Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
MOOD AND WILL.
Winter came apace. When we look towards winter from the last borders of autumn, it seems as if we could not encounter it, and as if it never would go over. So does threatened trouble of any kind seem to us as we look forward upon its miry ways from the last borders of the pleasant greensward on which we have hitherto been walking. But not only do both run their course, but each has its own alleviations, its own pleasures; and very marvellously does the healthy mind fit itself to the new circumstances; while to those who will bravely take up their burden and bear it, asking no more questions than just, "Is this my burden?" a thousand ministrations of nature and life will come with gentle comfortings. Across a dark verdureless field will blow a wind through the heart of the winter which will wake in the patient mind not a memory merely, but a prophecy of the spring, with a glimmer of crocus, or snow-drop, or primrose; and across the waste of tired endeavour will a gentle hope, coming he knows not whence, breathe springlike upon the heart of the man around whom life looks desolate and dreary. Well do I remember a friend of mine telling me once--he was then a labourer in the field of literature, who had not yet begun to earn his penny a day, though he worked hard--telling me how once, when a hope that had kept him active for months was suddenly quenched--a book refused on which he had spent a passion of labour--the weight of money that must be paid and could not be had, pressing him down like the coffin-lid that had lately covered the ONLY friend to whom he could have applied confidently for aid--telling me, I say, how he stood at the corner of a London street, with the rain, dripping black from the brim of his hat, the dreariest of atmospheres about him in the closing afternoon of the City, when the rich men were going home, and the poor men who worked for them were longing to follow; and how across this waste came energy and hope into his bosom, swelling thenceforth with courage to fight, and yield no ear to suggested failure. And the story would not be complete--though it is for the fact of the arrival of unexpected and apparently unfounded HOPE that I tell it--if I did not add, that, in the morning, his wife gave him a letter which their common trouble of yesterday had made her forget, and which had lain with its black border all night in the darkness unopened, waiting to tell him how the vanished friend had not forgotten him on her death-bed, but had left him enough to take him out of all those difficulties, and give him strength and time to do far better work than the book which had failed of birth.--Some of my readers may doubt whether I am more than "a wandering voice," but whatever I am, or may be thought to be, my friend's story is true.
And all this has come out of the winter that I, in the retrospect of my history, am looking forward to. It came, with its fogs, and dripping boughs, and sodden paths, and rotting leaves, and rains, and skies of weary gray; but also with its fierce red suns, shining aslant upon sheets of manna-like hoarfrost, and delicate ice-films over prisoned waters, and those white falling chaoses of perfect forms--called snow-storms--those confusions confounded of infinite symmetries.
And when the hard frost came, it brought a friend to my door. It was Mr Stoddart.
He entered my room with something of the countenance Naaman must have borne, after his flesh had come again like unto the flesh of a little child. He did not look ashamed, but his pale face looked humble and distressed. Its somewhat self-satisfied placidity had vanished, and instead of the diffused geniality which was its usual expression, it now showed traces of feeling as well as plain signs of suffering. I gave him as warm a welcome as I could, and having seated him comfortably by the fire, and found that he would take no refreshment, began to chat about the day's news, for I had just been reading the newspaper. But he showed no interest beyond what the merest politeness required. I would try something else.
"The cold weather, which makes so many invalids creep into bed, seems to have brought you out into the air, Mr Stoddart," I said.
"It has revived me, certainly."
"Indeed, one must believe that winter and cold are as beneficent, though not so genial, as summer and its warmth. Winter kills many a disease and many a noxious influence. And what is it to have the fresh green leaves of spring instead of the everlasting brown of some countries which have no winter!"
I talked thus, hoping to rouse him to conversation, and I was successful.
"I feel just as if I were coming out of a winter. Don't you think illness is a kind of human winter?"
"Certainly--more or less stormy. With some a winter of snow and hail and piercing winds; with others of black frosts and creeping fogs, with now and then a glimmer of the sun."
"The last is more like mine. I feel as if I had been in a wet hole in the earth."
"And many a man," I went on, "the foliage of whose character had been turning brown and seared and dry, rattling rather than rustling in the faint hot wind of even fortunes, has come out of the winter of a weary illness with the fresh delicate buds of a new life bursting from the sun-dried bark."
"I wish it would be so with me. I know you mean me. But I don't feel my green leaves coming."
"Facts are not always indicated by feelings."
"Indeed, I hope not; nor yet feelings indicated by facts."
"I do not quite understand you."
"Well, Mr Walton, I will explain myself. I have come to tell you how sorry and ashamed I am that I behaved so badly to you every time you came to see me."
"Oh, nonsense!" I said. "It was your illness, not you."
"At least, my dear sir, the facts of my behaviour did not really represent my feelings towards you."
"I know that as well as you do. Don't say another word about it. You had the best excuse for being cross; I should have had none for being offended."
"It was only the outside of me."
"Yes, yes; I acknowledge it heartily."
"But that does not settle the matter between me and myself, Mr Walton; although, by your goodness, it settles it between me and you. It is humiliating to think that illness should so completely 'overcrow' me, that I am no more myself--lose my hold, in fact, of what I call ME--so that I am almost driven to doubt my personal identity."
"You are fond of theories, Mr Stoddart--perhaps a little too much so,"
"Will you listen to one of mine?"
"It seems to me sometimes--I know it is a partial representation--as if life were a conflict between the inner force of the spirit, which lies in its faith in the unseen--and the outer force of the world, which lies in the pressure of everything it has to show us. The material, operating upon our senses, is always asserting its existence; and if our inner life is not equally vigorous, we shall be moved, urged, what is called actuated, from without, whereas all our activity ought to be from within. But sickness not only overwhelms the mind, but, vitiating all the channels of the senses, causes them to represent things as they are not, of which misrepresentations the presence, persistency, and iteration seduce the man to act from false suggestions instead of from what he knows and believes."
"Well, I understand all that. But what use am I to make of your theory?"
"I am delighted, Mr Stoddart, to hear you put the question. That is always the point.--The inward holy garrison, that of faith, which holds by the truth, by sacred facts, and not by appearances, must be strengthened and nourished and upheld, and so enabled to resist the onset of the powers without. A friend's remonstrance may appear an unkindness--a friend's jest an unfeelingness--a friend's visit an intrusion; nay, to come to higher things, during a mere headache it will appear as if there was no truth in the world, no reality but that of pain anywhere, and nothing to be desired but deliverance from it. But all such impressions caused from without--for, remember, the body and its innermost experiences are only OUTSIDE OF THE MAN--have to be met by the inner confidence of the spirit, resting in God and resisting every impulse to act according to that which APPEARS TO IT instead of that which IT BELIEVES. Hence, Faith is thus allegorically represented: but I had better give you Spenser's description of her--Here is the 'Fairy Queen':--
'She was arrayed all in lily white, And in her right hand bore a cup of gold, With wine and water filled up to the height, In which a serpent did himself enfold, That horror made to all that did behold; But she no whit did change her constant mood.'
This serpent stands for the dire perplexity of things about us, at which yet Faith will not blench, acting according to what she believes, and not what shows itself to her by impression and appearance."
"I admit all that you say," returned Mr Stoddart. "But still the practical conclusion--which I understand to be, that the inward garrison must be fortified--is considerably incomplete unless we buttress it with the final HOW. How is it to be fortified? For,
'I have as much of this in art as you, But yet my nature could not bear it so.'
(You see I read Shakespeare as well as you, Mr Walton.) I daresay, from a certain inclination to take the opposite side, and a certain dislike to the dogmatism of the clergy--I speak generally--I may have appeared to you indifferent, but I assure you that I have laboured much to withdraw my mind from the influence of money, and ambition, and pleasure, and to turn it to the contemplation of spiritual things. Yet on the first attack of a depressing illness I cease to be a gentleman, I am rude to ladies who do their best and kindest to serve me, and I talk to the friend who comes to cheer and comfort me as if he were an idle vagrant who wanted to sell me a worthless book with the recommendation of the pretence that he wrote it himself. Now that I am in my right mind, I am ashamed of myself, ashamed that it should be possible for me to behave so, and humiliated yet besides that I have no ground of assurance that, should my illness return to-morrow, I should not behave in the same manner the day after. I want to be ALWAYS in my right mind. When I am not, I know I am not, and yet yield to the appearance of being."
"I understand perfectly what you mean, for I fancy I know a little more of illness than you do. Shall I tell you where I think the fault of your self-training lies?"
"That is just what I want. The things which it pleased me to contemplate when I was well, gave me no pleasure when I was ill. Nothing seemed the same."
"If we were always in a right mood, there would be no room for the exercise of the will. We should go by our mood and inclination only. But that is by the by.--Where you have been wrong is--that you have sought to influence your feelings only by thought and argument with yourself--and not also by contact with your fellows. Besides the ladies of whom you have spoken, I think you have hardly a friend in this neighbourhood but myself. One friend cannot afford you half experience enough to teach you the relations of life and of human needs. At best, under such circumstances, you can only have right theories: practice for realising them in yourself is nowhere. It is no more possible for a man in the present day to retire from his fellows into the cave of his religion, and thereby leave the world of his own faults and follies behind, than it was possible for the eremites of old to get close to God in virtue of declining the duties which their very birth of human father and mother laid upon them. I do not deny that you and the eremite may both come NEARER to God, in virtue of whatever is true in your desires and your worship; 'but if a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?'--which surely means to imply at least that to love our neighbour is a great help towards loving God. How this love is to come about without intercourse, I do not see. And how without this love we are to bear up from within against the thousand irritations to which, especially in sickness, our unavoidable relations with humanity will expose us, I cannot tell either."
"But," returned Mr Stoddart, "I had had a true regard for you, and some friendly communication with you. If human intercourse were what is required in my case, how should I fail just with respect to the only man with whom I had held such intercourse?"
"Because the relations in which you stood with me were those of the individual, not of the race. You like me, because I am fortunate enough to please you--to be a gentleman, I hope--to be a man of some education, and capable of understanding, or at least docile enough to try to understand, what you tell me of your plans and pursuits. But you do not feel any relation to me on the ground of my humanity--that God made me, and therefore I am your brother. It is not because we grow out of the same stem, but merely because my leaf is a little like your own that you draw to me. Our Lord took on Him the nature of man: you will only regard your individual attractions. Disturb your liking and your love vanishes."
"You are severe."
"I don't mean really vanishes, but disappears for the time. Yet you will confess you have to wait till, somehow, you know not how, it comes back again--of itself, as it were."
"Yes, I confess. To my sorrow, I find it so."
"Let me tell you the truth, Mr Stoddart. You seem to me to have been hitherto only a dilettante or amateur in spiritual matters. Do not imagine I mean a hypocrite. Very far from it. The word amateur itself suggests a real interest, though it may be of a superficial nature. But in religion one must be all there. You seem to me to have taken much interest in unusual forms of theory, and in mystical speculations, to which in themselves I make no objection. But to be content with those, instead of knowing God himself, or to substitute a general amateur friendship towards the race for the love of your neighbour, is a mockery which will always manifest itself to an honest mind like yours in such failure and disappointment in your own character as you are now lamenting, if not indeed in some mode far more alarming, because gross and terrible."
"Am I to understand you, then, that intercourse with one's neighbours ought to take the place of meditation?"
"By no means: but ought to go side by side with it, if you would have at once a healthy mind to judge and the means of either verifying your speculations or discovering their falsehood."
"But where am I to find such friends besides yourself with whom to hold spiritual communion?"
"It is the communion of spiritual deeds, deeds of justice, of mercy, of humility--the kind word, the cup of cold water, the visitation in sickness, the lending of money--not spiritual conference or talk, that I mean: the latter will come of itself where it is natural. You would soon find that it is not only to those whose spiritual windows are of the same shape as your own that you are neighbour: there is one poor man in my congregation who knows more--practically, I mean, too--of spirituality of mind than any of us. Perhaps you could not teach him much, but he could teach you. At all events, our neighbours are just those round about us. And the most ignorant man in a little place like Marshmallows, one like you with leisure ought to know and understand, and have some good influence upon: he is your brother whom you are bound to care for and elevate--I do not mean socially, but really, in himself--if it be possible. You ought at least to get into some simple human relation with him, as you would with the youngest and most ignorant of your brothers and sisters born of the same father and mother; approaching him, not with pompous lecturing or fault-finding, still less with that abomination called condescension, but with the humble service of the elder to the younger, in whatever he may be helped by you without injury to him. Never was there a more injurious mistake than that it is the business of the clergy only to have the care of souls."
"But that would be endless. It would leave me no time for myself."
"Would that be no time for yourself spent in leading a noble, Christian life; in verifying the words of our Lord by doing them; in building your house on the rock of action instead of the sands of theory; in widening your own being by entering into the nature, thoughts, feelings, even fancies of those around you? In such intercourse you would find health radiating into your own bosom; healing sympathies springing up in the most barren acquaintance; channels opened for the in-rush of truth into your own mind; and opportunities afforded for the exercise of that self-discipline, the lack of which led to the failures which you now bemoan. Soon then would you have cause to wonder how much some of your speculations had fallen into the background, simply because the truth, showing itself grandly true, had so filled and occupied your mind that it left no room for anxiety about such questions as, while secured in the interest all reality gives, were yet dwarfed by the side of it. Nothing, I repeat, so much as humble ministration to your neighbours, will help you to that perfect love of God which casteth out fear; nothing but the love of God--that God revealed in Christ--will make you able to love your neighbour aright; and the Spirit of God, which alone gives might for any good, will by these loves, which are life, strengthen you at last to believe in the light even in the midst of darkness; to hold the resolution formed in health when sickness has altered the appearance of everything around you; and to feel tenderly towards your fellow, even when you yourself are plunged in dejection or racked with pain.--But," I said, "I fear I have transgressed the bounds of all propriety by enlarging upon this matter as I have done. I can only say I have spoken in proportion to my feeling of its weight and truth."
"I thank you, heartily," returned Mr Stoddart, rising. "And I promise you at least to think over what you have been saying--I hope to be in my old place in the organ-loft next Sunday."
So he was. And Miss Oldcastle was in the pew with her mother. Nor did she go any more to Addicehead to church.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.