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“More servants wait on man Than he'll take notice of. In every path
He treads down that which doth befriend him
When sickness makes him pale and wan. Oh inighty Love ! Man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him.”i
Few of us, however, realise the wonderful privilege of living, or the blessings we inherit; the glories and beauties of the Universe, which is our own if we choose to have it so; the extent to which we can make ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace, of triumphing over pain and sorrow.
Dante pointed to the neglect of opportunities as a serious fault:
“Man can do violence
Ruskin has expressed this with special allusion to the marvellous beauty of this glorious world, too often taken as a matter of course, and remembered, if at all, almost without gratitude. “Holy men,” he complains, “in the recommending of the love of God to us, refer but seldom to those things in which it is most abundantly and immediately shown ; though they insist much on His giving of bread, and raiment, and health (which He gives to all inferior creatures): they require us not to thank Him for that glory of His works which He has permitted us alone to perceive : they tell us often to meditate in the closet, but they send us not, like Isaac, into the fields at even : they dwell on the duty of self-denial, but they exhibit not the duty of delight:” and yet, as he justly says elsewhere, " each of us, as we travel the way of life, has the choice, according to our working, of turning all the voices of Nature into one song of rejoicing; or of withering and quenching her sympathy into a fearful withdrawn
silence of condemnation,-into a crying out of her stones and a shaking of her dust against us."
Must we not all admit, with Sir Henry Taylor, that “the retrospect of life swarms with lost opportunities ” ? “Whoever enjoys not life,” says Sir T. Browne, “I count him but an apparition, though he wears about him the visible affections of flesh."
St. Bernard, indeed, goes so far as to maintain that “nothing can work me damage except myself; the harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real sufferer but by my own fault."
Some Heathen moralists also have taught very much the same lesson. “The gods," says Marcus Aurelius, “have put all the means in man's power to enable him not to fall into real evils. Now that which does not make a man worse, how can it make his life worse ?”
Epictetus takes the same line: “If a man is unhappy, remember that his un
happiness is his own fault; for God has made all men to be happy.” “I am," he elsewhere says, “always content with that which happens; for I think that what God chooses is better than what I choose.” And again : “Seek not that things should happen as you wish ; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life. ... If you wish for anything which belongs to another, you lose that which is your own.”
Few, however, if any, can I think go as far as St. Bernard. We cannot but suffer from pain, sickness, and anxiety; from the loss, the unkindness, the faults, even the coldness of those we love. How many a day has been damped and darkened by an angry word!
Hegel is said to have calmly finished his Phaenomenologie des Geistes at Jena, on the 14th October 1806, not knowing anything whatever of the battle that was raging round him.
Matthew Arnold has suggested that we might take a lesson from the heavenly bodies.
“ Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
It is true that
“A man is his own star;
Our acts our angels are
and that “rather than follow a multitude to do evil,” one should “stand like Pompey's pillar, conspicuous by oneself, and single in integrity.”1 But to many this isolation would be itself most painful, for the heart is “no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.”2 If we separate ourselves so much from Sir T. Browne.