« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
threepence-halfpenny a pot?' course it was the Parle-vous that drank it; in the honest bailiff's opinion, they were the cause of every misfortune; and no doubt such views were generally prevalent among that class of people. It is no longer so at the present day. There may be some inveterate political croakers who still believe that the French are ever conspiring against our liberties and striving to work our overthrow, as there are others of the same class across the channel who are always discovering some fresh act of treachery on the part of perfide Albion; but all such croakers are decidedly in the minority. The Crimean war did much to heal up old wounds: the soldiers of both nations learned to respect one another's bravery; they shed their blood in the same cause and were often buried in the same trench. This change of sentiment has elicited a certain amount of croaking as was only natural; all great changes must do so. Every innovation in politics, in religion, in art, in science, or in social life, must ever alarm the fears of those who have formed their opinions, labelled and packed them away with the intention of bequeathing them to their heirs. There are always some people in the world who think with him of old that they have seen an end of all perfection, and begin to croak as soon as their peaceful pool is agitated by the tide of advancing opinion. We know some old fellows who believe that the whole service is going to the dogs because we are trying to treat our soldiers as if they were rational beings and not mere machines; others, who sce the hand of Providence in every railway accident, and take care always to travel in their own carriages. There are some who object to the use of chloroform as a means of lessening human suffering because they think that it interferes with a divine ordinance, as if it could ever be an ordinance of God that His creatures should suffer unnecessary or avoidable pain. There are croakers, like the late Colonel Sibthorpe, who threaten to die upon the floor of the House if certain
measures, just and equitable, are adopted. We know that these measures are often carried, but we have never heard of any felo de se in St. Stephen's Hall. There are religious croakers who fix the very day, and that at no distant period, when this world shall be dissolved; but we have never heard from any one but Punch that they have begun to take in coals by the sackful. There have been such fanatics or impostors in all ages and countries, and they have never failed to gain an audience. The truth is, there are many people, naturally timid, who like to be frightened, to have their religion doled out to them hot and reeking, as they say in the north.
'I like my minister to look me fairly in the face,' said an aged Highlander, 'to shake his fist at me, and to tell me that I am an old scoundrel. The more he abuses me the better I like him; I dinna even object to his taking me by the nape of the neck and giving me a shake over the pit; I feel it does me good. Ah! there is no minister like Mr. Macilwaime; there is something heavenly in his very grunt.' We would place in the category of croakers all those ministers who aim at notoriety or fame by working upon the fears of their hearers in representing the world as being now at its last gasp, or who take a special and savage delight in expatiating upon the sufferings of the lost. We went the other evening to hear a popular preacher of the day. Ho had chosen as his subject the last judgment, and began to describo the punishment of the wicked. Ho was quite justified in doing so, though we question whether any will be won over to virtue by the mere dread of punishment; but it struck us forcibly that he felt a personal and savage pleasure in dwelling on their sufferings. Ho spoke as a partizan, and luxuriated in their woe; if he had been a red Indian scalping his enemies, ho could not have displayed a moro cruel or relentless spirit. There can be no doubt that such subjects havo an irresistible attraction for certain minds; and there may be as much eruelty in a church as at a bull
fight. It is so pleasant to be told that we are safe and that others are lost; on trouve toujours quelque consolation dans les malheurs d'autrui. At least, Rochefoucauld says so, and he knew something of the weaknesses of human nature.
We have already seen how a bad spirit may be introduced into a school by one young croaker. People more advanced in years are subject to the same influence. Sailors are usually supposed to be the happiest and jolliest of human beings; but one croaker or sealawyer on board a ship is enough to create a spirit of dissatisfaction among all the crew. We have seen the same effect produced in a regiment by the enlistment of two or three idle dissipated fellows who had belonged to a different branch of the service, and taken their discharge under peculiar circumstances. One croaking servant may poison the minds of all the rest, rendering them sullen and dissatisfied; and the same thing often occurs among workmen. We all require to guard against our natural tendency to believe that the world has not used us quite so well as it should have done. We are all inclined to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, and to croak a little because society does not take us at our own estimate. We may rest assured that the world will not deal more gently with us if we are constantly taxing it with injustice. It is a very dangerous thing to look or speak as if we were ill-used, whatever our private opinion may be. It is far better, as the sailors say, to grin and bear it. A man without a grievance is sure to be liked, while another who is always croaking, will certainly be voted a bore. Most men's minds are so full of their own private grievances that they have very little sympathy to spare for those of others. Every man must bear his own burden in this world, and he will gain nothing by croaking out that it is heavier than his neighbour's. If he bear it cheerfully and patiently it will soon become lighter. The young soldier staggers beneath the weight of his knapsack before his first long march is over, but if he
complains he will only be lau at by his comrades: let him be without murmuring, and use soon make it easier. It is the with every other burden; each has his own; he may imagine it is heavier than his neighbo but he will only expose himse ridicule by saying so. If on other hand he bears it as if it no burden at all, and talks as i shoulders were free from e weight, the world will begin smile upon him, and to him in every way. We know the case of two merchants had amassed considerable fort abroad, and had returned h with the intention of winding their affairs and enjoying the fr of their labours. It so happe however, that owing to an u pected commercial crisis, the fi to which they belonged were invol in bankruptcy and they lost ev thing. Both returned to their mer field of labour, and resur business; but their bearing was ferent. One assembled his credi and told them, with a sepulch voice, that he was a monumen misery, a bark stranded on the of life, and so forth; his credit took him at his word and kept al from him. There is nothing wh commercial men detest so much croaking a merchant must be ho ful and sanguine or he will ne succeed. The other treated misfortune lightly, told his credit that with a little time and patien he could soon regain his positi and ended by obtaining their co fidence and support. He sat doy cheerfully at the old desk which thought he had left for ever, a worked there patiently for ten year at the end of that time he fou himself possessed of a larger fo tune than before. The other is st a struggling man; his consta croaking has exhausted the syn pathy of his friends and expose him to the ridicule of the carele and indifferent. Now the lesso taught by this fact is applicable every department of life. If w have been unfortunate, there is n use sitting down wringing ou hands and bemoaning our hard fate
Ill-natured people will say that it serves us right; our friends will let us sit there, excusing themselves on the ground that it would be foolish to help those who cannot help themselves. And the longer we sit, the more difficult it will be to rise. If we start up at once, we may shake off half the weight of our misfortune; but if we sit long, it will be like the Old Man of the Mountain on the back of Sinbad the Sailor, we shall never get quit of it. Begin to work, for there is a positive pleasure in the putting forth of all our energies and faculties in any department of labour. We are speaking, of course, of the young and energetic; it is different with those who are old and worn out. Still, even in their case, it is better to work a little than merely to croak. It was a noble sight to see Scott, with failing memory and partially clouded intellect, seating himself in the old library chair at Abbotsford, determined to win back with his pen the fortune he had lost. What though he did not altogether succeed? Was it not better thus to brace himself to his task, with a mind prepared for either fate, than to yield to despair? Though he had never gained a sixpence by his writings, he was far happier working the rich mine of his own fertile imagination than living in helpless, hopeless inactivity. The greatest of all croakers is the man who has nothing to do. It will never do to be idle. We must all go in for something, and work for it as if our lives depended on success. Even if it should lead to nothing, the putting forth of all our energies in the pursuit is a source of enjoyment. The small annoyances of life cannot reach a man whose mind is earnestly occupied with some idea, or some favourite pursuit: he is proof against all the arrows which the world can shoot at him. A friend of mine was wounded in the ankle at the battle of the Alma, but his mind was so intently occupied with fighting that he only discovered his wound when all was over. Pitt often came down to the House suffering all the tortures of gout, but no sooner did
VOL. LXVIII. NO. CCCCVIII.
he become heated with his subject than he forgot his bodily pain; so powerful is the influence which the mind exercises over the body. But the mind can exercise almost the same influence over itself. Something has occurred to annoy us, and the mind broods over it. If we yield to this tendency it will be the source of much unhappiness. We may not be able to rase out the painful impression all at once; but if we fix our minds intently upon some other subject which requires the exercise of thought, it will be very much weakened. The unoccupied mind feeds on the flame of its own discontent; idleness, even for an hour, is an invitation to all the fiends to troop in and to take possession.
A little rift within the lute
A little indolence, a brief vacuity of thought, may enervate the mind for the labour of a whole day. If you feel its poppy influences spreading over you, start up and shake yourself; be intent about something, however trivial it may seem, and the insidious languor will soon pass away. John Leech, in one of his sketches, has well illustrated the distinction between croaking idleand self-contented activity. Two young men have gone out to spend their annual holiday in fishing. The rain begins to pour down in torrents; one of them throws aside his rod, but the other continues to fish with stern determination. 'Do come home,' says the croaker. 'Well,' says the happy fellow, 'I never see such a precious disagreeable old chap; you come out for a day's pleasuring and you are always for going home.' Of course the rain was far from pleasant, but he knew that a day of enforced idleness was still worse, and clung to his rod as a protection against ennui and 'discontent. He knew the value of the words of the wise man-Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; he had come out to fish, and fish he would, though a waterspout should burst upon his head. We 3 D
should all act on the same principle, and many of the clouds of life will be dissipated; the lion in the path will be found to be only a jackass; the mind once set in motion will find happiness in the play of its own faculties, and be proof against the corroding cares of life. No matter what the employment may be so long as it is innocent; read, think, write, fish, shoot, paint, farm; go down in a diving-bell or up in a balloon; do anything you choose; but, above all things, never be idle, or you will soon become a croaker. We were travelling the other day with a gentleman who had made a large fortune in one of the colonies and returned to England to enjoy it. It is the manner of our countrymen, Froissart tells us, to take their pleasure sadly; it certainly was so in this case. He was travelling for pleasure, but pleasure seemed to elude his grasp; like the old man in Rogers' poem, 'he looked for something he knew not what,' and seemed grievously disappointed at not finding it. With all his wealth he was a man to be pitied; he felt so himself; the change from active employment to listless idleness had embittered his mind. I have nothing to do,' he said, 'but to spend my money, and I had far more pleasure in making it.' Of course he had, because the making of it elicited all his powers and gave a healthy tone to his mind, which became morbid when it had no longer anything to occupy it. The spending of money conferred no pleasure because he felt no interest in the objects on which it was spent.
Croaking may be regarded as the normal condition of the agricultural mind. The British farmer is always at daggers drawing with the clerk of the weather, whom he looks upon as his natural enemy. It is impossible to please him; the sun is not without its spots, and the finest day has a flaw. England has rarely been blessed with a more abundant harvest than the present; it seems as if a provision had thus been made for the wants of those who are suffering from the folly of others. The most inveterate croaker
has been compelled to admit that he had never a better crop of wheat; but he shakes his head when you talk of the hops. He has his doubts and fears, the dread of the future mars the enjoyment of the present, and he cannot restrain a slightly subdued croak. But the truth is that croaking may be heard among all classes and on every possible subject. There is the croaker, deeply versed in geology, who foresees the day when our rich coal mines shall be exhausted, and the earth so weakened in her productive powers as no longer to supply her inhabitants with food. There is the political croaker, who foresees ruin approaching his country and the New Zealander already mounting the bridge. There is the literary croaker who can see no beauty in the works of living authors, who professes to believe that all genius has died out amongst us, and who finds no comfort in the cheering assurance of the poet :
Yes, there are hearts prophetic Hope may trust,
That slumber yet in uncreated dust,
There is a close connexion between criticism and croaking; a strong tendency on the part of every critic to believe himself a being far superior to the author who has to submit to his scalpel. He thinks himself entitled, in virtue of his office, to look down with calm superiority upon every author of the day, though he himself may never have written a line that the world took note of. And not only does he look down upon him, but he invites every blockhead that reads his lucubrations to do the same. We know of one periodical that has gained a certain ephemeral success by trying to play the devil with everything and everybody, like the M.P. in Nicholas Nickleby. It tells us that Thackeray has no constructive power, that Dickens never could write English, that nineteen out of every score of
authors are presumptuous blockheads, worthy of the contempt of all its readers, who are thus flattered into the belief that they are extremely clever creatures, and that the critic has great powers of discrimination. No young author of talent need ever be frightened by the croaking of these critical bullfrogs; real, genuine merit can never be kept down by adverse criticism. Jeffrey and his compeers assailed every author who differed from them in politics; Gifford retaliated in the Quarterly; but the large-hearted generous public, unswayed by their miserable carpings, has done justice to the great men whose living fame they tried to destroy. We would say to every young author as Paul said to Timothy, Let no man despise thy youth. Cultivate the gift that is in thee.' Be true to yourself, and if you have the root of the matter within you, you will be sure to rise. The bright flame of true literary merit can never be snuffed out by adverse criticism, which is only dangerous when it is deserved.
is assured that the ladies are not exposed to any danger, and indulges in a croak at the expense of the sex. 'Indeed, what signifies whether they be perverted or no? The women in my time were good for something. I have seen a lady dressed from top to toe in her own manufactures formerly; but now-a-days there is nothing of their own manufacture about them except their faces.' (A modern croaker would not even give them credit for that.) It is insinuated that the ladies of his own household are an exception. The best of them,' says Croaker, with candid impartiality, will never be canonized for a saint when she is dead.' An allusion is made to the authority he should exercise as the head of the household, and a fresh grievance bursts forth. My dear friend, you know but little of my authority at home. People think, indeed, because they see me come out in a morning thus, with a pleasant face, and to make my friends merry, that all's well within; but I have cares within that would break a heart of stone. My wife has so encroached upon every one of my privileges, that I am now no more than a mere lodger in my own house.' A little spirit, it is hinted, might enable him to regain his authority. 'No,' says Croaker, emphatically, not though I had the spirit of a lion! I do rouse sometimes; but what then?-always haggling and haggling. A man is tired of getting the better before his wife is tired of losing the victory. All this talk begins to tell upon his friend, and betrays him, through sympathy, into an incipient croak on the miseries of human life. Croaker is in ecstasies, and discovers a likeness between him and Dick Doleful, who drowned himself. "Ah! he grew sick of this miserable life, where we do nothing but eat and grow hungry, dress and undress, get up and lie down; while reason, that should watch like a nurse by our side, falls as fast asleep as we do. Life, at the greatest and best, is but a froward child, that must be humoured and coaxed a little till it falls asleep, and then all the care is over.' The friend
Goldsmith in one of his plays has given us an admirable picture of the social, religious, and political croaker, all rolled into one. He calls on his friend, and every subject of conversation enables him to indulge in his peculiar vein. He discovers that his friend is looking miserably ill, and ascribes this change to the weather. He is assured that there is no ground for his apprehensions, and that the weather is unexceptionable. 'Perhaps so,' he rejoins; indeed, what signifies what weather we have in a country going to ruin like ours? Taxes rising and trade falling, money flying out of the kingdom, and Jesuits swarming into it. I know at this moment no less than a hundred and twenty-seven Jesuits between Charing Cross and Temple Bar.' It is hinted that there is no danger of their perversion; but this remark serves only to elicit a croak on the general state of religion. 'Indeed, what signifies whom they pervert in a country that has never any religion to lose? I'm only afraid for our wives and daughters.' He