« PreviousContinue »
pace the ascetics—take it most thankfully when we can get it. But it is not the only good thing in the universe. Unhappiness may sometimes be a good, may be even better and more useful than happiness. Some amount of misery is without doubt essential for the development of the individual and the race. "I asked myself — what is this that, ever since earliest years, thou hast been fretting and fuming, and lamenting, and self-tormenting, on account of? Say, in a word, is it not because thou art not happy? Because the Thou, sweet gentleman, is not sufficiently honoured, nourished, soft-bedded, and lovingly cared for? Foolish soul! What act of legislation was there that thou shouldst be happy? A little while ago thou hadst no right to be at all. What if thou wert born and predestined not to be happy, but to be unhappy? Art thou nothing other than a vulture then, that fliest through the universe seeking after something to eat, and shrieking dolefully because carrion enough is not given to thee? Close thy Byron, open thy Goethe. There is in man a higher than the love of happiness; he can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness! Was it not to preach forth this same higher, that sages and martyrs, the poet and the priest in all times, have spoken and suffered; bearing testimony through life and through death of the God-like that is in man, and how in the God-like only has he strength and freedom? Which God-inspired doctrine thou also art honoured to be taught, and broken with manifold afflictions, even till thou become contrite and learn it! Thank destiny for these; thankfully bear what yet remains, thou hadst need of them; the Self in thee needed to be annihilated. By benignant fever-paroxysms is life rooting out the deep-seated chronic disease and triumphs over death. On the roaring billows of time thou art not engulfed, but borne aloft into the azure of eternity. Love not pleasure, love God. This is the everlasting yea, wherein all contradictions are solved, wherein whoso walks and works it is well with him."
Close thy Byron, open thy Goethe! One does not like to say anything against the dead, and I feel specially loath to say anything against Byron today, when his centenary is being celebrated. He no doubt did a great work politically for Greece; he was no doubt a poet of the highest rank; he could ill be spared from our national literature; but notwithstanding all this it must be said, for it is true, that his theory of life was rotten to. the core. He seems to have held that he had a right to an infinite amount of happiness, and that he was at liberty to whine and howl if he did not get it, even though his own conduct must have inevitably made him wretched in any rational universe of which it is possible to conceive.
There is another reason why we are much less happy, and therefore much less contented, than we might be. It is this. We have not learnt to take enough pleasure in the pleasure of other people. The professors of life to whom I have before referred would, I am quite sure, not only insist upon the importance of cultivating the faculty of enjoyment with a view to making the most of our own pleasures, but would also urge its cultivation with a view to making the most of the pleasures of others. "The heart," says a Japanese proverb, "makes the world." What we find the world will depend very much upon what the world finds us. Doing our duty as Christians, learning to live in the lives of others, is one of the surest means towards living a happy life of our own. In this way our pleasures will be increased and our pains diminished ten thousand fold. This is finely illustrated in one of Adelaide Proctor's poems, where an old man is relating the story of his life to his little niece:—
"Hark! the wind among the cedars
Then I dreamt a glorious vision
Sixty Christmas days have found me
He goes on to relate to her how his soldierbrother had won the fame and renown which he himself had failed to win. And then he says—
"Since the crown on him had fallen,
Victor in a noble strife,
With my poor ignoble life.
Proud to think that hope was true;
What I failed in he could do."
The secret of contentment is, as I before intimated, the secret of happiness. You remember the conversation between the keeper and King Henry VI.:—
"Keeper. Ay, but thou talkest as if thou wert a king.
Not deck'd with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen: my crown is call'd content;
A crown it is, that seldom kings enjoy."
But there is another side to this question. Though it is very undesirable to fret and grumble over circumstances which cannot be changed, yet it is most desirable, in so far as our condition is capable of being improved, that we should be sumciently discontented with it to effect this improvement. The morbid discontent enervates and paralyses. The healthy discontent stimulates and encourages. Instead of lamenting that our circumstances are not made better for us by accident or by Providence, we should set about endeavouring to make them better for ourselves. We should always be trying to improve them. No one who is capable of earning £200 a-year should be content with earning £100. No one who can make £10,000 a-year should be satisfied with £5000. No one who is worth £100,000 should be willing to take £50,000. And so with regard to position. Every one who is capable of rising to the top of the tree in his profession should be discontented—with a healthy, manly discontent—so long as he finds himself only in the middle.
"The present is enough for common souls "— and for common souls only. This rivalry, this desire to get on, this determination to outstrip if possible our neighbours, is in reality good for the world at large no less than for the individual whom it inspires. Landor truly says: "Those who are satisfied sit still and do nothing; those who are not satisfied are the sole benefactors of the world." If you would like to see this proved, you had better read Mallock's 'Social Equality.' "The human