Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/647

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



founded on their own ways. Do you acknowledge even to yourself that their ways and their opinions are better than yours? You think Mrs. S. a feather-brained creature, in fact a fool, and yet you feel it a terrible judgment if you can imagine that she is making derogatory remarks on the length of your skirt, or even the amount of beef you order from your butcher.

When you shrink from handing the dishes at your own table, or from the growing necessity that your daughters should do something for their own livelihood, whose image looms terribly before you? Is it that of the great man whose rare visits fill your house with spiritual light and warmth? Or that of the good woman whose life you know goes up as daily incense before God? Or that of the dear friend who knows all about you, even about the skeleton in your cupboard, and whose life has so penetrated your life, that you cannot realize how it was when you did not know him? No, it is that of the De Vescis opposite — about whom you delight to tell the naughty anecdote that they have a malicious cousin who superscribes his letters to Gentility Square, with the plain name of "Mr. Vesey." Or that of the Wildes, over whom there always hangs such a cloud of mystery, so that nobody has ever heard how he made his money, or what was her maiden name. Or lastly and chiefly, it is that of Lady Pompon, who twice a year kindly renews the card that you keep on the top of your card-basket, and who, could you only know it, goes to her next evening service with a happy consciousness of "acts of humility."

We should all have a "proper regard" for public opinion. Only what public opinion? Our most conventional acquaintance seeks the favorable verdict of Pluto Place, not of Black Slum. Let us think of the quality of the approval we gain rather than of its quantity. Let us dare to do what should be done, and the best will either approve us at once, or presently thank us for teaching them a new lesson. People's moral tastes, like their artistic, want educating. The greater a man is, the fewer within earshot will praise him. Condemnation is the only title of honor that some people can bestow. Mazzini's greatness was truly recognized when he was judged as an assassin by those who would have been proud of a presentation to the besotted Bomba. They saw that white was the opposite of black: they only mistook the terms. Columbus was wise when he had his fetters buried with him: he had doubtless learned that in such a world the iron chain is a far more substantial order of merit than the most selectly distributed golden fleece. Higher yet. While the Jews made a hero of Barabbas the robber, their only possible tribute to Jesus was to crucify him.

If there be anything which we secretly long to do, could we only muster courage, then we may be sure that there are many others like us — standing still as sheep till the bell-wether moves onward. There are some slaves who achieve their own freedom long before the general emancipation act which they help to bring about. And let us remember the old proverb — it is "the hindmost" whom the devil takes. It would be a foolish cat who refused to go to the milk-pan till the other cats had licked off the cream. Yet there are people who can accept nothing till it begins to grow stale. The originality of some impulses are half their value. When they cease to be a protest against the untruthfulness and unthinkingness of habit, they are often far on the way to be untruthful or unthinking themselves. To-day, the most conventional of us are doing what was first done by some very "eccentric" forefather. Shall we drive the steeds of the car of time, or shall we toil ever behind in the dust which it raises? Shall we be slaves ourselves, or free liberators of others?

Dare to be strong: the world is very weak,
And longs for burning words which strong souls speak,
Thirsts for the cup which ye have strength to grasp,
Toils on the road where ye are swift to run,
Does nought itself, but worships what is done.
Spare it one hand: thine other angels clasp.

From Nature.


The small extent of country upon which the eyes of Europe are now centred lies too far out of the beaten tracks of travellers for much to be generally known as to its capabilities or natural resources; nevertheless the country is described in the few existing works as being very fertile, and the soil might be made much more productive were it not for the idle and dirty habits of the people. In these days of "special correspondents," the breaking out of a war, even in the remotest parts of the world, is a signal for the despatch