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till the little seed of evil sown by you has developed into some deed of guilt at which you shudder, but from participation in responsibility for which you cannot clear yourself.” Every sin, we are in fine reminded, may waken its echo; every sin is reduplicated and reiterated in other souls and lives.
A distinguished French preacher, of the Reformed faith, has a striking discourse on what he entitles the solidarity of evil ; and he too dilates upon the mysterious links which connect together persons and acts that appear to have nothing in common,-suggesting melancholy examples of the contagion of guilt and its consequences, of the expansive power of corruption and its almost boundless results.
Our most powerful female writer of fiction has emphatically taught, if a striking story can teach, that there is no sort of wrong deed of which a man can bear the punishment alone; you can't isolate yourself, and say that the evil which is in you shall not spread. Men's lives are as thoroughly blended with each other as the air they breathe ; evil spreads as necessarily as disease. “I know, I feel the terrible extent of suffering this sin of Arthur's has caused to others,”—so the good rector tells one who cherishes vengeance on the wrong-doer; “but so does every sin cause suffering to others besides those who commit it.” The problem how far a man is to be held responsible for the unforeseen consequences of his own deed this speaker pronounces to be one that might well make us tremble to look into it; the evil consequences that may lie folded in a single act of selfish indulgence being a thought so awful that it ought surely to awaken some feeling less presumptuous than a rash and vindictive desire to punish.
In another of her books the same authoress takes pains to prove how deeply inherent it is in this life of ours that men have to suffer for each other's sins; so inevitably diffusive is human suffering that we can conceive no retribution which does not spread beyond its mark in pulsations of unmerited pain.
There is a passage in one of Madame de Charrières letters in which, avowing her full recognition of the fact that she
must pay in person for the costly experience of life, she expresses the futile wish that others might not have to share in the costs, but owns with a sigh that the wish is futile, for one does nothing absolutely alone she says, and nothing so happens to us as to entirely exclude the participation of others : “ On ne fait rien tout seul, et il ne nous arrive rien à nous seuls.” We are taught by modern science that the slightest movement, of the smallest body, in the remotest region, produces results which are perpetual, which diffuse themselves through all space, and which, though they may be metamorphosed, cannot be destroyed. * Or again, as Mrs. Browning reminds us,
“Each creature holds an insular point in space :
Yet what man stirs a finger, breathes a sound,
If no good work that a man does is lost—the smallest useful work, as an octogenarian essayist assures us, continuing to be useful long after the man is dead and forgotten, so neither do bad actions die with the doer. “Future generations suffer for the sin of their ancestors, and one great crime or act of folly causes the misery of unborn millions.” So all things, it is added, hang together in one unbroken chain, of which we see a few links, but the beginning and the end we see not and never shall see.
Seneca was writing for all time when he said that no man's error is confined to himself, but affects all around him, whether by example, or consequences, or both : “nemo errat uni sibi.” A latter-day philosopher assigns to a place among the most
* “Wave your hand; the motion which has apparently ceased is taken up by the air, from the air by the walls of the room, etc., and so by direct and re-acting waves, continually comminuted, but never destroyed.” Grove's Correlation of Physical Forces.
insoluble riddles propounded to mortal comprehension what he calls the fatal decree by which every crime is made to be the agony of many innocent persons as well as of the single guilty one. “Ah !” exclaims Hilda to guilty Miriam, in the story of “Transformation,”—“now I understand how the sins of generations past have created an atmosphere of sin for those that follow. While there is a single guilty person in the universe, each innocent one must feel his innocence tortured by that guilt. Your deed, Miriam, has darkened the whole, sky!” To apply the lines of a reflective poet,
“'Tis not their own crimes only, men commit;
They harrow them into another's breast,
And they shall reap the growth with bitter pain.” Very forcibly Mr. Isaac Taylor warns us that in almost every event of life the remote consequences vastly outweigh the proximate in actual amount of importance; and he undertakes to show, on principles even of mathematical calculation, that each individual of the human family holds in his hand the centre lines of an interminable web-work, on which are sustained the fortunes of multitudes of his successors; the implicated consequences, if summed together, making up therefore a weight of human weal or woe that is reflected back with an incalculable momentum upon the lot of each. The practical conclusion is that every one is bound to remember that the personal sufferings or peculiar vicissitudes or toils through which he is called to pass are to be estimated and explained only in an immeasurably small proportion if his single welfare is regarded, while their “ full price and value are not to be computed unless the drops of the morning dew could be numbered.” So the most popular of domestic storytellers expatiates in an early work on the impossibility of wiping off from us, as with a wet cloth, the stains left by the fault of those who are near to us. Another of the tribe, but more “sensational ” in subject and style, is keen to show how the influence of a man's evil deed slowly percolates through insidious channels of which he never dreams; how the deed of folly or of guilt is still active for evil when the sinner who
committed it has forgotten his wickedness. “Who shall say where or when the results of one man's evil-doing shall cease? The seed of sin engenders no common root, shooting straight upwards through the earth, and bearing a given crop. It is the germ of a foul running weed, whose straggling suckers travel underground beyond the ken of mortal eye, beyond the power of mortal calculation." And so again the caustic showman of “Vanity Fair," in his last completed work, paused to explain how a culprit's evil behaviour of five and twenty years back, brought present grief and loss of rest to three unoffending persons; and he characteristically utters the wistful wish that we “could all take the punishment for our individual crimes on our individual shoulders,” but laments the futility of any such wish, recognising as he does so plainly that when the culprit is condemned to hang, it is those connected with him who have to weep and suffer, and wear piteous mourning in their hearts long after he has jumped off the Tyburn ladder.
We conclude with a suggestive stanza of Mr. Robert Browning's, worth learning by heart in more senses than one : he is speaking of the soul declaring itself by its fruit—the thing it does :
“Be Hate that fruit, or Love that fruit,
It forwards the general deed of Man ;
The life of the race by a general plan,
Job ii. 13. T OB'S friends have long since been a sort of bye-word. But
be it not forgotten that the friendship of Eliphaz, Bil
dad, and Zophar, to the ruined and desolate man of Uz, evidences itself as very genuine in one or two salient points, before it came to be, what it is apt to be now exclusively con
sidered, all talk. Before the talk there was prolonged silence; and before the silence there was lamentation of undoubted earnest. Coming from afar to mourn with him, and to comfort him, from afar off they caught sight of him, but so alteredheu, quantum mutatus !—that they lifted up their voice and wept; and they rent each one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads towards heaven. And then they “sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him; for they saw that his grief was very great."
The sonnet of a Quaker poet has thus far vindicated the sincerity of their friendship, and on the ground of their silent sympathy :
" However ye might err in after-speech,
The mute expression of that voicelesss woe
Some comforters, of utterance less slow,
Prone to believe that they more promptly know
As that of chaos, patiently ye sate
By the heart-stricken and the desolate.
Not less your silence was sublimely great.” In his vivid picture of the desolation of a bereaved husband, Sir Richard Steele goes on to say, “I knew consolation would now be impertinent; and therefore contented myself to sit by him, and condole with him in silence.” “ Les consolations indiscrètes," says Rousseau, “ ne font qu'aigrir les violentes afflictions. L'indifférence et la froideur trouvent aisément des paroles, mais la tristesse et LE SILENCE sont alors le vrai langage de l'amitié.” Gray writes to Mason, while yet uncertain whether the latter is already. a widower or not,—“ If the last struggle be over ... allow me (at least in idea, for what could I do were I present more than this,) to sit by you in silence, and pity from my heart, not her who is at rest, but you who lose her.” So it