Friday, July 15, 2011

THE PLEASURES OF LIFE

Part II

According to the old proverb, "the fool wanders, the wise man travels." So far is a thorough love and enjoyment of travel from interfering with the love of home, that perhaps no one can thoroughly enjoy his home who does not sometimes wander away. They are like exertion and rest, each the complement of the other; so that, though it may seem paradoxical, one of the greatest pleasures of travel is the return; and no one who has not roamed abroad, can realize the devotion which the wanderer feels for home.
In few respects has mankind made a greater advance than in the relations of men and women? It is terrible to think how women suffer in savage life; and even among the intellectual Greeks, with rare exceptions, they seem to have been treated rather as housekeepers or playthings than as the Angels who make a Heaven of home. The Hindu proverb that you should "never strike a wife, even with a flower," though a considerable advance, tells a melancholy tale of what must previously have been. What a life, and what a language, without love. Yet in marriage even the rough passion of a savage may contrast favorably with any cold calculation, which, like the enchanted hoard of the Nibelungs, is almost sure to bring misfortune. In the Kalevala, the Finnish epic, the divine smith, Ilmarinnen, forges a bride of gold and silver for Wainamoinen, who was pleased at first to have so rich a wife, but soon found her intolerably cold, for, in spite of fires and furs, whenever he touched her she froze him.
Moreover, apart from mere coldness, how much we suffer from foolish quarrels about trifles; from mere misunderstandings; from hasty words thoughtlessly repeated, sometimes without the context or tone which would have deprived them of any sting. How much would that charity which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things," effect to smooth away the sorrows of life and add to the happiness of home. Home indeed may be a sure haven of repose from the storms and perils of the world. If our life be one of toil and of suffering, if the world outside be cold and dreary, what a pleasure to return to the sunshine of happy faces and the warmth of hearts we love.
We have in life many troubles, and troubles are of many kinds. Some sorrows, alas, are real enough, especially those we bring on ourselves, but others, and by no means the least numerous, are mere ghosts of troubles: if we face them boldly, we find that they have no substance or reality, but are mere creations of our own morbid imagination, and that it is as true now as in the time of David that "Man disquieteth himself in a vain shadow." Some, indeed, of our troubles are evils, but not real; while others are real, but not evils.
We often magnify troubles and difficulties, and look at them till they seem much greater than they really are. "Dangers are no more light, if they once seem light; and more dangers have deceived men than forced them: nay, it were better to meet some dangers half way, though they come nothing near, than to keep too long a watch upon their approaches; for if a man watch too long, it is odds he will fall asleep."
Marcus Aurelius observes that "a spider is proud when it has caught a fly, a man when he has caught a hare, another when he has taken a little fish in a net, another when he has taken wild boars, another when he has taken bears, and another when he has taken Sarmatians;" but this, if from one point of view it shows the vanity of fame, also encourages us with the evidence that every one may succeed if his objects are but reasonable. "A continual and restless search after fortune," says Bacon, "takes up too much of their time who have nobler things to observe."
As regards fame we must not confuse name and essence. To be remembered is not necessarily to be famous. There is infamy as well as fame; and unhappily almost as many are remembered for the one as for the other, and not a few for the mixture of both. In some cases where men have been called after places, the men are remembered, while the places are forgotten. When we speak of Palestrina or Perugino, of Nelson or Wellington, of Newton or Darwin, who remembers the towns? We think only of the men.
Ambition often takes the form of a love of money. There are many who have never attempted Art or Music, Poetry or Science; but most people do something for a livelihood, and consequently an increase of income is not only acceptable in itself, but gives a pleasant feeling of success. Unquestionably the possession of wealth is by no means unattended by drawbacks. Money and the love of money often go together. The poor man, as Emerson says, is the man who wishes to be rich; and the more a man has, the more he often longs to be richer. Just as drinking often does but increase thirst; so in many cases the craving for riches does grow with wealth. If life has been sacrificed to the rolling up of money for its own sake, the very means by which it was acquired will prevent its being enjoyed; the chill of poverty will have entered into the very bones. The term Miser was happily chosen for such persons; they are essentially miserable.
We are really richer than we think. We often hear of Earth hunger. People envy a great Landlord, and fancy how delightful it must be to possess a large estate. But, as Emerson says, "If you own land, the land owns you." Moreover, have we not all, in a better sense—have we not all thousands of acres of our own? The commons, and roads, and footpaths, and the seashore, our grand and varied coast—these are all ours. The sea-coast has, moreover, two great advantages. In the first place, it is for the most part but little interfered with by man, and in the second it exhibits most instructively the forces of Nature. We are all great landed proprietors, if we only knew it. What we lack is not land, but the power to enjoy it.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Pleasures of Life, by Sir John Lubbock)


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