« PrécédentContinuer »
Religious Intolerance, A Plea for, 65.
CHRISTIAN SPECTATO R.
“IT IS ONLY MANNER.”
CERTAINLY there are many people whose characters are much more pleasant to contemplate God-ward than earth-ward-many whose best side is turned towards heaven, their least agreeable side towards their fellow-men. Pleasant people are not always good, and good people are not always and by necessity pleasant people. A "good man,” if he were altogether good, would always and of necessity be a pleasant man, a man altogether lovely. But to this goodness in all and every part, to this perfectness of the entire system, who can lay claim ? Many are pressing towards it, but the work is hard and the progress slow; and they who are reaching the most earnestly forward, wearily long for that day to come when the wondrous "all” that in each case makes up a human individuality shall be found worthy to have the verdict “good” pronounced over it by “the Judge of all.”
The various ways and the different proportions and degrees in which this progress is effected constitute a process that may be fitly epitomised by the phrase "growing good.” Let no one quarrel with the term, either from its apparent childishness or its want of a certain theological flavour. True, it is a child's phrase; but have not children ofttimes the power to extract the pith and marrow of a subject and to put it into a single sentence, while their seniors are fuming in a theological strife that seems endless ?
It is of growth that we speak; and moral growth will follow natural moral laws-God-appointed laws, if the term be preferred. It will be slow, stunted, variable, or rapid, steady, luxuriant, according to the different circumstances under which it may commence and be carried on. And to “grow yood.” “Good!” “There is none good," says the Psalmist, and the words are repeated to us as a solemn contradiction. True, the “good,” the perfect man, is nowhere to be found; but the Psalmist does not say that there are none advancing towards goodness-none who, having been renewed in the spirit of their minds, the foundations of their natures, are not by degrees getting the bodies of their minds, or that part of them that is patent to the world's eye, cleansed, renewed, re-clothed, and beautified. Happily for ourselves and the world, we know that this process does and will go on.
Among the “ many things” that will most surely become changed and renewed as the growing good process advances, stands a large class of offences which we quietly hide away under the apology “It is only manner." Now stand forth, thou impersonal pronoun " It," and boldly answer to the many things thou dost represent;—things repellent, things crooked, things untoward, things incomprehensible in words and tones and gestures that shock, vex, trouble, perplex us, and for which we can find no better solution than the above declaration.
How often in daily social intercourse we make this apologetic remark for our friends, and they in turn do the same kind office for us, when perhaps both we and they are alike unaware of the fact of being thus accused and excused.
This "it" may stand for the harsh word, the chill repelling manner so often unknowingly exercised by its unconscious possessor---the haughty, look, the ungracious tone, the covert sneer, the supercilious smile. This "it" may answer to the awkward habit that betokens want of due observance of social nicetiesthe thoughtless act, that oft-repeated causes much needless trouble. Or it may represent the apparent affectation, the seeming self-assumption that grate so much in ordinary intercourse, the too-fast speech that seems to savour of conceit, as also the persistent monosyllabic reply (that patent social refrigerator) that speaks of seeming sullenness. Or this "it" may cover deficiencies in small politenesses—those graceful ornaments upon the home-spun robe of daily life, the absence of that fine tact that knows how to do the right thing at the right moment, the lack of quick perception of the fit and the unfit, the pleasing and the distasteful, which leads to so much that is as we say "in bad taste.” All these and many more small faults do we palliate and remove quickly and quietly out of the way of further investigation. But are the offences actually condoned by this statement, and does the apology in very truth settle and exhaust the subject ?: Let us look at it carefully. “It is only manner." We fold away out e sight many things in this word “only,” for it is the cloak with which Charity, Indolence, and Ignorance severally cover up anything that grieves or troubles them. Yet it is doubtful whether “only" can ever be rightfully applied to any one phenomenon within our ken, so closely and so surely are all things interwoven and intermixed. The author of “Hore Subseciva" tells us, in one of his pleasant healthy papers, that "everything is what it is, and not another thing”-a most admirable axiom, and one which the world has been labouring in the sweat of its brow to verify ever since that first separating, classifying, defining, and naming of the animals by Adam in the garden of Eden.
But there are innumerable things that baffle analysis and refuse to be bound by definition. Who will theorize on the “ultimate atoms in things moral”? or venture to affirm what are “the combining proportions" of motives, thoughts, feelings? The most careful separation is necessary to accurate definition; and who can follow the intersections and disentangle the complications of causes and effects that produce and constitute what we call human nature? To assert that anything is “only " so and so, is, in most cases, simply to say we know little or nothing about it. « Only manner" is the apology. But what is “manner" ? By what aphoristic process can the various ideas contained in the word be brought clearly out for inspection ? Perhaps it is only by the expedient of comparison that in this, as in many other cases, we can form any true conception of what is signified by the word used. “Like unto ” is often the nearest approach to definition that can be made, owing either to the greatness of the subject, or the feebleness of understanding, or the inadequateness of language. The annoying thing in employing a comparison is that no sooner has the likeness been declared than the points of unlikeness thrust themselves forward to notice, and that so forcibly as to destroy confidence in the statement.
It will doubtless occur to anyone who tries to put his ideas into definite form that “manner" is to our mental and moral being what the skin is to the physical: it is the outermost thing belonging to us. The comparison is obvious and simple enough and must not be pressed too hard, but perhaps will serve a purpose better than another would do. The skin may be considerably modified by causes from without. It may be blackened by dirt, hardened and roughened by undue exposure to weather, and it may be artificially cleansed, smoothed, and beautified; but its growth, its health, its good or evil condition, are dependent upon internal causes. Its life is from within.
And thus with that which we call “manner.” It is “only" in the sense of being an isolated thing. It is the outgrowth of inward causes; it is one of many exponents of the hidden moral forces at work in our natures. Being outermost it is of course liable to be affected by outward circumstances. Passing events and aceidents of association may change and colour, shape and form it for the time; but all its springs of life are within ; its roots of various lengths strike at different depths, and rainify in
all directions. There is no part of our internal being that does not send forth a shoot which buds and blossoms above ground in that composite outgrowth we call “manner,” testifying there to the nature of the seed and of the evil from which it sprung.
Faults of manner, and graces of manner, must therefore be traced in origin to something beneath the surface, and when found must be dealt with there, encouraged, or checked, or changed, or rooted up and thrown away. In many cases the probing may not require to be very deep. Most likely the soil nourishing the evil lies not far from the surface, and precisely because it is near, and not far off, is it in danger of being passed over and neglected.
Human nature seems to be made up of strata of various thicknesses and most diversified materials, and causes may be at work, and effects produced in the depths of the nature, which may not be at all discernible in the superficial layers, or at least only faintly and in isolated places. And to carry the analogy a little further; as in the arrangement and deposition of the earth's strata, there are continually recurring local irregularities in the deposits, and evident proofs of partial disturbance in the producing forces, even in series remarkable for their apparent oneness of cause and similarity of result; so in human nature, we have but to pierce down a little way to find the supposed order of arrangement disturbed, and signs of unexpected agencies at work : here there will be some outcropping rock of evil, not looked for, and there some thwarting influence or contradictory impulse. Hence the difficulty in reading character, and the many absurd and baneful mistakes we make when we attempt to dogmatise as to its “ought and shall be.”
But if we speculate about others, let us try experiments on ourselves. It may not be so pleasant, but it is a safer thing to do; and if we take hold of and follow out some of the threads that our outward demeanour will place in our hands, we may be led to make some curious if not agreeable discoveries.
Who has not felt at times an after grating of discontent at some remembered instances of his “manner”-a tone, or a remark, or a mannerism that even self-love itself cannot excuse, and would fain, if it could, recall ? Perhaps some kind friend has already put up his umbrella of “it is only manner" to shi e us from the uncomplimentary remarks that are being showered down upon us; and we in private are trying to do away with our uncomfortable reflections by the same apology. But it will not do, there is a dissatisfied conviction that more than “manner" is at fault. And the more we think, the more we find that it is really so.
That tone, or that manner, or that remark which we regret, we