The Good Things of Our Friend as His Compensations
— Of course unreasonable people must necessarily be more or less unhappy. The moon is always there m plain sight, and nobody to bring it to their hand. But it seems as if reasonable people, in the absence of acute pain or especial disaster, might contrive to he reasonably happy. The very phrase contains the limitation: happy, that is to say, up to the point that sound reason could expect, considering the inevitables, — the conditions, as it were, of the lease.
One of the medicinal truths that would seem obvious to any such reasonable person, and yet one that we are apt to lose sight of, is this: The good thing that our friend enjoys is only his particular compensation. We forget, or we never have perceived, the otherwise intolerable ills of Ins situation. Seeing only the compensation, we think it ought to make him perfectly happy. We are certain it would make us happy, if we had it.
My city friend, for example, makes me a three days’ visit. I take him on my three favorite walks. The first day we go through the gorge of the river. The stream, glad to be done with its work in the village mills, goes dancing down through a deep, rocky ravine. Dark hemlocks lean from the cliffs, and others below cling with their writlien roots to huge cubical blocks of sandstone, fallen in the frosts of a thousand winters. Alders, feathery birches, and the white stems of sycamores catch the sunshine and brighten the interspaces. Mosses and ferns soften the outlines of the jagged rocks. It is early autumn, and the gay colors of unfallen leaves streak the whole length of the ravine, with the shadowy hemlock for contrast; and the river, rich brown with recent rains, streams along like a curving stripe in some splendid agate. When the south wind comes soughing up the gorge, it is all one solemn song, with river voices and forest voices commingled. “ Ah ! ” exclaims my city friend ; “if I could have a retreat like this within ten minutes’ walk of the ager compascuus at home in Botolfium ! ”
The second day I take him to the little silver lake that lies like a mirror in its oval frame of woodlands. We approach it through a country lane, between fields of ripened corn. There is a fragrance of apples from farm orchards, and we seem to see Keats’s Autumn,
Her hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind,
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while her hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers.”
The ruddy western sun throws a long slant of shadow from the woods that come close down to one sandy margin, keeping off the wind, and reflecting darkly in a reach of water so smooth as to be almost invisible. From the centre across to the opposite shore the breeze continually casts and draws its net of darkling ripples. On its stilt, at the upper end of the lake, a white crane stands motionless, and now and then a young bass flips winking out of the glassy water, as if to dare him from his statuesque repose. “ All ! ” exclaims my friend again ; “ if I only had this in place of the hallowed hut somewhat unexciting Lacus liararurn ! ”
The third day we go to the Great Woods, — woods of such trees as can be seen only here in the Middle West, near the southern shore of Lake Weary. A mere New Englander can never see at home such stately forest growth : white oaks, and hickories, and chestnuts, and pepperidges, and tulip-trees. The long aisles, carpeted with the first bright fallen leaves, stretch far away among straight and towering columns. Shafts of low and mellowed sunshine light up other aerial aisles; here tracing the sharp shadow of an oak spray against a smooth beech hole, there gilding the already golden yellow of a liickory-top, or just flicking a quick red squirrel as he leaps from the side branch of his chestnut-tree larder to that of his oak-tree bedroom. For a moment it is perfectly still, and you hear a nut drop, and a chipmunk pipe his shrill claim to its possession. Then a breeze rustles the top of a pepperidge, and tosses out and down an armful of crimson leaves. “ Ah ! ” sighs my friend ; “ if we could only have all this on the olaustrum molare ! ”
I have vexations, hindrances, depths of dumps, with such surroundings ? He would not be able to believe it, if I should hint at such a thing.
By and by, when the “ winter of our discontent ” is well settled down upon these rustic regions, I pay my friend, in turn, a visit of three days in Botolfium. He feasts me on picture-galleries; he leaves me blissfully buried for half a day in the Minervan library; he electrifies me with intellectual company ; he intoxicates me with the symphony concert.
“Oh ! ” I exclaim to myself ; “ if these tilings but grew at home in the woods of the Conservatio Occidentalis ! He unhappy here ? Impossible ! ”
But when I come to reflect, I am aware that he, too. probably has infelicities that he could hardly bear but by the assuagement of these very compensations. He would most likely tell me that it is only by the hardest discipline, even with the pictures, and the books, and the brains, and the orchestra, that he can put up with-, and-, and ---!
If only the world could have been so constructed as to let us enjoy other people’s compensations, without the ills for which they compensate ! Then.
It never looked to human eyes,
Since Adam left his garden yet.’ ’