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I was lying in bed very ill, and indeed, as it seemed, near to death. The prospect was indistinct enough, , but far from frightful, and at the worst of the disease it never occurred to me as possible that one's thoughts would terminate with one's pulse.
I fear nothing, and hope much.?
JOHN STUART MILL
NEVER, indeed, wavered in the conviction that
happiness is the test of all rules of conduct, and the end of life. But I now thought [about 1827] that this end was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way. The enjoyments of life (such was now my theory) are sufficient to make it a pleasant thing, when they are taken en passant, without being made a principal object. Once make them so, and they are immediately felt to be insufficient. They will not bear a scrutinising examination. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your
1 From letter to Emerson, March 1843.
2 From letter to the same, 1844.
scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, or putting it to flight by fatal questioning. This theory now became the basis of my philosophy of life. And I still (1861-70] hold to it as the best theory for all those who have but a moderate degree of sensibility and of capacity for enjoyment—that is, for the great majority of mankind."
Whatever else may be taken away from us by rational criticism, Christ is still left; a unique figure, not more unlike all his precursors than all his followers, even those who had the direct benefit of his personal teaching. It is of no use to say that Christ, as exhibited in the Gospels, is not historical, and that we know not how much of what is admirable has been superadded by the tradition of his followers. The tradition of followers suffices to insert any number of marvels. . . . But who among his disciples or among their proselytes was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels ? . . . About the life and sayings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality, combined with profundity of insight, which, if we abandon the idle expectation of finding scientific precision where something very different was aimed at, must place the Prophet of Nazareth, even in the estimation of those who have no belief in his inspiration, in the very first rank of the men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast. When this pre-eminent genius is combined
1 From Autobiography.
with the qualities of probably the greatest moral reformer and martyr to that mission who ever existed upon earth, religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching on this man as the ideal representative and guide of humanity; nor, even now, would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our life. When to this we add that, to the conception of the rational sceptic, it remains a possibility that Christ actually was what he supposed himself to be—not God, for he never made the smallest pretension to that character, and would probably have thought such a pretension as blasphemous as it seemed to the men who condemned him—but a man charged with a special, express, and unique commission from God to lead mankind to truth and virtue; we may well conclude that the influences of religion on the character, which will remain after rational criticism has done its utmost against the evidences of religion, are well worth preserving, and that what they lack in direct strength, as compared with those of a firmer belief, is more than compensated by the greater truth and rectitude of the morality they sanction.
JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER
HAVE no longer youth and strength, and I have
not much to hope for, as far as this life is concerned; but I enjoy life: “It is a pleasant thing to behold the sun.” I love Nature in her varied aspects;
1 From Essay on Theism (written 1868-70).
and, as I grow older, I find much to love in my fellowcreatures, and also more to pity. I have the instinct of immortality, but the conditions of that life are unknown. I cannot conceive what my own identity, and that of dear ones gone before me, will be. And then the inescapable sense of sin in thought and deed, and doubtless some misconception of the character of God, makes the boldest of us cowards. Does thee remember the epitaph-prayer of Martin Elginbrod ? —
Here lie I, Martin Elginbrod ;
An' ye were Martin Elginbrod. I think there is a volume of comfort in that verse. We Christians seem less brave and tranquil, in view of death, than the old Stoic sages. Witness Marcus Antoninus. I wonder if the creed of Christendom is really the “glad tidings of great joy to all people which the angels sang of ? For myself, I believe in God as Justice, Goodness, Tenderness—in one word, Love; and yet my trust in Him is not strong enough to overcome the natural shrinking from the law of death. Even our Master prayed that that cup might pass from Him, “if it were possible.” 1
Mrs. AUGUSTUS CRAVEN
HEN life is quite over, and we have no children
in whom to see it recommence, perhaps in a fairer because less egotistical form than before, the
1 From letter to Charlotte Fiske Bates, 1879.
sight of these crystallising destinies, of these circles which disperse or grow closer, the large store of interest and hope and confidence with which all in their turn embark on their voyage towards the future, causes me strong emotion. I feel at once sad and satisfied—sad from the natural feeling which dislikes privation, and which would rather bear the anxieties accompanying the goods of this world, counting children and wealth among them, than be without them; satisfied according to the truer sentiment which is glad to be free of ties that bind us to the earth which we shall quit so soon, and to which we still cling too closely, even when we have been deprived of what most strengthens those ties. 1
Life is a weary burden, and no man tries to endure it without some help.
At first the world's remedies seem to succeed for those who try them. Men learn to forget, and years may pass without any event that can recall them to themselves. Yet during those years the weight that has been treacherously lifted for a time grows and grows, until the moment comes when the world's power is at an end. It comes long before the close of life, and when it comes, the effeminate soul, weakened by the world's pleasure, will find itself forced to resume, in its full weight, the burden of life.
In men's lives, and even in happy lives, there are many sorrows, and each of us finds those sorrows precisely such as are hardest to bear. To accept them and take the life that is before us without struggle, is to bear our burdens as we are meant to do. And this is
1 From her Journal, 1879.