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- The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford - 1/21 -
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK RUTHERFORD EDITED BY HIS FRIEND REUBEN SHAPCOTT
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
The present edition is a reprint of the first, with corrections of several mistakes which had been overlooked.
There is one observation which I may perhaps be permitted to make on re-reading after some years this autobiography. Rutherford, at any rate in his earlier life, was an example of the danger and the folly of cultivating thoughts and reading books to which he was not equal, and which tend to make a man lonely.
It is all very well that remarkable persons should occupy themselves with exalted subjects, which are out of the ordinary road which ordinary humanity treads; but we who are not remarkable make a very great mistake if we have anything to do with them. If we wish to be happy, and have to live with average men and women, as most of us have to live, we must learn to take an interest in the topics which concern average men and women. We think too much of ourselves. We ought not to sacrifice a single moment's pleasure in our attempt to do something which is too big for us, and as a rule, men and women are always attempting what is too big for them. To ninety-nine young men out of a hundred, or perhaps ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a hundred thousand, the wholesome healthy doctrine is, "Don't bother yourselves with what is beyond you; try to lead a sweet, clean, wholesome life, keep yourselves in health above everything, stick to your work, and when your day is done amuse and refresh yourselves."
It is not only a duty to ourselves, but it is a duty to others to take this course. Great men do the world much good, but not without some harm, and we have no business to be troubling ourselves with their dreams if we have duties which lie nearer home amongst persons to whom these dreams are incomprehensible. Many a man goes into his study, shuts himself up with his poetry or his psychology, comes out, half understanding what he has read, is miserable because he cannot find anybody with whom he can talk about it, and misses altogether the far more genuine joy which he could have obtained from a game with his children or listening to what his wife had to tell him about her neighbours.
"Lor, miss, you haven't looked at your new bonnet to-day," said a servant girl to her young mistress.
"No, why should I? I did not want to go out."
"Oh, how can you? why, I get mine out and look at it every night."
She was happy for a whole fortnight with a happiness cheap at a very high price.
That same young mistress was very caustic upon the women who block the pavement outside drapers' shops, but surely she was unjust. They always seem unconscious, to be enjoying themselves intensely and most innocently, more so probably than an audience at a Wagner concert. Many persons with refined minds are apt to depreciate happiness, especially if it is of "a low type." Broadly speaking, it is the one thing worth having, and low or high, if it does no mischief, is better than the most spiritual misery.
Metaphysics and theology, including all speculations on the why and the wherefore, optimism, pessimism, freedom, necessity, causality, and so forth, are not only for the most part loss of time, but frequently ruinous. It is no answer to say that these things force themselves upon us, and that to every question we are bound to give or try to give an answer. It is true, although strange, that there are multitudes of burning questions which we must do our best to ignore, to forget their existence; and it is not more strange, after all, than many other facts in this wonderfully mysterious and defective existence of ours. One fourth of life is intelligible, the other three-fourths is unintelligible darkness; and our earliest duty is to cultivate the habit of not looking round the corner.
"Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God hath already accepted thy works. Let thy garments be always white, and let not thy head lack ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which He hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in life."
This is the night when I must die, And great Orion walketh high In silent glory overhead: He'll set just after I am dead.
A week this night, I'm in my grave: Orion walketh o'er the wave: Down in the dark damp earth I lie, While he doth march in majesty.
A few weeks hence and spring will come; The earth will bright array put on Of daisy and of primrose bright, And everything which loves the light.
And some one to my child will say, "You'll soon forget that you could play Beethoven; let us hear a strain From that slow movement once again."
And so she'll play that melody, While I among the worms do lie; Dead to them all, for ever dead; The churchyard clay dense overhead.
I once did think there might be mine One friendship perfect and divine; Alas! that dream dissolved in tears Before I'd counted twenty years.
For I was ever commonplace; Of genius never had a trace; My thoughts the world have never fed, Mere echoes of the book last read.
Those whom I knew I cannot blame: If they are cold, I am the same: How could they ever show to me More than a common courtesy?
There is no deed which I have done; There is no love which I have won, To make them for a moment grieve That I this night their earth must leave.
Thus, moaning at the break of day, A man upon his deathbed lay; A moment more and all was still; The Morning Star came o'er the hill.
But when the dawn lay on his face, It kindled an immortal grace; As if in death that Life were shown Which lives not in the great alone.
Orion sank down in the west Just as he sank into his rest; I closed in solitude his eyes, And watched him till the sun's uprise.
Now that I have completed my autobiography up to the present year, I sometimes doubt whether it is right to publish it. Of what use is it, many persons will say, to present to the world what is mainly a record of weaknesses and failures? If I had any triumphs to tell; if I could show how I had risen superior to poverty and suffering; if, in short, I were a hero of any kind whatever, I might perhaps be justified in communicating my success to mankind, and stimulating them to do as I have done. But mine is the tale of a commonplace life, perplexed by many problems I have never solved; disturbed by many difficulties I have never surmounted; and blotted by ignoble concessions which are a constant regret.
I have decided, however, to let the manuscript remain. I will not destroy it, although I will not take the responsibility of printing it. Somebody may think it worth preserving; and there are two reasons why they may think so, if there are no others. In the first place it has some little historic value, for I feel increasingly that the race to which I belonged is fast passing away, and that the Dissenting minister of the present day is a different being altogether from the Dissenting minister of forty years ago.
In the next place, I have observed that the mere knowing that other people have been tried as we have been tried is a consolation to us, and that we are relieved by the assurance that our sufferings are not special and peculiar, but common to us with many others. Death has always been a terror to me, and at times, nay generally, religion and philosophy have been altogether unavailing to mitigate the terror in any way. But it has been a comfort to me to reflect that whatever death may be, it is the inheritance of the whole human race; that I am not singled out, but shall merely have to pass through what the weakest have had to pass through before me. In the worst of maladies, worst at least to me, those which are hypochondriacal, the healing effect which is produced by the visit of a friend who can simply say, "I have endured all that," is most marked. So it is not impossible that some few whose experience has been like mine may, by my example, be freed from that sense of solitude which they find so depressing.
I was born, just before the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was opened, in a small country town in one of the Midland shires. It is now semi-manufacturing, at the junction of three or four lines of railway, with hardly a trace left of what it was fifty years ago. It then consisted of one long main street, with a few other streets branching from it at right-angles. Through this street the mail-coach rattled at night, and the huge waggon rolled through it, drawn by four horses, which twice a week travelled to and from London and brought us
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