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ago ; its active exercise has kept my head above water since; its results cheer me now, for I feel they have enabled me to give pleasures to others. I am thankful to God, who gave me the faculty; and it is for me a part of my religion to defend this gift, and to profit by its possession.
LADY EASTLAKE (1816–1892) THE THE weeks come round at a tremendous speed; I
suppose it is my advanced age. The mind meditates, but has few novel impressions to mark the time and prolong it, as in young days. I am content, and rather like to note the gradual changes in myself, as God's loving plan for us all. I have had my life, and have had more blessings and what is called success than most people; I have also drunk to the bottom of a very bitter
cup, for which, perhaps, I ought to be thankful. At all events, it is a mercy to be weaned from life when one is about to leave it. It took me many years to be practically convinced that God chastens those He loves, and vice versâ, but now there is nothing I more deeply believe. It is a peculiar feeling to grow old and to meet it rightly; I study it, I hope, in the right way. It is strange that human beings should come into the world only all to die. Perhaps all worlds are not so, and without the account of the Fall of Man and the Sacrifice of Christ—without, I mean, believing these-I don't know how mankind could bear the certainty of death. That certainty can only be met by the equal certainty of everlasting life.2
i From letter written September 21, 1849.
2 Written at the end of 1892.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
WENT to the woods (1845] because I wished to
live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world ; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. ... Our life is frittered away by detail. . . . Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.1
I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end. If we were always indeed getting our living and regulating
1 From Walden.
our lives according to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be troubled with ennui.1
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.2
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as
It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours even in a poor-house. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. 3
If you take this life to be simply what old religious folks pretend (I mean the effete, gone to seed in a drought, mere human galls stung by the devil once), then all your joy and serenity is reduced to grinning and bearing it. The fact is, you have got to take the world on your shoulders like Atlas, and put along with 1 From Walden.
it. You will do this for an idea's sake, and your success will be in proportion to your devotion to ideas. It may make your back ache occasionally, but you will have the satisfaction of hanging it or twirling it to suit yourself. Cowards suffer, heroes enjoy. After a long day's walk with it, pitch it into a hollow place, sit down and eat your luncheon. Unexpectedly, by some immortal thoughts, you will be compensated. The bank whereon you sit will be a fragrant and flowery one, and your world in the hollow a sleek and light gazelle. 1
My life is like a stroll upon the beach,
As near the ocean's edge as I can go ;
Sometimes I stay to let them overflow.
To place my gains beyond the reach of tides,
Which Ocean kindly to my hand confides.
the sea ;
Is deeper known upon the strand to me.
Its deeper waves cast up no pearls to view;
And I converse with many a shipwrecked crew.2
You ask particularly after my health. I suppose that I have not many months to live; but, of course, I know
1 From letter written May 20, 1860.
nothing about it. I may add that I am enjoying existence as much as ever, and regret nothing."
BENJAMIN JOWETT (1817–1893)
(MASTER OF BALLIOL) I
WILL ask you not to think it an affectation if I
to me from a certain point of view to be the best. They are less disturbed by care and the world; we begin to understand that things never did really matter so much as we supposed, and we are able to see them more in the true proportion, instead of being overwhelmed by them. We are more resigned to the will of God, neither afraid to depart nor over-anxious to stay. There are some things which, perhaps, we can set right because we are no longer actors in them. We cannot see into another life, but we believe with an inextinguishable hope that there is something still reserved for us. We are able also to regard not in a temper of alarm the changes of opinion which we see going on around us, and which have been greater in our time than in any other, and to know that they are a part of a natural growth or change, which it would be childish to complain of.2
Though I am growing old I maintain that the best part is still to come—the time when one may see things more dispassionately and know oneself and others more truly, and perhaps be able to do more, and in religion
1 From letter written March 1862, less than three months before his death.
2 From letter to Lady Stanley, September 27, 1890.