Timothy Shay Arthur
Who is the most wretched man living? This question might constitute a very fair puzzle to those of our readers whose kind hearts have given them, in their own experience, no clue to the true answer. If it is a species of happiness to be rich — to have at one’s command an abundance of the elegancies and luxuries of life — then he, perhaps, is the most miserable of men, who is the poorest. If it a species of happiness to be the possessor of learning, fame, or power — then perhaps, he is the most miserable man, who is the most ignorant, despised, and helpless. No, there is a man more wretched than these. We know not where he may be found; but find him where you will, in a prison — or on a throne; steeped in poverty — or surrounded with princely affluence; execrated, as he deserves to be — or crowned with world-wide applause — that man is the most miserable, whose heart contains the least love for others.
It is a pleasure to be beloved. Who has not felt this? Human affection is priceless. A fond heart is more valuable than all the gold of the Indies. But it is a still greater pleasure to love, than to be loved; the emotion itself is of a higher kind; it calls forth our own powers into more agreeable exercise, and is independent of the caprice of others.
Generally speaking, if we deserve to be loved — others will love us, but this is not always the case. The love of others towards us, is not always in proportion to our real merits; and it would be unjust to make our highest happiness dependent on it. But our love for otherswill always be in proportion to our real goodness. The more amiable, the more excellent we become — the more shall we love others. It is right, therefore, that this love should be made capable of bestowing upon us the largest amount of happiness. This is the arrangement which the Creator has fixed upon. By virtue of our moral constitution, to love is to be happy; to hate is to be wretched.
Hatred is a strong word, and the idea it conveys is very repulsive. We would hope that few of our readers know by experience what it is in its full extent. To be a very demon, to combine in ourselves the highest possible degree of wickedness and misery — nothing more is needful than to hate with sufficient intensity. But though, happily, comparatively few persons are fully under the influence of this baneful passion — how many are under it more frequently and powerfully than they ought to be? How often do we indulge in resentful,revengeful feelings, with all of which hatred more or less mixes itself? Have we not sometimes entertained sentiments positively malignant towards those who have wounded our vanity or injured our interests — secretly wishing them ill, or not heartily wishing them happiness? If so, we need only consult our own experience to ascertain that such feelings are both sinful and foolish! They offend our Maker, and render us wretched!
We know a happy man; one who in the midst of the vexations and crosses of this changing world, is always happy. Meet him anywhere, and at any time — his features beam with pleasure. Children run to meet him, and contend for the honor of touching his hand, or laying hold of the skirt of his coat, as he passes by — so cheerful and benevolent does he always look. In his own house, he seems to reign absolute — and yet he never uses any weapon more powerful than a kind word. Everybody who knows him is aware, that, in point of intelligence, ay, and in physical prowess, too — for we know few men who can boast a more athletic frame — he is as strong as a lion — yet in his demeanor, he is as gentle as a lamb. His wife is not of the most amiable temper, his children are not the most docile, his business brings him into contact with men of various dispositions; but he conquers all with the same weapons.
What a contrast, we have often thought, he presents to some whose physiognomy looks like a piece of harsh handwriting, in which we can decipher nothing but self, self, self; who seem, both at home and abroad, to be always on the watch against any infringement of their rights or dignity. Poor men! their dignity can be of little value if it requires so much care in order to be maintained. True manliness need take but little pains to procure respectful recognition. If it is genuine, others will see it, and respect it. The lion will always be acknowledged as the king of the beasts; but the donkey, though clothed in the lion’s skin, may bray loudly and perseveringly indeed, but he will never keep the forest in awe.
From some experience in the homes of working-men, and other homes too — we are led to think that much of the harsh and discordant feeling which too often prevails there, may be ascribed to a false conception of what is truly great. It is a very erroneous impression thatdespotism is manly. For our part we believe that despotism is inhuman and satanic, wherever it is found — as much in the bosom of a family, as on the throne of a kingdom. We cannot bring ourselves to tolerate the inconsistency with which some men will inveigh against some absolute sovereign — and straight-way enact the pettiest airs of absolutism in their little empire at home. We have no private intimacy with “the autocrat of all the Russias,” and may, with all humility, avow that we do not desire to have any; but this we believe, that out of the thousands who call him a tyrant — it would be no difficult matter to pick scores who are as bad, if not worse.
Let us remember that it is not a great empire which constitutes a great tyrant. Tyranny must be measured by the strength of those imperious and malignant passions from which it flows; and carrying this rule along with us, it would not surprise us, if we found the greatest tyrant in the world in some small cottage, with none to oppress but a few unoffending children, and a helpless woman! O! when shall we, be just! — when shall we cease to prate about wrongs inflicted by others, and magnified by being beheld through the haze of distance — and seek to redress those which lie at our own doors — and to redress which we shall only have to prevail upon ourselves to be just and gentle!
Arbitrary power is always associated either with cruelty, or conscious weakness. True greatness is above the petty arts of tyranny. Sometimes much domestic suffering may arise from a cause which is easily confounded with a tyrannical disposition — we refer to an exaggerated sense of justice. This is the abuse of a right feeling, and requires to be kept in vigilant check. Nothing is easier than to be one-sided in judging of the actions of others. How agreeable the task of applying the line and plummet! How quiet and complete the assumption of our own superior excellence which we make in doing it! But if the task is in some respects easy, it is most difficult if we take into account the necessity of being just in our decisions.
In domestic life especially, in which so much depends on circumstances, and the highest questions often relate to mere matters of expediency, how easy it is to be “always finding fault,” if we neglect to take notice of explanatory and extenuating circumstances! Anybody with a tongue and a most moderate complement of brains — can call a thing stupid, foolish, ill-advised, and so forth; though it might require a larger amount of wisdom than the judges possessed, to have done the thing better. But what do we want with faultfinding judges in the bosom of a family? The scales of household polity are the scales of love — and he who holds them should be a sympathizing friend; ever ready to make allowance for failures; ingenious in contriving apologies; more lavish of counsels than rebukes; and less anxious to overwhelm a person with a sense of deficiency, than to awaken in the bosom, a conscious power of doing better. One thing is certain: if any member of a family conceives it his duty to sit continually in the censor’s chair, and weigh in the scales of justice, all that happens in the domestic commonwealth — then domestic happiness is out of the question. It is manly to extenuate and forgive — but a crabbed and censorious spirit is contemptible!
There is much more misery thrown into the cup of life by domestic unkindness than we might at first suppose. In thinking of the evils endured by society from malevolent passions of individuals, we are apt to enumerate only the more dreadful instances of crime. Nut what are the few murders which unhappily pollute the soil of this Christian land — what, we ask, is the suffering they occasion, what their demoralizing tendency — when compared with the daily effusions of harshness which sadden, may we not fear, many thousands of homes? We believe that an incalculably greater number are hurried to the grave by habitual unkindness — than by sudden violence! The slow poison of churlishness and neglect — is of all poisons the most destructive! If this is true, then we need a new definition for the most flagrant of all crimes: a definition which shall leave out the element of time, and call these actions the same — equally hateful, equally diabolical, equally censured by the righteous government of Heaven — which proceed from the same motives, and lead to the same result, whether they be done in a moment, or spread out through a series of years.
Habitual unkindness is demoralizing as well as cruel. Whenever it fails to break the heart, it hardens it. To take a familiar illustration: a wife who is never addressed by her husband in tones of kindness, must cease to love him if she wishes to be happy. It is her only alternative. Thanks to the nobility of her nature, she does not always take it. No; for years she battles with cruelty, and still presses with affection, the hand which smites her — but it is fearfully at her own expense. Such endurance preys upon her health, and hastens her exit to the asylum of the grave. If this is to be avoided, she must learn to forget, what woman should never be tempted to forget — the vows, the self-renunciating devotedness of impassioned youth; she must learn to oppose indifference, to neglect and repel him with a heart as cold as his own.
But what a tragedy lies involved in a career like this! We gaze on something infinitely more terrible than murder; we see our nature abandoned to the mercy of malignant passions, and the sacred susceptibilities which were intended to fertilize the pathway of life with the waters of charity — sending forth streams of bitterest gall. A catalogue of such cases, faithfully compiled, would eclipse, in turpitude and horror, all the calendars of crime that have ever sickened the attention of the world!
The obligations of gentleness and kindness are extensive as the claims to manliness — these three qualities must go together. There are some cases, however, in which such obligations are of special force. Perhaps a precept here will be presented most appropriately under the guise of an example.
We have now before our mind’s eye a couple, whose marriage tie was, a few months ago, severed by death. The husband was a strong, hale, robust sort of a man, who probably never knew a day’s illness in the course of his life, and whose sympathy on behalf of weakness or suffering in others, it was exceedingly difficult to evoke. While his wife was the very reverse — by constitution weak and ailing, but withal a woman of whom any man might and ought to have been proud. Her elegant form, her fair transparent skin, the classical contour of her refined and expressive face, might have led a Canova to have selected her as a model of feminine beauty. But alas! she was weak; she could not work like other women; her husband could not boast among his shopmates how much she contributed to the maintenance of the family, and how largely she could afford to dispense with the fruit of his labors. Indeed, with a noble infant in her bosom, and the cares of a household resting entirely upon her — she required help herself, and at least she needed, what no wife can dispense with, but she least of all — sympathy, forbearance, and all those tranquilizing virtues which flow from a heart of kindness. She least of all could bear a harsh look; to be treated daily with cold, disapproving reserve; a petulant dissatisfaction could not but be death to her. We will not say it was — enough that she is dead. The lily bent before the storm — and at last was crushed by it. We ask but one question, in order to point the moral: In the circumstances we have delineated, what course of treatment was most consonant with a manly spirit; that which was actually pursued — or some other course which the reader can suggest?
Yes, to love is to be happy and to make happy — and to love is the very spirit of true manliness. We speak not of exaggerated passion and false sentiment; we speak not of those bewildering, indescribable feelings, which under that name, often monopolize the guidance of the youthful heart for a time. But we speak of that pure emotion which is benevolence intensified, and which, when blended with intelligence, can throw the light of joyousness around the manifold relations of life. Coarseness, rudeness, tyranny, are so many forms of brute power — so many manifestations of what it is man’s peculiar glory not to be. But kindness and gentleness can never cease to be manly.