The Confession of a Misanthrope

— I sometimes wonder if, in this modern world of general benevoleuce, there are any misanthropes extant beside myself. Certainly, if any Such exist, they keep themselves extremely dark. Every newspaper, every magazine, almost every book, has a plan for improving the lot of some portion of mankind. Everybody is, or professes to be, concerned about the poor, about the various ways of relieving them, about socialism. Philosophy itself has taken up the matter, and that horrible word “ altruism ” cuts a large figure in the discussions of the day. As for the clergy, they appear almost to have given up their ancient functions. I am told that they have ceased to preach repentance, and that they are ignorant of theology. But they are great on social and sanitary reform, — leaders in the vast movement to make everybody comfortable, which, I take it, is the ideal of the age. At the bottom of all this activity lies, I suppose, a real love for man. Shall I be thought a monster if I confess that I am utterly deficient in that feeling ? I have no love, not even a fancy, for the species to which I have the honor to belong ; and the more numerously they are brought together, the less do I like them. One man alone, indeed, gives me pleasure, — I enjoy his society ; and even if you duplicate him, I am not driven away, although the situation seems to me perilous. But three men together (not counting myself) I find intolerable, and the sight of a crowd, such as gathers at a place of entertainment, fills me with horror. In fact, does not a great crowd of human beings resemble, in many respects, a great herd of wild beasts? You alarm them, for example, as by a cry of fire. In the twinkling of an eye, they are transformed into a struggling, fighting, remorseless horde, the strong males in which will trample upon the weaker females and upon the young. And so of political aggregations, the people who constitute a village, a town, a city, a county, a state, — the whole United States, — I have no love for them, no spontaneous desire to do them good.” They worship other gods than mine. I dislike their fundamental ideas, their habits, their voices ; they do not attract me. Why should I be concerned about their welfare ? Let them gather at Chicago next summer, if they will, fifty million strong. I shall seek some quiet spot where nature is as yet more prevailing than man ; where men are few and lazy and unobtrusive, and have no wants except a little tobacco and old clothes and liberty to bask in the sunshine.

Not very long ago, I read in one of our chief magazines an elaborate account of a scheme for elevating the workingman. It was as follows : the philanthropist was to select his man, to choose his prey, and then visit him at regular intervals, read books with him, talk with him ; in short, by mere dint of association, to elevate the workingman from his own low plane to the lofty plane occupied by the philanthropist. The scheme, still more the assumption upon which it was founded, seemed to me most arrogant ; and yet I have no doubt that it was inspired by a good motive, or at least by a motive to “ do good.”

My own notion is that the laborer must either work out his own salvation, or else go to the deuce in his own way ; and that we of the better educated (not the better) class cannot greatly help or hinder him. However, this may be a mere excuse for laziness on my part, for I repeat that I have no benevolence ; “ altruism ” does not attract me.

And now that I have poured my confession into the friendly ears of the Club, I look about me in suspense to see if the blush of conscious guilt does not betray some member who is of like mind with myself. Surely I must have awakened some response ; there must be among us at least one other belated misanthrope, — a straggler from the eighteenth century. If so, by what moral suasion can we be reached ? What motives will impel us to “do good,” even to the fellow-beings whom we do not like? There is one, — the desire to avoid future remorse ; and this can be cultivated till it becomes an effective working motive. How we came by this sense of duty to others, the violation of which leads to remorse, one need not inquire. It is there by instinct, by inheritance, by education, by reason. Therefore, my fellow-misanthrope, do not, after the manner of the Pharisee and the Levite, pass by on the other side ; for if you do, you will remember the occurrence at dinner, and your enjoyment id that meal will be impaired. Don’t grind the faces of the poor, lest you store up for yourself unpleasant thoughts, lest you poison that solitude which is so precious to persons of our stamp. Thus, making conscience into a taste, a luxury, the misanthrope can do his duty toward mankind without hypocrisy or cant, without pretending to others or to himself that he is a philanthropist. How indeed can one who knows his own heart have any great respect or affection for the race of which he is a member !