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The Recreations of a Country Parson
Chapter VII. How I mused in the Railway Train: Being Thoughts on Rising by Candle-Light; On Nervous Fears; and on Vapouring


NOT entirely awake, I am standing on the platform of a large railway terminus in a certain great city, at 7.20 a.m., on a foggy morning early in January. I am about to set out on a journey of a hundred miles by the 7.30 train, which is a slow one, stopping at all the stations. I am alone; for more than human would that friendship be which would bring out mortal man to see one off at such an hour in winter. It is a dreamy sort of scene; I can hardly feel that it substantially exists. Who has not sometimes, on a still autumn afternoon, suddenly stopped on a path winding through sere, motionless woods, and felt within himself, Now, I can hardly believe in all this. You talk of the difficulty of realising the unseen and spiritual; is it not sometimes, in certain mental moods, and in certain aspects of external nature, quite as difficult to feel the substantial existence of things which we can see and touch? Extreme stillness and loneliness, perhaps, are the usual conditions of this peculiar feeling. Sometimes most men have thought to themselves that it would be well for them if they could but have the evidence of sense to assure them of certain great realities which while we live in this world we never can touch or see ; but I think that many readers will agree with me when I say, that very often the evidence of sense comes no nearer to producing the solid conviction of reality than does that widely different evidence on which we believe the existence of all that is not material You have climbed, alone, on an autumn day, to the top of a great hill; a river runs at its base unheard; a champaign country spreads beyond the river; cornfields swept and bare; hedgerows dusky green against the yellow ground; a little farmhouse here and there, over which the smoke stagnates in the breezeless air. It is heather that you are standing on. And as you stand there alone, and look away over that scene, you have felt as though sense, and the convictions of! sense, were partially paralysed: you have been aware that you could not feel that the landscape before you was solid reality. I am not talking to blockheads, who never thought or felt anything particularly; of course they could not understand my meaning. But as for you, thoughtful reader, have you not sometimes, in such a scene, thought to yourself, not without a certain startled pleasure,—Now, I realise it no more substantially that there spreads a landscape beyond that river, than that there spreads a country beyond the grave!

There are many curious moods of mind, of which you will find no mention in books of metaphysics. The writers of works of mental philosophy keep by the bread and butter of the world of mind. And every one who knows by personal experience how great a part of the actual phases of thought and feeling lies beyond the reach of logical explanation, and can hardly be fixed and represented by any words, will rejoice when he meets with any account of intellectual moods which he himself has often known, but which are not to be classified or explained. And people are shy about talking of such things. I felt indebted to a friend, a man of high talent and cultivation, whom I met on the street of a large city on a snowy winter day. The streets were covered with unmelted snow; so were the housetops ; how black and dirty the walls looked, contrasting with the snow. Great flakes wrere falling thickly, and making a curtain which at a few yards’ distance shut out all objects more effectually than the thickest fog. “It is a day,” said my friend, “I don’t believe in" and then he went away. And I know he would not believe in the day, and he would not feel that he w*as in a world of reality, till he had escaped from the eerie scene out of doors, and sat down by his library fire. But has not the mood found a more beautiful description in Coleridge’s tragedy of Remorse? Opium, no doubt, may have increased such phases of mind in his case; but they are well known by numbers who never tasted opium :—

On a rude rock,
A rock, methought, fast by a grove of firs,
Whose thready leaves to the low-breathing gale,
Made a soft sound most like the distant ocean,
I staid, as though the hour of death were pass’d.
And I were sitting in the world of spirits—
For all things seem’d unreal.

And there can be no doubt that the long vaulted vistas through a pine wood, the motionless trunks, dark and ghostly, and the surgy swell of the wind through the spines, are conditions very likely to bring on, if you are alone, this particular mental state.

But to return to the railway station which suggested all this; it is a dreamy scene, and I look at it with sleepy eyes. There are not many people going by the train, though it is a long one. Daylight is an hour or more distant yet; and the directors, either with the design of producing picturesque lights and shadows in their shed, or with the design of economising gas, have resorted to the expedient of lighting only every second lamp. There are no lamps, too, in the carriages ; and the blank abysses seen through the open doors remind one of the cells in some feudal dungeon. A little child would assuredly howl if it were brought to this place this morning. Away in the gloom, at the end of the train, the sombre engine that is to take us is hissing furiously, and throwing a lurid glare upon the ground underneath Q it Nobody’s wits have fully arrived. The clerk who gave me my ticket was yawning tremendously; the porters on the platform are yawning; the guard, who is standing two yards off, looking very neat and trimly dressed through the gloom, is yawning; the stoker who was shovelling coke into the engine fire was yawning awfully as he did so. We are away through the fog, through the mist, over the black country, which is slowly turning gray in the morning twilight. I have with me various newspapers; but for an hour or more it will be impossible to see to read them. Two fellow-travellers, whose forms I dimly trace, I hear expressing indignation that the railway company give no lamps in the carriages. I lean back and try to think.

It is most depressing and miserable work, getting up by candlelight It is impossible to shave comfortably; it is impossible to have a satisfactory bath; it is impossible to find anything you want. Sleep, says Sancho Panza, covers a man all over like a mantle of comfort; but rising before daylight envelops the entire being in petty misery. An indescribable vacuity makes itself felt in the epigastric regions, and a leaden heaviness weighs upon heart and spirits. It must be a considerable item in the hard lot of domestic servants, to have to get up through all the winter months in the cold dark house: let us be thankful to them through whose humble labours and self-denial we find the cheerful fire blazing in the tidy breakfast parlour when we find our way downstairs. That same apartment looked cheerless enough when the housemaid entered it two hours ago. It is sad when you are lying in bed of a morning, lazily conscious of that circling amplitude of comfort^ to hear the chilly cry of the poor sweep outside; or the tread of the factory hands shivering by in their thin garments towards the great cotton mill, glaring spectral out of its many windows, but at least with a cosy suggestion of warmth and light Think of the baker, too, who rose in the dark of midnight that those hot rolls might appear on your breakfast table; and of the printer, intelligent, active, accurate to a degree that you careless folk who put no points in your letters have little idea of, whose labours have given you that damp sheet which in a little will feel so crisp and firm after it has been duly dried, and which wall tell you all that is going on over all the world, down to the opera which closed at twelve, and the parliamentary debate which was not over till half-past four. It is good occasionally to rise at five on a December morning, that you may feel how much you are indebted to some who do so for your sake all the winter through. No doubt they get accustomed to it: but so may you by doing it always. A great many people living easy lives, have no idea of the discomfort of rising by candlelight. Probably they hardly ever did it: when they did it, they had a blazing fire and abundant light to dress by; and even with these advantages, which essentially change the nature of the enterprise, they have not done it for very long. What an aggregate of misery is the result of that inveterate usage in the University of Glasgow’, that the early lectures begin at 7.30 A.M. from November till Mayl How utterly miserable the dark, dirty streets look, as the unhappy student splashes through mud and smoke to the black archway that admits to those groves of Academe! And what a blear-eyed, unwashed, unshaven, blinking, ill-natured, watched set it is that fills the benches of the lecture-room! The design of the authorities in maintaining that early hour has been much misunderstood Philosophers have taught that the professors, in bringing out their unhappy students at that period, had it in view to turn to use an hour of the day which otherwise would have been wasted in bed, and thus set free an hour at a better season of the day. Another school of metaphysicians, among whom may be reckoned the eminent authors, Brown, Jones, and Robinson, have maintained with considerable force of argument that the authorities of the University, eager to advance those under their charge in health, wealth, and wisdom, have resorted to an observance which has for many ages been regarded as conducive to that end Others, again, the most eminent among whom is Smith, have taken up the ground that the professors have fixed on the early hour for no reason in particular; but that, as the classes must meet at some hour of each day, they might just as well meet at that hour as at any other. All these theories are erroneous. There is more in the system than meets the eye. It originated in Roman Catholic days; and something of the philosophy of the stoic and of the faith of the anchorite is involved in it Grim lessons of endurance; dark hints of penance; extensive disgust at matters in general, and a disposition to punch the head of humanity; are mystically connected with the lectures at 7.30 a.m. in winter. It is quite different in summer, when everything is bright and inviting ; if you are up and forth by five or six o’clock any morning then, you feel ashamed as you look at the drawn blinds and the closed shutters of the house in the broad daylight. There is something curious in the contrast between the stillness and shut-up look of a country-house in the early summer morning, and the blaze of light, the dew sparkling life-like on the grass, the birds singing, and all nature plainly awake though man is asleep. You feel that at 7.30 in June, Nature intends you to be astir; but believe it, ye learned doctors of Glasgow College, at 7.30 in December her intention is quite the reverse. And if you*fly in Nature’s face, and persist in getting up at unseasonable hours, she will take it out of you by making you horribly uncomfortable.

There is, indeed, one fashion in which rising by candlelight, under the most uncomfortable circumstances, may turn to a source of positive enjoyment.

And the more dreary and wretched you feel, as you wearily drag yourself out of bed into the searching cold, the greater will that peculiar enjoyment be. Have you not, my reader, learned by your own experience that the machinery of the human mind and heart may be worked backwards, just as a steam-engine is reversed, so that a result may be produced which is exactly the opposite of the normal one? The fundamental principle on which the working of the human constitution, as regards pleasure and pain, goes, may be stated in the following formula, which will not appear a truism except to those who have not brains to understand it—

The more jolly you are, the jollier you are.

But by reversing the poles, or by working the machine backwards, many human beings, such as Indian fakirs, mediaeval monks and hermits, Simeon Stylites, very early risers, very hard students, Childe Harold, men who fall in love and then go off to Australia without telling the young woman, and the like, bring themselves to this:—that their fundamental principle, as regards pleasure and pain, takes the following form—

The more miserable you are, the jollier you are.

Don’t you know that all that is true? A man may bring himself to this point, that it shall be to him a positive satisfaction to think how much he is denying himself, and how much he is taking out of himself.

And all this satisfaction may be felt quite irrespective of any worthy end to be attained by all this pain, toil, endurance, self-denial. I believe indeed that the taste for suffering as a source of enjoyment is an acquired taste; it takes some time to bring any human being to it It is not natural, in the obvious meaning of the word; but assuredly it is natural in the sense that it founds on something which is of the essence of human nature. You must penetrate through the upper stratum of the heart, so to speak—that stratum which finds enjoyment in enjoyment—then you reach to a deeper sensorium, one whose sensibility is as keen, one whose sensibility is longer in getting dulled—that sejisorium which finds enjoyment in endurance. Nor have many years to pass over us before we come to feel that this peculiar sensibility has been in some measure developed. If you, my friend, are now a man, it is probable (alas! not certain) that you were once a boy. Perhaps you were a clever boy; perhaps you were at the head of your class; perhaps you were a hardworking boy. And now tell me, when on a fine summer evening you heard the shouts and merriment of your companions in the playground, while you were toiling away with your lexicon and your Livy, or turning a passage from Shakspeare into Greek iambics (a hardly-acquired accomplishment, which has proved so useful in after-life), did you not feel a certain satisfaction—it was rather a sad one, but still a satisfaction—as you thought how pleasant it would be to

be out in the beautiful sunshine, and yet felt resolved that out you would not go! Well for you if your father and mother set themselves stoutly against this dangerous feeling; well for you if you never overheard them relating with pride to their acquaintances what a laborious, self-denying, wonderful boy thou wast! For the sad satisfaction which has been described is the self-same feeling which makes the poor Hindoo swing himself on a large hook stuck through his skin, and the fakir pleased when he finds that his arm, stretched out for twenty years, cannot now be drawn back. It is precisely the feeling which led the saints of the Middle Ages to starve themselves till their palate grew insensible to the taste of food, or to flagellate themselves as badly as Legree did Uncle Tom, or to refrain wholly from the use of soap and water for forty years. It is a most dangerous thing to indulge in, this enjoyment arising from the principle of the greatest jollity from the greatest suffering; for although we ought to feel thankful that God has so ordered things, that in a world where little that is good can be done except by painful exertion and resolute self-denial, a certain satisfaction is linked even with that exertion and self-denial in themselves, apart from the good results to which they lead; it seems to me that we have no right to add needless bitterness to life that our morbid spirit may draw from it a morbid enjoyment No doubt self-denial, and struggle against our nature for the right, is a noble thing: but I think that in the present day there is a tendency unduly to exalt both work and self-denial, as though these things were excellent in themselves apart from any excellent ends which follow from them. Work merely as work is not a good thing: it is a good thing because of the excellent things that come with it and of it. And so with self-denial, whether it appear in swinging on a hook or in rising at five on a winter morning. It is a noble thing if it is to do some good; but very many people appear to think it a noble thing in itself, though it do no good whatever. The man deserves canonisation who swings on a hook to save his country; but the man is affected with a morbid reversal of the constitution of human nature who swings on a hook because he finds a strange satisfaction in doing something which is terribly painful and abhorrent The true nobility of labour and self-denial is reflected back on them from a noble end: there is nothing fine in accumulating suffering upon ourselves merely because we hate it, but feel a certain secondary pleasure in resolutely submitting to what primarily we hate. There is nothing fine in going into a monastery merely because you would much rather stay out. There is nothing fine in going off to America, and never asking a woman to be your wife, merely because you are very fond of her, and know that all this will be a fearful trial to go through. You will be in truth ridiculous, though you may fancy yourself sublime, when you are sitting at the door of your log-hut away in backwoods lonely as those loved by Daniel Boone, and sadly priding yourself on the terrible sacrifice you have made. That sacrifice would have been grand if it had been your solemn duty to make it; it is silly, and it is selfish, if it be made for mere selfdenial’s sake.

Now a great many people do not remember this. David Copperfield was pleased in thinking that he was taking so much out of himself. He was pleased in thinking so, even though no earthly good came of his doing all that His kind aunt was ruined, and he was determined that he would deny himself in every way that he might not be a burden upon her; and so when he was walking to any place he walked at a furious pace, and was glad to find himself growing fagged and out of breath, because surely it must be a good thing to feel so jaded and miserable. It was self-sacrifice; it was self-deniaL And if to walk at five miles and a half an hour had had any tendency to restore his aunt’s little fortune, it could not have been praised too much; and the less David liked it, the more praise it would have deserved. And I venture to think that a good deal of the present talk about Muscular Christianity is based upon this error. I do not know that exertion of the muscles, as such, is necessarily a good or an essentially Christian thing. It is good because it promotes health of body and of mind; but you find many books which appear to teach that it is a fine thing in itself to leap a horse over a five-barred gate, or to crumple up a silver jug, or to thrash a prize-fighter. It is very well to thrash the prize-fighter if it becomes necessary, but surely it would be better to escape the necessity of thrashing the prize-fighter.* Certain of the poems of Longfellow, much admired and quoted by young ladies, are instinct with the mischievous notion that self-denial for mere self-denial's sake is a grand, heroic, and religious thing. The Psalm of Life is extremely vague, and somewhat unintelligible. It is philosophically false to say that

“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way.”

For, rightly understood, happiness not only is our aim, but is plainly intended to be such by our Creator. He made us to be happy: the whole bearing of revealed religion is to make us happy. Of course, the man who grasps at selfish enjoyment turns his back on happiness. Self-sacrifice and exertion, where

[To prevent misconception, let me say that I do not allude to the doctrine of what is (perhaps foolishly, but expressively) called Muscular Christianity, as taught by Mr Kingsley; but to the absurd caricatures of the doctrine set forth by several writers who teach the excellence of Unchristian Muscularity. With the views of Mr Kingsley on this subject I heartily agree : and I know that there is not a word bearing upon it in the essay to which he would not say “Amen.” But it must ever be the lot of men who teach doctrines which, though true and sober, sound at first mention new and strange, to have them misrepresented by their opponents, and (what is worse) caricatured by their imitators.]

needful, are the way to happiness; and the main thing which we know of the Christian heaven is, that it is a state of happiness. But Longfellow, talking in that fashion (no doubt sitting in a large easy-chair by a warm fire in a snug study when he did so) wants to convey the utterly false notion that there is something fine in doing what is disagreeable, merely for the sake of doing it Now, that notion is Bhuddism, but it is not Christianity. Christianity says to us, Suffer, labour, endure up to martyrdom, when duty calls you; but never fancy that there is anything noble in throwing yourself in martyrdom’s way. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” And as for Longfellow’s conception of the fellow who went up the Alps, bellowing out Excelsior; it is nothing better than childish. Any one whose mind is matured enough to discern that Childe Harold was a humbug, will see that the lad was a fool What on earth was he to do when he got to the top of the Alps 1 The poet does not even pretend to answer that question. He never pretends that the lad whose brow was sad, and his eye like a falchion, &c., had anything useful or excellent to accomplish when he reached the mountain-top at last. Longfellow wishes us to understand that it was a noble thing to push onward and upward through the snow, merely because it is a very difficult and dangerous thing. He wishes us to understand that it was a noble thing to turn away from warm household fires to spectral glaciers, and to resist the invitations of the maiden, who, if the lad was a stranger in those parts, as seems to be implied, must have been a remarkably free-and easy style of young lady—merely because average human nature would have liked extremely to get out of the storm to the bright fireside, and to have had a quiet chat with the maiden. I don’t mean to say that about ten years ago I did not think that Excelsior was a wonderful poem, setting out a true and noble principle. A young person is captivated with the notion of self-sacrifice, with or without a reason for it; but self-sacrifice, uncalled for and useless, is stark folly. It was very good of Curtius to jump into the large hole in the Forum; no doubt he saved the Senate great expense in filling it up, though probably it would have been easier to do so than to carry the Liverpool and Manchester Railway through Chatmoss. And we cannot think even yet, of Leonidas and his three hundred at Thermopylae, without some stir of heart; but would not the gallant Lacedaemonians have been silly and not heroic, had not their self-sacrifice served a great end, by gaining for their countrymen certain precious days! Even Dickens, though not much of a philosopher, is more philosophic than Longfellow. He wrote a little book one Christmas-time, The Battle of Life, whose plot turns entirely upon an extraordinary act of self-sacrifice; and which contains many sentences which sound like the cant of the day. Witness the following:—

It is a world on which the sun never rises, but it looks upon a thousand bloodless battles, that are some set-off against the miseries and wickedness of battle-fields.

There are victories gained every day in struggling hearts, to which these fields of battle are as nothing.

But although the book contains such sentences, which seem to teach that struggle and self-conquest are noble in themselves, apart from their aim or their necessity, the lesson taught by the entire story is the true and just one, that there is no nobler thing than self-sacrifice and self-conquest, when they are right, when they are needful, when a noble end is to be gained by them. As some dramatist or other says—

“That’s truly great! What, think ye, ’twas set up
The Greek and Roman names in such a lustre,
But doing right, in stem despite of nature!
Shutting their ears ’gainst all her little cries,
When great, august, and godlike virtue call’d!”

The author, you see, very justly remarks that you are not called to fly in the face of nature, unless when there is good reason for it And therefore, my friend, don’t get up at seven o’clock on a winter morning, if you can possibly help it If virtue calls, it will indeed be noble to rise by candlelight; but not otherwise. If you are the engine-driver of an early train, if you are a factory-hand, if you are a Glasgow student of philosophy, get up at an unseasonable period, and accept the writer’s sympathy and admiration. Poor fellow, you cannot help it 1 But if you are a Glasgow professor, I have no veneration for that needless act of self-denial. You need not get up so early unless you like. You do the thing of your free choice.

And your heroism is only that of the Brahmin who swings on the hook, when nobody asks him to do so.

Having mused in this fashion, I look out of the carnage window. The morning is breaking, cold and dismal. There is a thick white mist. We are flying on, across gray fields, by spectral houses and trees, shewing indistinct through the uncertain light. It is light enough to read, by making an effort I draw from my pocket a letter, which came late last night: it is from a friend, who is an eminent Editor. I do not choose to remember the name of the periodical which he conducts. I have had time to do no more than glance over it; and I have not yet arrived at its full meaning. I feel as Tony Lumpkin felt, who never had the least difficulty in reading the outside of his letters, but who found it very hard work to decipher the inside. The circumstance was the more annoying, he justly observed, inasmuch as the inside of a letter generally contains the cream of the correspondence.

When I receive a letter from my friend the Editor, I am able, by an intense application of attention for a few minutes, to make out its general drift and meaning. The difficulty in the way of grasping the entire sense does not arise from any obscurity of style, but wholly from the remarkable nature of the penmanship. And after gaining the general bearing of the document, I am well aware that there are many recesses and nooks of meaning which will not be reached but after repeated perusals. What appeared at first a flourish of the pen may gradually assume the form of an important clause of a sentence, materially modifying its force. What appears at present a blot may turn out to be anything whatever; what at present looks like No may prove to have stood for Yes. I think sympathetically of the worthy father of Dr Chalmers. When he received his weekly or fortnightly letter from his distinguished son, he carefully locked it up. By the time a little store had accumulated, his son came to pay him a visit; and then he broke all the seals and got the writer of the letters to read them. I read my letter over; several shades of thought break upon me, of whose existence in it I was previously unaware. That handwriting is like In Memoriam. Read it for the twentieth time, and you will find something new in it I fold the letter up; and I begin to think of a matter concerning which I have thought a good deal of late.

Surely, I think to myself, there is a respect in which the more refined and cultivated portion of the human race in Britain is suffering a rapid deterioration, and getting into a morbid state. I mean in the matter of nervous irritability or excitability. Surely people are far more nervous now than they used to be some generations back. The mental cultivation and the mental wear which we have to go through, tends to make that strange and inexplicable portion of our physical constitution a very great deal too sensitive for the work and trial of daily life. A few days ago I drove a friend who had been paying us a visit over to our railway station. He is a man of fifty, a remarkably able and accomplished man. Before the train started the guard came round to look at the tickets. My friend could not find his; he searched his pockets everywhere, and although the entire evil consequence, had the ticket not turned up, could not possibly have been more than the payment a second time of four or five shillings, he got into a nervous tremor painful to see. He shook from head to foot; his hand trembled so that he could not prosecute his search rightly, and finally he found the missing ticket in a pocket which he had already searched half-a-dozen times. Now contrast the condition of this highly-civilised man, thrown into a painful flurry and confusion at the demand of a railway ticket, with the impassive coolness of a savage who would not move a muscle if you hacked him in pieces. Is it not a dear price we pay for our superior cultivation, this morbid sensitiveness which makes us so keenly alive to influences which are painful and distressing? I have known very highly educated people who were positively trembling with anxiety and undefined fear every day before the post came in. Yet they had no reason to anticipate bad news; they could conjure up indeed a hundred gloomy forebodings of evil, but no one knew better than themselves how vain and weak were their fears. Surely the knights of old must have been quite dif ferent They had great stalwart bodies, and no minds to speak of. They had .no doubt a high sense of honour—not a very enlightened sense—but their purely intellectual nature was hardly developed at all They never read anything. There were not many knights or squires like Fitz Eustace, who “Much had pored Upon a huge romantic tome,

In the hall window of his home,
Imprinted at the antique dome
Of Caxton or De Worde.”

They never speculated upon any abstract subject: and although in their long rides from place to place they might have had time for thinking, I suppose their attention was engrossed by the necessity of having a sharp look-out around them for the appearance of a foe. And we all know that that kind of sharpness—the hunter’s sharpness, the guerilla’s sharpness—may coexist with the densest stupidity in all matters beyond the little range that is familiar. The aboriginal Australian can trace friend or foe with the keenness almost of brute instinct: so can the Red Indian, so can the Wild Bushman; yet the intellectual and moral nature in all these races is not very many degrees above the elephant or the shepherd’s dog. And stupidity is a great preservative against nervous excitability or anxiety. A dull man cannot think of the thousand sad possibilities which the quicker mind sees are brooding over human life. Nor does this friendly stupidity only dull the understanding; it gives inertia, immobility, to the emotional nature. Compare a pure thoroughbred horse with a huge heavy carthorse without a trace of breeding. The thoroughbred is a beautiful creature indeed: but look at the startled eye, look at the quick ears, look at the blood coursing through those great veins so close to the surface, look how tremblingly alive the creature is to any sudden sight or sound. Why, there you have got the perfection of equine nature, but you have paid for it just the same price that you pay for the perfection of human nature—what a nervous creature you have there! Then look at the cart-horse. It is clumsy in shape, ungraceful in movement, rough in skin, dull of eye; in short, it is a great ugly brute. But what a placid equanimity there is about it! How composed, how immovable it looks, standing with its head hanging down, and its eyes half closed. It is a low type of its race no doubt, but it enjoys the blessing which is enjoyed by the dull, stupid, unrefined woman or man, it is not nervous. Let something fall with a whack, it does not start as if it had been shot Throw a little pebble at its flank, it turns round tranquilly to see what is the matter. Why, the thoroughbred would have been over that hedge at much less provocation. -The morbid nervousness of the present day appears in several ways. It brings a man sometimes to that startled state that the sudden opening of a door, the clash of the falling fire-irons, or any little accident, puts him in a flutter. How nervous the late Sir Robert Peel must have been when, a few weeks before his death, he went to the Zoological Gardens, and when a monkey suddenly sprang upon his arm, the great and worthy man fainted 1 Another phase of nervousness is when a man is brought to that state that the least noise or cross-occurrence seems to jar through the entire nervous system—to upset him, as we say; when he cannot command his mental powers except in perfect stillness, or in the chamber and at the writing-table to which he is accustomed; when, in short, he gets fidgety, easily worried, full of whims and fancies which must be indulged and considered, or he is quite out ot sorts. Another phase of the same morbid condition is, when a human being is always oppressed with vague undefined fears that things are going wrong; that his income will not meet the demands upon it, that his child’s lungs are affected, that his mental powers are leaving him—a state of feeling which shades rapidly off into positive insanity. Indeed, when matters remain long in any of the fashions which have been described, I suppose the natural termination must be disease of the heart, or a shock of paralysis, or insanity in' the form cither of mania or idiocy. Numbers of commonplace people who could feel very acutely, but who could not tell what they felt, have been worried into fatal heart-disease by prolonged anxiety and misery. Every one knows how paralysis laid its hand upon Sir Walter Scott, always great, lastly heroic. Protracted anxiety how to make the ends meet, with a large family and an uncertain income, drove Southey’s first wife into the lunatic asylum: and there is hardly a more touching story than that of her fears and forebodings through nervous year after year. Not less sad was the end of her overwrought husband, in blank vacuity; nor the like end of Thomas Moore. And perhaps the saddest instance of the result of an overdriven nervous system, in recent days, was the end of that rugged, honest, wonderful genius, Hugh Miller.

Is it a reaction, a desperate rally against something that is felt to be a powerful invader, that makes it so much a point of honour with Englishmen at this day to retain, or appear to retain, a perfect immobility under all circumstances? It is pretty and interesting for a lady, at all events for a young lady, to exhibit hei nervous tremors; a man sternly represses the exhibition of these. Stoic philosophy centuries since, and modem refinement in its last polish of manner, alike recognise the Red Indian’s principle, that there is something manly, something fine, in the repression of human feeling. Here is a respect in which the extreme of civilisation and the extreme of barbarism closely approach one another. The Red Indian really did not care for anything; the modem fine gentleman, the youthful exquisite, though really pretty nervous, wishes to convey by his entire deportment the impression, that he does not care for anything. A man is to exhibit 110 strong emotion. It is unmanly.

If he is glad, he must not look it If he loses a great deal more money than he can afford on the Derby, he must take it coolly. Everything is to be taken coolly: and some indurated folk no doubt are truly as cool as they look. Let me have nothing to do with such. Nil admirari is not a good maxim for a man. The coolest individual who occurs to me at this moment is Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust. He was not a pleasant character. That coolness is not human. It is essentially Satanic. But in many people in modem days the apparent coolness covers a most painful nervousness. Indeed, as a general rule, whenever any one does anything which is (socially speaking) outrageously daring, it is because he is nervous; and struggling with the feeling, and striving to conceal the fact A speaker who is too forward, who is jauntily free and easy, is certainly very nervous. And though I have said that perfect coolness in all circumstances is not amiable or desirable, still one cannot look but with interest, if not with sympathy, at Campbell’s fine description of the Red Indian :—

He said,—and strain’d unto his heart the boy-
Far differently, the mute Oneyda took
His calumet of peace and cup of joy:
As monumental bronze unchanged his look;
A soul that pity touch’d, but never shook;
Train’d from his tree-rock’d cradle to his bier
The fierce extremes of good and ill to brook
Impassive,—fearing but the shame of fear,—

A Stoic of the woods,—a man without a tear I The writings of Mr Dickens furnish me with a companion picture adapted to modem times. I confess that, upon reflection, I doubt whether a considerable portion of the interest of Outalissi’s peculiar manner may not be derived from distance in time and space. Indian immobility and stoical philosophy are not sublime in the servants’ hall of modem society:—

"I don’t know anything,” said Britain, with a leaden eye and an immovable visage. “I don’t care for anything. I don’t make out anything. I don’t believe anything. And I don’t want anything.”

Nervous people should live in large towns. The houses are so big, and afford such impervious shadow, that the nervous man, very little when compared with them, does not feel himself pushed into painful prominence. It is a comfort, too, to see many other people going about. It carries the nervous man out of himself. It reminds him that multitudes more have their cares as well as he. It dispels the uncomfortable feeling which grows on such people in the country, that everybody is thinking and talking of them,—to see numbers of men and women, all quite occupied with their own concerns, and evidently never thinking of them at all.

I have known one of these shrinking and evil-foreboding persons say, that he could not have lived in the country (as he did) had not the district where his home was been very thickly wooded with large trees. It was a comfort to a man who wished to shrink out of sight and get quietly by when the road along which he was walking wound into a thick wood. The trees were so big and so old, and they seemed to make a shelter from the outer world. In walking over a vast bare level down, a man is the most conspicuous figure in the landscape. There is nothing taller than himself, and he can be seen from miles away. Now, to be pushed into notice—to be made a conspicuous figure —is intensely painful to the nervous man. You and I, my reader, no doubt think such a state of feeling morbid, but it is probably a state to which circumstances might bring most people. And we can quite well understand, that when pressed by care, sorrow, or fear, there is something friendly in the shade of trees —in anything that dims the light, and hides from public view. You remember the poor fellow (a very silly fellow indeed, but very silly fellows can suffer) who asked Little Dorrit to marry him, and met a decided though a kind refusal. He lived somewhere over in Southwark, in a street of poor houses, which had little back-greens, but of course no trees in them. But the poor fellow felt the instinctive longing of the stricken heart for shadow; and so, when his mother hung out the clothes from the wash on ropes crossing and recrossing the little green, he used to go out and sit amid the flapping sheets, and say that “he felt it like groves!” Was not that a testimony to the friendly congeniality of trees to the sad or timorous human being? And when Cowper wearied to get away from a turbulent world to some quiet retreat, he did not wish that that retreat should be in an open country. No, he says—

Oh, for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more!

To the same effect did the same shrinking poet express himself in lines equally familiar:—

I was a stricken deer that left the herd Long since: with many an arrow deep infix’d My panting side was charged, when I withdrew To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.

I suppose that if some heavy blow had fallen upon any of us, we should not choose the open field or the bare hillside as the place to which we should go to think about it. We should rather choose some low-lying, sheltered, shaded spot Great sorrow does not parade itself. It wishes to get out of sight.

As to the question how this nervousness may be got rid of, it is difficult to know what to think. It is in great measure a physical condition, and not under the control of the will Some people would treat it physically—send the nervous man to the water-cure,—put him in training like a prize-fighter or a pedestrian, and the like. These are excellent things; still I have greater confidence in mental remedies. Give the evil-foreboding man plenty to% do; push him out of his quiet course of life into the turmoil which he shrinks away from, and the turmoil will lose its fears. Work is the healthy atmosphere for a human being. The soul of man is a machine with this great peculiarity about it,—that we cannot stop it from motion when we will. Perhaps that is a defect Many a man, through a weary sleepless night, has longed for the power to push some lever or catch into the swift-running engine that was whirring away within him, and bring it to a stand. However, it cannot be. And as the machine will go on, we must provide it with grist to grind, wre must give it w’ork to do, or it will knock itself in pieces; or if not that% then get all w^arped and twisted, so that it never shall go without creaking, and straining, and trembling. And so, if you find a man or woman, young or old, vexed with ceaseless fears, worried with all kinds of odd ideas, doubts upon religious matters, and the like, don’t argue with them; that is not the treatment that is necessary in the meantime. There is something else to be done first It would do no good to blister a horse’s legs till the previous inflammation has gone dowm. It will do no good to present the soundest views to a nervous, idle man. Set him to hard work. Give him lots to do. And then that invisible machine, which has been turning off misery and delusion, will begin to turn off content and sound views of all things. After two or three weeks of this healthful treatment you may proceed to argue with your friend. In all likelihood you will find that argument will not be necessary. He has arrived at truth and sense already. There is a wonderfully close connexion between work and sound views; between doing and knowing. It is in life as it is in religion: “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.”

Looking out now, I see it has grown quite light, though the day is gloomy, and will be so to its close. The train is speeding round the base of a great hill. Far below us a narrow little river is dashing on, all in foam. Its sound is faintly heard at this height. I said to myself, by way of winding up my musing upon nervousness: After all, is not this painful fact just an over-degree of that which makes us living beings? Is it not just life too sensitively present in every atom of even the dull flesh? There is that gray rock which we are passing; how still and immovable it is ! All the stoicism of Greece, all the impassiveness of the mute Oneyda, all the indifference of the pococurante Englishman, how far they fall short of that sublime stillness ! But it is still because it is senseless. It looks as if it felt nothing, because it really feels nothing. I compare it with Lord Derby before he gets up to make a great speech; fidgeting on his seat; watching every movement and word of the man he' is going to smash; his wonderfully ready mind working with a whirr like wheel-work revolving unseen through its speed; living intensely, in fact, in every fibre of his frame. Well, that is the finer thing, after all. The big cart-horse, already thought ofJ is something midway between the Premier and the granite. The stupid blockhead is cooler than the Premier, indeed ; but he is not so cool as the granite. If coolness be so fine a thing, of course the perfection of coolness must be the finest thing; and that we find in the lifeless rock. What is life but that which makes us more sensitive than the rock: what is the highest type of life but that which makes us most sensitive! It is better to be the warm, trembling, foreboding, human being, than to be Ben Nevis, knowing nothing, feeling nothing, fearing nothing, cold and lifeless.

It is natural enough to pass from thinking of one human weakness to thinking of another; and certain remarks of a fellow-traveller, not addressed to me, suggest the inveterate tendency to vapouring and big talking which dwells in many men and women. Who is there who desires to appear to his fellow-creatures precisely what he is! I have known such people and admired them, for they are comparatively few. Why does Mr Smith, when some hundreds of miles from home, talk of his place in the country? In the etymological sense of the words it certainly is a place in the country, for it is a seedy one-storied cottage without a tree near it, standing bleakly on a hillside, But a place in the country suggests to the mind long avenues, great shrubberies, extensive greenhouses, fine conservatories, lots of horses, abundance of servants; and that is the picture which Mr Smith desires to call up before the mind’s eye of those whom he addresses. When Mr Robinson talks with dignity about the political discussions which take place in his servants’ hall, the impression conveyed is that Robinson has a vast establishment of domestics. A vision rises of ancient retainers, of a dignified housekeeper, of a bishop-like butler, of Jeamses without number, of unstinted October. A man of strong imagination may even think of huntsmen, falconers, couriers—of a grand baronial monagey in fact. You would not think that Robinson’s establishment consists of a cook, a housemaid, and a stable-boy. Very well for the fellow too ; but why will he vapour? When Mr Jones told me the other day that something or other happened to him when he wras going out “to the stables to look at the horses,” I naturally thought, as one fond of horseflesh, that it would be a fine sight to see Jones’s stables, as he called them. I thought of three handsome carriage-horses sixteen hands high, a pair of pretty ponies for his wife to drive, some hunters, beauties to look at and tremendous fellows to go. The words used might even have justified the supposition of two or three racehorses, and several lads with remarkably long jackets walking about the yard. I was filled with fury when I learned that Jones’s horses consisted of a large brougham-horse, broken-winded, and a spavined pony. I have known a man who had a couple of moorland farms habitually talk of his estate. One of the commonest and weakest ways of vapouring is by introducing into your conversation, very familiarly, the names ot people of rank whom you know nothing earthty about “How sad it is,” said Mrs Jenkins to me the other day, “about the duchess being so ill! Poor dear thing! We are all in stick great distress about her! “We all” meant, of course, the landed aristocracy of the district, of which Mrs Jenkins had lately become a member, Jenkins having retired from the hardware line and bought a small tract of quagmire. Some time ago a man told me that he had been down to Oatmealshire to see his tenantry. Of course he was not aware that I knew that he was the owner of just one farm. “This is my parish we have entered,” said a youth of clerical appearance to me in a railway carriage. In one sense it was; but he would not have said so had he been aware that I knew he was the curate, not the rector. “How can Brown and his wife get on,” a certain person observed to me; “they cannot possibly live: they will starve. Think of people getting married with not more than eight or nine hundred a yearl” How dignified the man thought he looked as he made the remark! It was a fine thing to represent that he could not understand how human beings could do what he w-as well aw^are w'as done by multitudes of wiser people than himself.

“It is a cheap horse that of Wiggins’s,” remarked Mr Figgins; “it did not cost more than seventy or eighty pounds.” Poor silly Figgins fancies that all who hear him will conclude that his own broken-kneed hack (bought for 25) cost at least 150. Oh, silly folk who talk big, and then think you are adding to your importance, don't you know that you are merely making fools of yourselves? In nine cases out of ten the person to whom you are relating your exaggerated story knows what the precise fact is. He is too polite to contradict you and to tell you the truth, but rely on it he knows it No one believes the vapouring story told by another man; no, not even the man who fancies that his own vapouring story is believed. Every one who knows anything of the world knows how, by an accompanying process of mental arithmetic, to make the deductions from the big story told, which will bring it down to something near the truth. Frequently has my friend Mr Snooks told me of the crushing retort by which he shut up Jeffrey upon a memorable occasion. I can honestly declare that I never gave credence to a syllable of what he said. Repeatedly has my friend Mr Longbow told me of his remarkable adventure in the Bay of Biscay, when a whale very nearly swallowed him. Never once did I fail to listen with every mark of implicit belief to my friend’s narrative, but do you think I believed it? And more than once has Mrs O’Callaghan assured me that the hothouses on her fawther’s esteet were three miles in length, and that each cluster of grapes grown on that favoured spot weighed above a hundredweight. With profound respect I gave ear to all she said; but, gentle daughter of Erin, did you think I was as soft as I seemed? You may just as well tell the truth at once, ye big talkers, for everybody will know it, at any rate.

It is a sad pity when parents, by a long course of big talking, and silly pretension, bring up their children with ideas of their own importance which make them appear ridiculous, and which are rudely dissipated on their entering into life. The mother of poor Lollipop, when he went to Cambridge, told me that his genius was such that he was sure to be Senior Wrangler. And possibly he might have been if he had not been plucked.

It is peculiarly irritating to be obliged to listen to a vapouring person pouring out a string of silly exaggerated stories, all tending to shew how great the vapouring person is. Politeness forbids your stating that you don’t believe them. I have sometimes derived comfort under such an infliction from making a memorandum, mentally, and then, like Captain Cuttle, “making a note” on the earliest opportunity. My taking this course, instead of being irritated by each successive stretch, you are rather gratified by the number and the enormity of them. I hereby give notice to all ladies and gentlemen whose conscience tells them that they arc accustomed to vapour, that it is not improbable that I have in my possession a written list of remarkable statements made by them. It is possible that they would look rather blue if they were permitted to see it.

Let me add, that it is not always vapouring to talk of one’s self, even in terms which imply a compliment. It was not vapouring when Lord Tenterden, being Lord Chief-Justice of England, standing by Canterbury Cathedral with his son by his side, pointed to a little barber’s shop, and said to the boy, “I never feel proud except when I remember that in that shop your grandfather shaved for a penny!” It was not vapouring when Burke wrote, “I was not rocked, and swaddled, and dandled into a legislator: Nitor in adversnm is the motto for a man like me!” It was not vapouring when Milton wrote that he had in himself a conviction that “by labour and intent study, which he took to be his portion in this life, he might leave to after ages something so written as that men should not willingly let it die.” Nor was it vapouring, but a pleasing touch of nature, when the King of Siam begged our ambassador to assure Queen Victoria that a letter which he sent to her, in the English language, was composed and written entirely by himself. It is not vapouring, kindly reader, when upon your return home after two or three days’ absence, your little son, aged four years, climbs upon your knee, and begs you to ask his mother if he has not been a very good boy when you were away; nor when he shews you, with great pride, the medal which he has won a few years later. It is not vapouring when the gallant man who heroically jeoparded life and limb for the women’s and children’s sake at Lucknow, wears the Victoria Cross over his brave heart Nor is it a piece of national vapouring, though it is, sure enough, an appeal to proud remembrances, when England preserves religiously the stout old Victory, and points strangers to the spot where Nelson fell and died.

But a shrieking whistle yells in my ear: my musings are suddenly pulled up. The hundred miles are traversed: the train is slackening its speed. It was half-past seven when we started: it is now about half past eleven. We draw alongside the platform: there are faces I know. I see a black head over the palisade: that is my horse. It would be vapouring to say that my carriage awaits me : for though it has four wheels, it is drawn by no more than four legs. Drag out a portmanteau from under the seat, exchange a cap for a hat, open the door, jump out, bundle away home. And then, perhaps, I may tell some unknown friends who have the patience to read my essays, how I mused, in the railway train.


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