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with our wishes. We often find something else, nay, something better than what we were looking for; and what we look for, we often find on a very different path from that on which we began a vain search. Instead of finding, as we expected, pleasure, happiness, joy, we get experience, insight, knowledge—a real and permanent blessing, instead of a fleeting and illusory one. 1
A complete and adequate notion of life can never be attained by any one who does not reach old age; for it is only the old man who sees life whole and knows its natural course; it is only he who is acquainted --and this is most important-not only with its entrance, like the rest of mankind, but with its exit too; so that he alone has a full sense of its utter vanity, whilst the others never cease to labour under the false notion that everything will come right in the end.?
When a man is old, to die is the only thing that awaits him; while if he is young, he may expect to live; and the question arises which of the two fates is the more hazardous, and if life is not a matter which, on the whole, it is better to have behind one than before ? Does not the preacher say: the day of death [is better] than the day of one's birth? It is certainly a rash thing to wish for long life; for, as the Spanish proverb has it, it means to see much evil,—Quien vida vive mucho mal vide.3
No man ought to expect much from others, or, in general, from the external world. What one human
1 From Counsels and Maxims.
being can be to another is not a very great deal ; in the end every one stands alone, and the important thing is who it is that stands alone. . . . As Goldsmith puts it in The Traveller
Still to ourselves in every place consign'd
There is not much to be got anywhere in the world. It is filled with misery and pain; and if a man escapes these, boredom lies in wait for him at every corner. Nay more; it is evil which generally has the upper hand, and folly makes the most noise. Fate is cruel, and mankind pitiable. In such a world as this, a man who is rich in himself is like a bright, warm, happy room at Christmastide, while without are the frost and snow of a December night.
Life is such a poor business that the strictest economy must be exercised in its good things. Youth has enough and to spare in itself, and must rest content with what it has. But when the delights and joys of life fall away in old age, as the leaves from a tree in autumn, fame buds forth opportunely, like a plant that is green in winter. Fame is, as it were,
the fruit that must grow all the summer before it can be enjoyed at Yule. There is no greater consolation in age than the feeling of having put the whole force of one's youth into works which still remain young.1
1 From The Wisdom of Life.
BRYAN WALLER PROCTER
NO longer look at the world through a rose
coloured glass. The prospect, I am sorry to say, is gray, grim, dull, barren, full of withered leaves, without flowers, or, if there be any, all of them trampled down, soiled, discoloured, and without fragrance.
I have grown old, and apathetic, and stupid. All I care for in the way of personal enjoyment is quiet, ease—to have nothing to do, nothing to think of. My only glance is backward. There is so little before me that I would rather not look that way.
My youth? I wonder where it has gone. It has left me with grey hairs and rheumatism, and plenty of (too many other) infirmities. I stagger and stumble along, with almost seventy-six years on my head, upon failing limbs, which no longer enable me to walk half a mile. .. Sometimes I wish that I had tried harder for what is called Fame, but generally (as now) I care very little about it. After all—unless one could be Shakespeare, which (clearly) is not any easy matter-of what value is a little puff of smoke from a review ?
How short it is to look back on life! Why, I saw the home, the other day, where I used to play with a wooden sword when I was five years old! It cannot surely be eighty years ago! What has occurred since ? ... A few nonsense verses, a flogging or two (richly deserved), and a few whitebait dinners, and the whole is reckoned up."
1 From Autobiographical Fragments.
MICHAEL FARADAY (1791–1867)
volved in the fogs, mists, and clouds of misfortune, yet I have seen enough to know that many things usually designated as troubles are merely so from our own particular view of them, or else ultimately resolve themselves into blessings. Do not imagine that I cannot feel for the distresses of others, or that I am entirely ignorant of those which seem to threaten friends for whom both
and I are much concerned. I do feel for those who are oppressed either by real or imaginary evils, and I know the one to be as heavy as the other. But I think I derive a certain degree of steadiness and placidity amongst such feelings by a point of mental conviction, for which I take no credit as a piece of knowledge or philosophy, and which has often been blamed as mere apathy. .. The point is this : in all kinds of knowledge I perceive that my views are insufficient and my judgment imperfect. In experiments I come to conclusions which, if partly right, are sure to be in part wrong; if I correct by other experiments, I advance a step, my old error is in part diminished, but is always left with a tinge of humanity, evidenced by its imperfection. In affairs of life 'tis the same thing; my views of a thing at a distance and close at hand never correspond, and the way
out of a trouble which I desire is never that which really opens before me. Now when in all these, and in all kinds of knowledge and experience, the course is still the same, ever imperfect to us, but terminating
in good, and when all events are evidently at the disposal of a Power which is conferring benefits continually upon us, which, though given by means and in ways we do not comprehend, may always well claim our acknowledgment at last, may we not be induced to suspend our dull spirits and thoughts when things look cloudy, and, providing as well as we can against the shower, actually cheer our spirits by thoughts of the good things it will bring with it? and will not the experience of our past lives convince us that in doing this we are far more likely to be right than wrong ?1
There is no philosophy in my religion. I am of a very small and despised sect of Christians, known, if known at all, as Sandemanians, and our hope is founded on the faith that is in Christ. But though the natural works of God can never by any possibility come in contradiction with the higher things that belong to our future existence, and must with everything concerning Him ever glorify Him, still I do not think it at all necessary to tie the study of the natural sciences and religion together, and, in my intercourse with
fellowcreatures, that which is religious and that which is philosophical have ever been two distinct things.2
High as man is placed above the creatures around him, there is a higher and far more exalted position within his view; and the ways are infinite in which he occupies his thoughts about the fears, or hopes, or expectations of a future life. I believe that the truth of that future cannot be brought to his knowledge by
1 From letter to E. Barnard, July 1826.