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- The Recreations of A Country Parson - 7/63 -


one. But painful it must be beyond all names of pain, where it is the abiding, calm, sorrowful conviction of the man's whole being. Sore must be the heart of the man of middle age, who often thinks that he is thankful his father is in his grave, and so beyond mourning over his son's sad loss in life. And even when the stinging sense of guilt is absent, it is a mournful thing for one to feel that he has, so to speak, missed stays in his earthly voyage, and run upon a mud-bank which he can never get off: to feel one's self ingloriously and uselessly stranded, while those who started with us pass by with gay flag and swelling sail. And all this may be while it is hard to know where to attach blame; it may be when there was nothing worse to complain of than a want of promptitude, resolution, and tact, at the one testing time. Every one knows the passage in point in Shakspeare.

Disappointment, I have said, is almost sure to be experienced in a greater or less degree, so long as anything remains to be wished or sought. And a provision is made for the indefinite continuance of disappointment in the lot of even the most successful of men, by the fact in rerum naturu that whenever the wants felt on a lower level are supplied, you advance to a higher platform, where a new crop of wants is felt. Till the lower wants are supplied you never feel the higher; and accordingly people who pass through life barely succeeding in gaining the supply of the lower wants, will hardly be got to believe that the higher wants are ever really felt at all. A man who is labouring anxiously to earn food and shelter for his children--who has no farther worldly end, and who thinks he would be perfectly happy if he could only be assured on New Year's day that he would never fail in earning these until the thirty-first of December, will hardly believe you when you tell him that the Marquis at the castle is now utterly miserable because the King would not give him a couple of yards of blue or green ribbon. And it is curious in how many cases worldly-successful men mount, step after step, into a new series of wants, implying a new set of mortifications and disappointments. A person begins as a small tradesman; all he aims at is a maintenance for him and his. That is his first aim. Say he succeeds in reaching it. A little ago he thought he would have been quite content could he only do that. But from his new level he sees afar a new peak to climb; now he aims at a fortune. That is his next aim. Say he reaches it. Now he buys an estate; now he aims at being received and admitted as a country gentleman; and the remainder of his life is given to striving for social recognition in the county. How he schemes to get the baronet to dine with him, and the baronet's lady to call upon his homely spouse! And every one has remarked with amusement the hive of petty mortifications, failures, and disappointments, through which he fights his way, till, as it may chance, he actually gains a dubious footing in the society he seeks, or gives up the endeavour as a final failure. Who shall say that any one of the successive wants the man has felt is more fanciful, less real, than any other? To Mr. Oddbody, living in his fine house, it is just as serious an aim to get asked to the Duke's ball, as in former days it was to Jack Oddbody to carry home on Saturday night the shillings which were to buy his bread and cheese.

And another shade of disappointment which keeps pace with all material success is that which arises, not from failing to get a thing, but from getting it and then discovering that it is not what we had fancied--that it will not make us happy. Is not this disappointment ft It everywhere? When the writer was a little boy, he was promised that on a certain birthday a donkey should be bought for his future riding. Did not he frequently allude to it in conversation with his companions? Did not he plague the servants for information as to the natural history and moral idiosyncrasy of donkeys? Did not the long-eared visage appear sometimes through his dreams? Ah, the donkey came! Then followed the days of being pitched over his head; the occasions on which the brute of impervious hide rushed through hedges and left me sticking in them: happiness was no nearer, though the donkey was there. Have you not, my philosophic friend, had your donkey? I mean your moral donkey. Yes, and scores of such. When you were a schoolboy, longing for the holidays, have you not chalked upon doors the legend--OH FOR AUGUST! Vague, delightful visions of perfect happiness were wrapped up in the words. But the holidays came, as all holidays have done and will do; and in a few days you were heartily wearied of them. When you were spoony about Marjory Anne, you thought that once your donkey came, once you were fairly married and settled, what a fine thing it would be! I do not say a syllable against that youthful matron; but I presume you have discovered that she falls short of perfection, and that wedded life has its many cares. You thought you would enjoy so much the setting-up of your carriage; your wife and you often enjoyed it by anticipation on dusty summer days: but though all very well, wood and iron and leather never made the vehicle that shall realize your anticipations. The horses were often lame; the springs would sometimes break; the paint was always getting scratched and the lining cut. Oh, what a nuisance is a carriage! You fancied you would be perfectly happy when you retired from business and settled in the country. What a comment upon such fancies is the fashion in which retired men of business haunt the places of their former toils like unquiet ghosts! How sick they get of the country! I do not think of grand disappointments of the sort; of the satiety of Vathek, turning sickly away from his earthly paradise at Cintra; nor of the graceful towers I have seen rising from a woody cliff above a summer sea, and of the story told me of their builder, who, after rearing them, lost interest in them, and in sad disappointment left them to others, and went back to the busy town wherein he had made his wealth. I think of men, more than one or two, who rented their acre of land by the sea-side, and built their pretty cottage, made their grassplots and trained their roses, and then in unaccustomed idleness grew weary of the whole and sold their place to some keen bargain-maker for a tithe of what it cost them.

Why is it that failure in attaining ambitious ends is so painful? When one has honestly done one's best, and is beaten after all, conscience must be satisfied: the wound is solely to self-love; and is it not to the discredit of our nature that that should imply such a weary, blank, bitter feeling as it often does? Is it that every man has within his heart a lurking belief that, notwithstanding the world's ignorance of the fact, there never was in the world anybody so remarkable as himself? I think that many mortals need daily to be putting down a vague feeling which really comes to that. You who have had experience of many men, know that you can hardly over-estimate the extent and depth of human vanity. Never be afraid but that nine men out of ten will swallow with avidity flattery, however gross; especially if it ascribe to them those qualities of which they are most manifestly deficient.

A disappointed man looks with great interest at the man who has obtained what he himself wanted. Your mother, reader, says that her ambition for you would be entirely gratified if you could but reach a certain place which some one you know has held for twenty years. You look at him with much curiosity; he appears very much like yourself; and, curiously, he does not appear particularly happy. Oh, reader, whatever you do--though last week he gained without an effort what you have been wishing for all your life--do not hate him. Resolve that you will love and wish well to the man who fairly succeeded where you fairly failed. Go to him and get acquainted with him: if you and he are both true men, you will not find it a difficult task to like him. It is perhaps asking too much of human nature to ask you to do all this in the case of the man who has carried off the woman you loved; but as regards anything else, do it all. Go to your successful rival, heartily congratulate him. Don't be Jesuitical; don't merely felicitate the man; put down the rising feeling of envy: that is always out-and-out wrong. Don't give it a moment's quarter. You clerks in an office, ready to be angry with a fellow-clerk who gets the chance of a trip to Scotland on business, don't give in to the feeling. Shake hands with him all round, and go in a body with him to Euston Square, and give him three cheers as he departs by the night mail. And you, greater mortals--you, rector of a beautiful parish, who think you would have done for a bishop as well as the clergyman next you who has got the mitre; you, clever barrister, sure some day to be solicitor-general, though sore to-day because a man next door has got that coveted post before you; go and see the successful man--go forthwith, congratulate him heartily, say frankly you wish it had been you: it will do oreat good both to him and to yourself. Let it not be that envy--that bitter and fast-growing fiend--shall be suffered in your heart for one minute. When I was at college I sat on the same bench with a certain man. We were about the same age. Now, I am a country parson, and he is a cabinet minister. Oh, how he has distanced poor me in the race of life! Well, he had a tremendous start, no doubt. Now, shall I hate him? Shall I pitch into him, rake up all his errors of youth, tell how stupid he was (though indeed he was not stupid), and bitterly gloat over the occasion on which he fell on the ice and tore his inexpressibles in the presence of a grinning throng? No, my old fellow-student, who hast now doubtless forgotten my name, though I so well remember yours, though you got your honours possibly in some measure from the accident of your birth, you have nobly justified their being given you so early; and so I look on with interest to your loftier advancement yet, and I say--God bless you!

I think, if I were an examiner at one of the Universities, that I should be an extremely popular one. No man should ever be plucked. Of course it would be very wrong, and, happily, the work is in the hands of those who are much fitter for it; but, instead of thinking solely and severely of a man's fitness to pass, I could not help thinking a great deal of the heartbreak it would be to the poor fellow and his family if he were turned. It would be ruin to any magazine to have me for its editor. I should always be printing all sorts of rubbishing articles, which are at present consigned to the Balaam-box. I could not bear to grieve and disappoint the young lady who sends her gushing verses. I should be picturing to myself the long hours of toil that resulted in the clever lad's absurd attempt at a review, and all his fluttering hopes and fears as to whether it was to be accepted or not. No doubt it is by this mistaken kindness that institutions are damaged and ruined. The weakness of a sympathetic bishop burdens the Church with a clergy-man who for many years will be an injury to her; and it would have been far better even for the poor fellow himself to have been decidedly and early kept out of a vocation for which he is wholly unfit. I am far from saying that the resolute examiner who plucks freely, and the resolute editor who rejects firmly, are deficient in kindness of heart, or even in vividness of imagination to picture what they are doing: though much of the suffering and disappointment of this world is caused by men who are almost unaware of what they do. Like the brothers of Isabella, in Keats' beautiful poem,

Half ignorant, they turn an easy wheel, That sets sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.

Yet though principle and moral decision may be in you sufficient to prevent your weakly yielding to the feeling, be sure you always sympathize with failure;--honest, laborious failure. And I think all but very malicious persons generally do sympathize with it. It is easier to sympathize with failure than with success. No trace of envy comes in to mar your sympathy, and you have a pleasant sense that you are looking down from a loftier elevation. The average man likes to have some one to look down upon--even to look down upon


The Recreations of A Country Parson - 7/63

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