By A.K.H. Boyd.
There is a peculiar pleasure in paying a visit to a friend whom you never saw in his own house before. Let it not be believed that in this world there is much difficulty in finding a new sensation. The genial, unaffected, hard-wrought man, who does not think it fine to appear to care nothing for anything, will find a new sensation in many quiet places, and in many simple ways. There is something fresh and pleasant in arriving at an entirely new railway station, in getting out upon a platform on which you never before stood; in finding your friend standing there looking quite at home in a place quite strange to you; in taking in at a glance the expression of the porter who takes your luggage and the clerk who receives your ticket, and reading there something of their character and their life; in going outside, and seeing for the first time your friend’s carriage, whether the stately drag or the humbler dog-cart, and beholding horses you never saw before, caparisoned in harness heretofore unseen; in taking your seat upon cushions hitherto impressed by you, in seeing your friend take the reins, and then in rolling away over a new road, under new trees, over new bridges, beside new hedges, looking upon new landscapes stretching far away, and breaking in upon that latent idea common to all people who have seen very little, that they have seen almost all the world. Then there is something fresh and pleasant in driving for the first time up the avenue, in catching the first view of the dwelling which is to your friend the centre of all the world, in walking up for the first time to your chamber (you ought always to arrive at a country house for a visit about three quarters of an hour before dinner), and then in coming down and finding yourself in the heart of his belongings; seeing his wife and children, never seen before; finding out his favorite books, and coming to know something of his friends, horses, dogs, pigs, and general way of life; and then after ten days, in going away, feeling that you have occupied a new place and seen a new phase of life, henceforward to be a possession for ever.
But it is pleasanter by a great deal to go and pay a visit to a friend visited several times (not too frequently) before: to arrive at the old railway station, quiet and country-like, with trees growing out of the very platform on which you step; to see your friend’s old face not seen for two years; to go out and discern the old drag standing just where you remember it, and to smooth down the horses’ noses as an old acquaintance; to discover a look of recognition on the man-servant’s impassive face, which at your greeting expands into a pleased smile; to drive away along the old road, recognizing cottages and trees; to come in sight of the house again, your friend’s conversation and the entire aspect of things bringing up many little remembrances of the past; to look out of your chamber window before dinner and to recognize a large beech or oak which you had often remembered when you were far away, and the field beyond, and the hills in the distance, and to know again even the pattern of the carpet and the bed curtains; to go down to dinner, and meet the old greeting; to recognize the taste of the claret; to find the children a little bigger, a little shy at first, but gradually acknowledging an old acquaintance; and then, when your friend and you are left by yourselves, to draw round the fire (such visits are generally in September), and enjoy the warm, hearty look of the crimson curtains hanging in the self-same folds as twenty-four months since, and talk over many old things.
We feel, in opening the new volumes of Friends in Council, as we should in going to pay a visit to an old friend living in the same pleasant home, and at the same pleasant autumnal season in which we visited him before. We know what to expect. We know that there may be little variations from what we have already found, little changes wrought by time; but, barring great accident or disappointment, we know what kind of thing the visit will be. And we believe that to many who have read with delight the previous volumes of this work, there can hardly be any pleasanter anticipation than that of more of the same wise, kindly, interesting material which they remember. A good many years have passed since the first volume of Friends in Council was published; a good many years even since the second: for, the essays and discourses now given to the public form the third published portion of the work. Continuations of successful works have proverbially proved failures; the author was his own too successful rival; and intelligent readers, trained to expect much, have generally declared that the new production was, if not inferior to its predecessor, at all events inferior to what its predecessor had taught them to look for. But there is no falling off here. The writing of essays and conversations, set in a framework of scenery and incident, and delineating character admirably though only incidentally, is the field of literature in which the author stands without a rival. No one in modern days can discuss a grave subject in a style so attractive; no one can convey so much wisdom with so much playfulness and kindliness; no one can evince so much earnestness unalloyed by the least tinge of exaggeration. The order of thought which is contained in Friends in Council, is quarried from its authors best vein. Here, he has come upon what gold-diggers call a pocket: and he appears to work it with little effort. However difficult it might be for others to write an essay and discourse on it in the fashion of this book, we should judge that its author does so quite easily. It is no task for suns to shine. And it will bring back many pleasant remembrances to the minds of many readers, to open these new volumes, and find themselves at once in the same kindly atmosphere as ever; to find that the old spring is flowing yet.
The new series of Friends in Council is precisely what the intelligent reader must have expected. A thoroughly good writer can never surprise us. A writer whom we have studied, mused over, sympathized with, can surprise us only by doing something eccentric, affected, unworthy of himself. The more thoroughly we have sympathized with him; the more closely we have marked not only the strong characteristics which are already present in what he writes, but those little matters which may be the germs of possible new characteristics; the less likely is it that we shall be surprised by anything he does or says. It is so with the author of Friends in Council. We know precisely what to expect from him. We should feel aggrieved if he gave us anything else. Of course there will be much wisdom and depth of insight; much strong practical sense: there will be playfulness, pensiveness, pathos; great fairness and justice; much kindness of heart; something of the romantic element; and as for Style, there will be language always free from the least trace of affectation; always clear and comprehensible; never slovenly; sometimes remarkable for a certain simple felicity; sometimes rising into force and eloquence of a very high order: a style, in short, not to be parodied, not to be caricatured, not to be imitated except by writing as well. The author cannot sink below our expectations; cannot rise above them. He has already written so much, and so many thoughtful readers have so carefully studied what he has written, that we know the exact length of his tether, and he can say nothing for which we are not prepared. You know exactly what to expect in this new work. You could not, indeed, produce it; you could not describe it, you could not say beforehand what it will be; but when you come upon it, you will feel that it is just what you were sure it would be. You were sure, as you are sure what will be the flavor of the fruit on your pet apple-tree, which you have tasted a hundred times. The tree is quite certain to produce that fruit which you remember and like so well; it is its nature to do so. And the analogy holds further. For, as little variations in weather or in the treatment of the tree—a dry season, or some special application to the roots—may somewhat alter the fruit, though all within narrow limits; so may change of circumstances a little affect an author’s writings, but only within a certain range. The apple-tree may produce a somewhat different apple; but it will never produce an orange, neither will it yield a crab.
So here we are again among our old friends. We should have good reason to complain had Dunsford, Ellesmere, or Milverton been absent; and here they are again just as before. Possibly they are even less changed than they should have been after thirteen or fourteen years, considering what their age was at our first introduction to them. Dunsford, the elderly country parson, once fellow and tutor of his college, still reports the conversations of the friends;
Milverton and Ellesmere are, in their own way, as fond of one another as ever; Dunsford is still judicious, kind, good, somewhat slow, as country parsons not unnaturally become; Ellesmere is still sarcastic, keen, clever, with much real worldly wisdom and much affected cynicism overlying a kind and honest heart. As for Milverton, we should judge that in him the author of the work has unconsciously shown us himself; for assuredly the great characteristics of the author of Friends in Council must be that he is laborious, thoughtful, generous, well-read, much in earnest, eager for the welfare of his fellow-men, deeply interested in politics and in history, impatient of puritanical restraints, convinced of the substantial importance of amusement. Milverton, we gather, still lives at his country-seat in Hampshire, and takes some interest in rustic concerns. Ellesmere continues to rise at the bar; since we last met him has been Solicitor-General, and is now Sir John, a member of the House of Commons, and in the fair way to a Chief Justiceship. The clergyman’s quiet life is going on as before. But in addition to our three old friends we find an elderly man, one Mr. Midhurst, whose days have been spent in diplomacy, who is of a melancholy disposition, and takes gloomy views of life, but who is much skilled in cookery, very fat, and very fond of a good dinner. Also Mildred and Blanche, Milverton’s cousins, two sisters, have grown up into young women of very different character: and they take some share in the conversations, and, as we shall hereafter see, a still more important part in the action of the story. We feel that we are in the midst of a real group of actual human beings:--just what third-rate historians fail to make us feel when telling us of men and women who have actually lived. The time and place are very varied; hut through the greater portion of the book the party are traveling over the Continent.
A further variation from the plan of the former volumes, besides the introduction of new characters, is, that while all the essays in the preceding series were written by Milverton, we have now one by Ellesmere, one by Dunsford, and one by Mr. Midhurst, each being in theme and manner very characteristic of its author. But, as heretofore, the writer of the book holds to his principle of the impolicy of ‘jading anything too far,’ and thinks with Bacon that ‘it is good, in discourse and speech of conversation, to vary and intermingle speech of the present occasion with arguments, tales with reasons, asking of questions with telling of opinions, and jest with earnest.’ The writer likewise holds by that system which his own practice has done so much to recommend—of giving locality and time to all abstract thought, and thus securing in the case of the majority of readers an interest and a reality in no other way to be attained. Admirable as are the essays contained in the work, but for their setting in something of a story, and their vivification by being ascribed to various characters, and described as read and discussed in various scenes, they would interest a very much smaller class of readers than now they do. No doubt much of the skill of the dramatist is needed to secure this source of interest. It can be secured only where we feel that the characters are living men and women, and the attempt to secure it has often proved a miserable failure. But it is here that the author of Friends in Council succeeds so well. Not only do we know precisely what Dunsford, Milverton, and Ellesmere are like; we know exactly what they ought and what they ought not to say. The author ran a risk in reproducing those old friends. We had a right to expect in each of them a certain idiosyncrasy; and it is not easy to maintain an individuality which does not dwell in mere caricature and exaggeration, but in the truthful traits of actual life. We feel we have a vested interest in the characters of the three friends: not even their author has the right essentially to alter them; we should feel it an injury if he did. But he has done what he intended. Here we have the selfsame men. Not a word is said by one of them that ought to have been said by another. And here it may be remarked, that any one who is well read in the author’s writings, will not fail here and there to come upon what will appear familiar to him. Various thoughts, views, and even expressions, occur which the author has borrowed from himself. It is easy to be seen that in all this there is no conscious repetition, but that veins of thought and feeling long entertained have cropped out to the surface again.
We do not know whether or not the readers of Friends in Council will be startled at finding that these volumes show us the grave Milverton and the sarcastic Ellesmere in the capacity of lovers, and leave them in the near prospect of being married—Ellesmere to the bold and dashing Mildred; Milverton to the quiet Blanche. The gradual tending of things to this conclusion forms the main action of the book. The incidents are of the simplest character: there is a plan but no plot, except as regards these marriages. Wearied and jaded with work at home, the three friends of the former volumes resolve on going abroad for awhile. Midhurst and the girls accompany them: and the story is simply that at various places to which they came, one friend read an essay or uttered a discourse (for sometimes the essays are supposed to have been given extempore), and the others talked about it. But the gradual progress of matters towards the weddings (it may be supposed that the happy couples are this September on their wedding tours) is traced with much skill and much knowledge of the fashion in which such things go; and it supplies a peculiar interest to the work, which will probably tide many young ladies over essays on such grave subjects as Government and Despotism. Still, we confess that we had hardly regarded Ellesmere and Milverton as marrying men. We had set them down as too old, grave, and wise, for at least the preliminary stages. We have not forgotten that Dunsford told us that in the summer of 1847 he supposed no one but himself would speak of Milverton and Ellesmere as young men; and now of course they are twelve years older, and yet about to be married to girls whom we should judge to be about two or three and twenty. And although it is not an unnatural thing that Ellesmere should have got over his affection for the German Gretchen, whose story is so exquisitely told in the Companions of my Solitude, we find it harder to reconcile Milverton’s marriage with our previous impression of him. Yet perhaps all this is truthful to life. It is not an unnatural thing that a man who for years has settled down into the belief that he has faded, and that for him the romantic interest has gone from life, should upon some fresh stimulus gather himself up from that idea, and think that life is not so far gone after all. Who has not on a beautiful September day sometimes chidden himself for having given in to the impression that the season was so far advanced, and clung to the belief that it is almost summer still?
In a preliminary Address to the Reader, the author explains that the essay on War, which occupies a considerable portion of the first volume, was written some time ago, and intends no allusion to recent events in Europe. The Address contains an earnest protest against the maintenance of large standing armies; it is eloquent and forcible, and it affords additional proof how much the author has thought upon the subject of war, and how deeply he feels upon it. Then comes the Introduction proper, written, of course, by Dunsford. It sets out with the praise of conversation, and then it sums up what the ‘Friends’ have learned in their longer experience of life:--
We ‘Friends in Council’ are of course somewhat older men than when we first began to meet in friendly conclave; and I have observed as men go on in life they are less and less inclined to be didactic. They have found out that nothing is, didactically speaking, true. They long for exceptions, modifications, allowances. A boy is clear, sharp, decisive in his talk. He would have this. He would do that. He hates this; he loves that: and his loves or his hatreds admit of no exception. He is sure that the one thing is quite right, and the other quite wrong. He is not troubled with doubts. He knows.
I see now why, as men go on in life, they delight, in anecdotes.
These tell so much, and argue, or pronounce directly, so little.
The three friends were sauntering one day in Milverton’s garden, all feeling much overwrought and very stupid. Ellesmere proposed that for a little recreation they should go abroad. Milverton pleads his old horror of picture-galleries, and declares himself content with the unpainted pictures he has in his mind:--
It is curious, but I have been painting two companion pictures ever since we have been walking about in the garden. One consists of some dilapidated garden architecture, with overgrown foliage of all kinds, not forest foliage, but that of rare trees such as the Sumac and Japan-cedar, which should have been neglected for thirty years. Here and there, instead of the exquisite parterre, there should be some miserable patches of potatoes and beans, and some squalid clothes hung out to dry. Two ill-dressed children, but of delicate features, should be playing about an ugly neglected pool that had once been the basin to the fountain. But the foliage should be the chief thing, gaunt, grotesque, rare, beautiful, like an unkempt, uncared-for, lovely mountain girl. Underneath this picture:--‘Property in the country, in chancery.’
The companion picture, of course, should be:--‘Property in town, in chancery.’ It should consist of two or three hideous, sordid, window-broken, rat-deserted, paintless, blackened houses, that should look as if they had once been too good company for the neighborhood, and had met with a fall in life, not deplored by any one. At the opposite corner should be a flaunting new gin-palace. I do not know whether I should have the heart to bring any children there, but I would if I could.
The reader will discern that the author of Friends in Council has lost nothing of his power of picturesque description, and nothing of his horror of the abuses and cruelties of the law. And the passage may serve to remind of the touching, graphic account of the country residence of a reduced family in the Companions of my Solitude. [Footnote: Chap. iv.] Ellesmere assures Milverton that he shall not be asked to see a single picture; and that if Milverton will bring Blanche and Mildred with him, he will himself go and see seven of the chief sewers in seven of the chief towns. The appeal to the sanitarian’s feelings is successful; the bargain is struck; and we next find the entire party sauntering, after an early German dinner, on the terrace of some small town on the Rhine,--Dunsford forgets which. Milverton, Ellesmere, and Mr. Midhurst arc smoking, and we commend their conversation on the soothing power of tobacco to the attention of the Dean of Carlisle. Dean Close, by a bold figure, calls tobacco a ‘gorging fiend.’ Milverton holds that smoking is perhaps the greatest blessing that we owe to the discovery of America. He regards its value as abiding in its power to soothe under the vexations and troubles of life. While smoking, you cease to live almost wholly in the future, which miserable men for the most part do. The question arises, whether the sorrows of the old or the young are the most acute? It is admitted that the sorrows of children are very overwhelming for the time, but they are not of that varied, perplexed, and bewildering nature which derives much consolation from smoke. Ellesmere suggests, very truthfully, that the feeling of shame for having done anything wrong, or even ridiculous, causes most acute misery to the young. And, indeed, who does not know, from personal experience, that the sufferings of children of even four or five years old are often quite as dreadful as those which come as the sad heritage of after years? We look back on them now, and smile at them as we think how small were their causes. Well, they were great to us. We were little creatures then, and little things were relatively very great. ‘The sports of childhood satisfy the child:’ the sorrows of childhood overwhelm the poor little thing. We think a sympathetic reader would hardly read without a tear as well as a smile, an incident in the early life of Patrick Fraser Tytler, recorded in his recently published biography. When five years old he got hold of the gun of an elder brother, and broke the spring of its lock. What anguish the little boy must have endured, what a crushing sense of having caused an irremediable evil, before he sat down and printed in great letters the following epistle to his brother, the owner of the gun—‘Oh, Jamie, think no more of guns, for the main-spring of that is broken, and my heart is broken!’ Doubtless the poor little fellow fancied that for all the remainder of his life he would never feel as he had felt before he touched the unlucky weapon. Doubtless the little heart was just as full of anguish as it could hold. Looking back over many years, most of us can remember a child crushed and overwhelmed by some sorrow which it thought could never be got over, and can feel for our early self as though sympathizing with another personality.
The upshot of the talk which began with tobacco was, that Milverton was prevailed upon to write an essay on a subject of universal interest to all civilized beings, an essay on Worry. He felt, indeed, that he. should be writing it at a disadvantage; for an essay on worry can be written with full effect only by a thoroughly worried man. There was no worry at all in that quiet little town on the Rhine; they had come there to rest, and there was no intruding duty that demanded that it should be attended to. And probably there is no respect in which that great law of the association of ideas, that like suggests like, holds more strikingly true than in the power of a present state of mind, or a present state of outward circumstances, to bring up vividly before us all such states in our past history. We are depressed, we are worried: and when we look back, all our departed days of worry and depression appear to start up and press themselves upon our view to the exclusion of anything else, so that we are ready to think that we have never been otherwise than depressed and worried all our life. But when more cheerful times come, they suggest only such times of cheerfulness, and no effort will bring back the worry vividly as when we felt it. It is not selfishness or heartlessness; it is the result of an inevitable law of mind that people in happy circumstances should resolutely believe that it is a happy world after all; for looking back, and looking around, the mind refuses to take distinct note of anything that is not somewhat akin to its present state. Milverton wrote an excellent essay on Worry on the evening of that day; but he might possibly have written a better one at Worth-Ashton on the evening of a day on which he had discovered that his coachman was stealing the corn provided for the carriage horses, or galloping these animals about the country at the dead of night to see his friends. We must have a score of little annoyances stinging us at once to have the undiluted sense of being worried. And probably a not wealthy man, residing in the country, and farming a few acres of ground by means of somewhat unfaithful and neglectful servants, may occasionally find so many things going wrong at once, and so many little things demanding to be attended to at once, that he shall experience worry in as high a degree as it can be felt by mortal. Thus truthfully does Milverton’s essay begin:--
The great characteristic of modern life is Worry.
If the Pagan religion still prevailed, the new goddess, in whose honor temples would be raised and to whom statues would be erected in all the capitals of the world, would he the goddess Worry. London would be the chief seat and centre of her sway. A gorgeous statue, painted and enriched after the manner of the ancients (for there is no doubt that they adopted this practice, however barbarous it may seem to us), would he set up to the goddess in the West-end of the town: another at Temple Bar, of less ample dimensions and less elaborate decoration, would receive the devout homage of worshippers who came to attend their lawyers in that quarter of the town: while a statue, on which the cunning sculptor should have impressed the marks of haste, anxiety, and agitation, would be sharply glanced up at, with as much veneration as they could afford to give to it, by the eager men of business in the City.
The goddess Worry, however, would be no local deity, worshipped merely in some great town, like Diana of the Ephesians; but, in the market-places of small rural communities, her statue, made somewhat like a vane, and shitting with every turn of the wind, would be regarded with stolid awe by anxious votaries belonging to what is called the farming interest. Familiar too and household would be her worship: and in many a snug home, where she might be imagined to have little potency, small and ugly images of her would be found as household gods—the Lares and Penates—near to the threshold, and ensconced above the glowing hearth.
The poet, always somewhat inclined to fable, speaks of Love as ruling
The court, the camp, the grove,
And men below, and heaven above;
but the dominion of Love, as compared with that of Worry, would be found, in the number of subjects, as the Macedonian to the Persian—in extent of territory, as the county of Rutland to the empire of Russia.
Not verbally accurate is the quotation from the Lay of the Last Minstrel, we may remark; but we may take it for granted that no reader who has exceeded the age of twenty-five will fail to recognize in this half-playful and half-earnest passage the statement of a sorrowful fact. And the essay goes on to set forth many of the causes of modern worry with all the knowledge and earnestness of a man who has seen much of life, and thought much upon what he has seen. The author’s sympathies are not so much with the grand trials of historical personages, such as Charles V., Columbus, and Napoleon, as with the lesser trials and cares of ordinary men; and in the following paragraph we discern at once the conviction of a clear head and the feeling of a kind heart:--
And the ordinary citizen, even of a well-settled state, who, with narrow means, increasing taxation, approaching age, failing health, and augmenting cares, goes plodding about his daily work thickly bestrewed with trouble and worry (all the while, perhaps, the thought of a sick child at home being in the background of his mind), may also, like any hero of renown in the midst of his world-wide and world-attracting fortune, be a beautiful object for our sympathy.
There is indeed no more common error, than to estimate the extent of suffering by the greatness of the causes which have produced it; we mean their greatness as regards the amount of notice which they attract. The anguish of an emperor who has lost his empire, is probably not one whit greater than that of a poor lady who loses her little means in a swindling Bank, and is obliged to take away her daughter from school and to move into an inferior dwelling. Nor is it unworthy of remark, in thinking of sympathy with human beings in suffering, that scrubby-looking little men, with weak hair and awkward demeanor, and not in the least degree gentleman-like, may through domestic worry and bereavement undergo distress quite as great as heroic individuals six feet four inches in height, with a large quantity of raven hair, and with eyes of remarkable depth of expression. It is probable, too, that in the lot of ordinary men a ceaseless and countless succession of little worries does a great deal more to fret away the happiness of life than is done by the few great and overwhelming misfortunes which happen at long intervals. You lose your child, and your sorrow is overwhelming; but it is a sorrow on which before many months you look back with a sad yet pleasing interest, and it is a sorrow which you know you are the better for having felt. But petty unfaithfulness, carelessness, and stupidity on the part of your servants; little vexations and cross-accidents in your daily life; the ceaseless cares of managing a household and family, and possibly of making an effort to maintain appearances with very inadequate means;--all those little annoying things which are not misfortune but worry, effectually blister away the enjoyment of life while they last, and serve no good end in respect to mental and moral discipline. ‘Much tribulation,’ deep and dignified sorrow, may prepare men for ‘the kingdom of God;’ but ceaseless worry, for the most part, does but sour the temper, jaundice the views, and embitter and harden the heart.
‘The grand source of worry,’ says our author, ‘compared with which perhaps all others are trivial, lies in the complexity of human affairs, especially in such an era of civilization as our own.’ There can be no doubt of it. In these modern days, we are encumbered and weighed down with the appliances, physical and moral, which have come to be regarded as essential to the carry lag forward of our life. We forget how many thousands of separate items and articles were counted up, as having been used, some time within the last few years, by a dinner-party of eighteen persons, at a single entertainment. What incalculable worry in the procuring, the keeping in order, the using, the damage, the storing up, of that enormous complication of china, glass, silver, and steel! We can well imagine how a man of simple tastes arid quiet disposition, worried even to death by his large house, his numerous servants and horses, his quantities of furniture and domestic appliances, all of a perishable nature, and all constantly wearing out and going wrong in various degrees, might sigh a wearied sigh for the simplicity of a hermit’s cave and a hermit’s fare, and for ‘one perennial suit of leather.’ Such a man as the Duke of Buccleuch, possessing enormous estates, oppressed by a deep feeling of responsibility, and struggling to maintain a personal supervision of all his intricate and multitudinous belongings, must day by day undergo an amount of worry which the philosopher would probably regard as poorly compensated by a dukedom and three hundred thousand a year. He would be a noble benefactor of the human race who should teach men how to combine the simplicity of the savage life with the refinement and the cleanliness of the civilized. We fear it must be accepted as an unquestionable fact, that the many advantages of civilization are to be obtained only at the price of countless and ceaseless worry. Of course, we must all sometimes sigh for the woods and the wigwam; but the feeling is as vain as that of the psalmist’s wearied aspiration, ‘Oh that I had wings like a dove: then would I flee away and be at rest!’
Our author says,
The great Von Humboldt went into the cottages of South American Indiana, and, amongst an unwrinkled people, could with difficulty discern who was the father and who was the son, when he saw the family assembled together.
And how plainly the smooth, cheerful face of the savage testified to the healthfulness, in a physical sense; of a life devoid of worry! If you would see the reverse of the medal, look at the anxious faces, the knit brows, and the bald heads, of the twenty or thirty greatest merchants whom you will see on the Exchange of Glasgow or of Manchester. Or you may find more touching proof of the ageing effect of worry, in the careworn face of the man of thirty with a growing family and an uncertain income; or the thin figure and bloodless cheek which testify to the dull weight ever resting on the heart of the poor widow who goes out washing, and leaves her little children in her poor garret under the care of one of eight years old. But still, the cottages of Humboldt’s ‘unwrinkled people’ were, we have little doubt, much infested with vermin, and possessed a pestilential atmosphere; and the people’s freedom from care did but testify to their ignorance, and to their lack of moral sensibility. We must take worry, it is to be feared, along with civilization. As you go down in the scale of civilization, you throw off worry by throwing off the things to which it can adhere. And in these days, in which no man would seriously think of preferring the savage life, with its dirt, its stupidity, its listlessness, its cruelty, the good we may derive from that life, or any life approximating to it, is mainly that of a sort of moral alterative and tonic. The thing itself would not suit us, and would do us no good; but we may be the better for musing upon it. It is like a refreshing shower-bath, it is like breathing a cool breeze after the atmosphere of a hot-house, to dwell for a little, with half-closed eyes, upon pictures which show us all the good of the unworried life, and which say nothing of all the evil. We know the thing is vain: we know it is but an idle fancy; but still it is pleasant and refreshful to think of such a life as Byron has sketched as the life of Daniel Boone. Not in misanthropy, but from the strong preference of a forest life, did the Kentucky backwoodsman keep many scores of miles ahead of the current of European population setting onwards to the West. We shall feel much indebted to any reader who will tell us where to find anything more delightful than the following stanzas, to read after an essay on modern worry:--
He was not all alone: around him grew
A sylvan tribe of children of the chase;
Whose young, unwakened world was ever new,
Nor sin, nor sorrow, yet had left a trace
On her unwrinkled brow; nor could you view
A frown on Nature’s or on human face:
The free-born forest found and kept them free,
And fresh as is a torrent or a tree.
And tall, and strong, and swift of foot were they,
Beyond the dwarfing city’s pale abortions:
Because their thoughts had never been the prey
Of care or gain: the green woods were their portions.
No sinking spirits told them they grew grey,
No fashion made them apes of her distortions;
Simple they were, not savage, and their rifles,
Though very true, were yet not used for trifles.
Motion was in their days, rest in their slumbers,
And cheerfulness the handmaid of their toil:
Nor yet too many, nor too few their numbers,
Corruption could not make their hearts her soil:
The lust which stings, the splendor which encumbers,
With the free foresters divide no spoil:
Serene, not sullen, were the solitudes,
Of this unsighing people of the woods.
The essay on Worry is followed by an interesting conversation on the same subject, at the close of which we are heartily obliged to Blanche for suggesting one pleasant thought; to wit, that children for the most part escape that sad infliction; it is the special heritage of comparatively mature years. And Milverton replies:--
Yes; I have never been more struck with that than when observing a family in the middle class of life going to the sea-side. There is the anxious mother wondering how they shall manage to stow away all the children when they get down. Visions of damp sheets oppress her. The cares of packing sit upon her soul. Doubts of what will become of the house when it is left, are a constant drawback from her thoughts of enjoyment; and she confides to the partner of her cares how willingly, if it were not for the dear children, she would stay at tome. He, poor man, has not an easy time of it. He is meditating over the expense, and how it is to be provided for. He knows, if he has any knowledge of the world, that the said expense will somehow or other exceed any estimate he and his wife have made of it. He is studying the route of the journey, and is perplexed by the various modes of going. This one would be less expensive, but would take more time; and then time always turns into expense on a journey. In a word, the old birds are as full of care and trouble as a hen with ducklings; but the young birds! Some of them have never seen the sea before, and visions of unspeakable delight fill their souls—visions that will almost be fulfilled. The journey, and the cramped accommodation, and the packing, and the everything out of place, are matters of pure fun and anticipated joy to them.
We have lingered all this while upon the first chapter of the work: the second contains an essay and conversation on War. Of this chapter we shall say no more than that it is earnest and sound in its views, and especially worthy of attentive consideration at the present time. The third chapter is one which will probably be turned to with interest by many readers; it bears the taking title of A Love Story. Dunsford, a keen though quiet observer, has discovered that Ellesmere has grown fond of Mildred, though the lawyer was not likely to disclose his love. Dunsford suspects that Mildred’s affections are get on Milverton, as he has little doubt those of Blanche are. Both girls are very loving to Dunsford, whom they call their uncle, though he is no relation, and the old clergyman determines to have an explanation with Mildred. He manages to walk alone with her through the unguarded orchards which lie along the Rhine; and there, somewhat abruptly, he begins to moralize on the grand passion. Mildred remarks what a happy woman she would have been whom Dunsford had loved; when the lucky thought strikes him that he would tell her his own story, never yet told to any one. And then he tells it, very simply and very touchingly. Like most true stories of the kind, it has little incident; but it constituted the romance, not yet outlived, of the old—gentleman’s existence. He and a certain Alice were brought up together. Like many of the most successful students, Dunsford hated study, and was devoted to music and poetry, to nature and art. But he knew his only chance of winning Alice was to obtain some success in life, and he devoted himself to study. Who does not feel for the old man recalling the past, and, as he remembered those laborious days, saying to the girl by his side, “Always reverence a scholar, my dear; if not for the scholarship, at least for the suffering and the self-denial which have been endured to gain the scholar’s proficiency.” His only pleasure was in correspondence with Alice. He succeeded at last. He took his degree, being nearly the first man of his year in both of the great subjects of examination; and he might now come home with some hope of having made a beginning of fortune. A gay young fellow, a cousin of Alice, came to spend a few days; and of course this lively, thoughtless youth, without an effort, carried off the prize of all poor Dunsford’s toils. You never win the thing on which your heart is set and your life staked; it falls to some one else who cares very little about it. It is poor compensation that you get something you care little for which would have made the happiness of another man. Dunsford discovers one evening, in a walk with Alice, the frustration of all his hopes:--
Alice and I were alone again, and we walked out together in the evening. We spoke of my future hopes and prospects. I remember that I was emboldened to press her arm. She returned the pressure, and for a moment there never was, perhaps, a happier man. Had I known more of love, I should have known that this evident return of affection was anything but a good sign; “and,” continued she, in the unconnected manner that you women sometimes speak, “I am so glad that you love dear Henry. Oh, if we could but come and live near you when you get a curacy, how happy we should all be.” This short sentence was sufficient. There was no need of more explanation. I knew all that had happened, and felt as if I no longer trod upon the firm earth, for it seemed a quicksand under me.
The agony of that dull evening, the misery of that long night! I have sometimes thought that unsuccessful love is almost too great a burden to be put upon such a poor creature as man. But He knows best; and it must have been intended, for it is so common.
The next day I remember I borrowed Henry’s horse, and rode madly about, bounding through woods (I who had long forgotten to ride) and galloping over open downs. If the animal had not been wiser and more sane than I was, we should have been dashed to pieces many times. And so by sheer exhaustion of body I deadened the misery of my mind, and looked upon their happy state with a kind of stupefaction. In a few days I found a pretext for quitting my home, and I never saw your mother again, for it was your mother, Mildred, and you are not like her, but like your father, and still I love you. But the great wound has never been healed. It is a foolish thing, perhaps, that any man should so dote upon a woman, that he should never afterwards care for any other, but so it has been with me; and you cannot wonder that a sort of terror should come over me when I see anybody in love, and when I think that his or her love is not likely to be returned.
Who would have thought that Dunsford, with his gaiters, lying on the grass listening cheerfully to the lively talk of his two friends, or sitting among his bees repeating Virgil to himself, or going about among his parishioners, the ideal of prosaic content and usefulness, had still in him this store of old romance? In asking the question, all we mean is to remark an apparent inconsistency: we have no doubt at all of the philosophic truth of the representation. Probably it is only in the finer natures that such early fancies linger with appreciable effect. We do not forget the perpetually repeated declarations of Mr. Thackeray; we did not read Mr. Gilfits Love Story for nothing; we remember the very absurd incident which is told of Dr. Chalmers, who in his last years testified his remembrance of an early sweet-heart by sticking his card with two wafers behind a wretched little silhouette of her. And it is conceivable that the tenderest and most beautiful reminiscences of a love of departed days may linger with a man who has grown grey, fat, and even snuffy. But it is only in the case of remarkably tidy, neat, and clever old gentlemen that such feelings are likely to attract much sympathy from their juniors. Possibly this world has more of such lingering romance than is generally credited. Possibly with all but very stolid and narrow natures, no very strong feeling goes without leaving some trace.
Pain and grief
Are transitory things no less than joy;
And though they leave us not the men we were,
Yet they do leave us.
Possibly it is not without some little stir of heart that most thoughtful aged persons can revisit certain spots, or see certain days return. And the affection which would have worn itself down into dull common-place in success, by being disappointed and frustrated, lives on in memory with diminished vividness but with increasing beauty, which the test of actual fact can never make prosaic. Dunsford tells Mildred what was his great inducement to make this continental tour. Not the Rhine; not the essays nor the conversations of his friends. At the Palace of the Luxemburg there is a fine picture, called Les illusions perdues. It is one of the most affecting pictures Dunsford ever saw. But that is not its peculiar merit. One girl in the picture is the image of what Alice was.
The chief thing I had to look forward to in this journey we are making was, that we might return by way of Paris, and that I might see that picture again. You must contrive that we do return that way. Ellesmere will do anything to please you, and Milverton is always perfectly indifferent as to where he goes, so that he is not asked to see works of art, or to accompany a party of sight-seers to a cathedral. We will go and see this picture together once; and once I must see it alone.
And a very touching sight it would be to one who knew the story, the grey-haired old clergyman looking, for a long while, at that young face. It would be indeed a contrast, the aged man, and the youthful figure in the picture. Dunsford never saw Alice again after his early disappointment: he never saw her as she grew matronly and then old; and so, though now in her grave, she remained in his memory the same young thing forever. The years which had made him grow old, had wrought not the slightest change upon her. And Alice, old and dead, was the same on the canvas still.
Dunsford’s purpose in telling his love-story, was to caution Mildred against falling in love with Milverton. She told him there was no danger. Once, she frankly said, she had long struggled with her feelings, not only from natural pride, but for the sake of Blanche, who loved Milverton better and would be less able to control her love. But she had quite got over the struggle; and though now intensely sympathizing with her cousin, she felt she never could resolve to marry him. So the conversation ended satisfactorily; and then a short sentence shows us a scene, beautiful, vivid, and complete:--
We walked home silently amidst the mellow orchards glowing ruddily in the rays of the setting sun.
The next chapter contains an Essay and conversation on Criticism: but its commencement shows us Dunsford still employed in the interests of his friends. He tells Milverton that Blanche is growing fond of him. We can hardly give Milverton credit for sincerity or judgment in being “greatly distressed and vexed.” For once, he was shamming. All middle-aged men are much flattered and pleased with the admiration of young girls. Milverton declared that the thing must be put a stop to; that “the idea of a young and beautiful girl throwing her affections away upon a faded widower like himself, was absurd.” However, as the days went on, Milverton began to be extremely attentive to Blanche; asked her opinion about things quite beyond her comprehension; took long walks with her, and assured Dunsford privately that “Blanche had a great deal more in her than most people supposed, and that she was becoming an excellent companion.” Who does not recognize the process by which clever men persuade themselves into the belief that they are doing a judicious thing in marrying stupid women?
The chapter which follows that on Criticism, contains a conversation on Biography, full of interesting suggestions which our space renders it impossible for us to quote; but we cannot forego the pleasure of extracting the following paragraphs. It is Milverton who speaks:--
During Walter’s last holidays, one morning after breakfast he took a walk with me. I saw something was on the boy’s mind. At last he suddenly asked me, “Do sons often write the lives of fathers?”—“Often,” I replied, “but I do not think they are the best kind of biographers, for you see, Walter, sons cannot well tell the faults and weaknesses of their fathers, and so filial biographies are often rather insipid performances.”—“I don’t know about that,” he said, “I think I could write yours. I have made it already into chapters.” “Now then, my boy,” I said, “begin it: let us have the outline at least.” Walter then commenced his biography.
“The first chapter,” he said, “should be you and I and Henry walking amongst the trees and settling which should be cut down, and which should be transplanted.” “A very pretty chapter,” I said, “and a great deal might be made of it.” “The second chapter,” he continued, “should be your going to the farm, and talking to the pigs.” “Also a very good chapter, my dear.” “The third chapter,” he said, after a little thought, “should be your friends. I would describe them all, and what they could do.” There, you see, Ellesmere, you would come in largely, especially as to what you could do. “An excellent chapter,” I exclaimed, and then of course I broke out into some paternal admonition about the choice of friends, which I know will have no effect whatever, but still one cannot help uttering these paternal admonitions.
“Now then,” I said, “for chapter four.” Here Walter paused, and looked about him vaguely for a minute or two. At length he seemed to have got hold of the right idea, for he burst out with the words, “My going back to school;” and that, it seemed, was to be the end of the biography.
Now, was there ever so honest a biographer? His going hack to school was the “be-all and end-all here” with him, and he resolved it should be the same with his hero, and with everybody concerned in the story.
Then see what a pleasant biographer the boy is! He does not drag his hero down through the vale of life, amidst declining fortune, breaking health, dwindling away of friends, and the usual dreariness of the last few stages. Neither does the biography end with the death of his hero; and by the way, it is not very pleasant to have one’s children contemplating one’s death, even for the sake of writing one’s life; but the biographer brings the adventures of his hero to an end by his own going back to school. How delightful it would be if most biographers planned their works after Walter’s fashion: just gave a picture of their hero at his farm, or his business; then at his pleasure, as Walter brought me amongst my trees; then, to show what manner of man he was, gave some description of his friends; and concluded by giving an account of their own going back to school—a conclusion that is greatly to be desired for many of them.
When we begin to copy a passage from this work, we find it very difficult to stop. But the thoughtful reader will not need to have it pointed out to him how much sound wisdom is conveyed in that playful form. And here is excellent advice as to the fashion in which men may hope to get through great intellectual labor: says Ellesmere,--
I can tell you in a—very few words how all work is done. Getting up early, eating vigorously, saying “No” to intruders resolutely, doing one thing at a time, thinking over difficulties at odd times, that is, when stupid people are talking in the House of Commons, or speaking at the Bar, not indulging too much in affections of any kind which waste the time and energies, carefully changing the current of your thoughts before you go to bed, planning the work of the day in the quarter of an hour before you get up, playing with children occasionally, and avoiding fools as much as possible: that is the way to do a great deal of work.
Milverton remarks, with justice, that some practical advices as to the way in which a working man might succeed in avoiding fools were very much to be desired, inasmuch as that brief direction contains the whole art of life; and suggests with equal justice that the taking of a daily bath should be added to Ellesmere’s catalogue of appliances which aid in working.
We cannot linger upon the remaining pages which treat of Biography, nor upon two interesting chapters concerning Proverbs. It may be noticed, however, that Ellesmere insists that the best proverb in the world is the familiar English, one, ‘Nobody knows where the shoe pinches hut the wearer;’ while Milverton tells us that the Spanish language is far richer in proverbs than that of any other nation. But we hasten to an essay which will be extremely fresh and interesting to all readers. We have had many essays by Milverton: here is one by Ellesmere. He had announced some time before his purpose of writing an essay on The Arts of Self-Advancement, and Mildred, whom Ellesmere took a pleasure in annoying by making a parade of mean, selfish, and cynical views, discerned at once that in such an essay he would have an opportunity of bringing together a crowd of these, and declared before Ellesmere began to write it that it would be a nauseous essay.’ The essay is finished at length. The friends are now at Salzburg; and on a very warm day they assembled in a sequestered spot whence they could see the snowy peaks of the Tyrolese Alps. Ellesmere begins by deprecating criticism of his style, declaring that anything inaccurate or ungrammatical is put in on purpose. Then he begins to read:--
In the first place, it is desirable to be born north of the Tweed (I like to begin at the beginning of things); and if that cannot be managed, you must at least contrive to be born in a moderately-sized town—somewhere. You thus get the advantage of being favored by a small community without losing any individual force. If I had been born in Affpuddle—Milverton in Tolpuddle—and Dunsford in Tollerporcorum (there are such places, at least I saw them once arranged together in a petition to the House of Commons), the men of Affpuddle, Tolpuddle, and Tollerporcorum would have been proud of us, would have been true to us, and would have helped to push our fortunes. I see, with my mind’s eye, a statue of Dunsford raised in Tollerporcorum. You smile, I observe; but it is the smile of ignorance, for let me tell you, it is of the first importance not to be born vaguely, as in London, or in some remote country-house. If you cannot, however, be born properly, contrive at least to be connected with some small sect or community, who may consider your renown as part of their renown, and be always ready to favor and defend you.
After this promising introduction Ellesmere goes on to propound views which in an extraordinary way combine real good sense and sharp worldly wisdom with a parade of all sorts of mean shifts and contemptible tricks where-by to take advantage of the weakness, folly, and wickedness of human nature. Very characteristically he delights in thinking how he is shocking and disgusting poor Mildred: of course Dunsford and Milverton understand him. And the style is as characteristic as the thought. It is unquestionably Ellesmere to whose essay we are listening; Milverton could not and would not have produced such a discourse. We remember to have read in a review, published several years since, of the former series of Friends in Council, that it was judicious in the author of that work, though introducing several friends as talking together, to represent all the essays as written by one individual; because, although he could keep up the individuality of the speakers through a conversation, it was doubtful whether he could have succeeded in doing so through essays purporting to. be written by each of them. We do not know whether the author ever saw the challenge thus thrown down to him: but it is certain that in the present series he has boldly attempted the thing, and thoroughly succeeded. And it may be remarked that not one of Ellesmere’s propositions can be regarded as mere vagaries—every one of them contains truth, though truth put carefully in the most disagreeable and degrading way. Who does not know how great an element of success it is to belong to a sect or class which regard your reputation as identified with their own, and cry you up accordingly? It is to be admitted that there is the preliminary difficulty of so far overcoming individual envies and jealousies as to get your class to accept you as their representative; but once that end is accomplished the thing is done. As to being born north of the Tweed, a Scotch Lord Chancellor and a Scotch Bishop of London are instructive instances. And however much Scotchmen may abuse one another at home, it cannot be denied that all Scotchmen feel it a sacred duty to stand up for every Scotchman who has attained to eminence beyond the boundaries of his native land. Scotland, indeed, in the sense in which Ellesmere uses the phrase, is a small community; and a community of very energetic, self-denying, laborious, and determined men, with very many feelings in common which they have in common only with their countrymen, and with an invincible tendency in all times of trouble to remember the old cry of Highlandmen, shoulder to shoulder! Let the ambitious reader muse on what follows:--
Let your position be commonplace, whatever you are yourself. If you are a genius, and contrive to conceal the fact, you really deserve to get on in the world, and you will do so, if only you keep on the level road. Remember always that the world is a place where second-rate people mostly succeed: not fools, nor first-rate people.
Cynically put, no doubt, but admirably true. A great blockhead will never be made an archbishop; but in ordinary times a great genius stands next to him in the badness of his chance. After all, good sense and sound judgment are the essentially needful things in all but very exceptional situations in life—and for these commend us to the safe, steady-going, commonplace man. It cannot be denied that the great mass of mankind stand in doubt and fear of people who are wonderfully clever. What an amount of stolid, self-complacent, ignorant, stupid, conceited respectability, is wrapped up in the declaration concerning any person, that he is “too clever by half!” How plainly it teaches that the general belief is that too ingenious machinery will break down in practical working, and that most men will do wrong who have the power to do it!
The following propositions are true in very large communities, but they will not hold good in the country or in little towns:--
Remember always that what is real and substantive ultimately has its way in this world.
You make good bricks for instance: it is in vain that your enemies prove that you are a heretic in morals, politics, and religion; insinuate that you beat your wife; and dwell loudly on the fact that you failed in making picture-frames. In so far as you are a good brick-maker, you have all the power that depends on good brick-making; and the world will mainly look to j-our positive qualities as a brick-maker.
After having gone on with a number of maxims of a very base, selfish, and suspicious nature, to the increasing horror of the girls who are listening, Ellesmere passes from the consideration of modes of action to a much more important matter:--
Those who wish for self-advancement should remember, that the art in life is not so much to do a thing well, as to get a thing that has been moderately well done largely talked about. Some foolish people, who should have belonged to another planet, give all their minds to doing their work well. This is an entire mistake. This is a grievous loss of power. Such a method of proceeding may be very well in Jupiter, Mars, or Saturn, but is totally out of place in this puffing, advertising, bill-sticking part of creation. To rush into the battle of life without an abundance of kettle-drums and trumpets is a weak and ill-advised adventure, however well-armed and well-accoutered you may be. As I hate vague maxims, I will at once lay down the proportions in which force of any kind should be used in this world. Suppose you have a force which may be represented by the number one hundred: seventy-three parts at least of that force should be given to the trumpet; the remaining twenty-seven parts may not disadvantageously be spent in doing the thing which is to be trumpeted. This is a rule unlike some rules in grammar, which are entangled and controlled by a multitude of vexatious exceptions; but it applies equally to the conduct of all matters upon earth, whether social, moral, artistic, literary, political, or religious.
Ellesmere goes on to sum up the personal qualities needful to success; and having sketched out the character of a mean, crafty, sharp, energetic rascal, he concludes by saying that such a one will not fail to succeed in any department of life—provided always he keeps for the most part to one department, and does not attempt to conquer in many directions at once. I only hope that, having profited by this wisdom of mine, he will give me a share of the spoil.
Thus the essay ends; and then the discourse thereon begins—
MILVERTON. Well, of all the intolerable wretches and black-guards—‘
MR. MIDHURST. A conceited prig, too!
DUNSFORD. A wicked, designing villain!
ELLESMERE. Any more: any more? Pray go on, gentlemen; and have you, ladies, nothing to say against the wise man of the world that I have depicted?
And yet the upshot of the conversation was, that though given in a highly disagreeable and obtrusively base form, there was much truth in what Ellesmere had said. It is to be remembered that he did not pretend to describe a good man, but only a successful one. And it is to be remembered likewise that prudence verges toward baseness: and that the difference between the suggestions of each lies very much in the fashion in which these suggestions are put and enforced. As to the use of the trumpet, how many advertising tailors and pill-makers could testify to the soundness of Ellesmere’s principle? And beyond the Atlantic it finds special favor. When Barnum exhibited his mermaid, and stuck up outside his show-room a picture of three beautiful mermaids, of human size, with flowing hair, basking upon a summer sea, while inside the show-room he had the hideous little contorted figure made of a monkey with a fish’s tail attached to it, probably the proportion of the trumpet to the thing trumpeted was even greater than seventy-three to twenty-seven. Dunsford suggests, for the comfort of those who will not stoop to unworthy means for obtaining success, the beautiful saying, that “Heaven is probably a place for those who have failed on earth.” And Ellesmere, adhering to his expressed views, declares—
If you had attended to them earlier in life, Dunsford would now be Mr. Dean; Milverton would be the Right Honorable Leonard Milverton, and the leader of a party; Mr. Midhurst would be chief cook to the Emperor Napoleon; the bull-dog would have been promoted to the parlor; I, but no man is wise for himself, should have been Lord Chancellor; Walter would be at the head of his class without having any more knowledge than he has at present; and as for you two girls, one. would be a Maid of Honor to the Queen, and the other would have married the richest man in the county.
We have not space to tell how Ellesmere planned to get Mr. Midhurst to write an essay on the Miseries of Human Life; nor how at Treves, upon a lowering day, the party, seated in the ancient amphitheatre, heard it read; nor how fully, eloquently, and not unfairly, the gloomy man, not without a certain solemn enjoyment, summed up his sad catalogue of the ills that flesh is heir to; nor how Milverton agreed in the evening to speak an answer to the essay, and show that life was not so miserable after all; nor how Ellesmere, eager to have it answered effectively, determined that Milverton should have the little accessories in his favor, the red curtains drawn, a blazing wood-fire, and plenty of light; nor how before the answer began, he brought Milverton a glass of wine to cheer him; nor how Milverton endeavored to show that in the present system misery was not quite predominant, and that much good in many ways came out of ill. Then we have some talk about Pleasantness; and Dunsford is persuaded to write and read an essay on that subject, which he read one morning, ‘while we were sitting in the balcony of an hotel, in one of the small towns that overlook the Moselle, which was flowing beneath in a reddish turbid stream. In the conversation which follows Milverton says,
It is a fault certainly to which writers are liable, that of exaggerating the claims of their subject.
And how truly is that said! Indeed we can quite imagine a very earnest man feeling afraid to think too much and long about any existing evil, for fear it should greaten on his view into a thing so large and pernicious, that he should be constrained to give all his life to the wrestling with that one thing; and attach to it an importance which would make his neighbors think him a monomaniac. If you think long and deeply upon any subject, it grows in magnitude and weight: if you think of it too long, it may grow big enough to exclude the thought of all things beside. If it be an existing and prevalent evil you are thinking of, you may come to fancy that if that one thing could be done away, it would be well with the human race,--all evil would go with it. We can sympathize deeply with that man who died a short while since, who wrote volume after volume to prove that if men would only leave off stooping, and learn to hold themselves upright, it would be the grandest blessing that ever came to humanity. We can quite conceive the process by which a man might come to think so, without admitting mania as a cause. We confess, for ourselves, that so deeply do we feel the force of the law Milverton mentions, there are certain evils of which we are afraid to think much, for fear we should come to be able to think of nothing else, and of nothing more.
Then a pleasant chapter, entitled Lovers’ Quarrels, tells us how matters are progressing with the two pairs. Milverton and Blanche are going on most satisfactorily; but Ellesmere and Mildred are wayward and hard to keep right. Ellesmere sadly disappointed Mildred by the sordid views he advanced in his essay, and kept advancing in his talk; and like a proud and shy man of middle age when in love, he was ever watching for distant slight indications of how his suit might be received, and rendered fractious by the uncertainty of Mildred’s conduct and bearing. And probably women have little notion by what slight and hardly thought-of sayings and doings they may have repressed the declaration and the offer which might perhaps have made them happy. Day by day Dunsford was vexed by the growing estrangement between two persons who were really much attached; and this unhappy state of matters might have ended in a final separation but for the happy incident recorded in the chapter called Rowing down the River Moselle. The party had rowed down the river, talking as usual of many things:--
It was just at this point of the conversation that we pulled in nearer to the land, as Walter had made signs that he wished now to get into the boat. It was a weedy rushy part of the river that we entered. Fixer saw a rat or some other creature, which he was wild to get at. Ellesmere excited him to do so, and the dog sprang out of the boat. In a minute or two Fixer became entangled in the weeds, and seemed to be in danger of sinking. Ellesmere, without thinking what he was about, made a hasty effort to save the dog, seized hold of him, but lost his own balance and fell out of the boat. In another moment Mildred gave me the end of her shawl to hold, which she had wound round herself, and sprang out too. The sensible diplomatist lost no time in throwing his weighty person to the other side of the boat. The two boatmen did the same. But for this move, the boat would, in all probability, have capsized, and we should all have been lost. Mildred was successful in clutching hold of Ellesmere; and Milverton and I managed to haul them close to the boat and to pull them in. Ellesmere had not relinquished hold of Fixer. All this happened, as such accidents do, in almost less time than it takes to describe them. And now came another dripping creature splashing into the boat; for Master Walter, who can swim like a duck, had plunged in directly he saw the accident, but too late to be of any assistance.
Things are now all right; and Ellesmere next day announces to his friends that Mildred and he are engaged. Two chapters, on Government and Despotism respectively, give us the last thoughts of the Friends abroad; then we have a pleasant picture of them all in Milverton’s farmyard, under a great sycamore, discoursing cheerfully of country cares. The closing chapter of the book is on The Need for Tolerance. It contains a host of thoughts which we should be glad to extract; but we must be content with a wise saying of Milverton’s:--
For a man who has been rigidly good to be supremely tolerant, would require an amount of insight which seems to belong only to the greatest genius.
For we hardly sympathize with that which we have not in some measure experienced; and the great thing, after all, which makes us tolerant of the errors of other men, is the feeling that under like circumstances we should have ourselves erred in like manner; or, at all events, the being able to see the error in such a light as to feel that there is that within ourselves which enables us at least to understand how men should in such a way have erred. The sins on which we are most severe are those concerning which our feeling is, that we cannot conceive how any man could possibly have done them. And probably such would be the feeling of a rigidly good man concerning every sin.
So we part, for the present, from our Friends, not without the hope of again meeting them. We have been listening to the conversation of living men; and, in parting, we feel the regret that we should feel in quitting a kind friend’s house after a pleasant visit, not, perhaps, to be renewed for many a day. And this is a changing world. We have been breathing the old atmosphere, and listening to the old voices talking in the old way. We have had new thought and new truth, but presented in the fashion we have known and enjoyed for years. Happily we can repeat our visit as often as we please, without the fear of worrying or wearying; for we may open the book at will. And we shall hope for new visits likewise. Milverton will be as earnest and more hopeful, Ellesmere will retain all that is good, and that which is provoking will now be softened down. No doubt by this time they are married. Where have they gone? The continent is unsettled, and they have often already been there. Perhaps they have gone to Scotland? No doubt they have. And perhaps before the leaves are sere we may find them out among the sea lochs of the beautiful Frith of Clyde, or under the shadow of Ben Nevis.
This is taken from Recreations of a Country Parson.
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