The Contributors' Club

Is it not comforting to discover, as life goes on, that much of the evil we encounter in various shapes is due not so much to moral deficiencies as to intellectual ones? It is surely less painful to perceive that a friend is duller in mind than we have supposed than that he is colder in heart; stupidity, trying as it may be, is after all more bearable than simple selfishness. It may be a while before we learn to comprehend the act of such mental limitations in our friend, but when we have once recognized clearly that the fault lies with his head and not his heart, the worst sting is gone from any wound he may give. If there has been a puzzling inconsistency of conduct in those to whom we have naturally looked for understanding and sympathy, we may come to see that the inconsistency is only apparent; the affection is sincere which they have testified at certain times for us, notwithstanding all that has appeared to belie it at other times when we equally expected its manifestation. A certain friend fails to respond to my tacit appeal for sympathy, but it is because he does not understand that I can possibly be in want of it; even though my call be outspoken, the fact of need is perhaps all that he perceives, — the need itself it. is beyond his imagination to conceive truly. Some people, that is, through defect of mental constitution, are able to comprehend only what personal experience has taught them, and we might just as well ask them to translate for us out of a tongue unknown to them, as require their sympathy in trials they have never themselves passed through. And it is as unreasonable in us to complain of their incapacity in the one case as in the other. Perhaps your friend attempts in a blind way to enter into your situation, and his words do but show how wide of the mark he is, while, like an unskilled touch upon a bruised spot or an inflamed wound, his well-meant phrases increase the pain or irritation of your feelings. He is not sensitive himself to what affects you so deeply, so how can he guess that he is hurting you ?

The force of words is something that many minds do not estimate exactly, and this accounts for the fact that even our nearest and dearest sometimes fail to get any true impression of the state of things with us. And for the same reason words of theirs may come upon us like a blow without the slightest intention of injury on their part. If this be true with regard to those with whom we hold intimate relations, it is certainly likely to be true with regard to indifferent persons. And I think the plea of “ invincible ignorance ” may be allowed, to a degree, in the case of positive offenses as well. If we are willing to overlook the incivility of a person whom we know has been without advantages of polite breeding, ought we not to be magnanimous enough to pardon something to one whose moral breeding has been neglected? Out of revenge for a fancied wrong, or simply from an unreasoning antipathy, a man attempts to do me harm by quite unjustifiable methods,— perhaps comes and insults me " to my face,” as the saying is. Of course I have every right to protect myself against his machinations, and if possible to bring him to a sense that his mode of attack is unwarrantable; yet ought I in fairness to judge him as hardly as I would a man educated according to a higher moral code ? Probably his action does not appear to him the dastardly thing it does to me; he thinks it all fair enough, and that I would adopt the same mode of warfare were our positions reversed. He may mean to insult me, but it is just as likely he does not mean to ; the tone, the language he uses, do not in his eyes carry with them the implication I find in them. “ We must forgive our enemies, but not till they are hanged,” said Heine ; and there is no harm in amusing ourselves by applying the epigram to our personal foes, while we are sure that we have no intention of acting upon it. The amount of conscious and willful wrong-doing in the world which we must meet and combat in the interest of truth and righteousness is so great, that it is immense gain to be at leisure from private hostilities and harassments, and free to use all our fighting strength where it is most wanted.

— Though I greatly admire the masterly way in which the “ poet’s poet ” manages the death of the lion, I have always felt that the noble brute might have been spared the “ thrilling point of deadly yron brand” which “launcht his lordly hart.” The zoölogical probabilities in the case of Una and the Lion would seem to warrant a different, if not less harrowing, sequel, — something, perhaps, like the following. (Scene, — a wilderness on a remote border of the realm swayed by the Faërie Queene.)

There, as the rnvall beast in si ember lay,
His yellow mane all in the sunne dispred,
I lightly smote him with my launcegay ;
Whereat he sluggishly upreared his hed,
As one that had on dainty meates bene fed
Ere he in Morpheus webby toiles was caught.
Though erst I had bene sore disquieted,
His gentle mien great corage in me wrought,
And, “Lyon, where is Una? ” thus I him besought.
Then gan that mightie beast to quake and quayle,
To make his voice full pittifull and small,
To start, to stop, as loath to tell the tale :
“Fayre Una is — but death must come to all,
Or in the thatched hut or loftie hall!
Here wandring, farre from peace and safties port,
Despite my care a thousand ills might fall;
Wherefore, to save her from all scath and tort,
Paynim, I steeled my hart—I ate her up, in short! ”

— In this “ era of good feeling” between the North and South, it is a matter of regret that we dwellers in New England do not come into friendly and intimate relations with a certain family living below latitude 40°.

It is only in the months of August and September that they are ready for company, and during those months we keep to our own seasides and mountains ; so it is only in the pages of our encyclopædias that we have met the mantis religiosa, and the dry, technical description found there gives one no idea of the curious, grotesque, vivacious little creature, with his slender body, long, thin neck surmounted by a small three-cornered head with bright eyes and long feelers (just like a child’s picture of a cat’s face), his fore-legs or arms which he folds up and raises nearly to Ins chin, while the whole body has a slow, swaying motion, not unlike the enthusiast at a camp-meeting who is getting the power! If he is hungry while maintaining this sanctimonious attitude, and a fly comes in his way, quick as a flash those long arms seize and hold it while every part of it is eaten ; the wings first, and then the legs, thus precluding the possibility of the victim’s escape. These insects have two pairs of legs for locomotion, besides this pair devoted to attitudinizing and fly-catching. Their sense of hearing is very acute, and it is interesting to see them turn their heads at the sound of your voice, and look at you in a way that is almost human.

One day, a specimen of this “ praying mantis ” went to church on a lady’s bonnet, and one would think it was no more out of place than the various beetles and bugs so much in fashion now ; but when the little creature cocked its head and craned its neck, and looked at the minister and all the people, and, as the choir began to sing at the other end of the church, deliberately turned around with clasped hands to “ face the music,” the attention of the devout worshipers was so diverted as to prove conclusively that it was out of place.

They are ordinarily quiet and peaceable, remaining on one bush for days or weeks ; but candor compels me to state that they are also good fighters, as they often fall to and eat one another.

Two or three years ago I carried a pair of these “ rear-horses ” (as they are generally called) to New Hampshire, to an old friend, who remembered them as her early playfellows in Florida. At the end of the two days’ journey they were very inactive, and would not eat the most tempting fly offered ; but a drop of water from my stylo-filler was greedily taken, with revivifying effect. They would put their noses into it and drink until it was gone, like a horse at a watering-trough.

They excited great interest and curiosity, and being placed on a rose-bush seemed happy in their new home; but I left them with many misgivings lest the cold nights should shorten their brief span of life.

However, they had fulfilled a mission, and perhaps were reconciled to a summary taking-off by that consciousness. I am sure they would have been, if they had known that they were to be preserved in the collection of the Natural History Society of the village.

— There are certain popular maxims, of specious logic and morality, which one would hardly wish to authorize seriously as the sum of his own philosophy and practice. Among these maxims might be reckoned the following: “ There is no great loss without some small gain.” Probably this saying was intended to convey the idea of a cheerful acquiescence in one’s lot and a happy adaptability to circumstances; but, critically tested, does it not discover a lurking instinct for expediency, a touch of spurious optimism ? Touth, the generous, the courageous, the uncompromising, never evolved this system of solacement; ’t was invented, if we may hazard a guess, by middle age, studious of reaping thrift, if possible, from its own chagrins and disappointments. But Montaigne observes, with an engaging candor and willfulness, “ For my part, I have a yet worse custom : that if my shoe go awry, I let my shirt and my cloak do so, too ; I scorn to mend myself by halves ; when I am out of order I feed on mischief; I abandon myself through despair, and let myself go towards the precipice, and, as the saying is, throw the helve after the hatchet.” This generous recklessness touches a sympathetic human nature in us, however different may be the line of our practice.

No great loss without some small gain. Are we, then, so meanly economical that we cannot afford to realize our great loss, that we have no spirit for complete, tragic indigence, but secretly expect that the loss will be reduced by a purse of small coin made up for us by trifling lucky fortuities which may follow the stroke of our supreme disaster ? It is much the same as though we should turn pilferers of our own household goods in the confusion of a great fire, or as though we had made off with the flotsam of our own merchandise in the last great storm that drove wrecks upon our coast.

Though we are of a mind to make the best of things, no cheap optimism satisfies us. " Resignation is noble only as a last resort.” In a sense, we will, first of all, make the worst of things, stoutly fronting the situation, refusing to do aught but count loss as pure loss, pain as pain, and error as error. We would not be hoodwinked with the pleasant notion that by some benevolent hocuspocus of circumstances our thistles are to be made to produce figs. Especially, if folly or inadvertence of ours is responsible for the calamity with which we are burdened, seek not to console us by the promise of “ small gains.” We will have our honest grief and honest penitence clear,— not attempt to medicate them. Though we may have been pound foolish, we will not now be penny wise.

It is to be observed that some of these unlovely old maxims improve greatly by turning. Is there not melioration in Valor is the better part of discretion, and is there not a nice distinction between Honesty is the best policy, and The best policy is honesty ? Take the converse of the present theme, and we have, There is no small gain without some great loss,— of the truth of which those who follow trivial aims do bear unconscious witness.