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- Observations of a Retired Veteran - 5/11 -

they got on board, she called him William, and he called her "Maria dear." When they got off she called him "Willie dear," and he called her plain "Maria." When they came to supper she was the man of the two--two hours after, she was laid out on the deck benches, vowing every minute that she would die. From that moment he commenced advancing in rank. He was not subject to seasickness, and walked the plunging deck like a bantam rooster. In a firm voice he ordered her to her state-room, where she remained till the evening of the next day. She came out a changed woman. She evidently viewed "Willie dear" as a superior being, whom the sea itself couldn't conquer, and whose attentions to her in her sickness--which I am bound to add were kind and unremitting--were such as such beings bestow in charity on mortals made of humbler stuff. She came out of her stateroom the next evening as limp as a rag, and clinging to the little bantam as if letting go would be sure death. Seasickness had completely changed the manner and carriage of the two people. I could not help wondering if the bantam saw his advantage as I saw it, and whether, now that he had her down, he would keep her down? It struck me, while looking at them, that every man, sure of his sea legs, should early in his married life, take his wife to sea. It may give him a lifetime of peaceful rest.

* * * * *

Still speaking of the sea; for I am too far from shore now to turn back, we had one day of it in which was painfully illustrated the line, "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink." The steward, having been changed from his own ship to ours without notice, had not laid in his wines and liquors for the voyage. It was awful news when it was announced after getting out to sea, and paled many a cheek. Much to our surprise, however, all the next morning one of the passengers appeared in a state of exhilaration not to be accounted for by anything we had seen on the table. Later, he appeared still worse, and as he did not appear at dinner, we concluded that he was drinking to excess in his room. A passenger said indignantly that "the man was killing himself," and volunteered to go in and see about him. About dark, that day, the volunteer made his appearance on deck. After some uncertain steps he managed to seat himself on a coil of rope. Looking at us with a look of solemn philanthropy in his face, he announced thickly, that "I got t'way from'm at last." It was very clear that he had.

* * * * *

Do you know that I never travel the sea that I am not pervaded by an antagonistic and contradictory frame of mind that sets itself against all the popular and religious ideas of it. The ocean impresses me with neither the majesty nor the power of God. Indeed, it does not impress me with God at all, but to the contrary, gives me a sort of undefined, painful unbelief. To me, somehow, there is no other side of the ocean. And looking out on its boundless space, covered with the blue vault lighted by millions of worlds and floating over, to me, bottomless waters, I feel so lost in space, such an infinitesimal atom, that the doctrine of the sparrow that falls seems a chimera, and a God inconceivable. I wonder if this is not so with others. I wonder if all of us do not shrink from this immensity and take refuge in our own hearts where alone we can hear the voice of God, and where, at any hour or in any scene, we can find an instant answer to all our doubts. There is but one spot on the ocean that leads me to a sort of a fanciful realization of a future life. It is that red one made by the setting sun, especially if we be off shore, and the birds are flying landward. The roseate bridge thrown across the water, swinging with the waves, the intense and silver bright-ness of the centre of the arc framed in the evening clouds that roll around it, and the gleaming wings of the birds, as they flash across the disc and disappear in the shining centre on their way homeward, somehow bring to my mind the gates ajar and the souls flying from earth to their final rest. There may be beautiful pictures to come after this life; if there are, sunset at sea is as near as our mortal minds can yet come to them.


Well, we have gotten you into a new year! Life and Fate and Time, all have managed to get you here. With many of you they had a hard pull to get you here. Some of you have been near to death; some of you so miserable you hardly wanted to try another year here, and the majority of you have shown the least interest about getting here. I don't reproach you; you are only following the perverse example of Human Nature. Did it ever strike you that the globe and the people who live on its surface, are always marching different ways? While all the restless tide of humanity moves to the West, the globe turns itself to the East. On its surface, Man is much like the acrobat we see at the theatres, who, mounted on his parti-colored ball, faces one way while it moves the other. It must be a queer spectacle to those who, from the planetary dress circle of the universe, are watching us through their opera glasses. It must be still queerer to them when they hear us chanting a Miserere at the approach of an invincible line across the face of Time, as imaginary as the Equator, and when it is passed, filling the air with a Jubilate--the songs of the dying and the coming year. It is rather a comfort to us that we don't believe in the dress circle of gazers; that we have the comfortable belief that we are the only people in the Universe, and that beyond the questionable discovery of a canal across one of the planets, the wisest of astronomers have found no evidence of human life elsewhere. And so, with a Crusoe-like sense of solitude, we live on our traditions, on our religions, and on our ideas of Man to the exclusion of the rest of the Universe.

With an impartial judgment, therefore, and not influenced by the approval or disapproval of this vast dress circle, in whose existence we have no faith, let us take up these imaginary lines for a moment. It is unquestionable that, whether for good or evil, they have descended to us by tradition and custom as a legacy. They are sufficiently real to be of practical use, and they are used. It is by them that we set a time--alas, that we should have the necessity of doing it--to discard some vice, some sin, some weakness. We use them in the interest of procrastination--that we may put off the parting day with something our conscience, or our taste, or both, disapprove. By them we appoint a time when we shall say to the divine spark within our breasts, you may flame out into our daily life. By them we give a respite which alas, often ends in a commutation of sentence and oftener still in a full pardon and restoration to peace.

So, you see, I do not think a great deal of old year remorse or New Year resolutions. I think they are just that much better than none at all, and this has to be qualified by the damage they do in having us put off reformation. That a man should fix a day to reform in this or that particular, is at least an evidence that he is aware of his need of it--a great point gained. These years are but little stepping-stones across the narrow brook of Time that pours into the vast ocean of Eternity, and it is a good sign when a man approaches the next, and the next, and the next with increasing reverence and sense of the responsibility of his progress. It is a good sign when a man begins to discover in the impediments of life, what is necessary and what is absolutely hurtful to him in the journey of life, and when, with the discovery, he summons up enough resolution to fix a day to throw away the bad. It is hard for the best of us to get our load rightly picked over. When we have failed to start right in youth, it is unspeakably hard after getting out into the dust and glare of the world to assort our burden over, and drop what ill elements we have gathered on the road. That a man should fix a time to do this is itself a good thing and just that far these imaginary lines are good.

But something far better, far manlier, is to have the firmness to draw our own lines at our own times. It is so peculiarly a personal matter that we can well afford to let the World have its lines and we have our own. If you agree with me, then your own line is drawn at To-day and Every Day. If a man cannot enter on a new life every day, he can unquestionably enter on at least a newer life every day. It must be a barren and unfruitful mind to which something--good or evil--is not added every day, to make it that much newer. You know this yourself. You have seen healthy, pure-minded boys start out in life and you have met them later with minds so darned with vice here, and patched with sin there, that you hardly recognized them. That transformation was not done in a day. You have seen boys that you knew at school without a bad habit, and when you met them again they had added to their lives drinking, gambling, everything this side of a police court. That was not done in a day. We do nothing in a day--not even reform in a day. All good and evil is a matter of ascent and descent-the latter only the faster because the grade is easier. It is not an easy experiment in the world to be a good man. No man ever fixed a day to become a good one. It is an uphill road, a long road, and one who proposes to walk it must fix no later hour than now lest night-fall find him far from the end of it.

But the young man who determines to walk it in this day, has a far easier road than he would have had thirty years ago. It is the fashion to say that the road grows no better. It is not true; the world's opinion grows better every day. There were many things respectable thirty years ago that are absolutely disreputable now. Then, a middle-aged man might drink at a bar with a boy of twenty. If he did it to-day he would be marked at once. Then, drinking and gambling were looked upon as the wild oats a young man might sow, without losing caste. To-day, the young man who drinks and gambles is looked upon as of doubtful social position, by both men and women. To-day, in making their lists of invitations, leaders in society cross out the names of dissipated young men as promptly as they do those of fast young women. Whereas thirty years ago there was rather a mantle of sentimental charity fitted on the shoulders of a disreputable young fellow, to-day he is roughly talked of as a "drunkard" or a "common fellow"; terms that no one dreamed of applying to him then. There has been nothing that public opinion, especially that section of it that may be called social opinion, has changed in more than in the standard it fixes for, and demands from, all men, and particularly young men. The result is that when a man wants to be superior to vice now, he has the moral weight of a sounder public opinion and finds the road easier than he would have had thirty years ago.

I have said nothing to you about any higher inducement to commence a better life every day, than those you can find in the world. They are quite sufficient, or ought to be. A healthy body, a clear mind, success in the world--these are the rewards which a good life offers here. There is just one other word about what it offers elsewhere. I am not a preacher, you need not be afraid of a sermon. I am just one of yourselves; only I have come over a longer road than you have, and have seen more of its pitfalls as well as more of its sign-boards. Nor do I pretend to know more than you of what it offers elsewhere. But I just wish to say one word to recall what you already know; what you must know. There is nothing that we all know better--nothing that is more surely planted in the human mind than that this is only a part of our life; that when we shall reach a future existence, we shall there find a life awaiting us which will match with the piece we carry from this one. It is a very grave thought--graver than any which we shall consider on earth, if we are intelligent men--which the match will be--whether it will be found in one of infinite misery or one of infinite betterment. Here we have the power to say which it shall be. It is a priceless power. Let us use it, not in fixing days for reformation, not in lamenting over promises of reforms broken, and fixing other days to come; but in living a newer life every day--As

Observations of a Retired Veteran - 5/11

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