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- The Recreations of A Country Parson - 4/63 -


sense is very likely in the long run to beat erratic brilliancy. The tortoise passes the hare. I owe an apology to Lord Campbell for even naming him on the same page on which stands the name of dunce: for assuredly in shrewd, massive sense, as well as in kindness of manner, the natural outflow of a kind and good heart, no judge ever surpassed him. But I may fairly point to his career of unexampled success as an instance which proves my principle. See how that man of parts which are sound and solid, rather than brilliant or showy, has won the Derby and the St. Ledger of the law: has filled with high credit the places of Chief Justice of England and Lord Chancellor. And contrast his eminently successful and useful course with that of the fitful meteor, Lord Brougham. What a great, dazzling genius Brougham unquestionably is; yet his greatest admirer must admit that his life has been a brilliant failure. But while you, thoughtful reader, in such a retrospect as I have been supposing, sometimes wonder at the decent and reasonable success of the dunce, do you not often lament over the fashion in which those who promised well, and even brilliantly, have disappointed the hopes entertained of them? What miserable failures such have not unfrequently made! And not always through bad conduct either: not always, though sometimes, by taking to vicious courses; but rather by a certain want of tact and sense, or even by just somehow missing the favourable tide. You have got a fair living and a fair standing in the Church; you have held them for eight or ten years; when some evening as you are sitting in your study or playing with your children, a servant tells you, doubtfully, that a man is waiting to see you. A poor, thin, shabbily-dressed fellow comes in, and in faltering tones begs for the lean of five shillings. Ah, with what a start you recognise him! It is the clever fellow whom you hardly beat at college, who was always so lively and merry, who sang so nicely, and was so much asked out into society. You had lost sight of him for several years; and now here he is, shabby, dirty, smelling of whisky, with bloated face and trembling hand: alas, alas, ruined! Oh, do not give him up. Perhaps you can do something for him. Little kindness he has known for very long. Give him the five shillings by all means; but next morning see you go out, and try what may be done to lift him out of the slough of despond, and to give him a chance for better days! I know that it may be all in vain; and that after years gradually darkening down you may some day, as you pass the police-office, find a crowd at the door, and learn that they have got the corpse of the poor suicide within. And even when the failure is not so utter as this, you find, now and then, as life goes onward, that this and that old acquaintance has, you cannot say how, stepped out of the track, and is stranded. He went into the Church: he is no worse preacher or scholar than many that succeed; but somehow he never gets a living. You sometimes meet him in the street, threadbare and soured: he probably passes you without recognising you. O reader, to whom God has sent moderate success, always be chivalrously kind and considerate to such a disappointed man!

I have heard of an eminent man who, when well advanced in years, was able to say that through all his life he had never set his mind on anything which he did not succeed in attaining. Great and little aims alike, he never had known what it was to fail. What a curious state of feeling it would be to most men to know themselves able to assert so much! Think of a mind in which disappointment is a thing unknown! I think that one would be oppressed by a vague sense of fear in regarding one's self as treated by Providence in a fashion so different from the vast majority of the race. It cannot be denied that there are men in this world in whose lot failure seems to be the rule. Everything to which they put their hand breaks down or goes amiss. But most human beings can testify that their lot, like their abilities, their stature, is a sort of middling thing. There is about it an equable sobriety, a sort of average endurableness. Some things go well: some things go ill. There is a modicum of disappointment: there is a modicum of success. But so much of disappointment comes to the lot of almost all, that there is no object in nature at which we all look with so much interest as the invariably lucky man--the man whom all this system of things appears to favour. You knew such a one at school: you knew him at college: you knew him at the bar, in the Church, in medicine, in politics, in society. Somehow he pushes his way: things turn up just at the right time for him: great people take a fancy to him: the newspapers cry him up. Let us hope that you do not look at him with any feeling of envy or bitterness; but you cannot help looking at him with great interest, he is so like yourself, and at the same time so very unlike you. Philosophers tell us that real happiness is very equally distributed; but there is no doubt that there is a tremendous external difference between the man who lives in a grand house, with every appliance of elegance and luxury, with plump servants, fine horses, many carriages, and the poor struggling gentleman, perhaps a married curate, whose dwelling is bare, whose dress is poor, whose fare is scanty, whose wife is careworn, whose children are ill-fed, shabbily dressed, and scantily educated. It is conceivable that fanciful wants, slights, and failures, may cause the rich man as much and as real suffering as substantial wants and failures cause the poor; but the world at large will recognise the rich man's lot as one of success, and the poor man's as one of failure.

This is a world of competition. It is a world full of things that many people wish to get, and that all cannot get at once; and to say this is much as to say that this is a world of failure and disappointments. All things desirable, by their very existence imply the disappointment of some. When you, my reader, being no longer young, look with a philosophic eye at some pretty girl entering a drawing-room, you cannot but reflect, as you survey the pleasing picture, and more especially when you think of the twenty thousand pounds--Ah! my gentle young friend, you will some day make one heart very jolly, but a great many more extremely envious, wrathful, and disappointed. So with all other desirable things; so with a large living in the Church; so with aliy place of dignity; so with a seat on the bench; so with the bishopric; so with the woolsack; so with the towers of Lambeth. So with smaller matters; so with a good business in the greengrocery line; so with a well-paying milk-walk; so with a clerk's situation of eighty pounds a year; so with an errand boy's place at three shillings a week, which thirty candidates want, and only one can get. Alas for our fallen race! Is it not part, at least, of some men's pleasure in gaining some object which has been generally sought for, to think of the mortification of the poor fellows that failed?

Disappointment, in short, may come and must come wherever man can set his wishes and his hopes. The only way not to be disappointed when a thing turns out against you, is not to have really cared how the thing went. It is not a truism to remark that this is impossible if you did care. Of course you are not disappointed at failing of attaining an end which you did not care whether you attained or not; but men seek very few such ends. If a man has worked day and night for six weeks in canvassing his county, and then, having been ignominiously beaten, on the following day tells you he is not in the least degree disappointed, he might just as trulv assure you, if you met him walking up streaming with water from a river into which he had just fallen, that he is not the least wet. No doubt there is an elasticity in the healthy mind which very soon tides it over even a severe disappointment; and no doubt the grapes which are unattainable do sometimes in actual fact turn sour. But let no man tell us that he has not known the bitterness of disappointment for at least a brief space, if he have ever from his birth tried to get anything, great or small, and yet not got it. Failure is indeed a thing of all degrees, from the most fanciful to the most weighty: disappointment is a thing of all degrees, from the transient feeling that worries for a minute, to the great crushing blow that breaks the mind's spring for ever. Failure is a fact which reaches from the poor tramp who lies down by the wayside to die, up to the man who is only made Chief Justice when he wanted the Chancellorship, or who dies Bishop of London when he had set his heart upon being Archbishop of Canterbury; or to the Prime Minister, unrivalled in eloquence, in influence, in genius, with his fair domains and his proud descent, but whose horse is beaten after being first favourite for the Derby. Who shall say that either disappointed man felt less bitterness and weariness of heart than the other? Each was no more than disappointed; and the keenness of disappointment bears no proportion to the reality of the value of the object whose loss caused it. And what endless crowds of human beings, children and old men, nobles and snobs, rich men and poor, know the bitterness of disappointment from day to day. It begins from the child shedding many tears when the toy bought with the long-hoarded pence is broken the first day it comes home; it goes on to the Duke expecting the Garter, who sees in the newspaper. at breakfast that the yards of blue ribbon have been given to another. What a hard time his servants have that day. How loudly he roars at them, how willingly would he kick them! Little recks he that forenoon of his magnificent castle and his ancestral woods. It may here be mentioned that a very pleasing opportunity is afforded to malignant people for mortifying a clever, ambitious man, when any office is vacant to which it is known he aspires. A judge of the Queen's Bench has died: you, Mr. Verjuice, know how Mr. Swetter, Q. C., has been rising at the bar; you know how well he deserves the ermine. Well, walk down to his chambers; go in and sit down; never mind how busy he is--your time is of no value--and talk of many different men as extremely suitable for the vacant seat on the bench, but never in the remotest manner hint at the claims of Swetter himself. I have often seen the like done. And you, Mr. Verjuice, may conclude almost with certainty that in doing all this you are vexing and mortifying a deserving man. And such a consideration will no doubt be compensation sufficient to your amiable nature for the fact that every generous muscular Christian would like to take you by the neck, and swing your sneaking carcase out of the window.

Even a slight disappointment, speedily to be repaired, has in it something that jars painfully the mechanism of the mind. You go to the train, expecting a friend, certainly. He does not come. Now this worries you, even though you receive at the station a telegraphic message that he will be by the train which follows in two hours. Your magazine fails to come by post on the last day of the month; you have a dull, vague sense of something wanting for an hour or two, even though you are sure that you will have it next morning. And indeed a very krge share of the disappointments of civilized life are associated with the post-office. I do not suppose the extreme case of the poor fellow who calls at the office expecting a letter containing the money without which he cannot see how he is to get through the day; nor of the man who finds no letter on the day when he expects to hear how it fares with a dear relative who is desperately sick. I am thinking merely of the lesser disappointments which commonly attend post-time: the Times not coming when you were counting with more than ordinary certainty on its appearing; the letter of no great consequence, which yet you would have liked to have had. A certain blankness--a feeling difficult to define--attends even the slightest disappointment; and the effect of a great one is very stunning and embittering indeed. You remember how the nobleman in Ten Thousand a Year, who had been refused a seat in the Cabinet, sympathized with poor Titmouse's exclamation when, looking at the manifestations of gay life in Hyde-park, and feeling his own absolute exclusion from it, he consigned everything to perdition. All the ballads of Professor Aytoun and Mr. Theodore Martin are admirable, but there is none which strikes me as more so than the brilliant imitation of Locksley Hall, And how true to nature the state of mind ascribed to the


The Recreations of A Country Parson - 4/63

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