LITTLE FOXES. — PART II.
IT was that Christmas-day that did it; I ’m quite convinced of that; and the way it was is what I am going to tell you.
You see, among the various family customs of us Crowfields, the observance of all sorts of fetes and festivals has always been a matter of prime regard ; and among all the festivals of the round ripe year, none is so joyous and honored among us as Christmas.
Let no one upon this prick up the ears of Archaeology, and tell us that by the latest calculations of chronologists our ivy-grown and holly-mantled Christmas is all a hum, — that it has been demonstrated. by all sorts of signs and tables, that the august event it celebrates did not take place on the 25th of December. Supposing it be so, what have we to do with that? If so awful, so joyous an event ever took place on our earth, it is surely worth commemoration. It is the event we celebrate, not the time. And if all Christians for eighteen hundred years, while warring and wrangling on a thousand other points, have agreed to give this one 25th of December to peace and good-will, who is he that shall gainsay them, and for an historic scruple turn his back on the friendly greetings of all Christendom ? Such a man is capable of rewriting Milton’s Christmas Hymn in the style of Sternhold and Hopkins.
In our house, however, Christmas has always been a high day, a day whose expectation has held waking all the little eyes in our bird’s nest, when as yet there were only little ones there, each sleeping with one eye open, hoping to be the happy first to wish the merry Christmas and grasp the wonderful stocking.
This year our whole family train of married girls and boys, with the various toddling tribes thereto belonging, held high festival around a wonderful Christmas-tree, the getting-up and adorning of which had kept my wife and Jennie and myself busy for a week beforehand. If the little folks think these trees grow up in a night, without labor, they know as little about them as they do about most of the other blessings which rain down on their dear little thoughtless heads. Such scrambling and clambering and fussing and tying and untying, such alterations and rearrangements, such agilities in getting up and down and everywhere to tie on tapers and gold balls and glittering things innumerable, to hang airy dolls in graceful positions, to make branches bear stiffly up under loads of pretty things which threaten to make the tapers turn bottom upward ! Part and parcel of all this was I, Christopher, most reckless of rheumatism, most careless of dignity, the round, bald top of my head to be seen emerging everywhere from the thick boughs of the spruce, now devising an airy settlement for some gossamer-robed doll, now adjusting far back on a stiff branch Tom’s new little skates, now balancing bags of sugar-plums and candy, and now combating desperately with some contumacious taper that would turn slantwise or crosswise, or anywise but upward as a Christian taper should, — regardless of Mrs. Crowfield’s gentle admonitions and suggestions, sitting up to most dissipated hours, springing out of bed suddenly to change some arrangement in the middle of the night, and up long before the lazy sun at dawn to execute still other arrangements. If that Christmas-tree had been a fort to be taken, or a campaign to be planned, I could not have spent more time and strength on it. My zeal so far outran even that of sprightly Miss Jennie, that she could account for it only by saucily suggesting that papa must be fast getting into second childhood.
But did n't we have a splendid lighting-up ? Did n’t I and my youngest grandson, little Tom,head the procession magnificent in paper soldier-caps, blowing tin trumpets and beating drums, as we marched round the twinkling glories of our Christmas-tree, all glittering with red and blue and green tapers, and with a splendid angel on top with great gold wings, the cutting-out and adjusting of which had held my eyes waking for nights before ? I had had oceans of trouble with that angel, owing to an unlucky sprain in his left wing, which had required constant surgical attention through the week, and which I feared might fall loose again at the important and blissful moment of exhibition : but no, the Fates were in our favor ; the angel behaved beautifully, and kept his wings as crisp as possible, and the tapers all burned splendidly, and the little folks were as crazy with delight as my most ardent hopes could have desired; and then we romped and played and frolicked as long as little eyes could keep open, and long after ; and so passed away our Christmas.
I had forgotten to speak of the Christmas-dinner, that solid feast of fat things, on which we also luxuriated. Mrs. Crowfield outdid all household traditions in that feast: the turkey and the chickens, the jellies and the sauces, the pies and the pudding, behold, are they not written in the tablets of Memory which remain to this day ?
The holidays passed away hilariously, and at New-Year’s I, according to time-honored custom, went forth to make my calls and see my fair friends, while my wife and daughters stayed at home to dispense the hospitalities of the day to their gentlemen friends. All was merry, cheerful, and it was agreed on all hands that a more joyous holiday season had never flown over us.
But, somehow, the week after, I began to be sensible of a running-down in the wheels. I had an article to write for the “Atlantic,” but felt mopish and could not write. My dinner had not its usual relish, and I had an indefinite sense everywhere of something going wrong. My coal bill came in, and I felt sure we were being extravagant, and that our John Furnace wasted the coal. My grandsons and granddaughters came to see us, and I discovered that they had high-pitched voices, and burst in without wiping their shoes, and it suddenly occurred powerfully to my mind that they were not being well brought up, — evidently, they were growing up rude and noisy. I discovered several tumblers and plates with the edges chipped, and made bitter reflections on the carelessness of Irish servants ; our crockery was going to destruction, along with the rest. Then, on opening one of my paper-drawers, I found that Jennie’s one drawer of worsted had overflowed into two or three ; Jennie was growing careless ; besides, worsted is dear, and girls knit away small fortunes, without knowing it, on little duds that do nobody any good. Moreover, Maggie had three times put my slippers into the hall-closet, instead of leaving them where I wanted, under my study-table. Mrs. Crowfield ought to look after things more ; every servant, from end to end of the house, was getting out of the traces ; it was strange she did not see it.
All this I vented, from time to time, in short, crusty sayings and doings, as freely as if I had n’t just written an article on “ Little Foxes ” in the last “Atlantic,” till at length my eyes were opened on my own state and condition.
It was evening, and I had just laid up the fire in the most approved style of architecture, and, projecting my feet into my slippers, sat spitefully cutting the leaves of a caustic review.
Mrs. Crowfield took the tongs and altered the disposition of a stick.
“ My dear,” I said, “ I do wish you ’d let the fire alone,—you always put it out.”
“ I was merely admitting a little air between the sticks,” said my wife.
“ You always make matters worse, when you touch the fire.”
As if in contradiction, a bright tongue of flame darted up between the sticks, and the fire began chattering and snapping defiance at me. Now, if there’s anything which would provoke a saint, it is to be jeered and snapped at in that way by a man’s own fire. It’s an unbearable impertinence. I threw out my leg impatiently, and hit Rover, who yelped a yelp that finished the upset of my nerves. I gave him a hearty kick, that he might have something to yelp for, and in the movement upset Jennie’s embroidery-basket.
“ Oh, papa ! ”
“ Confound your baskets and balls ! they are everywhere, so that a man can't move ; useless, wasteful things, too.”
“ Wasteful ? ” said Jennie, coloring indignantly; for if there ’s anything Jennie piques herself upon, it ’s economy.
“Yes, wasteful, — wasting time and money both. Here are hundreds of shivering poor to be clothed, and Christian females sit and do nothing but crochet worsted into useless knicknacks. If they would be working for the poor, there would be some sense in it. But it’s all just alike, no real Christianity in the world, — nothing but organized selfishness and self-indulgence.”
“ My dear,” said Mrs. Crowfield, “you are not well to-night. Things are not quite so desperate as they appear. You have n’t got over Christmas-week.”
“ I am well. Never was better. But I can see, I hope, what ’s before my eyes ; and the fact is, Mrs. Crowfield, things must not go on as they are going. There must be more care, more attention to details. There ’s Maggie,— that girl never does what she is told. You are too slack with her, Ma’am. She will light the fire with the last paper, and she won’t put my slippers in the right place ; and I can’t have my study made the general catch - all and menagerie for Rover and Jennie, and her baskets and balls, and for all the family litter.”
Just at this moment I overheard a sort of aside from Jennie, who was swelling with repressed indignation at my attack on her worsted. She sat with her back to me, knitting energetically, and said, in a low, but very decisive tone, as she twitched her yarn,—
“Now if I should talk in that way, people would call me cross, — and that’s the whole of it.”
I pretended to be looking into the fire in an absent-minded state ; but Jennie’s words had started a new idea. Was that it? Was that the whole matter ? Was it, then, a fact, that the house, the servants, Jennie and her worsteds, Rover and Mrs. Crowfield, were all going on pretty much as usual, and that the only difficulty was that I was cross? How many times had I encouraged Rover to lie just where he was lying when I kicked him ! How many times, in better moods, had I complimented Jennie on her neat little fancy-works, and declared that I liked the social companionship of ladies’ work-baskets among my papers ! Yes, it was clear. After all, things were much as they had been; only I was cross.
Cross. I put it to myself in that simple, old-fashioned word, instead of saying that I was out of spirits, or nervous, or using any of the other smooth phrases with which we good Christians cover up our little sins of temper. “ Here you are, Christopher,” said I to myself, “a literary man, with a somewhat delicate nervous organization and a sensitive stomach, and you have been eating like a sailor or a ploughman ; you have been gallivanting and merry-making and playing the boy for two weeks ; up at all sorts of irregular hours, and into all sorts of boyish performances ; and the consequence is, that, like a thoughtless young scapegrace, you have used up in ten days the capital of nervous energy that was meant to last you ten weeks. You can’t eat your cake and have it too, Christopher. When the nervous-fluid source of cheerfulness, giver of pleasant sensations and pleasant views, is all spent, you can't feel cheerful; things cannot look as they did when you were full of life and vigor. When the tide is out, there is nothing but unsightly, illsmelling tide-mud, and you can’t help it; but you can keep your senses, — you can know what is the matter with you, — you can keep from visiting your overdose of Christmas mince-pies and candies and jocularities on the heads of Mrs. Crowheld, Rover, and Jennie, whether in the form of virulent morality, pungent criticisms, or a free kick, such as you just gave the poor brute.”
“ Come here, Rover, poor dog ! ” said I, extending my hand to Rover, who cowered at the farther corner of the room, eying me wistfully, — “ come here, you poor doggie, and make up with your master. There, there ! Was his master cross ? Well, he knows it. We must forgive and forget, old boy, must n’t we ? ” And Rover nearly broke his own back and tore me to pieces with his tumultuous tail-waggings.
“ As for you, puss,” I said to Jennie, “ I am much obliged to you for your free suggestion. You must take my cynical moralities for what they are worth, and put your little traps into as many of my drawers as you like.”
In short, I made it up handsomely all around, — even apologizing to Mrs. Crowfield, who, by the bye, has summered and wintered me so many years, and knows all my airs and cuts and crinkles so well, that she took my irritable unreasonable spirit as tranquilly as if I had been a baby cutting a new tooth.
“ Of course, Chris, I knew what the matter was ; don’t disturb yourself,” she said, as I began my apology; “ we understand each other. But there is one thing I have to say ; and that is, that your article ought to be ready.”
“Ah, well, then,” said 1, “like other great writers, I shall make capital of my own sins, and treat of the second little family fox ; and his name is —
IRRITABILITY is, more than most unlovely states, a sin of the flesh. It is not, like envy, malice, spite, revenge, a vice which we may suppose to belong equally to an embodied or a disembodied spirit. In fact, it comes nearer to beingphysical depravity than anything I know of. There are some bodily states, some conditions of the nerves, such that we could not conceive of even an angelic spirit confined in a body thus disordered as being able to do any more than simply endure. It is a state of nervous torture ; and the attacks which the wretched victim makes on others are as much a result of disease as the snapping and biting of a patient convulsed with hydrophobia.
Then, again, there are other people who go through life loving and beloved, desired in every circle, held up in the church as examples of the power of religion, who, after all, deserve no credit for these things. Their spirits are lodged in an animal nature so tranquil, so cheerful, all the sensations which come to them are so fresh and vigorous and pleasant, that they cannot help viewing the world charitably and seeing everything through a glorified medium. The ill-temper of others does not provoke them ; perplexing business never sets their nerves to vibrating ; and all their lives long they walk in the serene sunshine of perfect animal health.
Look at Rover there. He is never nervous, never cross, never snaps or snarls, and is ready, the moment after the grossest affront, to wag the tail of forgiveness, — all because kind Nature has put his dog’s body together so that it always works harmoniously. If every person in the world were gifted with a stomach and nerves like his, it would be a far better and happier world, no doubt. The man said a good thing who made the remark that the foundation of all intellectual and moral worth must be laid in a good healthy animal.
Now I think it is undeniable that the peace and happiness of the home-circle are very generally much invaded by the recurrence in its members of these states of bodily irritability. Every person, if he thinks the matter over, will see that his condition in life, the character of his friends, his estimate of their virtues and failings,-his hopes and expectations, are all very much modlifted by these things. Cannot we all remember going to bed as very illused, persecuted individuals, all whose friends were unreasonable, whose life was full of trials and crosses, and waking up on a bright bird-singing morning to find all these illusions gone with the fogs of the night ? Our friends are nice people, after all ; the little things that annoyed us look ridiculous by blight sunshine ; and we are fortunate individuals.
The philosophy of life, then, as far as this matter is concerned, must consist of two things : first, to keep ourselves out of irritable bodily states ; and, second, to understand and control these states, when we cannot ward them off.
Of course, the first of these is the most important; and yet, of all things, it seems to be least looked into and understood. We find abundant rules for the government of the tongue and temper ; it is a slough into which, John Bunyan hath it, cart-loads of wholesome instructions have been thrown ; but how to get and keep that healthy state of brain, stomach, and nerves which takes away the temptation to illtemper and anger is a subject which moral and religious teachers seem scarcely to touch upon.
Now, without running into technical, physiological language, it is evident, as regards us human beings, that there is a power by which we live and move and have our being, — by which the brain thinks and wills, the stomach digests, the blood circulates, and all the different provinces of the little man-kingdom do their work. This something —call it nervous fluid, nervous power, vital energy, life-force, or anything else that you will — is a perfectly understood, if not a definable thing. It is plain, too, that people possess this force in very different degrees: some generating it as a high-pressure engine does steam, and using it constantly, with an apparently inexhaustible flow ; and others who have little, and spend it quickly. We have a common saying, that this or that person is soon used up. Now most nervous, irritable states of temper are the mere physical result of a used-up condition. The person has overspent his nervous energy, — like a man who should eat up on Monday the whole food which was to keep him for a week, and go growling and faint through the other days; or the quantity of nervous force which was wanted to carry on the whole system in all its parts is seized on by some one monopolizing portion, and used up to the loss and detriment of the rest. Thus, with men of letters, an exorbitant brain expends on its own workings what belongs to the other offices of the body: the stomach has nothing to carry on digestion; the secretions are badly made ; and the imperfectly assimilated nourishment, that is conveyed to every little nerve and tissue, carries with it an acrid, irritating quality, producing general restlessness and discomfort. So men and women go struggling on through their three-score and ten years, scarcely one in a thousand knowing through life that perfect balance of parts, that appropriate harmony of energies, that make a healthy, kindly animal condition, predisposing to cheerfulness and good-will.
We Americans are, to begin with, a nervous, excitable people. Multitudes of children, probably the great majority in the upper walks of life, are born into the world with weaknesses of the nervous organization, or of the brain or stomach, which make them incapable of any strong excitement or prolonged exertion without some lesion or derangement ; so that they are continually being checked, laid up, and invalided in the midst of their drugs. Life here in America is so fervid, so fast, our climate is so stimulating, with its clear, bright skies, its rapid and sudden changes of temperature, that the tendencies to nervous disease are constantly aggravated.
Under these circumstances, unless men and women make a conscience, a religion, of saving and sparing something of themselves expressly for homelife and home-consumption, it must follow that home will often be merely a sort of refuge for us to creep into when we are used up and irritable.
Papa is up and off, after a hasty breakfast, and drives all day in his business, putting into it all there is in him, letting it drink up brain and nerve and body and soul, and coming home jaded and exhausted, so that he cannot bear the cry of the baby, and the frolics and pattering of the nursery seem horrid and needless confusion. The little ones say, in their plain vernacular, “ Papa is cross.”
Mamma goes out to a party that keeps her up till one or two in the morning, breathes bad air, eats indigestible food, and the next day is so nervous that every straw and thread in her domestic path is insufferable.
Papas that pursue business thus day after day, and mammas that go into company, as it is called, night after night, what is there left in or of them to make an agreeable fireside with, to brighten their home and inspire their children ?
True, the man says he cannot help himself, — business requires it. But what is the need of rolling up money at the rate at which he is seeking to do it? Why not have less, and take some time to enjoy his home, and cheer up his wife, and form the minds of his children ? Why spend himself down to the last drop on the world, and give to the dearest friends he has only the bitter dregs ?
Much of the preaching which the pulpit and the Church have levelled at fashionable amusements has failed of any effect at all, because wrongly put. A cannonade has been opened upon dancing, for example, and all for reasons that will not, in the least, bear looking into. It is vain to talk of dancing as a sin because practised in a dying world where souls are passing into eternity. If dancing is a sin for this reason, so is playing marbles, or frolicking with one’s children, or enjoying a good dinner, or doing fifty other things which nobody ever dreamed of objecting to.
If the preacher were to say that anything is a sin which uses up the strength we need for daily duties, and leaves us fagged out and irritable at just those times and in just those places when and where we need most to be healthy, cheerful, and self-possessed, he would say a thing that none of his hearers would dispute. If he should add, that dancing-parties, beginning at ten o'clock at night and ending at four o’clock in the morning, do use up the strength, weaken the nerves, and leave a person wholly unfit for any home duty, he would also be saying what very few people would deny; and then his case would be made out. If he should say that it is wrong to breathe bad air and fill the stomach with unwholesome dainties, so as to make one restless, ill-natured, and irritable for days after, he would also say what few would deny, and his preaching might have some hope of success.
The true manner of judging of the worth of amusements is to try them by their effects on the nerves and spirits the day after. True amusement ought to be, as the word indicates, recreation,
—something that refreshes, turns us out anew, rests the mind and body by change, and gives cheerfulness and alacrity to our return to duty.
The true objection to all stimulants, alcoholic and narcotic, consists simply in this, — that they are a form of overdraft on the nervous energy, which helps us to use up in one hour the strength of whole days.
A man uses up all the fair, legal interest of nervous power by too much business, too much care, or too much amusement. He has now a demand to meet. He has a complicate account to make up, an essay or a sermon to write, and he primes himself by a cup of coffee, a cigar, a glass of spirits. This is exactly the procedure of a man who, having used the interest of his money, begins to dip into the principal. The strength a man gets in this way is just so much taken out of his life-blood ; it is borrowing of a merciless creditor, who will exact, in time, the pound of flesh nearest his heart. Much of the irritability which spoils home happiness is the letting-clown from the over-excitement ot stimulus. Some will drink coffee, when they own every day that it makes them nervous ; some will drug themselves with tobacco, and some with alcohol, and, tor a few hours of extra brightness, give themselves and their friends many hours when amiability or agreeableness is quite out of the question. There are people calling themselves Christians who live in miserable thraldom, forever in debt to Nature, forever overdrawing on their just resources, and using up their patrimony, because they have not the moral courage to break away from a miserable appetite.
The same may be said of numberless indulgences of the palate, which tax the stomach beyond its power, and bring on all the horrors of indigestion. It is almost impossible for a confirmed dyspeptic to act like a good Christian ; but a good Christian ought not to become a confirmed dyspeptic. Reasonable self-control, abstaining from all unseasonable indulgence, may prevent or put an end to dyspepsia, and many suffer and make their friends suffer only because they will persist in eating what they know is hurtful to them.
But it is not merely in worldly business, or fashionable amusements, or the gratification of appetite, that people are tempted to overdraw and use up in advance their life-force. It is done in ways more insidious, because connected with our moral and religious faculties. There are religious exaltations beyond the regular pulse and beatings of ordinary nature, that quite as surely gravitate downward into the mire of irritability. The ascent to the third heaven lets even the Apostle down to a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him.
It is the temptation of natures in which the moral faculties predominate to overdo in the outward expression and activities of religion till they are used up and irritable, and have no strength left to set a good example in domestic life.
The Reverend Mr. X. in the pulpit to-day appears with the face of an angel ; he soars away into those regions of exalted devotion where his people can but faintly gaze after him ; he tells them of the victory that overcometh the world, of an unmoved faith that fears no evil, of a serenity of love that no outward event can ruffle ; and all look after him and wonder, and wish they could so soar.
Alas ! the exaltation which inspires these sublime conceptions, these celestial ecstasies, is a double and treble draft on Nature, —and poor Mrs. X. knows, when she hears him preaching, that days of miserable reaction are before her. He has been a fortnight driving before a gale of strong excitement, doing all the time twice or thrice as much as in his ordinary state he could, and sustaining himself by the stimulus of strong coffee. He has preached or exhorted every night, and conversed with religious inquirers every day, seeming to himself to become stronger and stronger, because every day more and more excitable and excited. To his hearers, with his flushed sunken cheek and his glittering eye, he looks like some spiritual being just trembling on his flight for upper worlds ; but to poor Mrs. X., whose husband he is, things wear a very different aspect. Her woman and mother instincts tell her that he is drawing on his life-capital with both hands, and that the hours of a terrible settlement must come, and the days of darkness will be many. He who spoke so beautifully of the peace of a soul made perfect will not be able to bear the cry of his baby or the pattering feet of any of the poor little Xs., who must be sent
Out of his sight ” ;
he who discoursed so devoutly of perfect trust in God will be nervous about the butcher’s bill sure of going to ruin because both ends of the salary don't meet; and he who could so admiringly tell of the silence of Jesus under provocation will but too often speak unadvisedly with his lips. Poor Mr. X. will be morally insane for days or weeks, and absolutely incapable of preaching Christ in the way that is the most effective, by setting Him forth in his own daily example.
What then ? must we not do the work of the Lord ?
Yes, certainly; but the first work of the Lord, that for which provision is to be made in the first place, is to set a good example as a Christian man. Better labor for years steadily, diligently, doing every day only what the night’s rest can repair, avoiding those cheating stimulants that overtax Nature, and illustrating the sayings of the pulpit by the daily life in the family, than to pass life in exaltations and depressions.
The same principles apply to hearers as to preachers. Religious services must be judged of like amusements, by their effect on the life. If an overdose of prayers, hymns, and sermons leaves us tired, nervous, and cross, it is only not quite as bad as an overdose of fashionable folly.
It could be wished that in every neighborhood there might be one or two calm, sweet, daily services which should morning and evening unite for a few solemn moments the hearts of all as in one family, and feed with a constant, unnoticed daily supply the lamp of faith and love. Such are some of the daily prayer-meetings which for eight or ten years past have held their even tenor in some of our New England cities, and such the morning and evening services which we are glad to see obtaining in the Episcopal churches. Everything which brings religion into habitual contact with life, and makes it part of a healthy, cheerful average living, we hail as a sign of a better day. Nothing is so good for health as daily devotion. It is the best soother of the nerves, the best antidote to care ; and we trust erelong that all Christian people will be of one mind in this, and that neighborhoods will be families gathering daily around one altar, praying not for themselves merely, but for each other.
The conclusion of the whole matter is this: Set apart some provision to make merry with at home, and guard that reserve as religiously as the priests guarded the shew-bread in the temple. However great you are, however good, however wide the general interests that you may control, you gain nothing by neglecting home-duties. You must leave enough of yourself to be able to bear and forbear, give and forgive, and be a source of life and cheerfulness around the hearthstone. The great sign given by the Prophets of the coming of the Millennium is, — what do you suppose ? — “He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Thus much on avoiding unhealthy, irritable states.
But it still remains that a large number of people will be subject to them unavoidably for these reasons.
First. The use of tobacco, alcohol, and other kindred stimulants, for so many generations, has vitiated the brain and nervous system, so that it is not what it was in former times. Michelet treats of this subject quite at large in some of his late works ; and we have to face the fact of a generation born with an impaired nervous organization, who will need constant care and wisdom to avoid unhealthy, morbid irritation.
There is a temperment called the HYPOCHONDRIAC, to which many persons, some of them the brightest, the most interesting, the most gifted, are born heirs, — a want of balance of the nervous powers, which tends constantly to periods of high excitement and of consequent depression,—an unfortunate inheritance for the possessor, though accompanied often with the greatest talents. Sometimes, too, it is the unfortunate lot of those who have not talents, who bear its burdens and its anguish without its rewards.
People of this temperament are subject to fits of gloom and despondency, of nervous irritability and suffering, which darken the aspect of the whole world to them, which present lying reports of their friends, of themselves, of the circumstances of their life, and of all with which they have to do.
Now the highest philosophy for persons thus afflicted is to understand themselves and their tendencies, to know that these fits of gloom and depression are just as much a form of disease as a fever or a toothache, to know that it is the peculiarity of the disease to fill the mind with wretched illusions, to make them seem miserable and unlovely to themselves, to make their nearest friends seem unjust and unkind, to make all events appear to be going wrong and tending to destruction and ruin.
The evils and burdens of such a temperament are half removed when a man once knows that he has it and recognizes it for a disease, when he does not trust himself to speak and act in those bitter hours as if there were any truth in what he thinks and feels and sees. He who has not attained to this wisdom overwhelms his friends and his family with the waters of bitterness ; he stings with unjust accusations, and makes his fireside dreadful with fancies which are real to him, but false as the ravings of fever.
A sensible person, thus diseased, who has found out what ails him, will shut his mouth resolutely, not to give utterance to the dark thoughts that infest his soul.
A lady of great brilliancy and wit, who was subject to these periods, once said to me, “ My dear Sir, there are times when I know I am possessed of the Devil, and then I never let myself speak.” And so this wise woman carried her burden about with her in a determined, cheerful reticence, leaving always the impression of a cheery, kindly temper, when, if she had spoken out a tithe of what she thought and felt in her morbid hours, she would have driven all her friends from her, and made others as miserable as she was herself. She was a sunbeam, a lifegiving presence in every family, by the power of self-knowledge and self-control.
Such victories as this are the victories of real saints.
But if the victim of these glooms is once tempted to lift their heavy load by the use of any stimulus whatever, he or she is a lost man or woman. It is from this sad class more than any other that the vast army of drunkards and opium-eaters is recruited. The hypochondriacs belong to the class so well described by that brilliant specimen of them, Dr. Johnson, — those who can practise ABSTINENCE, but not TEMPERANCE. They cannot, they will not be moderate. Whatever stimulant they take for relief will create an uncontrollable appetite, a burning passion. The temperament itself lies in the direction of insanity. It needs the most healthful, careful, even regime and management to keep it within the bounds of soundness ; but the introduction of stimulants deepens its gloom almost to madness.
All parents, in the education of their children, should look out for and understand the signs of this temperament. It appears in early childhood ; and a child inclined to fits of depression should be marked as a subject of the most thoughtful, painstaking physical and moral training. All over-excitement and stimulus should be carefully avoided, whether in the way of study, amusement, or diet. Judicious education may do much to mitigate the unavoidable pains and penalties of this most undesirable inheritance.
The second class of persons who need wisdom in the control of their moods is that large class whose unfortunate circumstances make it impossible for them to avoid constantly overdoing and overdrawing upon their nervous energies, and who therefore are always exhausted and worn out. Poor souls, who labor daily under a burden too heavy for them, and whose fretfulness and impatience are looked upon with sorrow, not anger, by pitying angels. Poor mothers, with families of little children clinging round them, and a baby that never lets them sleep; hard-working men, whose utmost toil, day and night, scarcely keeps the wolf from the door ; and all the hard-laboring, heavy-laden, on whom the burdens of life press far beyond their strength.
There are but two things we know of for these, — two only remedies for the irritation that comes of these exhaustions : the habit of silence towards men. and of speech towards God. The heart must utter itself or burst; but let it learn to commune constantly and intimately with One always present and always sympathizing. This is the great, the only safeguard against fretfulness and complaint. Thus and thus only can peace spring out of confusion, and the breaking chords of an overtaxed nature be strung anew to a celestial harmony.