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
together." The babe in arms is a channel through which the energies
we call fate, love, and reason, visibly stream. See what a cometary
train of auxiliaries man carries with him, of animals, plants,
stones, gases, and imponderable elements. Let us infer his ends from
this pomp of means. Mirabeau said, "Why should we feel ourselves to
be men, unless it be to succeed in everything, everywhere. You must
say of nothing, _That is beneath me_, nor feel that anything can be
out of your power. Nothing is impossible to the man who can will.
_Is that necessary? That shall be:_ -- this is the only law of
success." Whoever said it, this is in the right key. But this is not
the tone and genius of the men in the street. In the streets, we
grow cynical. The men we meet are coarse and torpid. The finest
wits have their sediment. What quantities of fribbles, paupers,
invalids, epicures, antiquaries, politicians, thieves, and triflers
of both sexes, might be advantageously spared! Mankind divides
itself into two classes,-- benefactors and malefactors. The second
class is vast, the first a handful. A person seldom falls sick, but
the bystanders are animated with a faint hope that he will die: --
quantities of poor lives; of distressing invalids; of cases for a
gun. Franklin said, "Mankind are very superficial and dastardly:
they begin upon a thing, but, meeting with a difficulty, they fly
from it discouraged: but they have capacities, if they would employ
them." Shall we then judge a country by the majority, or by the
minority? By the minority, surely. 'Tis pedantry to estimate
nations by the census, or by square miles of land, or other than by
their importance to the mind of the time.
Leave this hypocritical prating about the masses. Masses are
rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and
need not to be flattered but to be schooled. I wish not to concede
anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and
draw individuals out of them. The worst of charity is, that the
lives you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving. Masses!
the calamity is the masses. I do not wish any mass at all, but
honest men only, lovely, sweet, accomplished women only, and no
shovel-handed, narrow-brained, gin-drinking million stockingers or
lazzaroni at all. If government knew how, I should like to see it
check, not multiply the population. When it reaches its true law of
action, every man that is born will be hailed as essential. Away
with this hurrah of masses, and let us have the considerate vote of
single men spoken on their honor and their conscience. In old Egypt,
it was established law, that the vote of a prophet be reckoned equal
to a hundred hands. I think it was much under-estimated. "Clay and
clay differ in dignity," as we discover by our preferences every day.
What a vicious practice is this of our politicians at Washington
pairing off! as if one man who votes wrong, going away, could excuse
you, who mean to vote right, for going away; or, as if your presence
did not tell in more ways than in your vote. Suppose the three
hundred heroes at Thermopylae had paired off with three hundred
Persians: would it have been all the same to Greece, and to history?
Napoleon was called by his men _Cent Mille_. Add honesty to him, and
they might have called him Hundred Million.
Nature makes fifty poor melons for one that is good, and shakes
down a tree full of gnarled, wormy, unripe crabs, before you can find
a dozen dessert apples; and she scatters nations of naked Indians,
and nations of clothed Christians, with two or three good heads among
them. Nature works very hard, and only hits the white once in a
million throws. In mankind, she is contented if she yields one
master in a century. The more difficulty there is in creating good
men, the more they are used when they come. I once counted in a
little neighborhood, and found that every able-bodied man had, say
from twelve to fifteen persons dependent on him for material aid, --
to whom he is to be for spoon and jug, for backer and sponsor, for
nursery and hospital, and many functions beside: nor does it seem to
make much difference whether he is bachelor or patriarch; if he do
not violently decline the duties that fall to him, this amount of
helpfulness will in one way or another be brought home to him. This
is the tax which his abilities pay. The good men are employed for
private centres of use, and for larger influence. All revelations,
whether of mechanical or intellectual or moral science, are made not
to communities, but to single persons. All the marked events of our
day, all the cities, all the colonizations, may be traced back to
their origin in a private brain. All the feats which make our
civility were the thoughts of a few good heads.
Meantime, this spawning productivity is not noxious or
needless. You would say, this rabble of nations might be spared.
But no, they are all counted and depended on. Fate keeps everything
alive so long as the smallest thread of public necessity holds it on
to the tree. The coxcomb and bully and thief class are allowed as
proletaries, every one of their vices being the excess or acridity of
a virtue. The mass are animal, in pupilage, and near chimpanzee.
But the units, whereof this mass is composed are neuters, every one
of which may be grown to a queen-bee. The rule is, we are used as
brute atoms, until we think: then, we use all the rest. Nature turns
all malfaisance to good. Nature provided for real needs. No sane
man at last distrusts himself. His existence is a perfect answer to
all sentimental cavils. If he is, he is wanted, and has the precise
properties that are required. That we are here, is proof we ought to
be here. We have as good right, and the same sort of right to be
here, as Cape Cod or Sandy Hook have to be there.
To say then, the majority are wicked, means no malice, no bad
heart in the observer, but, simply, that the majority are unripe, and
have not yet come to themselves, do not yet know their opinion.
_That_, if they knew it, is an oracle for them and for all. But in
the passing moment, the quadruped interest is very prone to prevail:
and this beast-force, whilst it makes the discipline of the world,
the school of heroes, the glory of martyrs, has provoked, in every
age, the satire of wits, and the tears of good men. They find the
journals, the clubs, the governments, the churches, to be in the
interest, and the pay of the devil. And wise men have met this
obstruction in their times, like Socrates, with his famous irony;
like Bacon, with life-long dissimulation; like Erasmus, with his book
"The Praise of Folly;" like Rabelais, with his satire rending the
nations. "They were the fools who cried against me, you will say,"
wrote the Chevalier de Boufflers to Grimm; "aye, but the fools have
the advantage of numbers, and 'tis that which decides. 'Tis of no
use for us to make war with them; we shall not weaken them; they will
always be the masters. There will not be a practice or an usage
introduced, of which they are not the authors."
In front of these sinister facts, the first lesson of history
is the good of evil. Good is a good doctor, but Bad is sometimes a
better. 'Tis the oppressions of William the Norman, savage
forest-laws, and crushing despotism, that made possible the
inspirations of _Magna Charta_ under John. Edward I. wanted money,
armies, castles, and as much as he could get. It was necessary to
call the people together by shorter, swifter ways, -- and the House
of Commons arose. To obtain subsidies, he paid in privileges. In
the twenty-fourth year of his reign, he decreed, "that no tax should