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All work, even cotton-spinning, is noble; work is alone noble:
be that here said and asserted once more. And in like manner too
all dignity is painful; a life of ease is not for any man, nor
for any god. The life of all gods figures itself to us as a
Sublime Sadness--earnestness of Infinite Battle against Infinite
Labour. Our highest religion is named the 'Worship of Sorrow.'
For the son of man there is no noble crown, well worn, or even
ill worn, but is a crown of thorns!--These things, in spoken
words, or still better, in felt instincts alive in every heart,
were once well known.
Does not the whole wretchedness, the whole _Atheism_ as I call
it, of man's ways, in these generations, shadow itself for us in
that unspeakable Life-philosophy of his: The pretension to be
what he calls 'happy?' Every pitifulest whipster that walks
within a skin has his head filled with the notion that he is,
shall be, or by all human and divine laws ought to be, 'happy.'
His wishes, the pitifulest whipster's, are to be fulfilled for
him; his days, the pitifulest whipster's, are to flow on in
ever-gentle current of enjoyment, impossible even for the gods.
The prophets preach to us, Thou shalt be happy; thou shalt love
pleasant things, and find them. The people clamour, Why have we
not found pleasant things?
We construct our theory of Human Duties, not on any Greatest-
Nobleness Principle, never so mistaken; no, but on a Greatest-
Happiness Principle. 'The word _Soul_ with us, as in some
Slavonic dialects, seems to be synonymous with _Stomach._ We
plead and speak, in our Parliaments and elsewhere, not as from
the Soul, but from the Stomach;--wherefore, indeed, our pleadings
are so slow to profit. We plead not for God's justice; we are
not ashamed to stand clamouring and pleading for our own
'interests,' our own rents and trade-profits; we say, They are
the 'interests' of so many; there is such an intense desire for
them in us! We demand Free-Trade, with much just vociferation
and benevolence, That the poorer classes, who are terribly ill-
off at present, may have cheaper New-Orleans bacon. Men ask on
Free-trade platforms, How can the indomitable spirit of
Englishmen be kept up without plenty of bacon? We shall become a
ruined Nation!--Surely, my friends, plenty of bacon is good and
indispensable: but, I doubt, you will never get even bacon by
aiming only at that. You are men, not animals of prey, well-used
or ill-used! Your Greatest-Happiness Principle seems to me fast
becoming a rather unhappy one.--What if we should cease babbling
about 'happiness,' and leave _it_ resting on its own basis, as it
used to do!
A gifted Byron rises in his wrath; and feeling too surely that
he for his part is not 'happy,' declares the same in very violent
language, as a piece of news that may be interesting. It
evidently has surprised him much. One dislikes to see a man and
poet reduced to proclaim on the streets such tidings: but on the
whole, as matters go, that is not the most dislikable. Byron
speaks the _truth_ in this matter. Byron's large audience
indicates how true it is felt to be.
'Happy,' my brother? First of all, what difference is it whether
thou art happy or not! Today becomes Yesterday so fast, all
Tomorrows become Yesterdays; and then there is no question
whatever of the 'happiness,' but quite another question. Nay,
thou hast such a sacred pity left at least for thyself, thy very
pains once gone over into Yesterday become joys to thee.
Besides, thou knowest not what heavenly blessedness and
indispensable sanative virtue was in them; thou shalt only know
it after many days, when thou art wiser!--A benevolent old
Surgeon sat once in our company, with a Patient fallen sick by
gourmandising, whom he had just, too briefly in the Patient's
judgment, been examining. The foolish Patient still at intervals
continued to break in on our discourse, which rather promised to
take a philosophic turn: "But I have lost my appetite," said he,
objurgatively, with a tone of irritated pathos; "I have no
appetite; I can't eat!"--"My dear fellow," answered the Doctor
in mildest tone, "it isn't of the slightest consequence;"--and
continued his philosophical discoursings with us!
Or does the reader not know the history of that Scottish iron
Misanthrope? The inmates of some town-mansion, in those Northern
parts, were thrown into the fearfulest alarm by indubitable
symptoms of a ghost inhabiting the next house, or perhaps even
the partition-wall! Ever at a certain hour, with preternatural
gnarring, growling and screeching, which attended as running
bass, there began, in a horrid, semi-articulate, unearthly voice,
this song: "Once I was hap-hap-happy, but now I'm _mees_-erable!
Clack-clack-clack, gnarr-r-r, whuz-z: Once I was hap-hap-happy,
but now I'm _mees_-erable!"--Rest, rest, perturbed spirit;--or
indeed, as the good old Doctor said: My dear fellow, it isn't of
the slightest consequence! But no; the perturbed spirit could
not rest; and to the neighbours, fretted, affrighted, or at
least insufferably bored by him, it _was_ of such consequence
that they had to go and examine in his haunted chamber. In his
haunted chamber, they find that the perturbed spirit is an
unfortunate--Imitator of Byron? No, is an unfortunate rusty
Meat-jack, gnarring and creaking with rust and work; and this,
in Scottish dialect, is _its_ Byronian musical Life-philosophy,
sung according to ability!
Truly, I think the man who goes about pothering and uproaring for
his 'happiness,'--pothering, and were it ballot-boxing, poem-
making, or in what way soever fussing and exerting himself,--he
is not the man that will help us to 'get our knaves and dastards
arrested!' No; he rather is on the way to increase the number,
--by at least one unit and _his_ tail! Observe, too, that this is
all a modern affair; belongs not to the old heroic times, but to
these dastard new times. 'Happiness our being's end and aim' is
at bottom, if we will count well, not yet two centuries old in
The only happiness a brave man ever troubled himself with asking
much about was, happiness enough to get his work done. Not "I
can't eat!" but "I can't work!" that was the burden of all wise
complaining among men. It is, after all, the one unhappiness of
a man. That he cannot work; that he cannot get his destiny as a
man fulfilled. Behold, the day is passing swiftly over, our life
is passing swiftly over; and the night cometh, wherein no man
can work. The night once come, our happiness, our unhappiness,--
it is all abolished; vanished, clean gone; a thing that has
been: 'not of the slightest consequence' whether we were happy
as eupeptic Curtis, as the fattest pig of Epicurus, or unhappy as
job with potsherds, as musical Byron with Giaours and
sensibilities of the heart; as the unmusical Meat-jack with hard
labour and rust! But our work,--behold that is not abolished,
that has not vanished: our work, behold, it remains, or the want
of it remains;--for endless Times and Eternities, remains; and
that is now the sole question with us forevermore! Brief
brawling Day, with its noisy phantasms, its poor paper-crowns
tinsel-gilt, is gone; and divine everlasting Night, with her
star-diadems, with her silences and her veracities, is come!
What hast thou done, and how? Happiness, unhappiness: all that
was but the _wages_ thou hadst; thou hast spent all that, in
sustaining thyself hitherward; not a coin of it remains with
thee, it is all spent, eaten: and now thy work, where is thy
work? Swift, out with it, let us see thy work!
Of a truth, if man were not a poor hungry dastard, and even
much of a blockhead withal, he would cease criticising his
victuals to such extent; and criticise himself rather, what
he does with his victuals!
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