A Point of View
— Thought does so much, first and last, to make us unhappy, it is a pity if it cannot now and then contrive a source of happiness. I have lately hit upon a way — one way, there are no doubt many — to extract a casual sunbeam from our daily cucumber. Given a somewhat humdrum and monotonous existence ; the exister finding “ Denmark a prison ; ” a suspicion hanging heavily in his mind that the thing in hand, whatever it is, is not worth while ; a dull certainty within him that nothing interesting is going to happen to him. Suppose him to be sitting solitary at evening in a too familiar room, surrounded by objects that know him only too well: a mirror wherein he wishes he might see some other face than his own ; a chair or two that look, not invitingly, but repulsively empty ; books that he has read, or that he wishes he had not read, or that some one wishes him to read, or (worst of all) that he knows he ought and has got to read. He looks drearily round, finds that everything is bad, and perhaps sighs, “ Oh, that the desert were my dwelling-place, with one fair Spirit for my minister ” —
Now for the medicine. Let him slowly and cautiously swing his mind round to the point of view of a primitive man, possessing nothing but a staff and a sheepskin (I do not refer to the college diploma). Let him suppose himself to be thinking how in the world he can contrive himself a thread, a loom, a piece of cloth, a garment. Now let him look upon the sleeve of his coat, and consider what a marvel is that delicately and precisely woven texture. “ Suppose I had myself,” let him say, “ made this smooth and fitted chair in which I sit. How pretty, how perfect, it would seem!” “ Suppose this velvety carpet were a thing of my own getting up, a surprise prepared for my doxy-dear on her return from a journey to the tents of her sire. How we should wonder together at these subtly interwoven flowers, these delicate hues, this softly yielding surface ! ” “ Suppose I had devised, and wrought out with my own hands, yonder jet of steady gaslight ; drawing my plans, by the flicker of a camp-fire, on the bleached shoulder-blade of a camel; working my crude metal into a slim and comely pipe ; confining my sea-coal vapors in a vessel of my own long-labored construction ; and at last triumphantly leading them to my chosen seat, and touching them into flame ! ”
So from one thing to another he may look upon his surroundings with a new interest. Commonplace as they have seemed, it was all his fault, his numbness of perception. They are miracles of contrivance. Behold the snowy paper at his elbow, and the ebony polish of the fountain pen : a few strokes and quirls, and dashes, and he may “call spirits from the vasty ” distance, — the spirits of living and answering friends.
He is really an Aladdin of civilization, and sits surrounded by more than Arabian wonders. If he had wrought all these marvelous things, what delight and pride he would take in them ! Well, some one has wrought them all.
But perhaps our “ world-worn ” friend might find from another thought a bracing reaction, though by means of a rather cold dash, — a thought which not so much enhances the value of his surroundings as casts suspicion on the value of himself and his deserving of them. For it may be only a spur that he needs. There is such a thing as being tired, but there is also such a thing as being lazy. It is well to be a little ashamed of depending on novel and spicy surroundings. As saith the seer, —
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves,”
that we are so deep in a dump. So let this thought (in the nature of a “ takerdown,” as a recent Club paper phrased it) take lodgment in the mind for a moment: If it had been left for me, how many of these comforts and enlightenments of civilized life would ever have been heard of ? If the world had all along been made up of men just exactly of my precious pattern, would there have been any telegraph, any steam-power, any printing, any art of writing ? How long would it have been before any parcel of idle fellows like me would have contrived to
We pride ourselves immensely on the Nineteenth Century and its conquests, but who is the Nineteenth Century ? Who accomplished all these prodigious things ? Most of us have to answer as did the scared little boy in Sundayschool, when the frowning minister asked, “ Who made the world in six days, and rested the seventh ? ” and paused, glaring along the line, for a reply : “ Please, sir, I did n’t! ”