at the end to be still resisting it, is for
the poor human soldier to have done right well.
We are not content to pass away entirely from the scenes of
our delight; we would leave, if but in gratitude, a pillar
and a legend.
There are many spiritual eyes that seem to spy upon our
actions-eyes of the dead and the absent, whom we imagine to
behold us in our most private hours, and whom we fear and
scruple to offend: our witnesses and judges.
How unsubstantial is this projection of a man s existence,
which can lie in abeyance for centuries and then be brushed
up again and set forth for the consideration of posterity
by a few dips in an antiquary's ink-pot! This precarious
tenure of fame goes a long way to justify those (and they
are not few) who prefer cakes and cream in the immediate
But I beard the voice of a woman singing some sad, old
endless ballad not far off. It seemed to be about love and
a BEL AMOUREUX, her handsome sweetheart; and I wished I
could have taken up the strain and answered her, as I went
on upon my invisible woodland way, weaving, like Pippa in
the poem, my own thoughts with hers. What could I have
told her? Little enough; and yet all the heart requires.
How the world gives and takes away, and brings sweethearts
near only to separate them again into distant and strange
lands; but to love is the great amulet which makes the
world a garden; and 'hope, which comes to all,' outwears
the accidents of life, and reaches with tremulous hand
beyond the grave and death. Easy to say: yea, but also, by
God's mercy, both easy and grateful to believe!
As a matter of fact, although few things are spoken of with
more fearful whisperings than this prospect of death, few
have less influence on conduct under healthy
circumstances.... If we clung as devotedly as some
philosophers pretend we do to the abstract idea of life, or
were half as frightened as they make out we are, for the
subversive accident that ends it all, the trumpets might
sound by the hour and no one would follow them into battle--
the blue-peter might fly at the truck, but who would climb
into a sea-going ship? Think (if these philosophers were
right) with what a preparation of spirit we should affront
the daily peril of the dinner-table: a deadlier spot than
any battle-field in history, where the far greater
proportion of our ancestors have miserably left their
bones! What woman would ever be lured into marriage, so
much more dangerous than the wildest sea? And what would
it be to grow old?
If a man knows he will sooner or later be robbed upon a
journey, he will have a bottle of the best in every inn,
and look upon all his extravagances as so much gained upon
the thieves. And, above all, where, instead of simply
spending, he makes a profitable investment for some of his
money when it will be out of risk of loss. So every bit of
brisk living, and, above all, when it is healthful, is just
so much gained upon the wholesale filcher, death. We shall
have the less in our pockets, the more in our stomachs,
when he cries, 'Stand and deliver.'
It is better to lose health like a spendthrift than to
waste it like a miser. It is better to live and be done
with it, than to die daily in the sickroom. By all means
begin your folio; even if the doctor does not give you a
year, even if he hesitates about a month, make one brave
push and see what can be accomplished in a week. It is not
only in finished undertakings that we ought to honour
useful labour. A spirit goes out of the man who means
execution, which outlives the most untimely ending. All
who have meant good work with their whole hearts, have done
good work, although they may die before they have the time
to sign it. Every heart that has beat strong and
cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the
world, and bettered the tradition of mankind.
Now the man who has his heart on his sleeve, and a good
whirling weathercock of a brain, who reckons his life as a
thing to be dashingly used and cheerfully hazarded, makes a
very different acquaintance of the world, keeps all his
pulses going true and fast, and gathers impetus as he runs,
until, if he be running towards anything better than
wildfire, he may shoot up and become a constellation in the
When the time comes that he should go, there need be few
illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant
well, tried a little, failed much:-surely that may be his
epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed, nor will he
complain at the summons which calls a defeated soldier from
the field; defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus
Aurelius!--but if there is still one inch of fight in his
old spirit, undishonoured. The faith which sustained him
in his lifelong blindness and lifelong disappointment will
scarce even be required in this last formality of laying
down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones;
there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out
of the day and the dust and the ecstasy-there goes
another Faithful Failure.
We are apt to make so much of the tragedy of the tragedyof
death, and think so little of the enduring tragedy of some
men's lives, that we see more to lament for in a life cut
off in the midst of usefulness and love, than in one that
miserably survives all love and usefulness, and goes about
the world the phantom of itself, without hope, or joy, or
'You are a strange physician,' said Will, looking
steadfastly upon his guest.
'I am a natural law,' he replied, 'and people call
'Why did you not tell me so at first?' cried Will.
'I have been waiting for you these many years.
Give me your hand, and welcome.'
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live, and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
But the girls picked up their skirts, as if they were sure
they had good ankles, and followed until their breath was
out. The last to weary were the three graces and a couple
of companions; and just as they, too, had had enough, the
foremost of the three leaped upon a tree-stump and kissed
her hand to the canoeists. Not Diana herself, although
this was more of a Venus, after all, could have done a
graceful thing more gracefully. 'Come back again!' she
cried; and all the others echoed her; and the hills about
Origny repeated the words, 'Come back.' But the river had
us round an angle in a twinkling, and we were alone with
the green trees and running water.
Come back? There is no coming back, young ladies, on the
impetuous stream of life.
'The merchant bows unto the seaman's star,
The plowman from the sun his season takes.'
And we must all set our pocket watches by the clock of
fate. There is a headlong, forthright tide, that bears
away man with his fancies like straw, and runs fast in time
and space. It is full of curves like this, your winding
river of the Oise; and lingers and returns in pleasant
pastorals; and yet, rightly thought upon, never returns at
all. For though it should revisit the same acre of meadow
in the same hour, it will have made an ample sweep between-
whiles; many little streams will have fallen in; many
exhalations risen toward the sun; and even although it were
the same acre, it will not be the same river Oise. And
thus, oh graces of Origny, although the wandering fortune
of my life should carry me back again to where you await
death's whistle by the river, that will not be the old I
who walks the streets; and those wives and mothers, say,
will those be you?
THE CELESTIAL SURGEON
If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain
Lord, Thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake;
Or, Lord, if too obdurate I,
Choose Thou, before that spirit die,
A piercing pain, a killing sin,
And to my dead heart run them in!
Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge. Give us grace
and strength to forbear and to persevere. Offenders, give
us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders. Forgetful
ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of
others. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare us to our friends, soften us to our enemies. Bless
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