Indifferentism

READERS of books have sometimes debated the question, “ What was the greatest book produced during the eighteenth century?” Was it Goethe’s Faust, or Jonathan Edwards on the Freedom of the Will? Was it Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, or that romance of Fielding’s which Gibbon declared would “outlive the palace of the Escurial, and the imperial eagle of the house of Austria ” ?

It is hard to answer such a question, and very likely it is foolish to try. An easier task is to name the wittiest book of that century. One may do so without much fear of contradiction. The wittiest eighteenth-century book, surely, — although Wordsworth does call it, and in The Excursion at that, a

“ dull product of a scoffer’s pen,” —

is Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism. Written in 1759 to satirize the doctrine that ours is the best of all possible worlds, Candide presents, in the form of a swiftly moving story, Voltaire’s impression of the world as it really is. He exiles his young hero Candide — “a person of the most unaffected simplicity ” — from his native castle in Westphalia, separates him from his beloved mistress Cunegunde, and sends him over Europe and America to seek for her and incidentally to observe our mortal situation. Candide is accompanied by an old philosopher named Martin, who has long served as a bookseller’s hack and has lost all illusions. As they pass from one European capital to another, Candide still maintains in spite of every disappointment and misfortune that “there is nevertheless some good in the world.”

“Maybe so,” says Martin, “but it has escaped my knowledge.”

Reasoning thus, they arrive at last at Venice, where they hear much talk about a certain noble Venetian, Signor Pococurante, whose name signifies “ TheMan-who-cares-little, ” and who is said to be a perfectly happy man.

“I should be glad to meet so extraordinary a being, ” says Martin, and accordingly our travelers pay a visit to the noble Pococurante. They find him dwelling in a palace on the Brenta. Its gardens are elegantly laid out and adorned with statues. The master of the palace is a man of sixty, rich, cultivated, bored. He shows the travelers his collection of paintings, among them some by Raphael. “I have what is called a fine collection, ” he admits, “but I take no manner of delight in them.” He orders a concert for his guests, but confesses that he himself finds the music tiresome. After dinner they repair to the library, where Candide, observing a richly bound Homer, commends the noble Venetian’s taste.

“Homer is no favorite of mine,” answers Pococurante coolly; “I was made to believe once that I took a pleasure in reading him. ... I have asked some learned men whether they are not in reality as much tired as myself with reading this poet. Those who spoke ingenuously assured me that he had made them fall asleep, and yet that they could not well avoid giving him a place in their libraries.”

The conversation shifts to Virgil, Horace, Cicero; to the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences, to the drama, to English politics, and finally to Milton; but Signor Pococurante finds in all these subjects little or nothing to praise. Candide the optimist is grieved. He has been taught to respect Homer and is fond of Milton.

“Alas,” he whispers to Martin, “I am afraid this man holds our German poets in great contempt.”

“ There would be no such great harm in that, ” replies Martin.

“Oh, what a surprising man! ” exclaims Candide to himself. “What a prodigious genius is this Pococurante! Nothing can please him.”

After finishing their survey of the library, they go down into the garden. Candide politely says something in praise of its beauty.

“It is laid out in bad taste,” replies Pococurante; “it is childish and trifling; but I shall have another laid out to-morrow upon a nobler plan.”

At last the two travelers take leave of their host. “Well,” says Candide to Martin, “I hope you will own that this man is the happiest of all mortals, for he is above everything he possesses.”

“But do you not see,” answers Martin, “that he likewise dislikes everything he possesses ? It was an observation of Plato long since that those are not the best stomachs that reject, without distinction, all sorts of food.”

“ True, ” says Candide, “ but still there must certainly be a pleasure in criticising everything, and in perceiving faults where others think they see beauties. ”

That is, ” retorts Martin, who generally has the last word, “there is a pleasure in having no pleasure.”

Few pages of imaginative literature are more admirably written than these whose bare outlines I have been copying. No group of inquirers concerning the intellectual habits and the moral hopes of mankind is more skillfully composed than that formed by the three men who saunter through the library and garden of this palace upon the Brenta: Candide the puzzled young optimist, old Martin the pessimist, grimly delighted, and Pococurante the indifferentist, with his perfect courtesy, his refreshing frankness, his infinite capacity for being bored. In this last personage, particularly, there is something which touches the fancy, provokes curiosity, and possibly, in spite of all disapprobation of the noble Venetian’s faults, invites to a closer acquaintance. One may venture therefore to consider the type of mind which the Venetian senator represents, and to discuss, in their bearing upon the life of the modern man, some of the old and new forms of indifferentism.

For Signor Pococurante is by no means a mere clever invention of Voltaire’s. We have met the gentleman before. The type is older than the eighteenth century; older than the Horatian doctrine of nil admirari; older even than the Hebrew king who, like the Venetian senator, had his men-singers and women-singers, his banquets and palaces and pleasure-gardens, and grew tired of them all. The weariness of the mind in full possession of its treasures, as that of the body surfeited with its pleasures, is a familiar fact in human history. Pococurantism — the caring little for things that are worth caring much for — lurks deep in human nature. But there are certain conditions that bring the seed of it to full flowering. Every cultivated circle of men and women, every highly organized society, has its Pococurantes; nay, there is some drop of their blood in all of us who have had free access to the fine excitements of the senses, to the wide interests of the mind. Once liberate a man through education and opportunity, once make him a free citizen of the great world of thought, introduce him to affairs, to art and literature, and you give the indifferentism latent in him a chance to develop itself. Is there an educated person who has not noticed among his friends — and, if he be gifted with any power of self-analysis, in himself — this tendency to regard with dissatisfaction, with finical criticism, with satiety, objects which are not only worthy but which once filled him with admiring joy?

Salient examples of this familiar phenomenon are always to be found in communities where the academic type of character is strongly marked. In every university town you will hear much talk of the local Signor Pococurante, some scholar of fastidious temper, of taste scrupulously refined, against whose severe standards of criticism, whether in architecture, poetry, or politics, the heathen rage. How useful such personages often are ! Their smiling indifference to the popular verdict strengthens the wavering independence of weaker men. The very irritation produced by their criticism is often proof that the faults they perceive are real faults, and should be remedied. How characteristic of such men is the following passage from the Memoirs of Mark Pattison : —

“It is impossible for me to see anything done without an immediate suggestion of how it might be better done. I cannot travel by railway without working out in my mind a better time-table than that in use. On the other hand, this restlessness of the critical faculty has done me good service when turned upon myself. I have never enjoyed any self-satisfaction in anything I have ever done, for I have inevitably made a mental comparison with how it might have been better done. The motto of one of my diaries, ' Quicquid hic operis fiat pœnitet, ’ may be said to be the motto of my life.”

Undoubtedly, this restlessness of the critical faculty contributes to human progress. And how upright may be the character of the super-subtle critic, how singularly attractive his personal charm !

Yet after all, in spite of Candide’s ingenuous opinion, the fact that “nothing pleases ” a man does not prove him a “prodigious genius.” That he is “above everything he possesses ” does not demonstrate any native power, any insight of imaginative sympathy. Nor do academic communities present more pathetic figures than the pococurantists who are without fame, influence, or many friends; whose refinement of feeling has degenerated into querulousness, and whose exalted standards of action are chiefly displayed in their inability to cooperate, to any useful purpose, with our American world as it actually is.

No one has yet written, I believe, the History of Academic Sterility. Whoever may do so will consult Gray and Gibbon as to the moral stagnation of the English universities in the eighteenth century, and Mark Pattison as to their intellectual apathy in the middle of the nineteenth. “The men of middle age,” says Pattison in speaking of Oxford, “seem, after they reach thirty-five or forty, to be struck with an intellectual palsy, and betake themselves, no longer to port, but to the frippery work of attending boards and negotiating some phantom of legislation, with all the importance of a cabinet council — belli simulacra cientes. Then they give each other dinners, where they assemble again with the comfortable assurance that they have earned their evening relaxation by the fatigues of the morning’s committee.”

But we need not look abroad for such examples of pedantry, of the false air of accomplishment, of arrested development. Fortunate is the American institution that has none of this sterile stock; these men who have been surrounded by books, museums, galleries, only to discover at last that they have no pleasure in them. To describe adequately such types of barrenness one must employ those terrible metaphors used long ago to portray secret causes of spiritual failure. A. wins at last his professorship; his desire has been granted, but leanness has been sent into his soul. B. possesses all the apparatus of scholarship, but by middle life there is no more oil in his lamp. The lamp goes out, while the man lives on. Yet in the same county, perhaps, there will be men of straitened means, with few modern facilities for research, slender libraries, little converse with fellow scholars, who are nevertheless steadily, quietly, building up a national, an international reputation ; while the pococurantist, with everything he needs at his elbow, fairly choked with the riches and pleasures of the scholarly life, not only brings no fruit to perfection, but even fails to produce any fruit at all.

One may be pardoned for thus alluding to the academic type of indifferentism, since its features are so familiar. But there are many varieties of indifferentists, up and down the world, and all of them are worth studying. What sort of man was that Gallio, whose unconcern for sectarian controversy has proverbialized him as the man who “cared for none of these things ” ? I imagine that Gallio was a companionable soul, full of savor, but who knows ? And who can tell us authoritatively about the real Horace, that ripe specimen of the genial pococurantist, whose bland worldliness, dislike of being bored, and frank indifference to the ambitions and passions of the hour, make him such a charming figure ? Old Omar Khayyám is a more subtle pococurantist, of the pessimistic species; and Edward FitzGerald, Omar’s sponsor, was on many sides of his complex personality as perfect a Signor Pococurante as was ever bred by university training and subsequent insulation from the world. Is there not some humanist who will analyze the secret springs of indifferentism in men like these ? Is it a defect of the will, or a surplusage of philosophy ? Is it a strange torpor of the mind, or is it rather the result of a too keen intelligence ? Or is it merely “ temperament ” ? Professor Flint, who has recently dissected Agnosticism 1 with the practiced skill of a Scotch logician, might be asked to make a diagnosis of Pococurantism as well. His book would be interesting reading, but I imagine that Gallio and FitzGerald would put it aside with a quizzical smile.

It is not too fanciful to say that there are indifferentists produced by ignorance, as well as by a surfeit of knowledge. Whole classes and races are apparently doomed to a happy-go-lucky, semi-tropical indolence of body and spirit, — amusing enough to the traveler, but yet dull and blind. It may stretch our Italian word too far, to make it cover these coarser forms of indifference to excellence, — forms that spring from sheer unconsciousness rather than from satiety with the objects of intellectual curiosity. Likewise it may be taking too much liberty with the word to apply it to that unconcern for the ordinary tastes and pleasures of mankind which results from absorption in some supreme issue. How many a mediæval saint demonstrated his sainthood by caring for none of these things that move us to such transports, such pursuits, such struggles! “ Did you enjoy the lake ? ” runs the famous story about St. Bernard, who had been journeying all day beside the waters of Geneva. “Lake? ” replied the saint in mild surprise, “ what lake ? ” There may be a strain of ethical nobility, no doubt, in this forgetfulness of sensuous beauty. But the type of soul represented by the dreaming saint has always been rare, and seems to be growing rarer. Few high-minded men and women are now content to press into the solitary ways of lonely spiritual rapture ; the path of progress leads them no longer to cells in the high Alps. The men and women most keenly alive to spiritual issues are insisting upon the social duties, the validity of social instincts, the claims of the innumerable close-woven bonds of human relationship. The true saints, whether of the mediæval or modern type, are never, strictly speaking, Pococurantes. They care infinitely, whether for one or many things, but it is true that their sense of values has been so reversed, as compared with that of ordinary men, that, like the risen Lazarus in Browning’s poem, the things which seem trivial to us are all important to them, while their great concerns are our trivialities. Yet in this very detachment from the average standard of judgment, in their sense of superiority to their surroundings and possessions, they illustrate, singularly enough, a suggestive phase of indifferentism.

It is evident that I have just been choosing extreme examples. But somewhere between the peasant, who is indifferent to ideas because his eyes are darkened, and the saint, whose inner light makes the world of ideas a mere flickering unreality, stand men like Horace and Horace Walpole, Montaigne and Goethe, Franklin and Jefferson, the speculative, amused, undeluded children of this world. Such men do not lack interest in human affairs, but they weigh all things coolly, and register the gravity or the levity of our mortal predicament with the same smile. Even if no pococurantists themselves, they are the begetters of Pococurantism in others. For behind such representative figures, sharing their recurrent skepticism, but wanting their robust curiosity, their unimpaired sanity, are grouped the great majority of privileged, educated men. Few of them escape some touch, sooner or later, of the temper of indifferentism. With one it is a mere sophomoric affectation, — a pretense of unconcern,— while with another it deepens into lifelong habit. But to all of us at times the mood of “ caring little ” comes. Subtle are the disguises, puzzling are the contradictory manifestations of the loss of interest in the normally interesting. The child pokes into the inside of its doll, and straightway possesses one delightful mystery the less; the worldling finds his game not worth the candle; the statesman sees his great plans crumbling like a house of cards, and often realizes that at heart he cares for them as little. And all this disillusionment may come, as it did to our Venetian senator, without making the man discourteous or unkind. Indeed it sometimes seems to deepen the pococurantist’s humaner qualities, as if disillusionment were the sign of initiation into a world-wide fraternity, the seal of our mortal experience.

Here is a well-known passage from the autobiography of one of the most gentle, honest, and unquestionably great men of our own day. It is the passage where Charles Darwin confesses his loss of interest in certain things which had once moved him deeply. The words are frequently commented upon as illustrating the atrophy of unused faculties. That is indeed their obvious purport, but as you read them, note how perfectly they echo, more than a century afterward, the very tones of Signor Pococurante’s confession in his library: —

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. . . .

“This curious and lamentable loss of the higher æsthetic tastes is all the odder, as books on history, biographies, and travels (independently of any scientific facts which they may contain), and essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organized or better constituted than mine would not, I suppose, have thus suffered ; and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

The famous naturalist’s experience has been that of countless men whose devotion to their own chosen field has left them more and more oblivious of general human or æsthetic interests. There are plenty of Latinists who read Virgil not for the poetry but for material for a theory of the subjunctive, and they gradually forget that there is any poetry there. It would be easy to multiply examples of this narrowing influence of over-specialization. And it is instructive to note that in every field except the one selected for his concentrated activity, the specialist often offers a curious parallel to his arch-enemy the amateur.2 Sooner or later, both tend to become pococurantists as regards the majority of subjects of human intercourse. “I went into that a good deal at one time, ” says Mr. Brooke in Middlemarch. It is the typical remark of the typical amateur. “Poetry and pictures formerly gave me great pleasure, ” says Darwin. “I was once persuaded that I enjoyed Homer and Raphael,” says our Venetian senator. The three confessions are identical; the amateur and the specialist have now arrived at the same point as the born pococurantist.

There are other examples of intellectual and moral indifferentism no less striking although widely different in their source. A jaded American millionaire, trying to get pleasure out of a too long deferred holiday in Europe, is one of the most depressing of pococurantist spectacles. For twenty or thirty years he has been amassing a fortune, with the pluck and energy which we all admire. And here he is set down in Paris or Dresden or Florence, ignorant of the language, the history, the architecture, the ideas of the country. He is a good fellow, but he is homesick, listless, indifferent: he speeds his automobile along some famous Roman road without once kindling at the thought of Cæsar or Napoleon ; the Mediterranean means to him Monte Carlo ; and nothing in his trip gives him so much real satisfaction as to buttonhole a fellow American and talk to him about the superiority of New York hotels. He is taking his holiday too late. He has no longer any oil in his lamp. Curiosity, imagination, sympathy, zest, have been burned out of him in that fierce competitive struggle where his life forces have been spent. He is the victim of a system, —of the quantitative rather than the qualitative test of excellence. None of our contemporary hallucinations leads more certainly to ultimate weariness and indifferentism than this too exclusive glorification of “men who do things.” We worship size, efficiency, tangible results. With the late W. E. Henley in his automobile poem we cry: —

“ Speed —
Speed, and a world of new havings,
Learning and Drink
And Money and Song,
Ships, Folios and Horses,
The craft of the Healer,
The worship of God
And things done to the instant
Delight of the Devil
And all, all that tends
To his swift-to-come, swift-to-go
Glory, are tested,
Gutted, exhausted,
Chucked down the draught;
And the quest, the pursuit,
The attack, and the conquest
Of the Unknown goes on —
Goes on in the Joy of the Lord.”

It is a fascinating, record-breaking schedule for the road-race for Success, but a man may without cowardice confess that he is afraid of it. One sees too many broken-down machines in the roadside ditch. Study the faces of the Men Who Do Things, of the Men of To-Morrow, as you find them presented in the illustrated periodicals. They are strong, straightforward faces, the sign of a powerful, high-geared bodily mechanism. These men are the winners in the game which our generation has set itself to play. But many of the faces are singularly hard, insensitive, untouched hy meditation. If we have purchased speed and power at the cost of nobler qualities, if the men who do things are bred at the expense of the men who think and feel, surely the present American model needs modification.

For there has been a good deal of human history made upon this planet before the invention of the automobile, and one of the most obvious lessons of that history is the moral indifference which is apt to follow upon great material success. We perceive that something is wrong even with the courteous superiority of Signor Pococurante. We feel that it is a flaw in an otherwise kindly and attractive character. But what shall we say of the moral insensibility, the sheer recklessness of human life, the selfish indifference to the welfare of weaker individuals, of weaker races, in which the present decade abounds? It is a new form of Pococurantism, and one far more dangerous than any dilettante type, because it attacks stronger men.

“Speed, and a world of new havings,”

no matter who or what may lie in the path! That is its watchword. It has taken new accents in our own days, but it is after all the old hoarse shout of Philistinism, trusting in its sword and spear and shield.

Nor are its less militant aspects any less fundamentally barbaric. “How pleasant, ” says one of the citizens in the Easter Sunday scene in Faust, “to sit here and empty your glass and think of the people fighting far away! ”

“ On Sundays, holidays, there’s naught I take delight in
Like gossiping of war and war’s array,
Where down in Turkey, far away,
The foreign people are a-fighting.”

But beneath even this softer and more smug Philistinism, —wrapped comfortably in material progress, full of good nature, of benevolent sentiment, of jocosity,— what indifference there may be toward the good old cause of worldwide liberty and fraternity, what essential hardness of heart!

It is a long journey from Venice in the eighteenth century to America in the twentieth. Yet the decaying commercial republic of Italy, drawing to itself even in its decline the treasures of the East and West, offering to the stranger, with a sort of splendid affluence, both its best and its worst, presents more than one likeness to the vast, prosperous America of to-day. Among our countrymen who have enjoyed full opportunities for culture, there are few who have not at times shared the listlessness, the apathy of that Venetian nobleman who was cloyed with his own treasures. How can it be otherwise ? How can the man or woman of normal power constantly respond to the multiform stimulus of these swift days of ours ? Who can adequately react even to the news contained in the morning paper? Here is the life of the whole world brought daily to the door. But who is ready to weigh it, sift it, assimilate it? No wonder that men and women of fine fibre are conscious too often of that lassitude which comes from wandering through the rooms of a great museum, a weariness like that which oppresses the conscientious sight-seer at a World’s Fair.

We cannot rest, meditate, dream, without missing our train, breaking our engagement. We hurry on, through this crowded, absorbing, splendidly rich and varied life of contemporary America, a race of a few athletes and millions of nervous dyspeptics. We are a restless people, hypnotized with transient enthusiasms. To-day we plan a marble archway for a naval hero, build it to-morrow in plaster, and the day after tear it down. We idolize the phrases of the Declaration of Independence for two or three generations, and then suddenly make the discovery that they are mere generalities, good enough for the library, but inapplicable to practical affairs. All the wealth of our physical resources, all the marvels of our tangible success, are not enough, it appears, to save us from the Old World vice of indifferentism, from the swift relapse into disillusionment.

Let us come back to Voltaire’s parable. He was a master of dialectic weapons, and in this novel about the quest of happiness he scores his point with impeccable precision. Signor Pococurante is not happy. Candide is searching for a perfectly happy person, and he does not find one, even in that admirably furnished palace upon the Brenta. A man’s life, in other words, consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. Yet the road to happiness is not through caring little, — as the Stoics will still have it, — but through caring much, and continuing to care much. It is the ardent, luminous mind, not the smothered, hypercritical mind, which has the truer perception of values. The disillusionized man is not necessarily the wise man. Hamlet was wiser, more truly philosophical in the university at Wittenberg, where he was doubtless taught “What a piece of work is a man ! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! ” than he was later, when, in the stress of unequal conflict with the world, he added the sad personal footnote, “And yet, to me,what is this quintessence of dust ? ”

In actual human intercourse, furthermore, your disillusionized man or woman is, to put it plainly, apt to prove himself a bore. It is amusing enough for a while to hear some melancholy Jaques wittily rail and sneer, but it soon grows tiresome. The most agreeable companion in the game of life is what golfers call the “cheerful duffer,” who plays shockingly, it is true, but who is always hoping and struggling to beat bogey on the next hole. It is in the mood of the awkward idealist, and not of the graceful pococurantist, that most of the good work of the world is done.

There is plentiful absurdity, no doubt, in the popular interpretation of what has been so widely heralded as the doctrine of “strenuousness.” As a counter-gospel to that of mere fault-finding inertia or obstructionism, strenuousness is well enough. But superficially understood, it may mean nothing more than the cult of activity for its own sake ; “hustling,” as we love to say, for the mere end of being a “hustler.” No nation ever needed such a doctrine less than we. We have already too much headlong hurry that does not count: like the nervous pulling on and off of sweaters by the substitutes on the side-lines of a football-field, it shows feverish activity and energy, but it does not advance the ball. The real purport of the strenuous doctrine is rather this: that life is infinitely significant; that it should not be frittered away, either in finical criticism or in foolish, irrelevant activities. It is meant to be used,— intelligently, fully, generously. Those are fine lines of Henry van Dyke: —

“ Life is an arrow — therefore you must know
What mark to aim at, how to use the bow —
Then draw it to the head, and let it go! ”

It is the good fortune of some men and women to feel instinctively this potential value of human life. Others learn it tardily, after the oil in the lamp is low. But nothing is more inspiriting than to see human beings make the great acceptance, and devote themselves to some generous service. The bow is meant to shoot with, and not to hang on the wall. It improves with age, and so should men and women. “We grow simpler,” wrote Thackeray, “as we grow older.”

For, after all, these contemporary forms of indifferentism are not final. We shall doubtless specialize more, rather than less, and yet the narrowing tendencies of absorption in one’s own specialty may be resisted. The lassitude that marks the reaction from great and long-continued effort is perhaps inevitable; but in those hours one may refresh himself from the deep fountains that spring up within the soul. One’s individual success or happiness may tempt him to regard the less fortunate with an indifferent eye, but in a democracy like ours Dives and Lazarus may always be trusted to shift places, if you will but give them time.

To avoid that cold, paralyzing touch of indifferentism, one can at least endeavor to live simply. There is even now apparent, in the press, in many strange pulpits, and in the private talk of men in every section of the country, a wholesome tendency to praise this “simple life.” It is perhaps a by-product of prosperity, for the doctrine it praises is more easily followed by the rich than by the poor. A fine simplicity of mind often accompanies great wealth, while poverty is as often the cause of perpetual duplicity and fear. But fortunately for our generation, both rich and poor have been rediscovering Nature. We have found sources of joy in familiar surroundings and in common things. It is one step toward rediscovering ourselves. “Simplification,” as Mr. John Morley has so often pointed out, was the motto of that Revolution which followed so swiftly upon the mood of Voltairean doubt; and now that a whole cycle of experience has been accomplished, simplification should be the watchword once more. “Plain living and high thinking ” is a hackneyed phrase, and represents for many of us but a forced virtue; but plain living and high thinking are at least not the soil in which Pococurantism flourishes. A quiet mind that recalls the enduring lessons of history, a meditative mind that perceives the secret of vitality in true books and true men, a sane mind that sees life wholesomely and humanly, — this is what one must cultivate if he would share the inexhaustible freshness, the unceasing energy, which make the daily gladness of the world.

And the last words of Signor Pococurante himself are not to be forgotten. They relate, it may be remembered, to his garden. He is indeed dissatisfied with it, as with everything else, and yet he adds, in words that almost redeem his character and testify to his essentially human quality: “I shall have another laid out to-morrow upon a nobler plan. ” How persistent, how indestructible is idealism, even in the breast of a professed indifferentist! This idealism is an integral part of our inheritance. Though baffled at every point, it underlies and corrects our transient fits of despondent criticism. Indifferentism should be studied, controlled, counteracted; but in most of us, after all, it is a mood only. It is a shadow on the landscape. Yet far below it in our nature there is the undefeated desire, the imperishable aspiration, that to-morrow may find us dwelling in another garden, built upon a nobler plan. That is our human heritage of toil and hope, and it is a man’s part to reënter it daily with courage and good cheer.

B. P.

  1. Agnosticism. By ROBERT FLINT. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1903.
  2. See The Amateur Spirit in the Atlantic for August, 1901.