Imagens das páginas

pruning we have got from hands kind and unkind, from our earliest days-but for the pruning we are getting from such hands yet. Perhaps you have known a man who had lived for forty years alone. And you know what odd shoots he had sent out; what strange traits and habits he had acquired; what singular little ways he had got into. There had been no one at home to prune him; and the little shoots of eccentricity, of vanity, of vain self-estimation, that might have easily been cut off when they were green and soft, have now grown into rigidity; woody fiber has been developed; and if you were to try to cut off the oddity now, it would be like trying to lop off a tough oak branch a foot thick with a penknife. You can not do it; if you were to succeed in doing it, you would thereby change the whole man. Equally grown into rigid awkwardness with the man who has lived a very solitary life, the man is likely to be who for many years has been the pope of a little circle of admiring disciples, no one of whom would ever contradict him, no one of whom would ever venture to say he judged or did wrong. In such a case, not merely are the angularities, the odd ungainly shoots, not cut off: they are actually fostered; a really good man grows into a bundle of awkwardness and oddities, and stiffens hopelessly into them; and they greatly lessen his influence and usefulness with people who do not know his real excellences. You can not read the life of Mr. Simeon, of Cambridge, without lamenting that there was not some kind yet firm hand always near him, to prune off the wretched little shoots of self-conceit and silliness which obscured in great measure the sterling qualities of the man. You may remember reading how on an occasion on which some good ladies had collected pieces of needle-work to be sold for a missionary purpose, he came to behold them. He skipped into the room, held up his hands in a theatrical ecstasy of admiration, and went through various ungainly gambols and uttered various wretched jokes, by way of compliment to the good ladies. I don't tell you the story at length: it is too humiliating. Now do you think the good man would ever have done this, had he lived among people who durst question his infallibility and impeccability? What a blessing it would have been for him had there been some one on such terms with him that he could say,

"Now, Simeon, dear fellow, don't make a fool of yourself!"

It is at once apparent, that when some really kind and judicious friend, or even some judicious person who is not a kind friend, says to you as you are saying something, "Smith, you're talking nonsense: shut up, and don't make a fool of your self;" this fact is highly analogous to the fact of a keen pruning-knife snipping off a shoot that is growing in a wrong direction. And you may have seen a good man, accustomed to dwell among those who never dared to differ from him, look as if the world were suddenly coming to an end, when some courageous person said to his face what many persons had frequently said behind his back: to wit, that he was talking nonsense. You may find a house here and there, in which the gray mare is the more energetic if not the better horse; where the husband has been constrained by years of outrageous ill-temper to give the wife her own way; and where, accordingly, the mistress of the house has lived for thirty years without once being told she did wrong. The tree, that is, had never been pruned in all that time; and you may imagine what an ugly and disagreeable tree it had grown. For people who get their own way have nothing to repress their evil and ridiculous tendencies except their own sense of propriety; and I have little faith in the practical guidance of that sense, unless it be reënforced and directed by the moral and esthetic sense of other people. A tree, when pruned, suffers in silence; no doubt, it can not like being pruned: it would like to have its own way. But the pruning of a human being, accustomed to his or her own way, is often accompanied by much moral kicking and howling. Such a person, in those years without pruning, has very likely got confirmed in many ridiculous and disagreeable habits; has learned to sit with his feet upon the mantel-piece; has come to use ungrammatical and ugly forms of speech; has grown into rubbing his nose, or twirling his thumbs, or making pills of paper while conversing with others: indeed there is no reckoning the ugly growths into which unpruned human nature will develop itself; and self-conceited and haughty and petted folk deliberately deprive themselves of that salutary tending and pruning which is needful to keep them in decent shape. There was once a man, who was much

[ocr errors]

of some standing, living in a solitary house, with servants who dare not prune him, and with acquaintances who will not take the trouble to prune him, must necessarily, unless he be a very wise and good man, grow into a most amorphous shape. I beg the reader to mark the exception I make; for I presume he will agree with me when I say, that in the class of old bachelors and old maids may be found some of the noblest specimens of the human race. A judicious wife is always snipping off from her husband's moral nature, little twigs that are growing in wrong directions. She keeps him in shape, by continual pruning. If you say any thing silly, she will affectionately tell you so. If you declare that you will do some absurd thing, she will find means of preventing your doing it. And by far the chief part of all the common sense there is in this world, belongs unquestionably to women. The wisest things a man commonly does, are those which his wife counsels him to do. It is not always so. You may have known a man do, at the instigation of his wife, things so malicious, petty, and stupid, that it is inconceivable any man should ever do them at all. But such cases are exceptional.

given to advocating the admission of fresh | men as would be incredible. Of course, air-an excellent end. But of course in I am not going to do so. An old bachelor advocating it, the word Ventilation had frequently to be used; and that man made himself ridiculous in the eyes of all educated people by invariably pronouncing the word as Ventulation. For a long time, a youthful relative of that man suffered in silence the terrible annoyance of listening to the word, thus rendered; and there are few more irritating things among the minor vexations of life, than to be compelled habitually to listen to some vulgar and illiterate error in speech. Perhaps you have felt a burning desire to prune a person, who talked of some trouble being tremenduous; or who said he would rather go to Jericho as hear Dr. Log preach; or who declared the day to be that hot that he was nearly killed. Oh, the thought of such expressions makes one's nerves tingle, and one's hand steal toward the pruning-knife. But after long endurance, the youthful relative of the man who talked about Ventulation, could stand it no longer, and ventured humbly to suggest that Ventilation was the preferable way of setting forth the word. Ah, the tree did not take pruning peaceably! Wasn't there an explosion of vanity and spite and stupidity! Was not the youthful individual scorched with furious sarcasm, for pretending to know better than his seniors, and for venturing to think that his betters could go wrong! From that day forward, he resolved that, however hideous the shoots of ignorance and conceit his seniors put forth, he would not venture to correct them. For there is nothing that so infuriates an uneducated and self-sufficient man of more than middle age, as the faintest and best-disguised attempt to prune him. "Are you sure that your data is correct?" said a vulgar rich man to an educated poor man. "Data ARE correct, I think you mean," said the poor man (rather hastily), before going on to answer the question. The rich man's face reddened like an infuriated turkeycock; and had there been a cudgel in his hand, he would have beaten the pruner upon the head. Yes-it is thankless work to wield the moral pruning-knife.

Probably among the class of old bachelors you may find the most signal instances of the evil consequence of going through life with nobody to prune one. I could easily record such manifestations of silliness and absurdity in the case of such

My friend Jones, when a boy of fourteen, went to visit a relative, a rich old bachelor. That relative was substantially a very kind person-that is, he gave Jones lots of money, and the like. But Jones, an observant lad, speedily took his relative's measure. The first evening Jones was with him, the old bachelor said, in a very cordial way, "Now, Tom, my boy, it is my duty to tell you something. You have been trained up to believe that your father" (a clergyman) "is an able and dignified person. It is right that you should know that he is a very poor stick."

Jones listened, without remark, but with rather a scared face. It was a trial to the young fellow. It was a shock to his belief in things in general, to hear his father thus spoken of. And Jones, who is now a man, tells me that though he said nothing, he inwardly groaned, looking at his wealthy relative, "You're a horrid old fool." And in all the years that have passed since then, Jones assures me he has not in the least modified that early opinion.

Now, don't you feel that no married.

man would have so behaved? Even if he were such an ass as to begin to say such a thing to a little boy, don't you feel his wife (if present) would have taken care

that the sentence was never finished?

The same person began to tell Jones about the opera. And all of a sudden, to the lad's consternation, he burst out into some awful roars. Jones was terrified. He thought his relative had gone mad, or was suddenly seized by some unusual and terrible disease. But the old gentleman said, with great self-complacency, "That's just to give you some idea what the human voice is capable of!" Jones secretly thought that it gave him some idea what a fool an old gentleman might make of him


hoarding up of bits of orange peel; no touching all the posts in walking along the street; no eating and drinking with a dis gusting voracity. If Oliver Goldsmith had been married, he would never have worn that memorable and ridiculous coat. Whenever you find a man whom you know little about, oddly dressed, or talking ridiculously, or exhibiting any eccentricity of manner, you may be tolerably sure that he is not a married man. For the little corners are rounded off, the little shoots are pruned away, in married men. Wives generally have much more sense than their husbands, especially when the husbands are clever men. The wife's advices are like the ballast, that keeps the ship steady. They are like the wholesome though painful shears, snipping off little growths of self-conceit and folly.

I have heard of an extremely commonplace man who lived an utterly solitary life in London. He had gained consider- So you may see, that it is not good for able wealth; but he had nothing else to man to be alone. For he will put out stand on; and he was not rich enough to various shoots at his own sour will, which stand on that alone. The worthy man will grow into monstrously ugly and abhas been in his grave for many years. surd branches unless they are pruned away Having heard that Mr. Brown had stated while they are young. But it is quite as that he did not know him, he exclaimed: bad, perhaps it is worse, to live among "He does not know ME! Well, there is people with whom you are an oracle. no act of parliament to make people There are many good Protestants who, know about me. All I can say is, that if by a long continuance of such a life, have he does not know about me, he is an ill-in- come to believe their own infallibility formed man!" This was not a joke. It much more strongly than the pope bewas said in bitter earnest. For when a lieves his. An only brother amid a large young fellow who was present showed a family of sisters is in a perilous position. tendency to smile at this outburst of self- There is a risk of his coming to think conceit nursed in solitude, the young fel- himself the greatest, wisest, and best of low was furiously ordered out of the room. men; the most graceful dancer, the most Doubtless you have remarked, with sat- melodious singer, the sweetest poet, the isfaction, how the little oddities of men most unerring shot; also the best-dressed who marry rather late in life, are pruned man, and the possessor of the most beautiaway speedily after their marriage. You ful hands, feet, eyes, and whiskers. And have found a man who used to be shabbily as the outer world is sure not to accept and carelessly dressed, with a huge shirt- this estimate, the only brother is apt to be collar frayed at the edges, and a glaring soured by the sharp contrast between the yellow silk pocket-handkerchief, broken of adulation at home and the snubbing abroad. these things, and become a pattern of neat- A popular clergyman, with a congregation ness. You have seen a man whose hair somewhat lacking in intelligence, is exand whiskers were ridiculously cut, speed-posed to a prejudicial moral atmosphere. ily become like other human beings. You It is a dreadful sight, to see some clergyhave seen a clergyman who wore a long men surrounded by the members of their beard, in a little while appear without one. flock. You see them with dilated nostrils, You have seen a man who used to sing inhaling the incense, directly and indirectridiculous sentimental songs, leave them ly offered. It irritates one to hear such a off. You have seen a man who took snuff person spoken of (as I have heard in my copiously, and who generally had his youth) as "the dear man," ""the precious breast covered with snuff, abandon the man," or even, in some cases, "the sweet vile habit. A wife is the grand wielder man." It is a great deal too much for of the moral pruning-knife. If Johnson's average human nature to live among peowife had lived, there would have been no ple who agree with all one says, and


think it very fine. We all need "the ani- | ed himself, he ran away. Oh, what a sharp mated No :" a forest tree will not grow pair of shears in that moment pruned off up healthy and strong unless you let the certain shoots which had been growing in rude blasts wrestle with it and root it that little peer's nature ever since the firmer. It is insufferable, when any mor- dawn of intelligence! The awful yet saltal lives in a moral hot-house. And if utary truth was impressed, by a single lesthere be any thing for which a clergyman son, that there were places in this world ought to be thankful, it is if his congrega- where nobody cared for the Duke of Midtion, though duly esteeming him for his dlesex and Southwark. And perhaps that office and for his work, have so much good painful pruning was the beginning of the sense as to refrain from spoiling him by de- discipline which made that duke, as long ferring unduly to all his crotchets. Let as he lived, the most unpretending, admirthere be as few worsted slippers as possible able, and truly noble of men. sent him; no bouquets laid on his study table by youthful hands before he comes down stairs in the morning; no young women preserving under a glass shade the glove they wore in shaking hands with him, that it may be profaned by no inferior touch. Let the phrase dear man be utterly excluded. A manly person does not want to be made a pet of. And if there be any occasion on which a man of sense, bishop or not, ought to be filled with shame and confusion, it is when man or woman kneels down and asks his blessing. Pray, how much is the blessing worth? What good will it do anybody? Most educated men have a very decided estimate of its value, which would be expressed in figures by a round 0.

One great good of a great public school, is the way in which the moral pruningknife is wielded there. I do not mean by the masters, but by the republic of boys. Many a lad of rank and fortune in whom the evil shoots of arrogance, self-conceit, contempt for his fellow-creatures, and a notion that he himself is the mightiest of mortals, has been fostered at home by the adulation of servants and cottagers and tenantry, has these evil shoots effectually shred away. You have heard, of course, how the Duke of Middlesex and Southwark came to his title as a baby; and grew up under the care of obsequious tutors and governors till he had attained the age to go to school. The first evening he was there he was standing at a corner of the playground with a supercilious air, surveying the sports that were proceeding. A boy about his own size perceived him, and running up, said, with some curiosity, "Who are you?" "The Duke of Middlesex and Southwark," was the reply. "Oh," said the other boy, with awakened interest, "there's one kick for the Duke of Middlesex and another for the Duke of Southwark ;" and having thus deliver

There are few people in public life who in this age are not promptly pruned, where needful, by ever-ready shears. If the shoots of bumptiousness appear in a chief justice, they are instantly cut short by the tongue of some resolute barrister. If a prime minister, or even a loftier personage, evinces a disposition to neglect his or her duty, that disposition is speedily pruned by the Times, speaking in the name of the general sense of what is fit. And indeed the newspapers and reviews are the universal shears. If any outgrowth of folly, error, or conceit, appear in a political man, or in a writer of even moderate standing, some clever article comes down upon it, and shows it up if it can not snip it off. And if a wise man desires that he may keep, intellectually and esthetically, in becoming shape, he will attentively consider whatever may be said or written about him by people who dislike him. For, as a general rule, people who don't like you come down sharply upon your real faults; they tell you things which it is very fit that you should know, and which nobody is likely to tell you but them. I have heard of one or two distinguished authors who made it a rule never to read any thing that was written about themselves. Probably they erred in this. They missed many hints for which they might have been the better; and mannerisms and eccentricities devel oped into rigid boughs, which might have been readily removed as growing twigs.

A vain self-confidence is very likely to grow up in a man who is never subjected to the moral pruning-knife. The greatest men (in their own judgment) that you have ever known, have probably been the magnates of some little village, far from neighbors. Probably the bully is never developed more offensively than in some village dealer, who has accumulated a good deal of money, and who has got a

number of the surrounding cottages mortgaged to him. Such is the man who is likely to insult the conservative candidate, when he comes to make a speech before an election. Such is the man to lead the opposition to any good work proposed by the parish clergyman. Such is the man to become a church-rate martyr, or an especially offensive manager of Salem Chapel. Such is the kind of man who, if he has children growing up, will refuse to let them express their opinion on any subject. A parent can fall into no greater mistake than to take the ground that he will never argue with his children, nor hear what they may have to suggest in opposition to any plan he may have proposed. For children very speedily take the measure of their parents, and have a perfectly clear idea how far their ability, judgment, and education justify their assuming the rank of infallible oracles. And it is infinitely better to let a lad of eighteen speak out his mind, than to have him like a boiler ready to burst with repressed views and feelings, and with the bitter sense of a petty and contemptible tyranny. Something has already been said of women who acquire the chief power in their own houses; whose husbands are cowed into ciphers; and whose infallibility is to be recognized throughout the establishment, under pain of some ferocious explosion. At last, some son grows up, and resists the established despotism. Infallibility and impeccability are conceded no longer. And the thick branches, consolidated by many years' growth, are lopped off painfully, which should have gone when they were slender shoots. Rely upon it, the man or woman who refuses to be peaceably and kindly pruned, will some day have to bear being rudely lopped.

There is one shoot which human nature keeps putting forth again, however frequently it is pruned away. It is self-conceit. That would grow into a terrible unwieldy branch, if it were not so often shred away by circumstances-that is, by God's providence. Every body needs to be frequently taken down-which means, to have his self-conceit pruned away. And what every body needs, most people (in this case) get. Most people are very frequently taken down.

I mean, even modest and sensible people. This wretched little shoot keeps growing again, however hard we try to keep it down. There is a tendency in

each of us to be growing up into a higher opinion of ourself; and then, all of a sudden, that higher estimate is cut down to the very earth. You are like a sheep suddenly shorn; a thick fleece of self-complacency had developed itself; something comes and all at once shears it off, and leaves you shivering in the frosty air. You are like a lawn, where the grass had grown some inches in length; till some dewy morning it is mown just as close as may be. You had gradually and insensibly come to think rather well of yourself, and your doings. You had grown to think your position in life a rather respectable or even eminent one; and to fancy that those around estimated you rather highly. But all of a sudden, some slight, some mortification, some disappointment comes; something is said or done that shows you how far you had been deceiving yourself. Some considerable place in your profession becomes vacant, and nobody thinks of naming you for it. You are in company with two or three men who think themselves specially charged with finding a suitable person for the vacant office; they name a score of possible people to fill it; but not you. They never have thought of you; or possibly they refrain from naming you, with the design of mortifying you. And so you are pruned close. For the moment, it is painful. You are ready to sink down, disheartened and beaten. You have no energy to do any thing. You sit down blankly by the fire, and acknowledge yourself a failure in life. It is not so much that you are beaten, as that you are set in a lower place than you hoped. Yet it is all good for us, doubtless. Few men can say they are too humble with it all. And, as even after all our mowings, prunings, and shearings, we are sometimes so conceited and self-satisfied as we are, what should we have been had those things not befallen us? The elf-locks of wool would have been feet in length. The grass would have been six feet high, like that of the prairies. And the shoot of vanity would have grown and consolidated into a branch, that would have given a lop-sided aspect to the whole tree.

Happily, there is no chance of these things occurring. We seldom grow for more than a few days, without being pruned, mown, and shorn afresh. And all this will continue to the end. It is not pleasant; but we need it all. And we are all profiting by it. Possibly no one will

« AnteriorContinuar »