Concerning Veal: A Discourse of Immaturity
THE man who, in his progress through life, has listened with attention to the conversation of human beings, who has carefully read the writings of the best English authors, who has made himself well acquainted with the history and usages of his native land, and who has meditated much on all he has seen and read, must have been led to the firm conviction that by VEAL those who speak the English language intend to denote the flesh of calves, and that by a calf is intended an immature ox or cow. A calf is a creature in a temporary and progressive stage of its being. It will not always be a calf; if it live long enough, it will assuredly cease to be a calf. And if impatient man, arresting the creature at that stage, should consign it to the hands of him whose business it is to convert the sentient animal into the impassive and unconscious meat, the nutriment which the creature will afford will be nothing more than immature beef. There may be many qualities of Veal; the calf which yields it may die at very different stages in its physical and moral development; but provided only it die as a calf, — provided only that its meat Can fitly be styled Veal, — this will be characteristic of it, that the meat shall be immature meat. It may be very good, very nutritious and palatable ; some people may like it better than Beef, and may feed upon it with the liveliest satisfaction ; hut when it is fairly and deliberately put to us, it must be admitted, even by such as like Veal the best, that Veal is but an immature production of Nature. I take Veal, therefore, as the emblem of IMMATURITY,— of that which is now in a stage out of which it must grow, — of that which, as time goes on, will grow older, will probably grow better, will certainly grow very different. That is wliat I mean by Veal.
And now, my reader and friend, you will discern the subject about which I trust we are to have some pleasant and not unprofitable thought together. You will readily believe that my subject is not that material Veal which may be beheld and purchased in the butchers’ shops. I am not now to treat of its varied qualities, of the sustenance which it yields, of the price at which it may he procured, or of the laws according to which that price rises and falls. I am not going to take you to the green fields in which the creature which yielded the Veal was fed, or to discourse of the blossoming hawthorn hedges from whose midst it was reft away. Neither shall I speak of the rustic life, the toils, cares, and fancies of the farm-house near which it spent its brief lifetime. The Veal of which I intend to speak is Moral Veal, or (to speak with entire accuracy) Veal Intellectual, Moral, and Æsthetical. By Veal I understand the immature productions of the human mind,—immature compositions, immature opinions, feelings, and tastes. I wish to think of the work, the views, the fancies, the emotions, which are yielded by the human soul in its immature stages,— while the calf (so to speak) is only growing into the ox,— while the clever boy, with his absurd opinions and feverish feelings and fancies, is developing into the mature and sober-minded man. And if I could but rightly set out the thoughts which have at many different times occurred to me on this matter, if one could catch and fix the vague glimpses, and passing intuitions of solid unchanging truth, if the subject on which one has thought long and felt deeply were always that on which one could write best, and could bring out to the sympathy of others what a man himself has felt, what an excellent essay this would be ! But it will not be so; for, as I try to grasp the thoughts I would set out, they melt away and elude me. It is like trying to catch and keep the rainbow hues you have seen the sunshine cast upon the spray of a waterfall, when you try to catch the tone, the thoughts, the feelings, the atmosphere of early youth.
There can be no question at all as to the fact, that clever young men and women, when their minds begin to open, When they begin to think for themselves, do pass through a stage of mental development which they by-and-by quite outgrow, and entertain opinions and beliefs, and feel emotions, on which afterwards they look back with no sympathy or approval. This is a fact as certain as that a calf grows into an ox, or that veal, if spared to grow, will become beef. But no analogy between the material and the moral must be pushed too far. There are points of difference between material and moral Veal. A calf knows it is a calf. It may think itself bigger and wiser than an ox, but it knows it is not an ox. And if it be a reasonable calf, modest, and free from prejudice, it is well aware that the joints it will yield after its demise will be very different from those of the stately and well-consolidated ox which ruminates in the rich pasture near it. But the human boy often thinks he is a man, and even more than a man. He fancies that his mental stature is as big and as solid as it will ever become, He fancies that his mental productions — the poems and essays he writes, the political and social views he forms, the moods of feeling with which he regards things — are just what they may always be, just what they ought always to be. If spared in this world, and if he be one of those whom years make wiser, the day comes when he looks back with amazement and shame on those early mental productions. He discerns now how immature, absurd, and extravagant they were, — in brief, how Vealy. But at the time, he had not the least idea that they were so. He had entire confidence in himself, — not a misgiving as to his own ability and wisdom. You, clever young student of eighteen years old, when you wrote your prize essay, fancied that in thought and style it was very like Macaulay,.— and not Macaulay in that stage of Vealy brilliancy in which he wrote his essay on Milton, not Macaulay the fairest and most promising of calves, but Macaulay the stateliest and most beautiful of oxen. Well, read over your essay now at thirty, and tell us what you think of it. And you, clever, warm-hearted, enthusiastic young preacher of twenty-four, wrote your sermon ; it was very ingenious, very brilliant in style, and you never thought but that it would be felt by mature-minded Christian people as suiting their case, as true to their inmost experience. You could not see why you might not preach as well as a man of forty. And if people in middle age had complained, that, eloquent as your preaching was, they found it suited them better and profited them more to listen to the plainer instructions of some good man with gray hair, you would not have understood their feeling, and you might perhaps have attributed it to many motives rather than the true one. But now, at five-and-thirty, find out the yellow manuscript, and read it carefully over; and I will venture to say, that, if you were a really clever and eloquent young man, writing in an ambitious and rhetorical style, and prompted to do so by the spontaneous fervor of your heart and readiness of your imagination, you will feel now little sympathy even with the literary style of that early composition,— you will see extravagance and bombast, where once you saw only eloquence and graphic power. And as for the graver and more important matter of the thought of the discourse, I think you will be aware of a certain undefinable shallowness and crudity. Your growing experience has borne you beyond it. Somehow you feel it does not come home to you, and suit you as you would wish it should. It will not do. That old sermon you cannot preach now, till you have entirely recast and rewritten it. But you had no such notion when you wrote the sermon. You were satisfied with it. You thought it even better than the discourses of men as clever as yourself, and ten or fifteen years older. Your case was as though the youthful calf should walk beside the sturdy ox, and think itself rather bigger.
Let no clever young reader fancy, from what has been said, that I am about to make an onslaught upon clever young men. I remember too distinctly how bitter, and indeed ferocious, I used to feel, about eleven or twelve years ago, when I heard men of more than middle age and less than middling ability speak with contemptuous depreciation of the productions and doings of men considerably their juniors, and vastly their superiors,— describing them as boys, and as clever lads, with looks of dark malignity. There are few more disgusting sights than the envy and jealousy of their juniors, which may be seen in various malicious, commonplace old men; as there is hardly a more beautiful and pleasing sight than the old man hailing and counselling and encouraging the youthful genius which he knows far surpasses his own. And I, my young friend of twoand-twenty, who, relatively to you, may be regarded as old, am going to assume no preposterous airs of superiority. I do not claim to be a bit wiser than you ; all I claim is to be older. I have outgrown your stage ; but I was once such as you, and all my sympathies are with you yet. But it is a difficulty in the way of the essayist, and, indeed, of all who set out opinions which they wish to be received and acted on by their fellow-creatures, that they seem, by the very act of offering advice to others, to claim to be wiser and better than those whom they advise. But in reality it is not so. The opinions of the essayist or of the preacher, if deserving of notice at all, are so because of their inherent truth, and not because he expresses them. Estimate them for yourself, and give them the weight which you think their due. And be sure of this, that the writer, if earnest and sincere, addressed all he said to himself as much as to any one else. This is the thing which redeems all didactic writing or speaking from the charge of offensive assumption and self-assertion. It is not for the preacher, whether of moral or religious truth, to address his fellows as outside sinners, worse than himself, and needing to be reminded of that of which he does not need to be reminded. No, the earnest preacher preaches to himself as much as to any in the congregation ; it is from the picture ever before him in his own weak and wayward heart that he learns to reach and describe the hearts of others, if, indeed, he do so at all. And it is the same with lesser things.
It is curious and it is instructive to remark how heartily men, as they grow towards middle age, despise themselves as they were a few years since. It is a bitter thing for a man to confess that he is a fool ; but it costs little effort to declare that he was a fool, a good while ago. Indeed, a tacit compliment to his present self is involved in the latter confession : it suggests the reflection, what progress he has made, and how vastly he has improved, since then. When a man informs us that he was a very silly fellow in the year 1851, it is assumed that he is not a very silly fellow in the year 1861. It is as when the merchant with ten thousand a year, sitting at his sumptuous table, and sipping his ’41 claret, tells you how, when he came as a raw lad from the country, he used often to have to go without his dinner. He knows that the plate, the wine, the massively elegant apartment, the silent servants, so alert, yet so impassive, will appear to join in chorus with the obvious suggestion, “ You see he has not to go without his dinner now ! ” Did you ever, when twenty years old, look back at the diary you kept when you were sixteen,—or when twenty-five, at the diary you kept when twenty, — or at thirty, at the diary you kept when twentyfive ? Was not your feeling a singular mixture of humiliation and self-complacency ? What extravagant, silly stuff it seemed that you had thus written five years before ! What Veal! and, oh, what a calf he must have been who wrote it! It is a difficult question, to which the answer cannot be elicited, Who is the greatest fool in this world ? But every candid and sensible man of middle age knows thoroughly well the answer to the question, Who was the greatest fool that he himself ever knew ? And after all it is your diary, especially if you were wont to introduce into it poetical remarks and moral reflections, that will mainly help you to the humiliating conclusion. Other things, some of which I have already named, will point in the same direction. Look at the prize essays you wrote when you were a boy at school ; look even at your earlier prize essays written at college (though of these last, I have something to say hereafter) ; look at the letters you wrote home when away at school or even at college, especially if you were, a clever boy, trying to write in a graphic and witty fashion ; and if you have reached sense at last, (which some, it may be remarked, never do,) I think you will blush even through the unblushing front of manhood, and think what a terrific, unutterable, conceited, intolerable blockhead you were. It is not till people attain somewhat mature years that they can rightly understand the wonderful forbearance their parents must have shown in listening patiently to the frightful nonsense they talked and wrote. I have already spoken of sermons. If you go early into the Church, say at twenty-three or twenty-four, and write sermons regularly and diligently, you know what landmarks they will be of your mental progress. The first runnings of the stream are turbid, but it clears itself into sense and taste month by month and year by year. You wrote many sermons in your first year or two; you preached them with entire confidence in them, and they did really keep up the attention of the congregation in a remarkable way. You accumulate in a box a store of that valuable literature and theology, and when by-and-by you go to another parish, you have a comfortable feeling that you have a capital stock to go on with. You think that any Monday morning, when you have the prospect of a very busy week, or when you feel very weary, you may resolve that you shall write no sermon that week, but just go and draw forth one from the box. I have already said what you will probably find, even if you draw forth a discourse which cost much labor. You cannot use it as it stands. Possibly it may be structural and essential Veal: the whole framework of thought may be immature. Possibly it may be Veal only in style; and by cutting out a turgid sentence here and there, and, above all, by cutting out all the passages which you thought particularly eloquent, the discourse may do yet. But even then you cannot give it with much confidence. Your mind can yield something better than that now. I imagine how a fine old orange-tree, that bears oranges with the thinnest possible skin and with no pips, juicy and rich, might feel that it has outgrown the fruit of its first years, when the skin was half an inch thick, the pips innumerable, and the eatable portion small and poor. It is with a feeling such as that that you read over your early sermon. Still, mingling with the sense of shame, there is a certain satisfaction. You have not been standing still; you have been getting on. And we always like to think that.
What is it that makes intellectual Veal? What are the things about a composition which stamp it as such ? Well, it is a certain character in thought and style hard to define, but strongly felt by such as discern its presence at all. It is strongly felt by professors reading the compositions of their students, especially the compositions of the cleverest students. It is strongly felt by educated folk of middle age, in listening to the sermons of young pulpit orators, especially of such as think for themselves, of such as aim at a high standard of excellence, of such as have in them the makings of striking and eloquent preachers. Dull and stupid fellows never deviate into the extravagance and absurdity which I specially understand by Veal. They plod along in a humdrum manner: there is no poetry in their soul, — none of those ambitious stirrings which lead the man who has in him the true spark of genius to try for grand things and incur severe and ignominious tumbles. A heavy dray-horse, walking along the road, may possibly advance at a very lagging pace, or may even stand still ; but whatever he may do, he is not likely to jump violently over the hedge, or to gallop off at twenty-five miles an hour. It must be a thoroughbred who will go wrong in that grand fashion. And there are intellectual absurdities and extravagances which hold out hopeful promise of noble doings yet : the eagle, which will breast the hurricane yet, may meet various awkward tumbles before he learns the fashion in which to use those iron wings. But the substantial goose, which probably escapes those tumbles in trying to fly, will never do anything very magnificent in the way of flying. The man who in his early days writes in a very inflated and bombastic style will gradually sober down into good sense and accurate taste, still retaining something of liveliness and eloquence. But expect little of the man who as a boy was always sensible, and never bombastic. He will grow awfully dry. He is sure to fall into the unpardonable sin of tiresomeness. The rule has exceptions; but the earliest productions of a man of real genius are almost always crude, flippant, and affectedly smart, or else turgid and extravagant in a high degree. Witness Mr. Disraeli; witness Sir E. B. Lytton; witness even Macaulay. The man who as mere boy writes something very sound and sensible will probably never become more than a dull, sensible, commonplace man. Many people can say, as they bethink themselves of their old college companions, that those who wrote with good sense and good taste at twenty have mostly settled down into the dullest and baldest of prosers ; while such as dealt in bombastic flourishes and absurd ambitiousness of style have learned, as time went on, to prune their early luxuriances, while still retaining something of raciness, interest, and ornament.
I have been speaking very generally of the characteristics of Veal in composition. It is difficult to give any accurate description of it that shall go into minuter details. Of course it is easy to think of little external marks of the beast, — that is, the calf. It is Veal in style, when people, writing prose, think it a fine thing to write o'er instead of over, ne'er instead of never, poesie instead of poetry, and methinks under any circumstances whatsoever. References to the heart are generally of the nature of Veal; also allusions to the mysterious throbbings and yearnings of our nature. The word grand has of late come to excite a strong suspicion of Veal; and when I read the other day in a certain poem something about a great grand man, I concluded that the writer of that poem was meanwhile a great grand calf. The only case in which the words may properly be used together is in speaking of your great-grandfather. To talk about mine affections, meaning my affections, is Veal; and mine bonnie love was decided Veal, though it was written by Charlotte Bronte. Wife mine is Veal, though it stands in “ The Caxtons.” I should rather like to see the man who in actual life is accustomed to address his spouse in that fashion. To say Not, oh, never shall we do so and so is outrageous Veal. Sylvan grove or sylvan vale in ordinary conversation is Veal. The word glorious should be used with caution; when applied to trees, mountains, or the like, there is a strong suspicion of Veal about it. But one feels that in saying these things we are not getting at the essence of Veal. Veal in thought is essential Veal, and it is very hard to define. Beyond extravagant language, beyond absurd fine things, it lies in a certain lack of reality and sobriety of sense and view, — in a certain indefinable jejuneness in the mental fare provided, which makes mature men feel that somehow it does not satisfy their cravings. You know what I mean better than I can express it. You have seen and heard a young preacher, with a rosy face and an unlined brow, preaching about the cares and trials of life. Well, you just feel at once be knows nothing about them. You feel that all this is at second-hand. He is saying all this because he supposes it is the right thing to say. Give me the pilot to direct me who has sailed through the difficult channel many a time himself. Give me the friend to sympathize with me in sorrow who has felt the like. There is a hollowness, a certain want, in the talk about much tribulation of the very cleverest man who has never felt any great sorrow at all. The great force and value of all teaching lie in the amount of personal experience which is embodied in it. You feel the difference between the production of a wonderfully clever boy and of a mature man, when you read the first canto of “ Childe Harold,” and then read Philip van Artevelde.” I do not say but that the boy’s production may have a liveliness and interest beyond the man’s. Veal is in certain respects superior to Beef, though Beef is best on the whole. I have heard Vealy preachers whose sermons kept up breathless attention. From the first word to the last of a sermon which was unquestionable Veal, I have witnessed an entire congregation listen with that audible hush you know. It was very different, indeed, from the state of matters when a humdrum old gentleman was preaching, every word spoken by whom was the maturest sense, expressed in words to which the most fastidious taste could have taken no exception; but then the whole thing was sleepy: it was a terrible effort to attend. In the case of the Veal there was no effort at all. I defy you to help attending. But then you sat in pain. Every second sentence there was some outrageous offence against good taste; every third statement was absurd, or overdrawn, or almost profane. You felt occasional thrills of pure disgust and horror, and you were in terror what might come next. One thing which tended to carry all this off was the manifest confidence and earnestness of the speaker. He did not think it Veal that he was saying. And though great consternation was depicted on the faces of some of the better-educated people in church, you could see that a very considerable part of the congregation did not think it Veal either. There can be no doubt, my middle-aged friend, if you could but give your early sermons now with the confidence and fire of the time when you wrote them, they would make a deep impression on many people yet. But it is simply impossible for you to give them; and if you should force yourself some rainy Sunday to preach one of them, you would give it with such a sense of its errors, and with such an absence of corresponding feeling, that it would fall very flat and dead. Your views are maturing; your taste is growing fastidious; the strong things you once said you could not bring yourself to say now. If you could preach those old sermons, there is no doubt they would go down with the mass of uncultivated folk,— go down better than your mature and reasonable ones. We have all known such cases as that of a young preacher who, at twenty-five, in his days of Veal, drew great crowds to the church at which he preached, and who at thirtyfive, being a good deal tamed and sobered, and in the judgment of competent judges vastly improved, attracted no more than a respectable congregation. A very great and eloquent preacher lately lamented to me the uselessness of his store of early discourses. If he could but get rid of his present standard of what is right and good in thought and language, and preach them with the enchaining fire with which he preached them once ! For many hearers remain immature, though the preacher has matured. Young people are growing up, and there are people whose taste never ripens beyond the enjoyment of Veal. There is a period in the mental development of those who will be ablest and maturest, at which Vealy thought and language are accepted as the best. Veal will be highly appreciated by sympathetic calves ; and the greatest men, with rare exceptions, are calves in youth, while many human beings are calves forever. And here I may remark, as something which has afforded me consolation on various occasions within the last year, that it seems unquestionable that sermons which are utterly revolting to people of taste and sense have done much good to large masses of those people in whom common sense is most imperfectly developed, and in whom taste is not developed at all; and accordingly, wherever one is convinced of the sincerity of the individuals, however foolish and uneducated, who go about pouring forth those violent, exaggerated, and all but blasphemous discourses of which I have read accounts in the newspapers, one would humbly hope that a Power which works by many means would bring about good even through an instrumentality which it is hard to contemplate without some measure of horror. The impression produced by most things in this world is relative to the minds on which the impression is produced. A coarse ballad, deficient in rhyme and rhythm, and only half decent, will keep up the attention of a rustic group to whom you might read from “ In Memoriam” in vain. A waistcoat of glaring scarlet will be esteemed by a country bumpkin a garment every way preferable to one of aspect more subdued. A nigger melody will charm many a one who would yawn at Beethoven. You must have rough means to move rough people. The outrageous revival-orator may do good to people to whom Bishop Wilberforce or Dr. Caird might preach to no purpose ; and if real good be done, by whatever means, all right-minded people should rejoice to hear of it.
And this leads to an important practical question, on which men at different periods of life will never agree. When shall thought be regarded as mature ? Is there a standard by which we may ascertain beyond question whether a composition be Veal or Beef? I sigh for fixity and assurance in matters æsthetical. It is vexatious that what I think very good my friend Smith thinks very bad. It is vexatious that what strikes me as supreme and unapproachable excellence strikes another person, at least as competent to form an opinion, as poor. And I am angry with myself when I feel that I honestly regard as inflated commonplace and mystical jargon what a man as old and (let us say) nearly as wise as myself thinks the utterance of a prophet. You know how, when you contemplate the purchase of a horse, you lead him up to the measuring-bar, and there ascertain the precise number of hands and inches which he stands. How have I longed for the means of subjecting the mental stature of human beings to an analogous process of measurement ! Oh for some recognized and unerring gauge of mental calibre ! It would be a grand thing, if somewhere in a very conspicuous position— say on the site of the National Gallery at Charing Cross — there were a pillar erected, graduated by some new Fahrenheit, on which we could measure the height of a man’s mind. How delightful it would be to drag up some pompous pretender who passes off at once upon himself and others as a profound and able man, and make him measure his height upon that pillar, and understand beyond all cavil what a pigmy he is ! And how pleasant, too, it would be to bring up some man of unacknowledged genius, and make the world see the reach of his intellectual stature ! The mass of educated people, even, are so incapable of forming any estimate of a man’s ability, that it would be a blessing, if men could be sent out into the world with the stamp upon them, telling what are their weight and value, plain for every one to see. But of course there are many ways in which a book, sermon, or essay may be bad without being Vealy. It may be dull, stupid, illogical, and the like, and yet have nothing of boyishness about it. It may be insufferably bad, yet quite mature. Beef may be bad, and yet undoubtedly Beef. And the question now is, not so much whether there be a standard of what is in a literary sense good or bad, as whether there be a standard of what is Veal and what is Beef. And there is a great difficulty here. Is a thing to be regarded as mature, when it suits your present taste, when it is approved by your present deliberate judgment? For your taste is always changing: your standard is not the same for three successive years of your early youth. The Veal you now despise you thought Beef when you wrote it. And so, too, with the productions of other men. You cannot read now without amazement the books which used to enchant you as a child. I remember when I used to read Hervey’s “Meditations” with great delight. That was when I was about five years old. A year or two later I greatly affected Macpherson’s translation of Ossian. Ir is not so very long since I felt the liveliest interest in Tupper’s “ Proverbial Philosophy.” Let me confess that I retain a kindly feeling towards it yet; and that I am glad to see that some hundreds of thousands of readers appear to be still in the stage out of which I passed some years since. Yes, as you grow older, your taste changes: it becomes more fastidious; and especially you come to have always less toleration for sentimental feeling and for flights of fancy. And besides this gradual and constant progression, which holds on uniformly year after year, there are changes in mood and taste sometimes from day to day and from hour to hour. The man who did a very silly thing thought it was a wise thing when he did it. He sees the matter differently in a little while. On the evening after the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington wrote a certain letter. History does not record its matter or style. But history does record, that some years afterwards the Duke paid a hundred guineas to get it back again,—and that, on getting it, he instantly burned it, exclaiming, that, when he wrote it, he must have been the greatest idiot on the face of the earth. Doubtless, if we had seen that letter, we should have heartily coincided in the sentiment of the hero. He was an idiot when he wrote it, but he did not think that he was one. I think, however, that there is a standard of sense and folly, and that there is a point at which Veal is Veal no more. But I do not believe that thought can justly be called mature only when it has become such as to suit the taste of some desperately dry old gentleman, with as much feeling as a log of wood, and as much imagination as an oyster. I know how intolerant some dull old fogies are of youthful fire and fancy. I shall not be convinced that any discourse is puerile because it is pronounced such by the venerable Dr. Dryasdust. I remember that the venerable man has written many pages, possibly abundant in sound sense, but which no mortal could read, and to which no mortal could listen. I remember, that, though that not very amiable individual has outlived such wits as he once had, he has not outlived the unbecoming emotions of envy and jealousy ; and he retains a strong tendency to evil-speaking and slandering. You told me, unanmiable individual, how disgusted you were at hearing a friend of mine, who is one of the best preachers in Britain, preach one of his finest sermons. Perhaps you really were disgusted: there is such a thing as casting pearls before swine, who will not appreciate them highly. But you went on to give an account of what the great preacher said ; and though I know you are extremely stupid, you are not quite so stupid as to have actually fancied that the great preacher said what you reported that he said : you were well aware that you were grossly misrepresenting him. And when I find malice and insincerity in one respect, I am ready to suspect them in another: and I venture to doubt whether you were disgusted. Possibly you were only ferocious at finding yourself so unspeakably excelled. But even if you had been really disgusted, and even if you were a clever man, and even if you were above the suspicion of jealousy, I should not think that my friend’s noble discourse was puerile because you thought it so. It is not when the warm feelings of earlier days are dried up into a cold, time-worn cynicism, that I think a man has become the best judge of the products of the human brain and heart. It is a noble thing when a man grows old retaining something of youthful freshness and fervor. It is a fine thing to ripen without shrivelling,— to reach the calmness of age, yet keep the warm heart and ready sympathy of youth. Show me such a man as that, and I shall be content to bow to his decision whether a thing be Veal or not. But as such men are not found very frequently, I should suggest it as an approximation to a safe criterion, that a thing may be regarded as mature when it is deliberately and dispassionately approved by an educated man of good ability and above thirty years of age. No doubt a man of fifty may hold that fifty is the age of sound taste and sense; and a youth of twenty-three may maintain that he is as good a judge of human doings now as he will ever be. I do not claim to have proposed an infallible standard. I give you my present belief, being well aware that it is very likely to alter.
It is not desirable that one’s taste should become too fastidious, or that natural feeling should be refined away. And a cynical young man is bad, but a cynical old one is a great deal worse. The cynical young man is probably shamming; he is a humbug, not a cynic. But the old man probably is a cynic, as heartless as he seems. And without thinking of cynicism, real or affected, let us remember, that, though the taste ought to be refined, and daily refining, it ought not to be refined beyond being practically serviceable. Let things be good, but not too good to be workable. It is expedient that a cart for conveying coals should be of neat and decent appearance. Let the shafts be symmetrical, the boards wellplaned, the whole strong, yet not clumsy; and over the whole let the painter’s skill induce a hue rosy as beauty's cheek, or dark-blue as her eye. All that is well; and while the cart will carry its coals satisfactorily, it will stand a good deal of rough usage, and it will please the eye of the rustic who sits in it on an empty sack and whistles as it moves along. But it would be highly inexpedient to make that cart of walnut of the finest grain and marking, and to have it French-polished. It would be too fine to be of use ; and its possessor would fear to scratch it, and would preserve it as a show, seeking some plainer vehicle to carry his coals. In like manner, do not refine too much either the products of the mind, or the sensibilities of the taste which is to appreciate them. I know an amiable professor very different from Dr. Dryasdust. He was a country clergyman, — a veryinteresting plain preacher. But when he got his chair, he had to preach a good deal in the college chapel ; and by way of accommodating his discourses to an academic audience, he rewrote them carefully, rubbed off all the salient points, cooled down whatever warmth was in them to frigid accuracy, toned down everything striking. The result was that his sermons became eminently classical and elegant; only they became impossible to attend to, and impossible to remember; and when you heard the good man preach, you sighed for the rough and striking heartiness of former days. And we have all heard of such a thing as taste refined to that painful sensitiveness, that it became a source of torment,— that is, unfitted for common enjoyments and even for common duties. There was once a great man, let us say at Melipotamus, who never went to church. A clergyman once, in speaking to a friend of the great man, lamented that the great man set so bad an example before his humbler neighbors, “ How can that man go to church ? ” was the reply ; “ his taste, and his entire critical faculty, are sharpened to that degree, that, in listening to any ordinary preacher, he feels outraged and shocked at every fourth sentence he hears, by its inelegance or its want of logic; and the entire sermon torments him by its unsymmetrical structure, its want of perspective in the presentment of details, and its general literary badness.” I quite believe that there was a moderate proportion of truth in the excuse thus urged; and you will probably judge that it would have been better, had the great man's mind not been brought to so painful a polish.
The mention of dried-up old gentlemen reminds one of a question which has sometimes perplexed me. Is it Vealy to feel or to show keen emotion? Is it a precious result and indication of the maturity of the human mind to look as if you felt nothing at all? I have often looked with wonder, and with a moderate amount of veneration, at a few old gentlemen whom I know well, who are leading members of a certain legislative and judicial council held in great respect in a country of which no more need be said. I have beheld these old gentlemen sitting apparently quite unmoved, when discussions were going on in which I knew they felt a very deep interest, and when the tide of debate was setting strongly against their peculiar views. There they sat, impassive as a Red Indian at the stake. I think of a certain man who, while a smart speech on the other side is being made. retains a countenance expressing actually nothing; he looks as if he heard nothing, felt nothing, cared for nothing. But when the other man sits down, he rises to reply. He speaks slowly at first, but every weighty word goes home and tells : he gathers warmth and rapidity as he goes on, and in a little you become aware that for a few hundred pounds a year you may sometimes get a man who would have made an Attorney-General or a LordChancellor; you discern, that, under the appearance of almost stolidity, there was the sharpest attention watching every word of the argument of the other speaker, and ready to come down on every weak point in it; and the other speaker is (in a logical sense) pounded to jelly by a succession of straight-handed hits. Yes, it is a wonderful thing to find a combination of coolness and earnestness. But I am inclined to believe that the reason why some old gentlemen look as it they did not care is that in fact they don’t care. And there is no particular merit in looking cool while a question is being discussed, if you really do not mind a rush which way it may be decided. A keen, unvarying, engrossing regard for one’s self is a great safeguard against over-excitement in regard to all the questions of the day, political, social, and religious.
It is a curious, but certain fact, that clever young men, at that period of their life when their own likings tend towards Veal, know quite well the difference between Veal and Beef, and are quite able, when necessary, to produce the latter. The tendency to boyishness of thought and style may be repressed, when you know you are writing for the perusal of readers with whom that will not go down. A student of twenty, who has in him Great talent, no matter how undue a supremacy his imagination may meanwhile have, if he be set to producing an essay in Metaphysics to be read by professors of philosophy, will produce a composition singularly free from any trace of immaturity. For such a clever youth, though he may have a strong bent towards Veal, has in him an instinctive perception that it is Veal, and a keen sense of what will and will not do for the particular readers he has to please. Go, you essayist who carried off a host of university honors, and read over now the prize essays you wrote at twenty-one or twenty-two. I think the thing that will mainly strike you will be, how very mature these compositions are, — how ingenious, how judicious, how free from extravagance, how quietly and accurately and even felicitously expressed. They are not Veal. And yet you know that several years after you wrote them you were still writing a great deal which was Veal beyond all question. But then a clever youth can produce material to any given standard ; and you wrote the essays not to suit your own taste, but to suit what you intuitively knew was the taste of the grave and even smoke-dried professors who were to read them and sit in judgment on them.
And though it is very fit and right that the academic standard should be an understood one, and quite different from the popular standard, still it is not enough that a young man should be able to write to a standard against which he in his heart rebels and protests. It is yet more important that you should get him to approve and adopt a standard which is accurate, if not severe. It is quite extraordinary what bombastic and immature sermons are preached in their first years in the Church by young clergymen who wrote many academic compositions in a style the most classical. It seems to be essential that a man of feeling and imagination should he allowed fairly to run himself out. The course apparently is, that the tree should send out its rank shoots, and then that you should prune them, rather than that by some repressive means you should prevent the rank shoots coming forth at all. The way to get a high-spirited horse to be content to stay peaceably in its stall is to allow it to have a tearing gallop, and thus get out its superfluous nervous excitement and vital spirit. Let the boiler blow off its steam. All repression is dangerous. And some injudicious folk, instead of encouraging the highly-charged mind and heart to relieve themselves by blowing off in excited verse and extravagant bombast, would (so to speak) sit on the safetyvalve. Let the bursting spring flow ! It will run turbid at first; but it will clear itself day by day. Let a young man write a vast deal: the more he writes, the sooner will the Veal be done with. But if a man write very little, the bombast is not blown off; and it may remain till advanced years. It seems as if a certain quantity of fustian must be blown off before you reach the good material. I have heard a mercantile man of fifty read a paper he had written on a social subject. He had written very little save businessletters all his life. And I assure you that his paper was bombastic to a degree that you would have said was barely tolerable in a youth of twenty. I have seldom listened to Veal so outrageous. You see he had not worked through it in his youth; and so here it was now. I have witnessed the like phenomenon in a man who went into the Church at five-andforty. I heard him preach one of his earliest sermons, and I have hardly ever heard such boyish rhodomontade. The imaginations of some men last out in liveliness longer than those of others; and the taste of some men never becomes perfect; and it is no doubt owing to these things that you find some men producing Veal so much later in life than others. You will find men who are very turgid and magniloquent at five-and-thirty, at forty, at fifty. But I attribute the phenomenon in no small measure to the fact that such men had not the opportunity of blowing off their steam in youth. Give a man at four-and-twenty two sermons to write a week, and he will very soon work through his Veal. It is probably because ladies write comparatively so little, that you find them writing at fifty poetry and prose of the most awfully romantic and sentimental strain.
We have been thinking, my friend, as you have doubtless observed, almost exclusively of intellectual and æstbetical immaturity, and of its products in composition, spoken or written. But combining with that immaturity, and going very much to affect the character of that Veal, there is moral immaturity, resulting in views, feelings, and conduct which may be described as Moral Veal. But, indeed, it is very difficult to distinguish between the different kinds of immaturity, and to say exactly what in the moods and doings of youth proceeds from each. It is safest to rest in the general proposition, that, even as the calf yields Veal, so does the immature human mind yield immature productions. It is a stage which you outgrow, and therefore a stage of comparative immaturity, in which you read a vast deal of poetry, and repeat much poetry to yourself when alone, working yourself up thereby to an enthusiastic excitement. And very like a calf you look, when some one suddenly enters the room in which you are wildly gesticulating or moodily laughing, and thinking yourself poetical, and, indeed, sublime. The person probably takes you for a fool; and the best, you can say for yourself is that you are not so great a fool as you seem to be. Vely is the period of life in which you filled a great volume with the verses you loved, and in which you stored your memory, by frequent reading, with many thousands of lines. All that you outgrow. Fancy a man of fifty having his commonplace book of poetry! And it will be instructive to turn over the ancient volume, and to see how year by year the verses copied grew fewer, and finally ceased entirely. I do not say that all growth is progress: sometimes it is like that of the muscle, which once advanced into manly vigor and usefulness, but is now ossifying into rigidity. It is well to have fancy and feeling under command: it is not well to have feeling and fancy dead. That season of life is Vealy in which you are charmed by the melody of verse, quite apart from its meaning. And there is a season in which that is so. And it is curious to remark what verses they are that have charmed many men; for they are often verses in which no one else could have discerned that singular fascination. You may remember how Robert Burns has recorded that in youth he was enchanted by the melody of two lines of Addison’s, —
High on the broken wave.”
Sir Walter Scott felt the like fascination in youth (and he tells us it was not entirely gone even in age) in Mickle’s stanza, —
The moon, sweet regent of the sky,
Silvered the walls of Cumnor Hall,
And many an oak that grew thereby.”
Not a remarkable verse, I think. However, it at least presents a pleasant picture. But I remember well the enchantment which, when twelve years old, I felt in a verse by Mrs. Hemans, which I can now see presents an excessively disagreeable picture. I saw it not then ; and when I used to repeat that verse, I know it was without the slightest perception of its meaning. You know the beautiful poem called the “ Battle of Morgarten.” At least I remember it as beautiful; and I am not going to spoil my recollection by reading it now. Here is the verse: —
When the Austrian turned to fly:
And the brave, in the trampling multitude,
Had a fearful death to die! ”
As I write that verse, (at which the critical reader will smile,) I am aware that Veal has its hold of me yet. I see nothing of the miserable scene the poet describes; but I hear the waves murmuring on a distant beach, and I see the hills across the sea, the first sea I ever beheld ; I see the school to which I went daily ; I see the class-room, and the place where I used to sit ; I see the faces and hear the voices of my old companions, some dead, one sleeping in the middle of the great Atlantic, many scattered over distant parts of the world, almost all far away. Yes, I feel that I have not quite cast off the witchery of the “ Battle of Morgarten.” Early associations can give to verse a charm and a hold upon one’s heart which no literary excellence, however high, ever could. Look at the first hymns you learned to repeat, and which you used to say at your mother’s knee; look at the psalms and hymns you remember hearing sung at church when you were a child : you know how impossible it is for you to estimate these upon their literary merits. They may be almost doggerel; but not Mr. Tennyson can touch you like them ! The most effective eloquence is that which is mainly done by the mind to which it is addressed : it is that which touches chords which of themselves yield matchless music; it is that which wakens up trains of old remembrance, and which wafts around you the fragrance of the hawthorn that blossomed and withered many long years since. An English stranger would not think much of the hymns we sing in our Scotch churches: he could not know what many of them are to us. There is a magic about the words. I can discern, indeed, that some of them are mawkish in sentiment, faulty in rhyme, and, on the whole, what you would call extremely unfitted to be sung in public worship, if you were judging of them as new things: but a crowd of associations which are beautiful and touching gathers round the lines which have no great beauty or pathos in themselves.
You were in an extremely Vealy condition, when, having attained the age of fourteen, you sent some verses to the county newspaper, and with simple-hearted elation read them in the corner devoted to what was termed “ Original Poetry.” It is a pity you did not preserve the newspapers in which you first saw yourself in print, and experienced the peculiar sensation which accompanies that sight. No doubt your verses expressed the gloomiest views of life, and told of the bitter disappointments you had met in your long intercourse with mankind, and especially with womankind. And though you were in a flutter of anxiety and excitement to see whether or not your verses would be printed, your verses probably declared that you had used up life and seen through it,—that your heart was no longer to be stirred by aught on earth,— and that, in short, you cared nothing for anything. You could see nothing fine then in being good, cheerful, and happy; but you thought it a grand thing to be a gloomy man, of a very dark complexion, with blood on your conscience, upwards of six feet high, and accustomed to wander from land to land, like Childe Harold. You were extremely Vealy when you used to fancy that you were sure to be a very great man, and to think how proud your relations would some day be of you, and how you would come back and excite a great commotion at the place where you used to be a school-boy. And it is because the world has still left some impressionable spot in your hearts, my readers, that you still have so many fond associations with “the school-boy spot we ne’er forget, though we are there forgot,” They were Vealy days, though pleasant to remember, my old school-companions, in which you used to go to the dancingschool, (it was in a gloomy theatre, seldom entered by actors,) in which you fell in love with several young ladies about eleven years old, and (being permitted occasionally to select your own partners) made frantic rushes to obtain the hand of one of the beauties of that small society. Those were the days in which you thought, that, when you grew up, it would be a very fine thing to be a pirate, bandit, or corsair, rather than a clergyman, barrister, or the like ; even a cheerful outlaw like Robin Hood did not come up to your views; you would rather have been a man like Captain Kyd, stained with various crimes of extreme atrocity, which would entirely preclude the possibility of returning to respectable society, and given to moody laughter in solitary moments. Oh, what truly asinine developments the human being must go through before arriving at the stage of common sense! You were very Vealy, too, when you used to think it a fine thing to astonish people by expressing awful sentiments,— such as that you thought Mahometans better than Christians, that you would like to be dissected after death, that you did not care what you got for dinner, that you liked learning your lessons better than going out to play, that you would rather read Euclid than “ Ivanhoe,” and the like. It may be remarked, that this peculiar Vealiness is not confined to youth ; I have seen it appearing very strongly in men with gray hair. Another manifestation of Vealiness, which appears both in age and youth, is the entertaining a strong belief that kings, noblemen, and baronets are always in a condition of ecstatic happiness. I have known people pretty far advanced in life, who not only believed that monarchs must be perfectly happy, but that all who were permitted to continue in their presence would catch a considerable degree of the mysterious bliss which was their portion. I have heard a sane man, rather acute and clever in many things, seriously say, “ If a man cannot be happy in the presence of his Sovereign, where can he be happy?”
And yet, absurd and foolish as is Moral Vealiness, there is something fine about it. Many of the old and dear associations most cherished in human hearts are of the nature of Veal. It is sad to think that most of the romance of life is unquestionably so. All spooniness, all the preposterous idolization of some one who is just like anybody else, all love, (in the narrow sense in which the word is understood by novel-readers,) you feel, when you look back, are Veal. The young lad and the young girl, whom at a picnic party you have discerned stealing off under frivolous pretexts from the main body of guests, and sitting on the grass by the river-side, enraptured in the prosecution of a conversation which is intellectually of the emptiest, and fancying that they two make all the world, and investing that spot with remembrances which will continue till they are gray, are (it must in sober sadness be admitted) of the nature of calves. For it is beyond doubt that they are at a stage which they will outgrow, and on which they may possibly look back with something of shame. All these things, beautiful as they are, are no more than Veal. Yet they are fitting and excellent in their time. Xo, let us not call them Veal; they are rather like Lamb, which is excellent, though immature. No doubt, youth is immaturity ; and as you outgrow it, you are growing better and wiser: still youth is a fine thing; and most people would be young again, if they could. How cheerful and light-hearted is immaturity ! How cheerful and lively are the little children even of silent and gloomy men ! It is sad, and it is unnatural, when they are not so. I remember yet, when I was at school, with what interest and wonder I used to look at two or three boys, about twelve or thirteen years old, who were always dull, sullen, and unhappy-looking. In those days, as a general rule, you are never sorrowful without knowing the reason why. You are never conscious of the dull atmosphere, of the gloomy spirits, of after-time. The youthful machine, bodily and mental, plays smoothly; the young being is cheery. Even a kitten is very different from a grave old cat, and a young colt from a horse sobered by the cares and toils of years. And you picture fine things to yourself in your youthful dreams. I remember a beautiful dwelling I used often to see, as if from the brow of a great hill. I see the rich valley below, with magnificent woods and glades, and a broad river reflecting the sunset; and in the midst of the valley, the vast Saracenic pile, with gilded minarets blazing in the golden light. I have since then seen many splendid habitations, but none in the least equal to that. I cannot even yet discard the idea that somewhere in this world there stands that noble palace, and that some day I shall find it out. You remember also the intense delight with which you read the books that charmed you then: how you carried off the poem or the tale to some solitary place, — how you sat up far into the night to read it,— how heartily you believed in all the story, and sympathized with the people it told of. I wish I could feel now the veneration for the man who has written a book which I used once to feel. Oh that one could read the old volumes with the old feeling ! Perhaps you have some of them yet, and you remember the peculiar expression of the type in which they were printed: the pages look at you with the face of an old friend. If you were then of an observant nature, you will understand how much of the effect of any composition upon the human mind depends upon the printing, upon the placing of the points, even upon the position of the sentences on the page. A grand, highflown, and sentimental climax ought always to conclude at the bottom of a page. It will look ridiculous, if it ends four or five lines down from the top of the next page. Somehow there is a feeling as of the difference between the night before and the next morning. It is as though the crushed ball-dress and the dishevelled locks of the close of the evening reappeared, the same, before breakfast. Let us have homely sense at the top of the page, pathos at the foot of it. What a force in the bad type of the shabby little “ Childe Harold ” you used to read so often ! You turn it over in a grand illustrated edition, and it seems like another poem. Let it here be said, that occasionally you look with something like indignation on the volume which enchained you in your boyish days. For now you have burst the chain. And you have somewhat of the feeling of the prisoner towards the jailer who held him in unjust bondage. What right had that bombastic rubbish to touch and thrill you as it used to do? Well, remember that it suits successive generations at their enthusiastic stage. There are poets whose great admirers are for the most part under twenty years old ; but probably almost every clever young person regards them at some period in his life as among the noblest of mortals. And it is no ignoble ambition to win the ardent appreciation of even immature tastes and hearts. Its brief endurance is compensated by its intensity. You sit by the fireside and read your leisurely “ Times,” and you feel a tranquil enjoyment. You like it better than the “ Sorrows of Werter,” but you do not like it a twentieth part as much as you once liked the “ Sorrow s of Werter.” You would be interested in meeting the man who wrote that brilliant and slashing leader; but you would not regard him with speechless awe, as something more than human. Yet, remembering all the weaknesses out of which men grow, and on which they look back with a smile or sigh, who does not feel that there is a charm which will not depart about early youth ? Longfellow knew that he would reach the hearts of most men, when he wrote such a verse as this:—
It was a sound of joy !
They were my playmates when a child,
And rocked me in their arms so wild;
Still they looked at me and smiled,
As if I were a boy! ”
Such readers as are young men will understand what has already been said as to the bitter indignation with which the writer, some years ago, listened to self-conceited elderly persons who put aside the arguments and the doings of younger men with the remark that these younger men were boys. There are few terms of reproach which I have heard uttered with looks of such deadly ferocity. And there are not many which excite feelings of greater wrath in the souls of clever young men. I remember how in those days I determined to write an essay which should scorch up and finally destroy all these carping and malicious critics. It was to be called “ A Chapter on Boys.” After an introduction of a sarcastic and magnificent character, setting out views substantially the same as those contained in the speech of Lord Chatham in reply to Walpole, which boys are taught to recite at school, that essay was to go on to show that a great part of English literature was written by very young men. Unfortunately, on proceeding to investigate the matter carefully, it appeared that the best part of English literature, even in the range of poetry, was in fact written by men of even more than middle age. So the essay was never finished, though a good deal of it was sketched out. Yesterday I took out the old manuscript; and after reading a bit of it, it appeared so remarkably Vealy, that I put it with indignation into the fire. Still I observed various facts of interest as to great things done by young men, and some by young men who never lived to be old. Beaumont the dramatist died at twenty-nine. Christopher Marlowe wrote “Faustus” at twentyfive, and died at thirty. Sir Philip Sidney wrote his “ Arcadia ” at twenty-six. Otway wrote “The Orphan” at twentyeight, and “ Venice Preserved ” at thirty. Thomson Wrote the “ Seasons” at twentyseven. Bishop Berkeley had devised his Ideal System at twenty-nine; and Clarke at the same age published his great work on “ The Being and Attributes of God.” Then there is Pitt, of course. But these cases are exceptional; and besides, men at twenty-eight and thirty are not in any way to be regarded as boys. "What I wanted was proof of the great things that had been done by young fellows about two-and-twenty ; and such proof was not to bo found. A man is simply a boy grown up to his best; and of course what is done by men must be better than what is done by boys. Unless in very peculiar cases, a man at thirty will be every way superior to what he was at twenty ; and at forty to what he was at thirty. Not, indeed, physically,—let that be granted ; not always morally; but surely intellectually and æsthetically.
Yes, my readers, we have all been Calves. A great part of all our doings has been what the writer, in figurative language, has described as Veal. We have not said, written, or done very much on which we can now look back with entire approval; and we have said, written, and done a very great deal on which we cannot look back but with burning shame and confusion. Very many things, which, when we did them, we thought remarkably good, and much better than the doings of ordinary men, we now discern, on calmly looking back, to have been extremely bad. That time, you know, my friend, when you talked in a very fluent and animated manner after dinner at a certain house, and thought you were making a great impression on the assembled guests, most of them entire strangers, you are now fully aware that you were only making a fool of yourself. And let this hint of one public manifestation of Vealiness suffice to suggest to each of us scores of similar cases. But though we feel, in our secret souls, what Calves we have been, and though it is well for us that we should feel it deeply, and thus learn humility and caution, we do not like to be reminded of it by anybody else. Some people have a wonderful memory for the Vealy sayings and doings of their friends. They may be very bad hands at remembering anything else ; but they never forget the silly speeches and actions on which one would like to shut down the leaf. You may find people a great part of whose conversation consists of repeating and exaggerating their neighbors’ Veal; and though that Veal may be immature enough and silly enough, it will go hard but your friend Mr. Snarling will represent it as a good deal worse than the fact. You will find men, who while at college were students of large ambition, but slender abilities, revenging themselves in this fashion upon the clever men who beat them. It is easy, very easy, to remember foolish things that were said and done even by the senior wrangler or the man who took a double first-class; and candid folk will think that such foolish things were not fair samples of the men, — and will remember, too, that the men have grown out of these, have grown mature and wise, and for many a year past would not have said or done such things. But if you were to judge from the conversation of Mr. Limejuice, (who wrote many prize essays, but, through the malice and stupidity of the judges, never got any prizes,) you would conclude that every word uttered by his successful rivals was one that stamped them as essential fools, and calves which would never grow into oxen. I do not think it is a pleasing or magnanimous feature in any man’s character, that he is ever eager to rake up these early follies. I would not be ready to throw in the teeth of a pretty butterfly that it was an ugly caterpillar once, unless I understood that the butterfly liked to remember the fact. I would not suggest to this fair sheet of paper on which I am writing, that not long ago it was dusty rags and afterwards dirty pulp. You cannot be an ox without previously having been a calf; you acquire taste and sense gradually, and in acquiring them you pass through stages in which you have very little of either. It is a poor burden for the memory, to collect and shovel into it the silly sayings and doings in youth of people who have become great and eminent. I read with much disgust a biography of Mr. Disraeli which recorded, no doubt accurately, all the sore points in that statesman’s history. I remember with great approval what Lord John Manners said in Parliament in reply to Mr. Bright, who had quoted a well-known and very silly passage from Lord John’s early poetry. “I would rather,” said Lord John, “ have been the man who in his youth wrote those silly verses than the man who in mature years would rake them up.” And with even greater indignation I regard the individual who, when a man is doing creditably and Christianly the work of life, is ever ready to relate and aggravate the moral delinquencies of his school-boy and student days, long since repented of and corrected. “ Remember not,” said a man who knew human nature well, “the sins of my youth.” But there are men whose nature has a peculiar affinity for anything petty, mean, and bad. They fly upon it as a vulture on carrion. Their memory is of that cast, that you have only to make inquiry of them concerning any of their friends, to hear of something not at all to the friends’ advantage. There are individuals, after listening to whom you think it would be a refreshing novelty, almost startling from its strangeness, to hear them say a word in favor of any human being whatsoever.
It is not a thing peculiar to immaturity; yet it may be remarked, that, though it is an unpleasant thing to look back and see that you have said or done something very foolish, it is a still more unpleasant thing to be well aware at the time that you are saying or doing something very foolish. If a man be a fool at all, it is much to be desired that he should be a very great fool; for then he will not know when he is making a fool of himself. But it is painful not to have sense enough to know what you should do in order to be right, but to have sense enough to know that you are doing wrong. To know that you are talking like an ass, yet to feel that you cannot help it,—that you must say something, and can think of nothing better to say,—this is a suffering that comes with advanced civilization. This is a phenomenon frequently to be seen at public dinners in country towns, also at the entertainment which succeeds a wedding. Men at other times rational seem to be stricken into idiocy when they rise to their feet on such occasions ; and the painful fact is, that it is conscious idiocy. The man’s words are asinine, and he knows they are asinine. His wits have entirely abandoned him : he is an idiot for the time. Have you sat next a man unused to speaking at a public dinner ? have you seen him nervously rise and utter an incoherent, ungrammatical, and unintelligible sentence or two, and then sit down with a ghastly smile ? Have you heard him say to his friend on the other side, in bitterness, “ I have made a fool of myself”? And have you seen him sit moodily through the remainder of the feast, evidently ruminating on what he said, seeing now what he ought to have said, and trying to persuade himself that what he said was not so bad after all ? Would you do a kindness to that miserable man ? You have just heard his friend on the other side cordially agreeing with what he had said as to the badness of the appearance made by him. Enter into conversation with him ; talk of his speech ; congratulate him upon it; tell him you were extremely struck by the freshness and naturalness of what he, said,—that there is something delightful in hearing an unhackneyed speaker,— that to speak with entire fluency looks professional, — it is like a barrister or a clergyman. Thus you may lighten the mortification of a disappointed man ; and what you say will receive considerable credence. It is wonderful how readily people believe anything they would like to be true.
I was walking this afternoon along a certain street, coming home from visiting certain sick persons, and wondering how I should conclude this essay, when, standing on the pavement on one side of the street, I saw a little boy four years old crying in great distress. Various individuals, who appeared to be Priests and Levites, looked, as they passed, at the child’s distress, and passed on without doing anything to relieve it. I spoke to the little man, who was in great fear at being spoken to, but told me he had come away from his home and lost himself, and could not find his way back. I told him I would take him home, if he could tell me where he lived ; but he was frightened into utter helplessness, and could only tell that his name was Tom, and that he lived at the top of a stair. It was a poor neighborhood, in which many people live at the top of stairs, and the description was vague. I spoke to two humble decent-looking women who were passing, thinking they might gain the little thing’s confidence better than I ; but the poor little man’s great wish was just to get away from us, — though, when he got two yards off, he could but stand and cry. You may be sure he was not left in his trouble, but that he was put safely into his father’s hands. And as I was coming home, I thought that here was an illustration of something I have been thinking of all this afternoon. I thought I saw in the poor little child’s desire to get away from those who wanted to help him, though not knowing where to go when left to himself, something analogous to what the immature human being is always disposed to. The whole teaching of our life is leading us away from our early delusions and follies, from all those things about us which have been spoken of under the similitude which need not be again repeated. Yet we push away the hand that would conduct us to soberer and better things, though, when left alone, we can but stand and vaguely gaze about us; and we speak hardly of the growing experience which makes us wiser, and which ought to make us happier too. Let us not forget that the teaching which takes something of the gloss from life is an instrument in the kindest Hand of all ; and let us be humbly content, if that kindest Hand shall lead us, even by rough means, to calm and enduring wisdom, — wisdom by no means inconsistent with youthful freshness of feeling, and not necessarily fatal even to youthful gayety of mood, — and at last to that Happy Place where worn men regain the little child’s heart, and old and young are blest together.