Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Recreations of a Country Parson
Chapter III. Concerning two Blisters of Humanity; Being Thoughts on Petty Malignity and Petty Trickery

IT is highly improbable that any reader, of ordinary power of imagination, would guess the particular surface on which the paper is spread whereon I am at the present moment writing. Such is the reflection which flows naturally from my pencil’s point as it begins to darken this page. I am seated on a manger, in a very light and snug stable, and my paper is spread upon a horse’s face, occupying the flat part between the eyes. You would not think, unless you tried, what an extensive superficies may there be found. If you put a thin book next the horse’s skin, you will write with the greater facility: and you will find, as you sit upon the edge of the manger, that the animal’s head occupies a position which, as regards height and slope, is sufficiently convenient. His mouth, it may be remarked, is not far from your knees, so that it would be highly inexpedient to attempt the operation with a vicious, biting brute, or indeed with any horse of whose temper you are not well assured. But you, my good Old Boy, (for such is the quadruped’s name,) you would not bite your master. Too many carrots have you received from his hand ; too many pieces of bread have you licked up from his extended palm. A thought has struck me which I wish to preserve in writing, though indeed at this rate it will be a long time before I work my way to it. I am waiting here for five minutes till my man-servant shall return with something for which he has been sent, and wherefore should even five minutes be wasted! Life is not very long, and the minutes in which one can write with ease are not very many. And perhaps the newness of such a place of writing may communicate something of fresh* ness to what is traced by a somewhat jaded hand. You winced a little, Old Boy, as I disposed my book and this scrap of an old letter on your face, but now you stand perfectly still. On either side of this page I see a large eye looking down wistfully; above the page a pair of ears are cocked in quiet curiosity, but with no indication of fear. Not that you are deficient in spirit, my dumb friend; you will do your twelve miles an hour with any steed within some miles of you; but a long course of kindness has gentled you as well as Mr Rarey could have done, though no more than seven summers have passed over your head. Let us ever, kindly reader, look with especial sympathy and regard at any inferior animal on which the doom of man has fallen, and which must eat its food, if not in the sweat of its brow, then in that of its sides.

Curious, that a creature should be called all through life to labour, for which yet there remains no rest! As for us human beings, we can understand and we can bear with much evil, and many trials and sorrows here, because we are taught that all these form the discipline which shall prepare us for another world, a world that shall set this right. But for you, my poor fellow-creature, I think with sorrow as I write here upon your head, there remains no such immortality as remains for me. What a difference between us! You to your sixteen or eighteen years here, and then oblivion. I to my threescore and ten, and then eternity 1 Yes, the difference is immense; and it touches me to think of your life and mine, of your doom and mine. I know a house where, at morning and evening prayer, when the household assembles, among the servants there always walks in a certain shaggy little dog, who listens with the deepest attention and the most solemn gravity to all that is said, and then, when prayers are over, goes out again with his friends. I cannot witness that silent procedure without being much moved by the sight. Ah, my fellow-creature, this is something in which you have no part! Made by the same Hand, breathing the same air, sustained like us by food and drink, you are witnessing an act of ours which relates to interests that do not concern you, and of which you have no idea. And so, here we are, you standing at the manger, Old Boy, and I sitting upon it; the mortal and the immortal; close together; your nose on my knee, my paper on your head; yet with something between us broader than the broad Atlantic. As for you, if you suffer here, there is no other life to make up for it Yet it would be well if many of those who are your betters in the scale of creation, fulfilled their Creator’s purposes as well as you. He gave you strength and swiftness, and you use these to many a valuable end : not many of the superior race will venture to say that they turn the powers God gave them to account as worthy of their nature. If it come to the question of deserving, you deserve better than me. Forgive me, my fellow-creature, if I have sometimes given you an angry flick, when you shied a little at a pig or a donkey. But I know you bear me no malice; you forget the flicks, (they are not many,) and you think rather of the bread and the carrots, of the times I have pulled your ear and smoothed your neck, and patted your nose. And forasmuch as this is all your life, I shall do my very best to make it a comfortable one. Happiness, of course, is something which you can never know. Yet, my friend and companion through many weary miles, you shall have a deep-littered stall, and store of com and hay so long as I can give them; and may this hand never write another line if it ever docs you wilful injury!

Into this paragraph has my pencil of its own accord rambled, though it was taken up to write about something else. And such is the happiness of the writer of essays : he may wander about the world of thought at his will. The style of the essayist has attained what may be esteemed the perfection of freedom, when it permits him, in writing upon any subject whatsoever, to say whatever may occur to him upon any other subject. And truly it is a pleasing thing for one long trammelled by the requirements of a rigorous logic, and fettered by thoughts of symmetry, connexion, and neatness in the discussion of his topic, to enter upon a fresh field where all these things go for nothing, and to write for readers many of whom would never notice such characteristics if they were present, nor ever miss them if they were absent There is all the difference between plodding wearily along the dusty highway, and rambling through green fields, and over country stiles, leisurely, saunteringly, going nowhere in particular. You would not wish to be always desultory and rambling, but it is pleasant to be so now and then. And there is a delightful freedom about the feeling that you are producing an entirely unsymmetrical composition. It is fearful work, if you have a thousand thoughts and shades of thought about any subject, to get them all arranged in what a logician would call their proper places. It is like having a dissected puzzle of a thousand pieces given you in confusion, and being required to fit all the little pieces of ivory into their box* again. By most men this work of orderly and symmetrical composition can be done well only by its being done comparatively slowly. In the case of ordinary folk the mind is a machine, which may indeed, by putting on extra pressure, be worked faster; but the result is the deterioration of the material which it turns off. It is an extraordinary gift of nature and training, when a man is like Follett, who, after getting the facts of an involved and intricate case into his mind only at one or two o’clock in the morning, could appear in Court at nine a.m., and there proceed to state the case and all his reasonings upon it, with the very perfection of logical method, every thought in its proper place, and all this at the rate of rapid extempore speaking. The difference between the rate of writing and that of speaking, with most men, makes the difference between producing good material and bad. A great many minds can turn off a fair manufacture at the rate of writing, which, when overdriven to keep pace with speaking, will bring forth very poor stuff indeed. And besides this, most people cannot grasp a large subject in all its extent and its bearings, and get their thoughts upon it marshalled and sorted, unless they have at least two or three days to do so. At first all is confusion and indefiniteness, but gradually things settle into order. Hardly any mind, by any effort, can get them into order quickly. If at all, it is by a tremendous exertion; whereas the mind has a curious power, without any perceptible effort, of arranging in order thoughts upon any subject, if you give it time. Who that has ever written his ideas on some involved point but knows this? You begin by getting up information on the subject about which you are to write. You throw into the mind, as it were, a great heap of crude, unordered material. From this book and that book, from this review and that newspaper, you collect the observations of men who have regarded your subject from quite different points of view, and for quite different purposes; you throw into the mind cartload after cartload of facts and opinions, with a despairing wonder how you will ever be able to get that huge, contradictory, vague mass into anything like shape and order. And if, the minute you had all your matter accumulated, you were called on to state what you knew or thought upon the subject, you could not do so for your life in any satisfactory manner. You would not know where to begin, or how to go on; it would be all confusion and bewilderment. Well, do not make the slightest effort. What is impossible now will be quite easy by and by. The peas, which cost a sovereign a pint at Christmas, are quite cheap in their -proper season. Go about other things for three or four days : and at the end of that time you will be aware that the machinery of your mind, voluntarily and almost unconsciously playing, has sorted and arranged that mass of matter which you threw into it. Where all was confusion and uncertainty, all is now order and clearness; and you see exactly where to begin, and what to say next, and where and how to leave off

The probability is, that all this has not been done without an effort, and a considerable amount of labour. But then, instead of the labour having been all at once, it has been very much subdivided. The subject was simmering in your mind all the while, though you were hardly aware of it Time after time, you •took a little run at it, and saw your way a little farther through it But this multitude of little separate and momentary efforts does not count for much; though in reality, if they were all put together, they would probably be found to have amounted to as much as the prolonged exertion which would at a single heat have attained the end. A large result, attained by innumerable little detached efforts, seems as if it had been attained without any effort at all. I love a parallel case; and I must take such cases from my ordinary experience. Yesterday, passing a little cottage by the wayside, I perceived at the door the carcase of a very large pig extended on a table. Approaching, as is my wont, the tenant of the cottage and owner of the pig, I began to converse with him on the size and fatness of the poor creature which had that morning quitted its sty for ever. It had been shot, he told me; for such, in these parts, is at present the most approved way of securing for swine an end as little painful as may be. I admired the humanity of the intention, and hoped that it might be crowned with success. Then my friend the proprietor of the bacon began to discourse on the philosophy of the rearing of pigs by labouring men. No doubt, he said, the four pounds, or thereabout, which he would get for his pig, would be a great help to a hard-working man with five or six little children. But after all, he remarked, it was likely enough that during the months of the pig’s life, it had bit by bit consumed and cost him as much as he would get for it now. But then, he went on, it cost -us that in little sums we hardly felt; while the four pounds it will sell for come all in a lump, and seem to give a very perceptible profit. Successive unfelt sixpences had mounted up to that considerable sum; even as five hundred little unfelt mental efforts had mounted up to the large result of sorting and methodising the mass of crude fact and opinion of which we were thinking a little while ago.

Having worked through this preliminary matter, (which will probably be quite enough for some readers, even as the Solan goose, which does but whet the appetite of the Highlander, annihilates that of the Sassenach,) I now come to the subject which was in my mind when I began to write on the horse’s head. I am not in the stable now; for the business which detained me there is long since despatched : and after all, it is more convenient to write at one’s study-table. I wish to say something concerning certain evils which press upon humanity; and which are to the feeling of the mind very much what a mustard-blister is to the feeling of the body. To the healthy man or woman they probably do not do much serious harm; but they maintain a very constant irritation. They worry and annoy. It is extremely interesting, in reading the published diaries of several great and good men, to find them recording on how many days they were put out of sorts, vexed and irritated, and rendered unfit for their work of writing, by some piece of petty malignity or petty trickery. How well one can sympathise with that good and great, and honest and amiable and sterling man, Dr Chalmers, when we find him recording in his diary, when he was a country parish minister, how he was unable to make satisfactory progress with Iris sermon one whole forenoon, because some tricky and over-reaching farmer in the neighbourhood drove two calves into a field of his glebe, where the great man found them in the morning devouring his fine young clover! There was something very irritating and annoying in the paltry dishonesty. And the sensitive machinery of the good man’s mind could not work sweetly when the gritty grains of the small vexation were fretting its polished surface. Let it be remarked in passing, that the peculiar petty dishonesty of driving cattle into a neighbouring proprietor’s field, is far from being an uncommon one. And let me inform such as have suffered from it of a remedy against it which has never been known to faiL If the trespassing animals be cows, wait till the afternoon: then have them well milked, and send them home. If horses, let them instantly be put in carts, and sent off ten miles to fetch lime. A sudden strength will thenceforward invest your fences; and from having been so open that no efforts on the part of your neighbours could keep their cattle from straying into your fields, you will find them all at once become wholly impervious.

But, to return, I maintain that these continual blisters, of petty trickery and petty malignity, produce a very vexatious effect. You are quite put about at finding out one of your servants in some petty piece of dishonesty or deception. You are decidedly worried if you happen to be sitting in a cottage where your coachman does not know that you are; and if you discern from the window that functionary, who never exercises your horses in your presence save at a walk, galloping them furiously over the hard stones; shaking their legs and endangering their wind. It is annoying to find your haymakers working desperately hard and fast when you appear in the field, not aware that from amid a little clump of wood "you had discerned them a minute before reposing quietly upon the fragrant heaps, and possibly that you had overheard them saying that they need not work very hard, as they were working for a gentleman. You would not have been displeased had you found them honestly resting on the sultry day: but you are annoyed by the small attempt to deceive you. Such pieces of petty trickery put you more out of sorts than you would!"

like to acknowledge: and you are likewise ashamed to discover that you mind so much as you do, when some good-natured friend comes and informs you how Mr Snarling has been misrepresenting something you have said or done; and Miss Limejuice has been telling lies to your prejudice. You are a clergyman, perhaps; and you said in your sermon last Sunday that, strong Protestant as you are, you believed that many good people may be found in the Church of Rome. Well, ever since then, Miss Limejuice has not ceased to rush about the parish, exclaiming in every house she entered, “Is not this awful? Here, on Sunday morning, the rector said that we ought all to become Roman Catholics! One comfort is, the Bishop is to have him up directly. I was always sure that he was a Jesuit in disguise.” Or you are a country gentleman; and at an election time you told one of your tenants that such a candidate was your friend, and that you would be happy if he could conscientiously vote for him, but that he was to do just what he thought right. Ever since, Mr Snarling has been spreading a report that you went, drunk, into your tenant’s house, that you thrust your fist in his face, that you took him by the collar and shook him, that you told him that, if he did not vote for your friend, you would turn him out of your farm, and send his wife and children to the workhouse. For in such playful exaggerations do people in small communities not unfrequently indulge. Now, you are vexed when you hear of such pieces of petty malignity. They don’t do you much harm; for most people whose opinion you value, know how much weight to attach to any statement of Miss Limejuice and Mr Snarling; and if you try to do your duty day by day where God has put you, and to live an honest, Christian life, it will go hard but you will live down such malicious vilification. But these things worry. They act as blisters, in short, without the medicinal value of blisters. And little contemptible worries do a great deal to detract from the enjoyment of life. To meet great misfortunes we gather up our endurance, ai\d pray for Divine support and guidance; but as for small blisters, the insect cares (as James Montgomery called them) of daily life, we are very ready to think that they are too little to trouble the Almighty with them, or even to call up our fortitude to face them. This is not a sermon; but let it be said that whosoever would learn how rightly to meet the perpetually-recurring worries of workday existence, should read an admirable little treatise by Mrs Stowe, the authoress of Uncle Tonis Cabin, entitled Earthly Care a Heavenly Discipline. The price of the work is one penny, but it contains advice which is worth an uncounted number of pence. Nor, as I think, are there to be found many more corroding and vexatious agencies than those which have been already named. To know that your servants, or your humbler neighbours, or your tradespeople, or your tenantry, or your scholars, are practising upon you a system of petty deception; or to be informed (as you are quite sure to be informed) how such and such a mischievous (or perhaps only thoughtless) acquaintance is putting words into your mouth which you never uttered, or abusing your wife and children, or gloating over your failure to get into Parliament, or the lameness of your horses, or the speech you stuck in at the recent public dinner;—all these things are pettily vexatious to many men. No doubt, over-sensitiveness is abundantly foolish. Some folk appear not merely to be thin-skinned, but to have been (morally) deprived of any skin at all; and such folk punish themselves severely enough for their folly. They wince when any one comes near them. The Pope may go wrong, but they cannot It is treasonable, it is inexpiable sin, to hint that, in judgment, in taste, in conduct, it is possible for them to deviate by a hair’s-breadth from the right line of perfection. Indeed, I believe that no immorality, no criminality, would excite such wrath in some men, as to tread upon a comer of their self-conceit Yet it is curious how little sympathy these over-sensitive people have for the sensitiveness of other people. You would say they fancied that the skin of which they have been denuded has been applied to thicken to rhinoceros callousness the moral hide of other men. They speak their mind freely to their acquaintances of their acquaintances* belongings. They will tell an acquaintance (they have no friends, so I must repeat the word) that he made a very absurd speech, that she sung very badly, that the situation of his house (which he cannot leave) is abominably dull, that his wife is foolish and devoid of accomplishments, that her husband is a man of mediocre abilities, that her little boy has red hair and a squint, that the potatoes he rears are abominably bad, that he is getting unwieldily stout, that his riding-horse has no hair on his tail. All these things, and a hundred more, such people say with that mixture of dulness of perception and small malignity of nature which go to make what is vulgarly called a person who “speaks his mind.” The right way to meet such folk is by an instant reciprocal action. Just begin to speak your mind to them, and see how they look. Tell them, with calm politeness, that before expressing their opinion so confidently, they should have considered what their opinion was worth. Tell them that civility requires that you should listen to their opinion, but that they may be assured that you mil act upon your own. Tell them what you think of their spelling, their punctuation, their features, their house, their carpets, their window-curtains, their general standing as members of the human race. How blue they will look ! They are quite taken aback when the same petty malignity and insolence which they have been accustomed for years to carry into their neighbours’ territory is suddenly directed against their own. And you will find that not only are they themselves skinlessly sensitive, but that their sensitiveness is not bounded by their own mental and corporeal being; and that it extends to the extreme limits ot their horses’ legs, to the very top of their chimney-pots, to every member of the profession which was honoured by the choice of their greatgrandfather.

You have observed, no doubt, that the mention of over-sensitive people acted upon the writer’s train of thought as a pair of points in the rails act upon a railway train. It shunted me off the main line; and in these remarks on people who talk their mind, I have been, so to speak, running along a siding. To go back to the point where I left the line, I observe, that although it is very foolish to mind much about such small matters as being a little cheated day by day, and a good deal misrepresented now and then by amiable acquaintances, still it is the fact that even upon people of a healthful temperament such things act as moral blisters, as moral pebbles in one’s boots. The petty malignity which occasionally annoys you is generally to be found among your acquaintances, and people of the same standing with yourself; while the petty trickery for the most part exists in the case of your inferiors. I think one always feels the better for looking any small evil of life straight in the face. To define a thing, to fix its precise dimensions, almost invariably makes it look a good deal smaller. Indefiniteness much increases apparent size; so let us now examine the size and the operation of these blisters of humanity.

As for petty malignity, my reader, have you not seen a great deal of it? There are not many men who appear to love their neighbours as themselves. No one enjoys a misfortune or disappointment which befals himself: but there is too much truth in the smart Frenchman’s saying, that there is something not entirely disagreeable to us in the misfortunes of even our very best friends. The malignity, indeed, is petty. It is only in small matters. And it is rather in feeling than in action. Even that sour Miss Limejuice, though she would be very glad if your horse fell larne or your carriage upset, would not see you drowning without doing her very best to save you. Ah, poor thing! she is not so bad, after all. This has been to her but a bitter world; and no wonder if she is, on the surface, a little embittered by it But when you get fairly through the surface of her nature, as real misfortunes and trials do, there is kindliness about that withered heart yet. She would laugh at you if you broke down in your speech on the hustings; but she would throw herself in the path of a pair of furious runaway horses, to save a little child from their trampling feet I do not believe that among ordinary people, even in a gossiping little country town, there is much real and serious malice in this world. I cling to that belief; for if many men were truly as mischievous as you would sometimes think when you hear them talk, one might turn misanthrope and hermit at once. There is hardly a person you know who would do you any material injury; not one who would cut down your roses, or splash your entrance-gate with mud; not one who would not gladly do you a kind turn if it lay within his power. Yet there are a good many who would with satisfaction repeat any story which might be a little to your disadvantage; which might tend to prove that you are rather silly, rather conceited, rather ill-informed. You have various friends who would not object to shew up any ridiculous mistake you might happen to make; who would never forget the occasion on which it appeared that you had never heard of the Spectator or Sir Roger de Coverley, or that you thought that Mary Queen of Scots was the mother of George III. You have various friends who would preserve the remembrance of the day on which the rector rebuked you for talking in church; or on which your partner and yourself fell flat on the floor of the ball-room at the county town of Oatmealshire, in the midst of a galop. You have various good-natured friends to whom it would be a positive enjoyment to come and tell you what a very unfavourable opinion Mr A. and Mrs B. and Miss C. had been expressing of your talents, character, and general conduct IIow true was the remark of Sir Fretful Plagiary, that it is quite unnecessary for any man to take

pains to learn anything bad that has been said about him, inasmuch as it is quite sure to be told him by some good-natured friend or other! You have various acquaintances who will be very much gratified when a rainy day spoils the pic-nic to which you have invited a large party; and who will be perfectly enraptured, if you have hired a steamboat for the occasion, and if the day proves so stormy that every soul on board is deadly sick. And indeed it is satisfactory to think that in our uncertain climate, where so many festal days are marred as to their enjoyment by drenching showers, there is compensation for the sufferings of the people who'are ducked, in the enjoyment which that fact affords to very many of their friends. By taking a larger view of things, you discover that there is good in everything. You were Senior Wrangler: you just miss being made a Bishop at forty-two. No doubt that was a great disappointment to yourself; but think what a joy it was to some scores of fellows whom you beat at College, and who hate you accordingly. Some months ago a proprietor in this county was raised to the peerage. His tenantry were entertained at a public dinner in honour of the event The dinner was held in a large canvas pavilion. The . day came. It was fearfully stormy, and torrents of rain fell. A perfect shower-bath was the portion of many of the guests; and finally the canvas walls and roof broke loose, smashed the crockery, and whelmed the feast in fearful ruin. During the nine days which followed, the first remark made by every one you met was, “What a sad pity about the storm spoiling the dinner at Stuckup Place!” And the countenance of every one who thus expressed his sorrow was radiant with joy! And quite natural too. They would have felt real regret had the new peer been drowned or shot: but the petty malignity which dwells in the human bosom made them rejoice at the small but irritating misfortune which had befallen. Shall I confess it, mea culpa > mea maxima culpa, I rejoiced in common with all my fellow-creatures! I was ashamed of the feeling. I wished to ignore it and extinguish it; but there was no doubt that it was there. And if Lord Newman was a person of enlarged and philosophic mind, he would have rejoiced that a small evil, which merely mortified himself and gave bad colds to his tenantry, afforded sensible pleasure to several thousands of his fellow-men. Yes, my reader: it is well that a certain measure of small malice is ingrained in our fallen nature. For thus some pleasure comes out of almost all pain \ some good from almost all evil. Your little troubles vex you, but they gratify your friends. Your horse comes down and smashes his knees. No doubt, to you and your groom it is unmingled bitterness. Put every man within several miles, whose horse's knees have already been smashed, hails the event as a real blessing to himself. You signally fail of getting into Parliament, though you stood for a county in which you fancied that your own influence and that of your connexions was all-powerful. No doubt, you are sadly mortified. No doubt, you do not look like yourself for several weeks. But what chuckles of joy pervade the hearts and faces of five hundred fellows who have no chance of getting into the House themselves, and who dislike you for your huge fortune, your grand house, your countless thoroughbreds, your insufferable dignity, and your general forgetfulness of the place where you grew, which by those around you is perfectly well remembered. And while it is true that even people of a tolerably benevolent nature do not really feel any great regret at any mortification or disappointment which befals a wealthy and pretentious neighbour, it is also certain that a greater number of folk do actually gloat over any event which humbles the wealthy and pretentious man. You find them, with a malignant look, putting the case on a benevolent footing. “This taking-down will do him a great deal of good : he will be much the wiser and better for it.” It is not uncharitable to believe, that in many cases in which such sentiments are expressed, the true feeling of the speaker is rather one of satisfaction at the pain which the disappointment certainly gives, than of satisfaction at the beneficial discipline which may possibly result from it. The thing said amounts to this : “I am glad that Mr Richman has got a taking-down, because the taking-down, though painful at the time, is in fact a blessing.” The thing felt amounts to this: “I am glad that Mr Richman has got a taking-down, because I know it will make him very miserable.” Every one who reads this page knows that this is so. Ah, my malicious acquaintances, if you know that the sentiment you entertain is one that would provoke universal execration if it were expressed, does not that shew that you ought not to entertain it?

I have said that I do not believe there is much zeal malignity among ordinary men and women. It is only at the petty misfortunes of men’s friends that they ever feel this unamiable satisfaction. When great sorrow befals a friend, all this unworthy feeling goes ; and the heart is filled with true sympathy and kindness. A man must be very bad indeed if this is not the case. It strikes me as something fiend-like rather than human, Byron’s savage exultation over the melancholy end of the great and amiable Sir Samuel Romilly. Romilly had given him offence by acting as legal adviser to some whom Byron regarded as his enemies. But it was babyish to cherish enmity for such a cause as that; and it was diabolical to rejoice at the sad close of that life of usefulness and honour. It was not good in James Watt, writing in old age an account of one of his many great inventions, to name very bitterly a man who had pirated it; and to add, with a vengeful chuckle, that the poor man was “afterwards hanged.” No private ground of offence should make you rejoice that your feilow-creature was hanged. You may justifiably rejoice in such a case only when the man hanged was a public offender, and an enemy of the race. Throw up your hat, if you please, when Nana Sahib stretches the hemp at last! That is all right. He never did harm to you individually: but you think of Cawnpore; and it is quite fit that there should be a bitter, burning satisfaction felt at the condign punishment of one whose punishment eternal justice demands. What is the use of the gallows, if not for that incarnate demon % I think of the poor sailors who were present at the trial of a bloodthirsty pirate of the Cuban coast. “I suppose,” said the one doubtingly to the other, “the devil will get that fellow.” “I should hope so,” was the unhesitating reply; “or what would be the use of having any devil! ”

But some real mischievous malice there is, even among people who bear a creditable character. I have occasionally heard old ladies (very few) tearing up the character of a friend with looks as deadly as though their weapon had been a stiletto, instead of that less immediately fatal instrument of offence, concerning which a very high authority informs us, that in some cases it is “set on fire of hell.” All, you poor girl, who danced three times (they call it nine) with Mr A. at the Assembly last night, happily you do not know the venomous way in which certain spiteful tabbies are pitching into you this morning! And you, my friend, who drove along Belvidere Place (the fashionable quarter of the county town) yesterday, in your new drag with the new harness and the pair of thoroughbreds, and fancied that you were charming every eye and heart, if you could but hear how your equipage and yourself were scarified last evening, as several of your elderly female acquaintances sipped together the cup that cheers! How they brought up the time that you were flogged at the public school, and the term you were rusticated at Oxford! Even the occasion was not forgotten on which your grandfather was believed, forty years since, to have rather done Mr Softly in the matter of a glandered steed. And the peculiar theological tenets of your grandmother were set forth in a fashion that would have astounded that good old lady. And you, who are so happily occupied in building in that beautiful woodland spot that graceful Elizabethan house, little you know how bitterly some folk, dwelling in hideous seedy mansions, sneer at you, and your gimcracks, and your Gothic style in which you “go back to barbarism.” You, too, my friend, lately made a Queen’s counsel, or a judge, or a bishop, if the shafts of envy could kill you, you would not live long. It is curious, by the way, how detraction follows a man when he first attains to any eminent place in State or Church; how keenly his qualifications are canvassed; how loudly his unfitness for his situation is proclaimed; and how, when a few months have passed, everybody gets quite reconciled to the appointment, and accepts it as one of the conditions of human affairs. Sometimes, indeed, the right man, by emphasis, is put in the right place; so unquestionably the right man that even envy is silenced: as when Lord St Leonards was made Lord Chancellor, or when Mr Melvill was appointed to preach before the House of Commons. But even when men who have been plucked at the University were made bishops, or princes who had never seen a gun fired in anger field-marshals, or briefless barristers judges, although a general outcry arose at the time, it very speedily died away. When you find a man actually in a place, you do not weigh his claims to be there so keenly as if you were about to appoint him to it If a resolute premier made Tom Spring a chief-justice, I doubt not that in six weeks the country would be quite accustomed to the fact, and accept it as a part of the order of nature. How else is it that the nation is content to have blind and deaf generals placed in high command, and infirm old admirals going to sea who ought to be going to bed?

It is a sad fact that there are men and women who will, without much investigation as to its truth, repeat a story to the prejudice of some man or woman whom they know. They are much more critical in weighing the evidence in support of a tale to a friend’s credit and advantage. I do not think they would absolutely invent such a calumnious narrative; but they will repeat, if it has been told them, what, if they do not know it to be false, they also do not know to be true, and strongly suspect to be false.

My friend Mr C., rector of a parish in Hampshire, has a living of about five hundred a year. Some months ago he bought a horse for which he paid fifty pounds. Soon after he did so, I met a certain malicious woman who lived in his neighbourhood. “So,” said she, with a look far from benevolent, “Mr G has gone and paid a hundred pounds for a horse! Monstrous extravagance for a man with his means and with a family.” “No, Miss Verjuice,” I replied: “Mr G did not pay nearly the sum you mention for his horse: he paid no more for it than a man of his means could afford.” Miss Verjuice was not in the least discomfited by the failure of her first shaft of petty malignity. She had another in her quiver which she instantly discharged. “Well,” said she, with a face of deadly ferocity, “if Mr G did not pay a hundred pounds for his horse, at all events he said he didl” This was the drop too much. I told Miss Verjuice, with considerable asperity, that my friend was incapable of petty vapouring and petty falsehood ; and in my book, from that day forward, there has stood a black cross against the individual’s name.

Egypt, it seems, is the country where malevolence, in the sense of pure envy of people who are better off, is most prevalent and is most feared. People there believe that the envious eye does harm to those on whom it rests. Thus, they are afraid to possess fine houses, furniture, and horses, lest they should excite envy and bring misfortune. And when they allow their children to go out for a walk, they send them dirty and ill-dressed, for fear the covetous eye should injure them:—

“At the bottom of this superstition is an enormous prevalence of envy among the lower Egyptians. You see it in all their fictions. Half of the stories told' in the coffee-shops by the professional story-tellers, of which the Arabian Nights are a specimen, turn on malevolence. Malevolence, nod attributed, as it would be in European fiction, to some insult or injury inflicted by the person who is its object, but to mere envy : envy of wealth, or of the other means of enjoyment, honourably acquired and liberally used.”

A similar envy, no doubt, occasionally exists in this country; but people here are too enlightened to fancy that it can do them any harm. Indeed, so far from standing in fear of exciting envy by their display ot possessions and advantages, some people feel much gratified at the thought of the amount of envy and malignity which they are likely to excite. “Won’t old Hunks turn green with fury,” said a friend to me, “the first time I drive up to his door with those horses?” They were indeed beautiful animals; but their proprietor appeared to prize them less for the pleasure they afforded himself, than for the mortification they would inflict on certain of his neighbours. “Won’t Mrs Grundy burst with spite when she sees this drawing-room?” was the remark of my lately-married cousin Henrietta, when she shewed me that very pretty apartment for the first time. “ Won’t Snooks be ferocious,” said Mr Dryasdust the book-collector, “ when he hears that I have got this almost unique edition?” Ah, my fellow-creatures, we are indeed a fallen race!

Hazlitt maintains that the petty malignity of mortals finds its most striking .field in the matter of will-making. He says—

“The last act of our lives seldom belies the former tenor of them for stupidity, caprice, and unmeaning spite. All that we seem to think of is to manage matters so (in settling accounts with those who are so unmannerly as to survive us) as to do as little good and plague and disappoint as many people as possible.”

Every one knows that this brilliant essayist was accustomed to deal in sweeping assertions; and it is to be hoped that such cases as that which he here describes form the exception to the rule. But it must be admitted that most of us have heard of wills at whose reading we might almost imagine their malicious maker fancied he might be invisibly present to chuckle over the disappointment and mortification w hich he w'as dealing even from his grave. Cases are also recorded in which rich old bachelors have played upon the hopes of half-a-dozen poor relations, by dropping hints to each separately that he w*as to be the fortunate heir of all their wealth; and then have left their fortune to an hospital, or have departed from this world intestate, leaving an inheritance mainly of quarrels, heart-burnings, and Chancery suits. How often the cringing, tale-bearing toady, who has borne the ill-humours of a rich sour old maid for thirty years, in the hope of a legacy, is cut off with nineteen guineas for a mourning ring! You would say perhaps, “Serve her right.” I differ from .you. If any one likes to be toadied, he ought in honesty to pay for it. He knows quite well he would never have got it save for the hope of payment; and you have no more right to swindle some poor creature out of years of cringing and flattering than out of pounds of money. A very odd case of petty malice in will-making was that of a man who, not having a penny in this world, left a will in which he bequeathed to his friends and acquaint ance large estates in various parts of England, money in the funds, rings, jewels, and plate. His inducement was the prospect of the delight of his friends at first learning about the rich possessions which were to be theirs, and then the bitter disappointment at finding how they had been hoaxed. Such deceptions and hoaxes are very cruel. Who does not feel for poor Moore and his wife, receiving a lawyer’s letter just at a season of special embarrassment, to say that some deceased admirer of the poet had left him five hundred pounds, and after being buoyed up with hope for a few days, finding that some malicious rascal had been playing upon them! No; poor people know that want of money is too serious a matter to be joked about

Let me conclude what I have to say about petty malignity by observing that I am very far from maintaining that all unfavourable remark about people you know proceeds from this unamiable motive. Some folk appear to fancy that if you speak of any man in any terms but those of superlative praise, this must be because you bear him some ill-will; they cannot understand that you may merely wish to speak truth and do justice. Every person who writes a stupid book and finds it unfavourably noticed in any review, instantly concludes that the reviewer must be actuated by some petty spite. The author entirely overlooks the alternative that his book may be said to be bad because it is bad, and because it is the reviewer’s duty to say so if he thinks so. I remember to have heard the friend of a lady who had published a bitterly bad and unbecoming work speaking of the notice of it which had appeared in a periodical of the very highest class. The notice was of course unfavourable. “Oh,” said the writer’s friend, “I know why the review was so disgraceful; the man who wrote it was lately jilted, and he hates all women in consequence!” It happened that I had very good reason to know who wrote the depreciatory article, and I could declare that the motive assigned to the reviewer had not the least existence in fact.

Unfavourable remark has frequently no earthly connexion with malignity great or petty. It is quite fit that as in people’s presence politeness requires that. you should not say what you think of them, you should have an opportunity of doing so in their absence; and every one feels when the limits of fair criticism are passed. What could you do if, after listening with every appearance of interest to some old lady’s wearisome vapouring, you felt bound to pretend, after you had made your escape, that you thought her conversation was exceedingly interesting % What a relief it is to tell what you have suffered to some sympathetic friend 1 I have heard injudicious people say, as something much to a' man’s credit, that he never speaks of any mortal except in his praise. I do not think the fact is to the man’s advantage. It appears to prove either that the man is so silly that he thinks everything he hears and sees to be good, or that he is so crafty and reserved that he will not commit himself by saying what he thinks. Outspoken good-nature will sometimes get into scrapes from which self-contained craft will keep free; but the man who, to use Miss Edgeworth’s phrase, “thinks it best in general not to speak of things,” will be liked by nobody.

By petty trickery I mean that small deception which annoys and worries you without doing you material harm. Thus it passes petty trickery when a bank publishes a swindling report, on the strength of whose false representations of prosperity you invest your hard-won savings in its stock and lose them all. It passes petty trickery when your clerk absconds with some hundreds of pounds. It indicates petty trickery when you find your servants writing their letters on your crested note-paper, and enclosing them in your crested envelopes. It indicates that at some time or other a successful raid has been made upon your paper-drawer. It indicates petty trickery when you find your horses’ ribs beginning to be conspicuous, though they are only half worked, and are allowed three feeds of com a day. Observe your coachman then, my friend. Some of your com is going where it should not It indicates petty trickery when your horses’ coats are full of dust, though whenever you happen to be present they are groomed with incredible vigour: they are not so in your absence. It indicates petty trickery when, suddenly turning a comer, you find your coachman galloping the horses along the tumpike-road at the rate of twenty-three miles an hour. It indicates petty trickery when you find your neighbours’ cows among your clover. It indicates petty trickery when you find amid a cottager’s stock of firewood several palisades taken from your park-fence. It indicates petty trickery when you discern in the morning the traces of very large hobnailed shoes crossing your wife’s flower garden towards the tree where the magnum bonums are nearly ripe. But why extend the catalogue? Every man can add to it a hundred instances. Says Bacon, “The small wares and petty points of cunning are infinite, and it were a good deed to make a list of them.” Who could make such a list? What numbers of people are practising petty trickery at every hour of the day! Yet, forasmuch as these tricks are small and pretty frequently seen through, they form only a blister: they are irritating but not dangerous: and it is very irritating to know that you have been cheated, to however small an extent. How inestimable is a thoroughly honest servant! Apart from anything like principle, if servants did but know it, it is well worth their while to be strictly truthful and reliable : they are then valued so much. It is highly expedient, besides being right. And not only is it extremely vexatious to find out any domestic in dishonesty of any kind, not only does it act as a blister at the moment, but it fosters in one’s self a suspicious habit of mind which has in it something degrading. It is painful to be obliged to feel that you must keep a strict watch upon your stable or your granary. You have somewhat of the feeling of a spy; yet you cannot, if you have ordinary powers of observation, shut your eyes to what passes round you.

There is, indeed, some petty trickery which is highly venial, not to say pleasing. When a little child, on being offered a third plate of plum-pudding, says, with a wistful and half-ashamed look, “No, \hank you,” well you know that the statement is not entirely candid, and that the poor little thing would be sadly disappointed if you took him at his word,

Think of your own childish days; think what plum* pudding was then, and instantly send the little man a third plate, larger than the previous two. So if your gardener gets wet to the skin in mowing a little bit of turf, in a drenching summer-shower, which turns it, parched for the last fortnight, to emerald green, tell him he must be very wet, and give him a glass of whisky; never mind, though he, in his politeness, declares that he does not want the whisky, and is perfectly dr/ and comfortable. You will find him very readily dispose of the proffered refreshment So if you go into a poor, but spotlessly-clean little cottage, where a lonely widow of eighty sits by her spinning-wheel. Her husband and her children are dead, and there she is, all alone, waiting till she goes to rejoin them. A poor, dog’s-eared, ill-printed Bible lies on the rickety deal-table near. You take a large parcel which you have brought, wrapped in brown paper; and as you talk with the good old Christian, you gradually untie it. A well-sized volume appears; it is the Volume which is worth all the rest that ever were written; and you tell your aged friend that you have brought her a Bible, with great, clear type, which will be easily read by her failing eyes, and you ask her to accept it You see the flush of joy and gratitude on her face, and you do not mind though she says something which is not strictly true—that it was too kind of you, that she did not need it, that she could manage with the old one yet Nor would you severely blame the brave fellow who jumped off a bridge forty feet high, and pulled out your brother when he was just sinking in a flooded river, if, when you thanked him with a full heart for the risk he had run, he replied, in a careless, good-humoured way, that he had really done nothing worth the speaking of. The brave man is pained by your thanks : but he thought of his wife and children when he leaped from the parapet, and he knew well that he was hazarding his life. And he is perfectly aware that the statement which he makes is not consistent with fact—but surely you would never call him a trickster!

Mr J. S. Mill, unquestionably a very courageous as well as a very able writer, has declared in a recent publication, that, in Great Britain, the higher classes, for the most part, speak the truth, while the lower classes, almost without exception, have frequent recourse to falsehood. I think Mr Mill must have been unfortunate in his experience of the poor. I have seen much of them, and I have found among them much honesty and truthfulness, along with great kindness of heart They have little to give away in the form of money, but will cheerfully give their time and strength in the service of a sick neighbour. I have known a shepherd who had come in from the hills in the twilight of a cold December afternoon, weary and worn out, find that the little child of a poor widow in the next cottage had suddenly been taken ill, and without sitting down, take his stick, and walk away through the dark to the town nine miles off, to fetch the doctor. And when I told the fine fellow how much I respected his manly kindness, I found he was quite unaware that he had done anything remarkable; “it was just what ony neibour wad do for anither!” And I could mention scores of similar cases. And as for truthfulness, I have known men and women among the peasantry, both of England and Scotland, whom I would have trusted with untold gold,—or even with what the Highland laird thought a more searching test of rectitude—with unmeasured whisky. Still I must sorrowfully admit that I have found in many people a strong tendency, when they had done anything wrong, to justify themselves by falsehood. It is not impossible that over-severe masters and mistresses, by undue scoldings administered for faults of no great moment, foster this unhappy tendency. It was not, however, of one class more than another, that the quaint old minister of a parish in Lanarkshire was speaking, when one Sunday morning he read as his text the verse in the Psalms, “I said in my haste, All men are liars,” and began his sermon by thoughtfully saying—

“Ay, David, ye said it in your haste, did you? If ye had lived in this parish, ye might have said it at your leisure?”

There is hardly a sadder manifestation of the spirit of petty trickery than that which has been pressed on the attention of the public by recent accounts of the adulteration of food. It is, indeed, sad enough,

“When chalk, and alum, and plaster, are sold to the poor for bread,
And the spirit of murder works in the very means of life : ”

and when the luxuries of the rich are in many cases quite as much tampered with; while, when medical appliances become needful to correct the evil effects of red-lead, plaster of Paris, cantharides, and oil of vitriol, the physician is quite uncertain as to the practical power of the medicine he prescribes, inasmuch as drugs are as much adulterated as food. Still, there seems reason to 'hope that, more frequently than the Lancet Commission would lead one to think, you really get in the shops the thing you ask and pay for. I firmly believe that, in this remote district of the world, such petty dishonesty is unknown: and I cannot refrain from saying that, notwithstanding all I have read of late years in tracts, sermons, poems, and leading articles, of the frequency of fraud in the dealings of tradesmen in towns, I never in my own experience have seen the least trace of it.

Most human beings, however, will tell you that day by day they witness a good deal of indirectness, insincerity, and want of straightforwardness—in fact, of petty trickery. There are many people who appear incapable of doing anything without going round about the bush, as Caledonians say. There are many people who always try to disguise the real

motive for what they do. They will tell you of anything but the consideration that actually weighs with them, though that is in most cases perfectly well known to the person they are talking to. Some men will tell you that they travel second-class by railway because it is warmer, cooler, airier, pleasanter than the first-class. They suppress all mention of the consideration that obviously weighs with them, viz., that it is cheaper. Mr Squeers gave the boys at Dothe-boys Hall treacle and sulphur one morning in the week. The reason he assigned was that it was good for their health: but his more outspoken wife stated the true reason, which was that, by sickening the children, it made breakfast unnecessary upon that day. Some Dissenters pretend that they want to abolish Church-rates, with a view to the good of the Church: of course everybody know's that their real wish is to do the Church harm. Very soft indeed would the members of the Church be, if they believed that its avowed enemies are extremely anxious for its welfare. But the forms of petty trickery are endless. Bacon mentions in one of his Essays that he knew a statesman who, when he came to Queen Elizabeth with bills to sign, always engaged her in conversation about something else, to distract her attention from the papers she was signing. And wiien some impudent acquaintance asks you, reader, to put your name to another kind of bill, for his ad vantage, does he not always think to delude you into doing so by saying that your signing is a mere form, intended only for the fuller satisfaction of the bank that is to lend him the money? He does not tell you that he is just asking you to give him the sum named on that stamped paper. Don’t believe a word he says, and shew him the door. Signing a promise to pay money is never a form; if it be a form, why does he ask you to do it? Bacon mentions another man, who “when he came to have speech, would pass over that he intended most, and go forth, and come back again, and speak of it as a thing he had almost forgot.” I have known such men too. We have all known men who would come and talk about .many indifferent things, and then at the end bring in, as if accidentally, the thing they came for. Always pull such men sharply up. Let them understand that you see through them. When they sit down, and begin to talk of the weather, the affairs of the district, the new railway, and so forth, say at once, “Now, Mr Pawky, I know you did not come to talk to me about these things. What is it that you want to speak of? I am busy, and have no time to waste.” It is wonderful how this will beat down Mr Pawk/s guard. He is prepared for sly finesse, but he is quite taken aback by downright honesty. If you tiy to do him, he will easily do you: but perfect candour foils the crafty man, as the sturdy Highlander’s broadsword at once cut down the French master of fence, vapouring away with his rapier. You cannot beat a rogue with his own weapons. Try him with truth: like David, he “has not proved” that armour; he is quite unaccustomed to it, and he goes down.

Men in towns know that time is valuable to them, and by long experience they are assured that there is no use in trying to overreach a neighbour in a bargain, because he is so sharp that they will not succeed. But in agricultural districts some persons may be found who appear to regard it as a fond delusion that “honesty is the best policy;” and who never deal with a stranger without feeling their way, and trying how far it may be possible to cheat him. I am glad to infer, from the universal contempt in which such persons are held, that they form base, though by no means infrequent, exceptions to the general rule. The course which such individuals follow in buying and selling is quite marked and invariable. If they wish to buy a cow or rent a field, they begin by declaring with frequency and vehemence that they don’t want the thing,—that, in fact, they would rather not have it,—that it would be inconvenient for them to become possessors of it They then go on to say that still, if they can get it at a fair price, they may be induced to think of it They next declare that the cow is the very worst that ever was seen, and that very few men would have such a creature in their possession. The seller of the cow, if he knows his customer, meanwhile listens with entire indifference to Mr Pawley's asseverations, and after a while proceeds to name his price. Fifteen pounds for the cow. “Oh,” says Mr Pawky, getting up hastily and putting on his hat, “I see you don’t want to sell it. I was just going to have offered you five pounds. I see I need not spend longer time here.” Mr Pawky, however, does not leave the room: sometimes, indeed, if dealing with a green hand, he may actually depart for half-an-hour; but then he returns and resumes the negotiation. A friend of his has told him that possibly the cow was better than it looked. It looked very bad indeed; but it might be a fair cow after all. So the proceedings go on: and after an hour’s haggling, and several scores of falsehoods told by Mr Pawky, he becomes the purchaser of the animal for the sum originally named. Even now he is„not exhausted. He assures the former owner of the cow that it is the custom of the district always to give back half-a-crown in the pound, and refuses to hand over more than 13, 2S. 6d. The cow is by this time on its way to Mr Pawky’s farm. If dealing with a soft man, this final trick possibly succeeds. If with an experienced person, it wholly fails. And Mr Pawky, after wasting two hours, telling sixty-five lies, and stamping himself as a cheat in the estimation of the person with whom he was dealing, ends by taking nothing by all his petty trickery. Oh, poor Pawky, why not be honest and straightforward at once? You would get just as much money, in five cases out of six; and you would save your time and breath, and miss running up that fearful score in the book of the recording angel!

After any transaction with Mr Pawky, how delightful it is to meet with a downright honest man! I know several men—farmers, labourers, country gentlemen— of that noble class, whose “ word is as good as their bond!” I know men whom you could not even imagine as taking a petty advantage of any mortal They are probably far from being pieces of perfection. They are crotchety in temper; they are rough in address; their clothes were never made by Stultz; possibly they do not shave every morning. But as I look at the open, manly face, and feel the strong gripe of the vigorous hand, and rejoice to think that the world goes well with them, and that they find it pay to speak the truth, I feel for the minute as if the somewhat overstrained sentiment had truth in it, that

“An honest man’s the noblest work of God!”

I am firmly convinced that no man, in the long run, gains by petty trickery. Honesty is the best policy. You remember how the roguish Ephraim Jenkinson, in the Vicar of Wakefield\ mentioned that he contrived to cheat honest Farmer Flamborough about once a year; but still the honest farmer grew rich, and the rogue grew poor, and so Jenkinson began to bethink him that he was in the wrong track after all. A man who with many oaths declares a broken-winded nag is sound as a bell, and thus gets fifty pounds for an animal he bought for ten, and then declares with many more oaths that he never warranted the horse, may indeed gain forty pounds in money by that transaction, but he loses much more than he gains. The man whom he cheated, and the friends of the man whom he cheated, will never trust him again; and he soon acquires such a character that every one who is compelled to have any dealings with him stands on his guard, and does not believe a syllable he says. I do not mention here the solemn consideration of how the gain and loss may be adjusted in the view of another world; nor do more than allude to a certain solemn question as to the profit which would follow the gain of much more than forty pounds, by means which would damage something possessed by every man. All trickery is folly. Every rogue is a fool. The publisher who advertises a book he has brought out, and appends a flattering criticism of it as from the Times or Fraser’s Magazine which never appeared in either periodical, does not gain on the whole by such petty deception; neither does the publisher who appends highly recommendatory notices, marked with inverted commas as quotations, though with the name of no periodical attached, the fact being that he composed these notices himself. You will say that Mt Bamum is an instance of a man who made a large fortune by the greater and lesser arts of trickery; but would you, my honest and honourable friend, have taken that fortune on the same terms 1 I hope not.

And no blessing seems to have rested on Bamum’s gains. "Where are they now 1 The trickster has been tricked—the doer done. There is a hollowness about all prosperity which is the result of unfair and underhand means. Even if a man who has grown rich through trickery seems to be going on quite comfortably, depend upon it he cannot feel happy. The sword of Damocles is hanging over his head. Let no man be called happy before he dies.

I believe, indeed, that in some cases the conscience grows quite callous, and the notorious cheat fancies himself a highly moral and religious man ; and although it is always extremely irritating to be cheated, it is more irritating than usual to think that the man who has cheated you is not even made uneasy by the checks of his own conscience I would gladly think that in most cases,

“Doubtless the pleasure is as great
Of being cheated as to cheat.”

I would gladly think that the man who has done another feels it as blistering to remember the fact as the man who has been done does. It would gratify me much if I were able to conclude that every man who is a knave knows that he is one. I doubt it Probably he merely thinks himself a sharp, clever fellow. Only this morning I was cheated out of four and sixpence by a man of very decent appearance. He obtained that sum by making three statements, which I found on inquiring, after he had gone, were false. The gain, you see, was small. He obtained just eighteenpence a lie. Yet he went off, looking extremely honest. And no doubt he will be at his parish church next Sunday, shaking his head sympathetically at the more solemn parts of the sermon. And probably when he reflects upon the transaction, he merely thinks that he was sharp and I was soft. The analogy between these small tricks and a blister holds in several respects. Each is irritating, and the irritation caused by each gradually departs. You are very indignant at first learning that you have been taken in; you are rather sore, even the day after—but the day after that you are less sore at having been done than sorry for the rogue who was fool enough to do you.

I am writing only of that petty trickery which acts as a blister of humanity; as I need say nothing of those numerous forms of petty trickery which do not irritate, but merely amuse. Such are those silly arts by which some people try to represent themselves to their fellow-creatures as richer, wiser, better-informed, more highly connected, more influential, and more successful than the fact. I felt no irritation at the schoolboy who sat opposite me the other day in a railway carriage, and pretended that he was reading a Greek play. I allowed him to fancy his trick had succeeded, and conversed with him of the characteristics of ASschylus. He did not know much about them. A friend of mine, a clergyman, went to the house of a weaver in his parish. As he was about to knock at the door, he heard a solemn voice within; and he listened in silence as the weaver asked God’s blessing upon his food. Then he lifted the latch and entered: and thereupon the weaver, resolved that the clergyman should know he said grace before meat, began and repeated his grace over again. My friend was not angry; but he was very, very sorry. And never, till the man had been years in his grave, did he mention the fact. As for the fashion in which some people fire off, in conversation with a new acquaintance, every titled name they know, it is to be recorded that the trick is invariably as unsuccessful as it is contemptible. And is not a state dinner, given by poor people, in resolute imitation of people with five times their income, with its sham champagne, its disguised greengrocers, and its general turning the house topsy-turvy,—is not such a dinner one great trick, and a very transparent one ?

The writer is extremely tired. Is it not curious that to -write for four or five hours a day for four or five successive days, wearies a man to a degree that ten or twelve daily hours of ploughing does not weary the man whose work is physical? Mental work is much the greater stretch: and it is strain, not time, that kills. A horse that walks at two miles and a-half an hour, ploughing, will work twelve hours out of the twenty-four. A horse that runs in the mail at twelve miles an hour, works an hour and a-half and rests twenty-two and a half; and with all that rest soon breaks down. The bearing of all this is that it is time to stop; and so, my long black goosequill, lie down!

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus