Thoughts at Fourscore (2)
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- V. -

CAUSES OF VICISSITUDE IN TRADE.


THE starvation did not come in the fearful form that I thought it would, in the winter of 1877-8.  But it has come in a most distressing form, in many parts of the land, during the concluding months of the last year, and the opening months of the present year.  In Sunderland, Stockton, Middlesborough, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Hull, Dundee, and other large towns, the want and misery have been great, although generous relief has been actively afforded.  Nor have some smaller towns been without their visitation of want and sorrow.  Here, in ancient Lincoln, the great iron firms, which are modern great features of the ancient city, have been on short time, or have dismissed many of their hands.  There are said to be one thousand workmen out of work, in this city, at the time I am writing.  Soup-kitchens and other modes of relief have been provided by those who have good hearts and good pockets; and so much suffering has been lessened.

    "And does it not all seem very mysterious?" I often hear tradesmen and commercial men ask one another.  "We all remember how trade began to look up, in 1868 and 1869; and how that marvellous prosperity began in 1870, and swelled in 1871, 1872, 1873; and how the decline began in 1874,—though we were so unwilling to believe it—but which grew worse and worse—till, now, ten miserable years are gone, we are in this almost hopeless condition.  It seems as if Old England's day was gone, and the dark remediless night had set in."

    Nay: nor is Germany's day gone—nor is the true prosperity of France gone, or that of America, either.  "But what has become of trade?" asks another bewildered soul; "where has it gone to?"  My good friend, it has neither gone from us to America, or France, or Germany, or any other land on the Continent, for other nations are as badly off as we are.  "But do you think the same sorry sights are seen in America and France and Germany, as we see in England—troops of unemployed men, and empty houses almost without number?"  The answer is often given in the newspapers.  It would be tiresome for me to give the items which are so often repeated.  But, let it be noted that the items are always given in what may be called connectional groups—showing that people are trying to trace out the real causes of distress.

    Thus, it is observed by a few who think for themselves, that if farmers have to sell their wheat at 32s per quarter—which is less than it costs growing, they cannot buy machinery to till their land; and so we need not wonder that many of the great iron firms have hundreds of agricultural machines on hand, in England, and in their stores at Pesth and Vienna; and then, of course, it follows that thousands of men will have to stroll the streets, in unwilling idleness; and they will crowd, for lodgings, wherever they can find room, and empty houses will abound.  I cannot describe the distress I felt last year, in re-visiting some of our large towns.  'This House to Let'—'This House to Let,' marked half the houses in many streets, and I did not wonder when people told me, in each town, how many dwelling-houses were reckoned to be empty: thousands in some towns.

    Nor let any one imagine, after all we have read of the 'Protection' doctrines which have been adopted in the United States of America, that her condition is any better than our own.  Wages have been reduced in the States, ten, twenty, and even more per cent., in some instances.  One of the newspapers told us, very lately, that working men were leaving America by shoals, and that from two to three hundred stonemasons have returned to one district in Scotland.  The American iron firms are sharing disaster with those in England, for the farmers on the Mississippi cannot sell their wheat at remunerating prices, and being, besides, heavily burthened with mortgages, cannot buy machinery: so they cannot buy machinery any more than our English farmers; and 100,000 men are unemployed in New York.

    Every man of reflection knows what is the root-evil—the primary cause—of all this distress which, periodically, but most surely, afflicts nations.  WAR—demon War—hellish War—is that root-evil—that primary cause.  Who does not know that nearly all History is a record of wars?  The earliest men made discoveries—they learned to hew rocks and trees—they raised great houses and temples: they carved splendid sculptures.  Then they quarrelled and robbed one another, and destroyed what they had made with so much labour, and slew their thousands on either side, until utter exhaustion compelled them to desist.  Anon, the same mad game broke out in another quarter of the earth—then, in another and another; and so on through all the centuries to the present time.

    After each season of devastation the waste had to be repaired, as well and as quickly as men could repair it—but it was often slowly and imperfectly, and amidst much leanness and suffering.  Now just repeat the glance I took at the Nineteenth Century, and convince yourself, reader—if you need conviction—that up to this present day, it is but the old historic mad game repeated.

    Fortunes were made by a few who dealt in the material of war, in the great Napoleonic time; but there was no general prosperity.  Nor could there be while Napoleon's 'Berlin Decrees' and our 'Orders in Council' were in force—in other words, the 'Continental System,' which shut up the ports of Europe.  And, after Waterloo, when the people expected cheap bread, and tradesmen thought their halcyon days would come, what followed?  Starvation and distraction among the poor, breaking of machinery, blanketeering, and Peterloo massacre; and for the middle classes, insolvencies, proclamations of failure, thick and fast, amazing everybody and filling everybody with dismay, except the Regent: for he only thought or cared for his own vile indulgences.  As King George the Fourth, he was no better.  Some thought that when old Van went out of office, and the Hon. Fred. John Robinson became Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would discover some remedy for the bad state of things.  And, if his own vaunting declaration in the House of Commons could have been taken for truth, a remedy had indeed been found.  The country, he asserted, was in an unexampled state of prosperity: the Agricultural interest—the Mercantile interest—the Manufacturing interest—all were in a state of undoubted prosperity!  In a few weeks after, smash went the Banks in almost every part of the land, and consternation and despair sat on every countenance!  "Hurrah for Prosperity Robinson!" shouted Cobbett.  And Robinson kept the nickname till he became Lord Goderich: for Cobbett's nicknames were like the burs that mischievous boys throw on your coat: they stuck.

    The Reform Bill carne, in spite of the Duke's 'strong government' and the Tories; but, although seventeen dreary years had passed, the exhaustion caused by the vast war with France and Napoleon was not ended: trade and commerce did not recover prosperity.  And even when the potato famine in Ireland gave Peel an opportunity for obeying the convictions he professed he had derived from 'the unadorned eloquence of Richard Cobden,' and the Corn Laws were abolished,—it took a long time for manufacturers to get facilities for the full use of their golden opportunity.  "We had to contrive how, and in what way, best to develop the cotton manufacture," they used to say in Lancashire.

    And they did develop it.  To see the building of mills in 1859 and 1860, you would have said they meant to cover the whole County Palatine with them.  "When is all this monstrous building of mills to end?" I said to aged Peter Whitehead, in his own house at Rawtenstall, in 1860.  "When we can get no more cotton," replied the old enthusiastic manufacturer: "we can manufacture for all t' world!"  He little imagined what was coming—the American Civil War, when they could get no more cotton—except the coarse, unassorted stuff from Surat: the manipulation of which was a torture to the poor workers.  "Lord, send us some cotton!" cried one of these, in a prayer-meeting.  "Amen, Lord!" responded another, "but not Surat!"  When the time came they resumed their hard work and hard strife to get money; and they have succeeded, though many weak strugglers have had to go down.  So it has also been with the manufacturers of Yorkshire.

    After the great exhaustive wars in the Crimea, and that of the Indian Mutiny, England undertook no very great war.  So in 1868 and 1869, trade began to grow vigorous, for men now felt confidence in embarking capital.  And in 1870 to 1874, we had a most marvellous increase of trade, for we had to supply a great part of the material of war to France and Germany, in their fierce struggle; and our home trade grew mightily—for men spent money luxuriously, since it seemed to be pouring into their lap, with but a small effort to win it, on their part.  Thousands spent their money as fast as they got it, both of the middle and working classes.  Others took care of it—so that when the decline commenced in 1875, they shrewdly withdrew from trade.  And now, in any of the towns of England which shared that wondrous prosperity, you may see scores of villas which were built in the halcyon days, and they are still inhabited by well-to-do people.

    Men have practised what some people call 'hoarding' during these years of decline, in a notable way.  They refuse to re-embark in trade, seeing no branch of it which can boast of what they consider to be real thrift.  The most serious decline, or that which has been felt most severely, has doubtless been in the iron trades.  And, during this last winter, the misery seems to have cumulated in these branches.

    "But why is it that dearth of trade has smitten other nations as well as ourselves?"  Because the same diabolical exhaustive cause has made suffering common to other nations.  Thus, the Crimean War cost 750,000 lives of human beings, and 340 millions of money: Russia, England, France, and Sardinia contributed to swell these items.  The Italian War of 1859 cost 45,000 lives, and 60 millions of money: these items must be divided between Italy, Austria, and France.  The war between Prussia and Austria, in 1866, cost 45,000 lives and 66 millions of money; and the terrible war between Germany and France, which seems to have ended the Napoleons, cost France 155,000 and Germany 60,000 lives; and the two powers together 500 millions of money.  Let not the American Civil War be forgotten, for it cost the North 280,000 lives and 940 millions of money, and the South 520,000 lives, and 460 millions of money.

    These are the exhaustive causes.  Let no man wonder at the failure and misery which has followed, and that it is spread so widely.  "But you think that the nations will recover their prosperity?"  Yes: but not in haste.  Again, I contend that our experience of the earlier part of this century ought to teach us this.  I mean the long years of disappointed expectation, and fruitless struggles, and much fearful want, included in the history that followed the crowning victory of Waterloo, to the carrying of Corn-Law Repeal.

    "What would hasten the arrival of that prosperity we covet so much?"  The cessation of all War.  For not only would the waste of lives and millions end, but the 'hoarders' would feel a return of confidence to venture anew on trade and commerce, in every land.  Let all men use their influence for Peace, who long for Prosperity.

    Old Hobbes of Malmesbury used to say that War was the natural state of Man.  In one of the opening pages of his noble 'Rights of Man,' Thomas Paine says if Man had never fallen in Eden, he would never have needed any political Government.  And he might have said there could have been no War.  Ay, ay, Thomas Hobbes, you were right: War is the natural state of Man, for the natural state of Man is a fallen state.

    What then?  Do we give up ourselves as irremediably lost, because we are born with sinful natures?  No, thank God, we know that a remedy has been provided, and we may receive a regenerate nature.  Neither are we to give up the world to an endless devastation of wars.  We may be drawing nearer to the universal reign of Peace than some folks think.  Why should our Colonies be left to separate from us, when any of them imagine they are strong enough to defend themselves—and thus be not only exposed, but as it were, tempted to pursue the old sinful course of things, and accept a fight with the first nation which opposes them?  That idea of an 'Imperial Confederation,' when it was first enunciated by my friend, Rt. Hon. W. E. Forster, M.P., laid very powerful hold of my mind.  I have eagerly watched, all along, for signs of its recognition and approval, by influential thinkers; and I am unspeakably glad, now, to find that men of rank and intelligence are declaring their acceptance of it.  I most devoutly trust that opposition to it will soon cease; and all who desire the peace of mankind and the cessation of wars will say, "Now we see how we may begin to establish the real and lasting brotherhood of Men."  A few dogged, defiant natures will say, "Oh, let the Colonies alone: let them do as they like; and do what they think will be the best for themselves."  Ah, but so often when men cut themselves off from other men and think they are going to do the best for themselves, it turns out that they do the very worst for themselves.  And that is just what my friend wishes to prevent.


 
- VI. -

THE GREATEST SCIENCE.


THERE is one science which, I humbly think, is better worth learning by men in general than all other sciences put together.

    You will find no mention of it in any "Circle of the Sciences."  You will discover no philosophical disquisition upon it in any of our great encyclopædias.  You will find no learned treatise upon it, under any letter of the alphabet, in any lexicon or dictionary.

    Many an antiquary who would write you a recondite tract, or a critical folio volume, on Stonehenge, or the Keltic Druids, or the Etruscans, or the Phoenicians, or Plato's Atlantis, has been as ignorant of this science as a child.  Many an LL.D. or F.R.S., who could tell you the Latin name of every insect and every zoophyte, of every beetle and every spider, of every moth and every butterfly, of every sea-shell and every sea-weed, and every small petrifaction; of every moss, and every lichen, and every fungus, has often been a mere ignoramus in this science.

    Men who have known a score of languages, and were deep in all the profound mysteries of grammar have often known far less of this science than the peasant who has never learned a letter of the alphabet, and whose hand has become as hard as horn with wielding the flail or grasping the stilts of the plough.

    It is a science which depends on no knowledge of letters or books, on no learned instruction or training by Masters of Arts or Doctors of Divinity.  You cannot win a diploma by studying it at any college or university.  It is a science which every man must study for himself, and in which he must be his own instructor.

    It is a science which requires intuitive sagacity, unremitting and watchful and acute observation, and the keenest, yet the calmest, clearest, and most candid, judgment.  It is a science which we can all be learning every day if we will, for the materials for learning it are within us and around us on every side as we walk through the path of life; and yet it is so difficult to attain a perfect knowledge of this science that we know of but two Englishmen who became perfect scholars in it: the immortal bard of Stratford-on-Avon and the inspired tinker of Bedford Gaol—Shakspere and John Bunyan.

    I mean the Science of Human Nature: the Knowledge of the Human Heart.  And I repeat, that this science is better worth learning, by men in general, than all other sciences put together—for, without it, a man becomes the easy dupe of every knave and the victim of every trickster.  He stumbles along the path of life, making every kind of mistake and every kind of blunder—and, even at fourscore, men will call him a greenhorn, although his head be grey, and his limbs totter for feebleness!

    It is a truth, and a surprising truth, that there are not only so few profound scholars in this science, but so few earnest students in it.  Thousands of our fellow-mortals go from Dan to Beer-sheba and find all barren as it regards the study of human character.  They perform the whole pilgrimage of life without ever getting, any real knowledge of human nature, either by studying the movements of their own hearts or observing the conduct of others.  In other people they can see nothing that they deem worth studying; and as for what is called introspection, or looking within, they think they have no need of that, they are so near perfection themselves.

    There are others who do busy themselves greatly in observing the conduct and judging the character of their fellow-creatures.  But some of these never look at anybody full in the face and fairly; they only peer at people sideways, through the smoked glass of prejudice and envy, and so they see nothing but deformity and defects even in the fairest and noblest characters.  Others are industrious students of human nature in a certain sense—but it is a very mischievous one.  They want to know all about people's income, and how they spend it, and what they eat and what they drink, and how they behave to their servants, and what blots there are in the history of their families, and who are their cousins, and uncles, and aunts, and what expectations they have from them, or from their grandfathers and grandmothers, if they happen to have such relatives.  These are the people who are called "meddlers" in society, and they are often very troublesome to their neighbours.

    I knew a man, in my youth, an elderly man, who was a great observer of human nature.  I will not say of him, as it was said of Oliver Cromwell, that he could look through a man's skin right to his backbone—but he had a most shrewd knowledge of mankind.  A young man used to converse with him, occasionally, on this very theme of human character; and, one day, after a long conversation upon it, the young man said, "Ah! well; there are all sorts of people in the world."  "Nay," said the elder man, "there is one sort wanting."  "What sort is that?" asked the young man eagerly.  "The people," replied the elder man, "who mind their own business, and let other people's business alone."

    He was right.  They are otherwise entirely wanting—the people who mind their own business and let other people's business alone—or they are so scarce in the world that you would hardly be likely to find them if you performed a journey on purpose to look for them.

    I am convinced of the scarcity of another kind of people—I mean the people without pride.  I never found a man without pride yet; and—I beg pardon of the ladies! but—I must say, nor a woman either.  Oh! if pride found its way into the bosom of the first archangel in heaven, who can wonder that it is found universally in our fallen human nature?  It is the primal sin.  It was the first human sin.  It is the parent of all other sins; and, I fear, we shall never find a human being without it.

    You may see it in the lowliest and you may see it in the loftiest.  Look at that little, dirty, shoeless, ragged lad!  He has a broken black pipe in his mouth.  His father smokes, and his father is a man; so the little, dirty, shoeless, ragged lad is aping manliness, forsooth!  See that little, mean-clad servant girl!  Somebody has given her sixpence, and she has spent it in a paltry artificial flower; for she learns that ladies wear artificial flowers, and she wants to be a lady.  Such instances of pride, and many others, are harmless compared with the pride of the man who spends thousands upon his house and grounds and furniture—upon his horses and dogs—upon his wines and grand dinners to his fashionable friends—and who hardens his heart against the poor, and will not give the slightest relief to the houseless and the miserable, to the fatherless and the widow.

    To attempt an analysis of the different kinds of pride would be a mighty task—the pride of intellectual men, for instance; pride of exact knowledge of some one science; pride of multifarious knowledge; pride of quickness of perception; pride of logical power; pride of rapid powers of survey and calculation; pride of strong common-sense, an ounce of which, Dean Swift said, was worth all the fine sense in the world.  One kind of pride may be said to be peculiar to intellectual men, yet not to men of really high intelligence—the pride of thinking differently from other people, the pride of regarding yourself as a person who does not think with the common herd of mankind, and of believing yourself to be superior to ordinary people.

    To a young intellectual man—one just beginning to have the consciousness of intellectual power, and to feel the thrilling pleasure of exercising it—how tempting it is to look upon himself as one who is above the vulgar crowd of human beings!  He begins soon to let you know that he no longer feels himself to be a child; he has got out of leading-strings, and does not believe in old wives' fables, or the tales of infancy; he wishes to let you know, most emphatically, that he thinks for himself.

    "Well, sir, and ought we not to think for ourselves?" asks some young man.  Of course you ought to think for yourselves.  The man who dare not think for himself is a coward, and the man who will not think for himself is a guilty idler, living a life God never intended him to live, for God has made us all rational creatures, and He never intended us to live the life of mere animals.  But, it should be the care of every young man who sets up for a thinker, and proclaims himself one, that he does think; that he does not form opinions on important and weighty subjects by a hop, skip, and jump.  It should be remembered that there are some subjects which are all-important: they have relation to our well-being here and our eternal happiness hereafter.  The young may be led to form rash opinions on these subjects, which may cost them bitter pain when they get further on in life, and discover their mistake.  Scores and hundreds of men, and some of them deeply sincere and earnest as well as intelligent men, have done this; and warning should be taken by their experience.

    One regrets to say that there is the greatest difficulty in enforcing this lesson, with a young man who has begun to take a pride in proclaiming that he thinks differently from other people.  With the more intelligent sceptics among the working classes this is the master difficulty.  They tell you, at once, that they do not conceive they ought to be influenced in their thinkings by any of the great men of the Past: they may reverence their intellect, but not their decisions.  The pertness with which a young sceptic will look an old man in the face, who is thrice the age of the young freethinker—the confidence with which he will tell the old man, who has read twice as many books as the other ever heard of, and gone through agonies of thought the other never dreamt of, that he knows more and judges more soundly about every subject than the man of threescore and ten, is marvellous.  Yet it is a pertness that must be endured by the man of experience, if he would succeed in trying to induce the young man to think again, and endeavour to come to a lower estimate of his own wisdom.

    That is a pungent anecdote of Sydney Smith, when he was visited by Macaulay just out of his teens.  At parting, the old wit led the young egotist to the carriage, and, pushing him in, said, before he closed the door—"Just let me give you one word of advice—If anybody tries to persuade you that you are not the cleverest fellow in England—don't you believe 'em!  God bless you! good-bye!"

    And was Sydney Smith never guilty of egotism, when he was young?—tartly asks some admirer of Macaulay.  Yea, doubtless; and lamented it, and groaned over it, a thousand times.  For the wiser a man grows by experience, the more deeply he regrets past errors and follies.  And the mortification and shame he feels while reflecting on his own foolishness, make him tender over the young, and earnest in directing them to a wiser course.

    But how difficult it often is to impress the young fellows with a conviction that you are advising them from sheer disinterestedness, or a real wish for their welfare.  The roguish twinkle in their eye will often proclaim that they are setting the old fellow's preaching down to the credit of his conceit.

    "We know we are young," they will say: "you are always reminding us of that.  But it does not follow that, because we are young, we are foolish.  You tell us of our want of experience; but it is not true that 'experience makes fools wise.'  Your old saws, that you are quoting so frequently, are often worth nothing."  And the lads are right.  Experience never makes fools wise—but it always makes wise men wiser.

    One does not want to see young men all becoming mere spoonies, and having nothing to say for themselves.  One likes to see a little modesty in a youth—but not over much of it.  If a young man dare not venture an opinion of his own, people will soon say, it is because he has not the brains to form one.  A little self-reliance and self-assertion are undoubtedly necessary to give a young man a chance of making his way in the world.  We do not desire to see young men put down, in conversation, or debate, because they are young.  The great lesson to be learned by the young is that which we all should practise, more and more; introspection—as the learned call it: looking within.

    If we would be true proficients in this, the Greatest Science, the culture of the habit of introspection is the essential first part of it.  We can only understand human nature in others, by studying it, first, in ourselves.  It is solely by comparison that we learn to understand human nature in others.  We have no rule by which to measure others, if we have not taken the 'gauge and dimensions' of ourselves—or striven honestly to do it.  We cannot ascertain the worth and weight of another's character if we have never put ourselves into the scale of honest self-examination.

    True it is, that we have often sudden impressions of character—impressions at first sight—usually unfavourable to the character of a person whom we meet for the first time.  All observers of human nature have this kind of experience.  And, what is most remarkable, we are liable to have this bad impression, of the bad character, of one who has been commended to us for his moral worth.  "What a mistake my friend has made in telling me that there is so much that is good in this man—why, surely, the fellow is a rogue!" we suddenly think and say to ourselves.  Perhaps when the interview is over—during which we have been very curt in our utterances—we begin to reflect, and to regret our curtness.  "What must the man have thought of my unmannerly behaviour?" we ask ourselves: "I was scarcely civil to him.  What right had I to treat him thus, after receiving such recommendations of him from my true and tried friend?  How foolishly superstitious it is to yield to these sudden impressions, as if one had some supernatural gift of reading the human heart!"

    And then we determine that we will forcibly repress all our bad feeling, and show such perfect courtesy to the suspected 'rogue,' the next time we meet him, as shall completely, efface from his mind any uneasiness or displeasure which our roughness may have caused him.  And, perhaps, an intimacy follows—an intimacy that may be called friendship; and it may last some time.  But, the discovery comes at last—and comes bitterly—that our first impression regarding this man, as bad as it was, was the true one.  The oldest and deepest students of human nature unite to assure us that such has been their experience, again and again.

    How is this?  Does the soul of a man sometimes look so significantly through his eyes, and give such an unmistakable expression to his face, that a close observer cannot fail to read the living manuscript unerringly?  It must be so.  The so-called sciences, imperfect as they may be, of Lavater and Gall are alike founded in truth.  Thousands of facts you may gather from sculpture and painting, show that men always had a belief in something like what we call 'Physiognomy' and 'Phrenology.'  And, we feel sure that Da Vinci has not erred in giving such a villainous face to Iscariot, in the immortal picture of The Last Supper: Judas must have looked like the incarnate demon that the Saviour pronounced him to be, when he had fully yielded up his soul to the dominion of Sin.  In like manner, we all feel sure, that, although the word 'phrenology' had never been uttered in the sixteenth century, none of us could have stood in the company of men wearing such heads on their shoulders as Bacon and Shakspere, without the conscious awe that we were in the presence of high and commanding intelligences.

    Nor, is it so mysterious, after all, that we should have these sudden impressions respecting the character of our fellow-creatures.  We need not have recourse to the old doctrines of sympathy and antipathy—natural, spiritual, or magnetic—to account for it.  Many a rogue may deceive a saint, by looking harmless after a fashion; but that fashion will be seen through by the man who hath his eyes open: the man who knows that—


"One may smile and smile—and be a villain."


The seeming harmless look of the rogue cannot deceive that man.

    Yet, your very shrewd, very suspicious student of human nature is not to be admired: he who has become so embittered by the faithlessness of others, and the suffering it has caused him, that he openly avows—"Sir, I make it a rule to take every man for a rogue, until I prove that he is honest."  Such a student of human nature is not to be admired, for he must cause himself daily misery.  There can be no happiness for such a man.  He must live like a traveller whose path lies through a dim wood, where, he believes, thieves or murderers may be lurking for him on every side, and so he must keep a sharp look out at every step, lest they pounce upon him.  There can be no rest for such a man, except when he reaches his night's lodging, locks himself up in his bedroom—after carefully looking under the bed and into the clothes-closet—snuffs out his candle,—and then rolls himself up in the sheets and blankets, sighing, "Thank God, the rogues can neither see me, nor get at me, now!"

    We cannot afford to live every day and hour in this world with a perpetual look-out for roguery.  Neither queens nor beggars pass their lives here, with a consummation of happiness at command; and we are foolish indeed if we mar the little share of happiness that we have by cultivating the habit of always suspecting evil in those around us.  Let us enjoy all the good which God sends us; and, above all, the goodness of our fellow-creatures: the goodness they display by acts of kindness, and looks of sympathy, and words of cheerfulness and affection—in brief, all the goodness which appears in them, and which we have cause to believe is not mere appearance.

    "But, my dear sir, you cannot believe everybody—you cannot trust everybody."  Of course, we cannot.  And so we must fall back on the old lesson: we must be students of human nature; and we must begin by looking within.  That will give us more unerring skill in measuring the characters of others, than we can possibly derive from sudden and mysterious impressions.  While, on the other hand, it will take away the sharp eye of suspicion in us, and render our judgments less harsh.  For, we shall scarcely be human if we do not learn to judge all men with increasing mildness and tenderness, the more we discern our own weakness and imperfections.  An intolerant and censorious old man cannot be a good man.  He can never have practised honest self-examination; or he would have seen so much of his own folly as to render him tolerant with others.  Nor can he be a wise man; or he would know that people set down his censoriousness to his own familiarity with sin.  They say, he is so quick in spying out other people's knavery because he is so deeply steeped and practised in it himself.


 
- VII. -

WHAT IS 'OLD AGE'?


SOME people may think that I am starting a very frivolous and foolish inquiry; but I assure them that I am putting what I more and more feel to be a very serious question.  It is true that my perplexity is caused by the men of science—who are perplexing everybody with one assertion or another—but my perplexity is none the less for all that.

    The men of science all tell us (with the exception of one surgical authority, who says that the enamel of our teeth lasts many years), that the matter of our bodies is perpetually changing—so that in seven or eight, or in ten years, at most—we have not a particle of the body left that we had so many years ago.  Ergo, since I, for one, have not a material particle left in my body, that I had ten years ago, my body must be a young body, though I am now fourscore years old; in other words, I am an old man.  So, then, I am an old man with a young body!

    A young body?  How can that be, seeing I have only few teeth left, and the few that I have are not worth having?  How can that be, since my hair is nearly all grey?  How can that be, seeing that my eyesight is becoming very imperfect for objects which are near; I cannot see to write or read without spectacles or an eye-glass, although I can see far-off objects as plainly and clearly as ever?  And my digestive powers will only assimilate certain kinds of food to my general system.  And the action of the heart is so soon disturbed, as to render me very uneasy, if I forget myself, and set off to walk at the same pace as I used to walk when a youth, or attempt to jump over a hedge when an orchid or some scarce flower tempts me, or yield to emotion, and preach or lecture with excitement.  And my knees fail me if I climb, but much more when I descend stairs or a hill.  And I begin to feel a pitiful weariness all over me after a little unusual exertion—so that I am inclined to cry out with Hamlet's friend, when he heard the ghost speak under his feet, "Oh, day and night! but this is wondrous strange!"  For the men of science assure me that this body of mine is a young body, since I have not had any particle of it more than ten years!

    And, now, about the powers of the mind.  My memory is strangely treacherous in the record of daily acts and occurrences.  If I did not keep a list of the names of the persons to whom I write, day by day, I should be writing to them again, as if I had not written before.  Nor can I call up the names of persons whom I have seen of late without great difficulty, very often.  Nay, of late, I am often unable to call up familiar names in history; and this strange incapacity has begun to beset me, occasionally, while lecturing, and so I am obliged to describe the historical person or place by what, in rhetoric, they call a periphrasis.  And, what frets me still more, in winter time, when I am not daily flower-gathering, I lose the name of a flower, and cannot remember it for hours after the friend has gone away, with whom I wanted to talk about it.

    All this is more mortifying than I can express to one who used to remember everything at one time of day, and used to wonder how others did to forget anything.  And all this is the more strange, because my memory of childhood and youth is still so vivid.  I can call up before the eye of my mind the faces of my old playmates and companions, and tell all their names, without a moment's hesitation; and I can recall scenes, occurrences, or experiences of early life and passages of books I read early, as vividly as ever, though I cannot always remember in what book I read some things which are very remarkable, or from whose conversation I learned them.  I think my perception, judgment, reason, are as clear and vigorous as they ever were—but those who know me are the best judges of that.

    Now, the men of science—woe worth 'em!—want to perplex me still more by getting me to believe that my material brain (which, they assure me, is four-fifths water; and the other fifth so much fat, albumen, acids, and salts, and a little phosphorus) thinks, judges, reasons, wills, remembers, perceives, and is the seat of consciousness.  But, if it be so, how comes my memory to be so defective, seeing my brain is so young—seeing that I have only had the particles of matter that compose it so very few years?  I should like to learn what answer the said "men of science" can give to that query.

    But the more important query I would put to them is this: How is it, if the brain remembers, that I remember so perfectly the names of persons and places, and the facts, familiar to me, some fifty and some sixty years ago—and yet the particles of the brain I had then, ceased soon after, to be a part of my brain?  Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, although reckoned to be a very strong-minded man, had a theory of memory which seems disproved altogether by our experience.  He likens the memory to the waves formed in a pond when you throw a stone into it; the circles becoming fainter as they recede from the point where the stone fell into the water; and so, he says, our memory of facts becomes weaker the more we advance in age and recede from the time when we first learned the facts.  This is, certainly, a mistake of the stout sceptic, so far as my own experience is concerned.  I wonder what he would have said if one could have had a few words of talk with him, and he is one of the sturdy old fellows I should like to have seen and talked with vastly.

    My own conviction is strong and clear, that the old records of memory are not kept by the brain, but by that spiritual essence—that mysterious something—which constitutes my real self.  And so it is not wonderful to me that I have such vivid remembrances of what occurred, and what I experienced, when I was young; the wonder to me is, that the new particles of my brain which are now forming do not constitute as perfect an instrument for the mind, my real self, to use, as the particles of the brain did when I was younger.  My wonder is as great about the new particles of the brain, as about the new particles which are now forming the other parts of my body.

    "But, have the men of science no theory wherewith to answer your queries and dissipate your perplexities?" some one may ask.  They have a theory, but it does not lessen my perplexity.

    In their philosophical jargon they say that a new "law" sets in when we reach the age of forty, or, in some cases, not long after.  Thus, the action of the arteries—or what we call the pulse—ceases to be regular, and the blood no longer forms exactly the same substance as in earlier life; our bones are less and less worth the name of bones as we become aged, for they come to consist of earth more than of real bone; and so the bones of the aged are brittle and soon broken; and several parts of our bodies take a more rigid form, or have a tendency to ossify; even the bronchial tubes take this rigid form, a surgeon tells me, and that is the reason why bronchitis is often so speedily fatal to aged people.

    I repeat, this theory of the men of science does not lessen my perplexity, for it is no answer to my real difficulty.  It does not give me the why or wherefore that I seek.  Since the kind of food we eat is about the same, and the constituents of the air we breathe are the same, why, I ask, does not the blood furnish as good material for the formation of bone now as it did when I was thirty or forty years younger—and why does it now form so much earth?  Why are so many parts of the body rigid that used to be so flexible?  Why do the eyes fail that used to be so powerful?

    Plain folk who know nothing about science will say to me—"My dear fellow, be content!  You are growing old, and your body is wearing out.  Why should you marvel at the decay of nature?  Your experience is what we must all experience as we grow old.  It is common to man, and common to all the animals, doubtless."

    My dear plain folk, I answer, I am as willing to be content as you are—only it is not a fact that my body is wearing out, or that what I experience is a decay of nature.  How can my body, or yours, be "wearing out," while they are being perpetually renewed?  How can there be any "decay of nature" in bodies which are perpetually receiving new particles of matter and losing the old?  You cannot doubt that we are undergoing this perpetual change, for we are compelled to supply the loss of the older particles of our bodies by eating and drinking, and breathing the oxygen of the air, in order to form new blood.  And we cannot arrest this change we are undergoing by changing our food.  If we could live on nectar and ambrosia—suppose we knew where to get 'em—our blood, now we are old, would still form earthy matter instead of bone, and so on, perversely.

    The answer is not furnished by the men of science, with their gibberish about "law."  They know nothing about such a law.  It is the word they are ever using to hide their ignorance, and to juggle us into the belief that they are wondrously knowing.  It is high time that every man of common-sense treated the word with derision, when it is used as the men of science so often use it.

    We know nothing about any law in the case; we only know that the change in our bodies is a fact.  Why such a change should be experienced by human creatures at the age of forty or thereabouts, and why it should not occur at four hundred years instead, we do not know, nor can the men of science tell us.  And why a dog should be old at a dozen years, and a horse at twenty—or why the eagle, the raven, and the swan, with the tortoise, and some other creatures, should live to one hundred years, nobody can tell us.  They are simply facts; we know nothing about any law making it so.  "It is the will of the Maker," would be the allegement of a plain Christian man; but the men of science reject that sort of thinking.  They must conjure up a law for everything, although they do not believe in a law-maker.  But how can a law make itself, or how can blind, unintelligent, unconscious force make a law?


 
- VIII. -

ON THE DOCTRINE OF A FUTURE STATE, VIEWED AS A PROBABILITY.


THERE is no point in which modern Sceptics seem more fully agreed and more positive, than that there is no future state—no life for Man after the present life.  The people who call themselves Agnostics—that is to say, Know-nothings, are at one with the Atheists, on this point: they say they know nothing about a Future State.  They can see no proof of it.  They cannot see why Man should be likely to live again, any more than other animals.  And they think the most sensible people in the world are those who give themselves the least trouble about it,—who make themselves as happy as they can in the present life, and do not expect to live again after death.  Thus Mr. Frederick Harrison, and others, admire the feeling of Harriet Martineau, who said she felt so much calm satisfaction in the belief that she would cease to live—cease to exist consciously—after death.

    1. But this is a very uncommon feeling.  So much so, that we can scarcely help feeling startled on hearing that any one—and, especially any highly-intelligent person, like Miss Martineau—professes to have such a belief or conviction, and to be so perfectly happy with it.

    One has heard people of little thought, who professed to be sceptical, say, in a light and careless manner, "Oh, I see nothing so alarming in what you call annihilation: it is only like going to sleep, and never waking.  I see nothing alarming in it."  But really thoughtful people do not talk in that manner.  The desire to live again, after death, is so general among us, that we expect to hear almost everybody agree in the thought.  Annihilation—for ever ceasing to be conscious—seems to us so appalling that we usually shudder at the conception.  I must confess this is my own feeling.  If there be no existence for me after the present life, it seems to me that I might as well never have lived at all.  I love life. I am thankful for it.  To me simple existence, without pain, is happiness.  But I am happy, not only because my present life is enjoyable, but because I expect a continuance of existence, after what we call death.  If you tell me that I am to live no more after this life, then, it seems that you take up the greatest stone to throw at me, that you can find.  For it will destroy my happiness.  I shall not be thankful another hour for life, if you assure me that I am to die like a dog, and never more be conscious.  I should, thenceforth, have to wear in my heart the cancer of despair; and it would render me perpetually miserable.

    This desire to live again—to possess continued existence after death—is so common, that we have all long been accustomed to talk of it, as natural.  Such was the prevailing custom before Modern Scepticism began to spread its doctrines.  And, whatever Modern Sceptics may say, the desire, hope, and wish to live again, after death, being so widely spread, seems to afford some ground for our belief in the doctrine of a Future State.  At any rate, I think we may call this the First Reason for such belief on the side of Probability.

    2. But, Secondly, as Bishop Butler reasons, 'because we know not at all what death is in itself,' we cannot reason that it is the cessation of our existence.  An objector may say "But we know that death is unconsciousness."  Well, and so is sound sleep; and it is the same when we swoon.  We have not ceased to exist, in either case, for we revive into consciousness.  And why may it not be so with death?

    'Oh, but the case is very different,' says the objector: 'in death, the body decays and finally disappears.'  But is the body myself or yourself?  If the body disappears, is that a proof that I cease to exist, or that you cease to exist?  Our bodies have changed several times during our lives.  The body I had when an infant is no longer mine; and where the material particles are which composed it, I know not: perhaps existing in vegetable or animal forms, in the different quarters of the globe.  The body I had when a boy—when a youth—when I was thirty,—forty—fifty—sixty—seventy years of age—they are no longer attached to me: flesh and blood, and brains, and bones—they are all gone;—but I remain.  I am conscious that I have existed all this time, notwithstanding all the changes.

    Lord Brougham considered this to be an unanswerable proof that the soul continues to exist after death.  Having existed in spite of its separation from several bodies, successively, he could not see, any more than Bishop Butler, why it should not continue to exist ununited to any body, or, perhaps, to some new body—some new and subtile form of matter.

    3. But, Thirdly, 'God is a Spirit'—that is to say, He is Mind: Immortal Mind.  And so we hardly expect Mind to be destroyed.  Not that we are naturally immortal, because God is 'Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, or can see'—says the Apostle Paul to Timothy.  "Who only hath immortality"—that is to say, natural immortality.  We have no natural immortality.  If we had, we should be independent of our Maker.  But, neither we, nor any other order of created beings, are independent in their existence.  God supports us every moment, or we should cease to exist.  The highest Archangel could not exist one moment, if God did not keep him in existence.  No more could a grain of sand.

    Now, although we cannot annihilate one single particle of matter: we can only change its form, or its state, or its condition: yet we never doubt that God can annihilate matter: we see no reason to doubt it.  No material substance seems to us to be of such a peculiar nature, or value, that God could never will to destroy it.  But, as I said before, we hardly expect Him to annihilate mind, or spirit.  For He Himself is mind, or spirit; and we hardly think He will annihilate that which resembles His own nature.  I think we may venture to call this our Third Probability for expecting a Future State.

    4. But, Fourthly, God endows Mind, or Spirit, with such attributes as to render it, in our conception, of such a lofty nature, compared with matter, that we can hardly think He would create a soul with the intent to annihilate it.

    Let the first seeds of knowledge be sown in the mind—let it once begin to have a thirst for knowledge, and how quickly the desire grows, and the struggle strengthens to know more.  Think of the eagerness with which students fasten on the quest for languages, or the sciences.  And remember the fact—so strongly proven in the lives of Humboldt and others—that the more a man knows, the more he desires to know.  Once formed, you cannot satisfy man's passion for knowledge: we desire to know even God Himself.

    All this seems to indicate, very plainly, that we are not born simply for this world—born to get a little stinted knowledge here, and then perish utterly.  No: I think we may safely set down Man's unquenchable thirst for knowledge as a Fourth Reason on the side of Probability for our belief in a Future State.

    5. But Fifthly.  We treated our First Reason—the simple wish to live again—too simply.  We must remember that our wish to live again after death is not simply a dread of annihilation—a desire for continuous life merely.  It is a wish for a happy life: a wish to be happy for ever.  Now, we cannot suppose that our Maker has implanted such a desire within us, solely to mock us—to fill us with blank disappointment.  And just so it is with the passion for knowledge that we were just now speaking of.  We cannot think our Maker would so construct our natures as to mock us.  The unquenchable desire for knowledge, and the ever-present desire for happiness, which are so natural to Man, must indicate, we think, that He Who made us intends to gratify us.

    6. But Sixthly.  There is a widely-prevailing mistake among writers who call themselves Freethinkers [Ed.—See G. J. Holyoake].  They assert that it is well-nigh an invariable fact, that as the body is so is the mind.  While we wear the body of a child, we possess only childish intelligence: as we advance to manhood our intelligence increases and strengthens; and, as age comes on, decline of intellect accompanies debility of body; and, as we sink into the decrepitude of age, we usually sink into vacancy of mind, and forgetfulness of all things.

    But this is not true.  So far from our mental condition being equal when we are children, it is very unequal.  How bright some children are compared with others!  And if all children were properly attended to, the bright children would well repay the expense of their culture; and the world would soon be much fuller of intellectual and moral benefactors of the race than it is.  If their parents, and those who had the care of them, had not perceived the precocious genius of the young Milton, and Bacon, and Newton, and Pascal, and Mozart, we might have lost some of their precious gifts to the world; and many a child of the poor might make a figure in the world and be a blessing to it, if his parents had the means to afford him due culture.

    And, then, it is not a fact that from the age when Man reaches his bodily prime—that is to say, from forty to fifty, as his material frame begins to decline, so his mind loses its powers, and he gradually sinks into imbecility.  The memory of many men is strong, even at fourscore, while the reflective powers are stronger than ever they were.  The judgment of a man of sixty, in almost any case of practical business, or serious and weighty concern, is sounder than ever it was when he was younger; and men value it more: nay, it is often so at seventy, and sometimes at fourscore.

    7. But, Seventhly, there is one fact so strongly attesting our spiritual nature, and, therefore, rendering our Future State of Existence the more probable, that I often wonder more is not thought and said about it.  I mean, not only the retention in our memories of the facts of childhood, boyhood, youth, early manhood, and mature life, even to old age;—but the sudden, the instantaneous way in which some fact of childhood, or youth—or say, of thirty or forty years ago—will flit across the mind—nay, stand before our mental vision as vividly as if it had happened but yesterday.

    You have, all, experience of this kind.  When I have these visitations, I stand still, and ask myself—'How came this to my consciousness?'  Your philosophers would be ready to reply—'No doubt by association of ideas.'  But I so often can trace no such association that I very strongly opine the grand phrase—'The Law of Association of Ideas'—is only a phrase invented to conceal ignorance.

    Perhaps, I suddenly see Thomas Miller's face, and hear him say words he uttered to me in play, in Sailors' Alley, at old Gainsborough.  I can trace no cause for such a sudden remembrance, yet there we were together on that spot, and the face is the same, and the voice is the same—and yet it is now more than seventy years ago since we were at play, in that alley!  Now, my body—flesh and bones and blood and brain—having changed I know not how many times within eighty years,—how can I doubt that there must be some spiritual principle of God's creation, somehow connected permanently with this body while it lives in its present state,—which is, mysteriously, the unfailing depositary of the memory of our life-passages, whatever they may be?  Will it be, as Coleridge thought it would be, that when we put off the body—this frail tabernacle—the soul will be able to trace all her past history, from the first moment of her existence?

    Oh, who can doggedly set it down that the spiritual something which not only exists through all the changes of the body, but registers and keeps the memory of its acts and words and thoughts for scores of years,—as fresh as if they were but things of yesterday;—which takes note of all Nature, and measures and gauges all things,—nay, aspires to know what the infinite I AM is Himself, shall cease to be?  Does it seem likely that God so deals with His highest work—(for it is His highest work, to make a soul higher than the forming of suns and planets)—as to cease to support its existence?—to annihilate it?

    8. The rewards for good and punishments for evil doing, in this life, are often uncertain, and are often, as we think, not proportionate to what is deserved: so we seem, naturally, to expect the due fulfilment hereafter—or, otherwise, the government of God would not, we think, be one of rectitude.

    9. Remorse for crime argues that all is not ended here.  If Man have not a natural conscience, as Butler argues; if his judgment of right and wrong depends on the training of his understanding and reason; yet the poignancy of conviction for sin—the impossibility of 'killing conscience'—in many criminals, is so great, that if they be not under the power of conscience, it seems very much like it.  The hardness with which some few criminals suffer shows the intense power of the Will developed in some men: it may not result from the absence of conscience, but from the ascendancy of the will over conscience in such particular men.

    10. The Utility of a Future Life, and of our full belief in it, for our good conduct and happiness here, strengthens the presumption that a belief in a Future Life is not a mere conceit.

    So much on the side of mere Probability.  Christianity gives us Certainty: for Christ brought Life and Immortality to light.



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