CONSIDERATIONS BY THE WAY
Hear what British Merlin sung,
Of keenest eye and truest tongue.
Say not, the chiefs who first arrive
Usurp the seats for which all strive;
The forefathers this land who found
Failed to plant the vantage-ground;
Ever from one who comes to-morrow
Men wait their good and truth to borrow.
But wilt thou measure all thy road,
See thou lift the lightest load.
Who has little, to him who has less, can spare,
And thou, Cyndyllan's son! beware
Ponderous gold and stuffs to bear,
To falter ere thou thy task fulfil, --
Only the light-armed climb the hill.
The richest of all lords is Use,
And ruddy Health the loftiest Muse.
Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air's salubrity:
Where the star Canope shines in May,
Shepherds are thankful, and nations gay.
The music that can deepest reach,
And cure all ill, is cordial speech:
Mask thy wisdom with delight,
Toy with the bow, yet hit the white.
Of all wit's uses, the main one
Is to live well with who has none.
Cleave to thine acre; the round year
Will fetch all fruits and virtues here:
Fool and foe may harmless roam,
Loved and lovers bide at home.
A day for toil, an hour for sport,
But for a friend is life too short.
_Considerations by the Way_
Although this garrulity of advising is born with us, I confess
that life is rather a subject of wonder, than of didactics. So much
fate, so much irresistible dictation from temperament and unknown
inspiration enters into it, that we doubt we can say anything out of
our own experience whereby to help each other. All the professions
are timid and expectant agencies. The priest is glad if his prayers
or his sermon meet the condition of any soul; if of two, if of ten,
'tis a signal success. But he walked to the church without any
assurance that he knew the distemper, or could heal it. The
physician prescribes hesitatingly out of his few resources, the same
tonic or sedative to this new and peculiar constitution, which he has
applied with various success to a hundred men before. If the patient
mends, he is glad and surprised. The lawyer advises the client, and
tells his story to the jury, and leaves it with them, and is as gay
and as much relieved as the client, if it turns out that he has a
verdict. The judge weighs the arguments, and puts a brave face on
the matter, and, since there must be a decision, decides as he can,
and hopes he has done justice, and given satisfaction to the
community; but is only an advocate after all. And so is all life a
timid and unskilful spectator. We do what we must, and call it by
the best names. We like very well to be praised for our action, but
our conscience says, "Not unto us." 'Tis little we can do for each
other. We accompany the youth with sympathy, and manifold old
sayings of the wise, to the gate of the arena, but 'tis certain that
not by strength of ours, or of the old sayings, but only on strength
of his own, unknown to us or to any, he must stand or fall. That by
which a man conquers in any passage, is a profound secret to every
other being in the world, and it is only as he turns his back on us
and on all men, and draws on this most private wisdom, that any good
can come to him. What we have, therefore, to say of life, is rather
description, or, if you please, celebration, than available rules.
Yet vigor is contagious, and whatever makes us either think or
feel strongly, adds to our power, and enlarges our field of action.
We have a debt to every great heart, to every fine genius; to those
who have put life and fortune on the cast of an act of justice; to
those who have added new sciences; to those who have refined life by
elegant pursuits. 'Tis the fine souls who serve us, and not what is
called fine society. Fine society is only a self-protection against
the vulgarities of the street and the tavern. Fine society, in the
common acceptation, has neither ideas nor aims. It renders the
service of a perfumery, or a laundry, not of a farm or factory. 'Tis
an exclusion and a precinct. Sidney Smith said, "A few yards in
London cement or dissolve friendship." It is an unprincipled decorum;
an affair of clean linen and coaches, of gloves, cards, and elegance
in trifles. There are other measures of self-respect for a man, than
the number of clean shirts he puts on every day. Society wishes to
be amused. I do not wish to be amused. I wish that life should not
be cheap, but sacred. I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded,
fragrant. Now we reckon them as bank-days, by some debt which is to
be paid us, or which we are to pay, or some pleasure we are to taste.
Is all we have to do to draw the breath in, and blow it out again?
Porphyry's definition is better; "Life is that which holds matter