« НазадПродовжити »
business faculty or knowledge, who has burnt his fingers bare to the bone with handling scrip and stock, thrusts them into the fire again as soon as he has the chance. The gambler? blows his fingers just cool enough to shuffle the cards for this once only, sure that this time hope will tell no flattering tale, that ravelled ends will knit themselves up into a close and seemly garment, and heaven itself work a miracle in his favour against the law of mathematical certainty.” In fact we all are alleged to be gamblers in this way, playing our hazards for the stakes of faith and hope ; all of us burning our fingers again and again at some fire or another; experience teaching us nothing, save perhaps a weary feeling of having known it all before, when things fall out amiss, and we are blistered in the old fire. Rousseau complains, in the decline of life, that years of experience had failed to effect a radical cure of his visions romanesques, and that, in spite of all the ills he had suffered, he continued as ignorant of the world and of mankind as if he had never had to pay for lessons in the ways of the world, and for experience in the manners of men. Benvenuto Cellini owns it to be a common saying that every reverse of fortune teaches us how to behave on another occasion; “but that is not true,” he asserts, “ as the circumstances which attend each event are different, and such as could not be foreseen.” So Coleridge: “Much has been said on the effect of past experience; but while ambition and vanity exist, the light of experience, like the lights placed in the stern of the vessel, illumines only the track that is already passed over.” When Mr. Savage's Vicar hears of the last new freak of Reuben Medlicott's, “ Again !” he cries; “after burning his fingers once, I was in hopes he would not be so rash for the future.” “I don't know,” replies a sager friend, after a moment's reflection : “I often hear it said that such a one, having once
I“ Never,” says Pisistratus Caxton, “ did I know a man who was an habitual gambler, otherwise than notably inaccurate in his calculations of probabilities in the ordinary affairs of life.” And the query is put, Is it that such a man has become so chronic a drunkard of hope, that he sees double every chance in his favour ?
burnt his fingers, will not be apt to burn them again. That is not my view of things. As far as my observation goes, the great mistakes of life are rarely committed only once.” Accordingly, when this observer sees a man make one imprudent marriage, he thinks it the more probable he will make another; and if a man embarrasses himself by building a house, this observer, so far from expecting him to give up building as soon as he is out of his difficulties, is, on the contrary, inclined to predict that he will soon be in the mortar again.
A French biographer of the Duchess of Maine pictures her at threescore years and more as a spoilt child, whom experience had taught nothing, for experience implies something of reflection and self communing. Not hers, however, the sort of unteachableness by experience ascribed to one in Philip von Artevelde, of whom it is written that many disappointments could not cure “this born obliquity” of hers, inborn, inbred ; who
“... grew not wise,
And taught her nothing : where she erred she errs.” Error or illusion of this sort, in some souls feminine, though stricken in years, warrants the observation of George Eliot on the wonderful tenacity of it, in their cases, just as a patriarchal goldfish apparently retains to the last its youthful illusion that it can swim in a straight line beyond the encircling glass.
Long years agone it was said of M. Mazzini that he ought by that time to have learned that unarmed justice cannot afford to be always offering battle to the bayonets of great empires; "only that men never succeed in learning the lesson of their own lives.” The doings that involved the downfall of Charles X. and his dynasty are the historian's text, when he discourses on the lesson thrown away of more than a quarter of a century of bloodshed, and revolution, and anarchy : “Humanity sighs as it contemplates the incapacity of dunces in a school where the dullest may find the best instruction if he will.” Anarchy in the grim guise of the French Revolution is Mr. Carlyle's theme when he indites the lament, “But there are still men, of whom it was of old written, Bray them in a mortar; or, in milder language, They have wedded their delusions: fire nor steel, nor any sharpness of experience, shall sever the bond, till death do us part! On such may the heavens have mercy; for the earth, with her rigorous necessity, will have none."
1 " Mrs. Tulliver was an amiable fish of this kind, and, after running her head against the same resisting medium for thirteen years, would go at it again to-day with undulled alacrity.”—The Mill on the Floss, chap. vii.
Cowper in one of his letters has to deal with a vexed question of which the only solution he has to offer is, that, “ Perhaps it is, that men who will not believe what they cannot understand may learn the folly of their conduct, while their very senses are made to witness against them. . . . But the end is never answered. The lesson is inculcated frequently enough, but nobody learns it.” Churchill describes in his now forgotten Gotham what he calls
" That grave inflexibility of soul
And nothing less than utter ruin teach." Milton's Samson upbraids himself as having brought “all these evils” on his head, “Sole author I, sole cause." Tu
1 Treating of such proverbs as “ He has made his bed, and now he must lie on it;" “ As he has brewed, so he must drink;” “As he has sown, so must he reap,” etc., the Archbishop of Dublin recognises in them homely announcements of that law of Divine retaliation in the world, according to which men shall eat of the fruit of their own doings, and be filled with their own ways. They affirm, he says, what “every page of Scripture, every turn of human life, is affirming too, namely, that the everlasting order of God's universe cannot be violated with impunity, that there is a continual returning upon men of what they have done, and that in their history we may read their judgment.” Burns can pack one or two such homely proverbs within the compass of a verse of his Country Lassie : “But some will spend, and some will spare, an' wilful folk maun hae their
will, Syne as ye brew, my maiden fair, keep mind that ye maun drink the
l'as voulu. Not in vain, after all, is the net spread in the sight of any bird. Agonistes had seen the net, and knowingly he walked into it.
“This well I knew, nor was at all surprised,
But warned by oft experience.” Warning he had, as Esmond writes of himself; “but I doubt others had warning before his time, and since : and he benefited by it as most men do."1 Our ablest expositor of the ethics of proverbs quotes as “fine" a Cornish one about obstinate wrongheads, who will take no counsel except from calamities, who dash themselves in pieces against obstacles, which with a little prudence and foresight they might easily have avoided. It is this : “He who will not be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the rock," which sets us at once upon some rocky and wreck-strewn coast, for we feel at once that it could never have been the proverb of an inland people. Its resonant roll of r's makes it none the less telling : it could never have been the proverb of a peculiar people all whose r's are w's. Not but that imperfect organs may articulate precious truths, even as good speech may come from evil speakers; for an ill speaker, if from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, was Regan, unnatural daughter of Lear, yet sound and salutary was her speaking when she said, though she should not have said it,
"...O sir, to wilful men
The injuries that they themselves procure
Must be their schoolmasters.” We have all heard the proposition, Experience is the best of schoolmasters; and the rider to it, But the school fees are heavy.
16 A wilfu' man will hae his way—them that will to Cupar maun to Cupar,” says the Highland hostess in Rob Roy; and Sir Walter again puts the self same words into the mouth of old Caleb Balderstone, in the Bride of Lammermoor.
INSCRUTABLY DECEITFUL, DESPERATELY
JEREMIAH xvii. 9. “THE heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately
1 wicked : who can know it?" Can the man himself ? “ I the Lord search the heart.” But who besides can sound its dim and perilous ways ?
One remembers the text in Jeremiah when reading another one in St. John, which tells how, at Jerusalem for the passover, and apparently attracting many to believe in His name, “ Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man; for He knew what was in man.” Knew, and Himself testified, at another time, that from out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, thefts, false witness : for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? Young says that
“ Heaven's Sovereign saves all beings but Himself
That hideous sight, a naked human heart.” All things are naked and open to Him with whom we have to do. Byron, who in one poem declares that
6o ... men are—what they name not to themselves,
And trust not to each other,”— in another, warns off a would-be questioner with the emphatic monition,
66 ..Nay, do not ask
In pity from the search forbear :
Man's heart, and view the hell that's there." What an incalculable field of dread and sombre contemplation, it has been remarked, is opened to every meditative observer who eyes the crowd he meets in the thoroughfares of a great city! What a world of dark and troubled secrets in the breast of every one who hurries by you! Goethe has said somewhere that each of us, the best as the worst, hides within