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07-CONSIDERATIONS

By Ernest Rose,2014-06-01 12:17
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07-CONSIDERATIONS VII CONSIDERATIONS BY THE WAY HEAR WHAT BRITISH MERLIN SUNG,...

     VII

     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

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