Images de page
PDF
ePub

insignificant in itself may be, but significant of my remembrance of him, and, as such, worthy of an acknowledgment. Well, there comes no message from him to me. It is but a trifle, true, but it is very perplexing, and the more so that it is so slight a thing that I can on no account inquire how the matter really stands. Yet the next time I propose to myself to repeat the civility, I hesitate ; not feeling sure whether the last was appreciated, and knowing that an undesired kindness is in fact little better than a nuisance. So a check is given to my feelings—my friend goes without his present. And all the while, perhaps, I am wronging him. The message was really sent, but committed to some one who did not think it worth his while to remember and deliver it-considered it, in short, to be “bosh." It will be urged that no strong friendship could be altered by any such little omissions, even if they must be allowed to be mistakes and faults. But I am not speaking here of deep and intimate friendships : they are but rare blessings. I speak of the majority of our social relationships, of our ordinary family connections, and I maintain that to carry these on pleasantly, peacefully, and continuously, demands almost as much care and exactness as are requisite in the prosecution of business transactions. Every one recognises the necessity of acknowledging an invoice or duly forwarding a receipt. In a certain sense social life is also a commerce, with its debtor and creditor account and its system of laws and obligations, understood though not defined, the violation of which and the punctual discharge of which introduce confusion, and pave the way for more serious evils as surely in the one case as in the other.

This social life, with its amenities, or higher moralities, as they might well be called, depends for its right cultivation far more upon

the care and wisdom of ladies than of men. It is natural it should do so, for to them it forms a large and integral part of life, while with us it is often little more than an interlude. The fault generally charged upon ladies is, that they care far too much than too little for these small matters. It is said, and with some truth, that they take offence with each other far more easily than do men; and that in their code a slight, a social slight, is the one sin under the sun for which there is no forgiveness or oblivion. Undoubtedly ladies are less reserved and more exacting in their friendship than men are, and in consequence extract both more pleasure and pain from them; but it must be remembered that as the circles in which they move are somewhat uniform and contracted, they are brought into such close and frequent contact, that they must of necessity continually lay the points and peculiarities of their different characters open to observation and attack. No wonder, then, that they feel more strongly than we do the need of those small civilities, that, like oil to the wheel, diminish the friction and lessen the chances of ignition.

The excess of their care, especially as regards “messages,” is, however, often urged as an excuse for the entire neglect of them by others. And, really, there is some shadow of excuse—for the too frequent employment of anything must vitiate its value. The letters of some people seem to be little more than bundles of messages-fasciculi, made up of extremely thin fibres of affection, covered over with layers of superlative adjectives. Now, of course, these, as' exponents of real affection, cannot stand for much, and in most cases it would be better for both giver and receiver that they should be more sparingly used and less showily adorned. But reduce their value to the lowest possible common-places; demonstrate most clearly that they mean almost next to nothing; and (absolute falsehood, however polite, excepted) I still think that it is better to have them than to be entirely without them. They, at least, prove that forgetfulness was not the fault of the writer.

A little wisdom in the selection of our messengers would often prevent annoyance and trouble. A message of the slightest importance should never be committed to child or servant, unless, indeed, they have been first thoroughly trained to verbal accuracy and courteous manners.

Many a message, good and polite enough in itself, has been utterly ruined in its delivery by the pertness of a child or the ignorance of a servant Ladies also would do well to refrain from needlessly burdening their gentlemen friends with unimportant commissions, turning them into electric telegraphs, as they do, without the slightest compunction. What marvel that the wires are so often rusty, and will not work!

At the same time, let it be borne in mind that a person has no more right to keep back a message, given into his charge, than he has to neglect to give up a piece of property not his own. Of course he is at liberty to decline the charge; but, having once accepted it, even tacitly, he is not at liberty to put away all care and thought of it, simply because to him it appears small and worthless.

He is responsible for its safe delivery. Sometimes the consequences that result from neglect in this matter are direct and terrible; and the instances are not 80 rare, even in ordinary prosaic lives in which it is found that in this way some pleasant prospect has been suddenly clouded over, some hoped-for happiness extinguished, some heart crushed if not broken, some life-course altered and maimed if not utterly marted. Many of us even in our own small circles may have met with some mother who has been too late to receive the dying kiss of her child; some young maiden in whom the spring-tide of love has been arrested, turned inward, dried up; some gloomy, hard, self-contained man pacing the deck of the emigrant ship: some reckless, defiant one hurrying to the field of battle and wished-for death! Bah! what common-place words; what easily-read sentences; what hackneyed phrases ; how neat and trim they look in their printer's ink upon the book's white pages ! But if you have ever learnt by heart what the words stand for, or have ever been by the side of those who have so done, you will know that to such, to use the strong but not too strong language of eastern metaphor, “The sun turns into darkness, the moon into blood, and all the stars withdraw their shining." And this, all this, has sometimes arisen from the neglect of the delegated commission, the forgetfulness of the entrusted message.

But in considering great and exceptional cases of this kind, it is so easy to escape from all severe application of the lesson taught by them. We severely blame the cause, deeply deplore the results—but then, “such things are very unusual, they will not happen to us; we could never be guilty of such carelessness,' and so we console ourselves and dismiss the subject. Therefore I have purposely chosen my examples of neglect from among the most constantly recurring circumstances of ordinary everyday life; and I think that if once we admit that there may be a principle of right and wrong involved in these small matters; and that small and insignificant as we consider them, they may possibly exert a wide-reaching influence, and may be connected with distant effects far exceeding them, apparently, in weight and magnitude—then I think there are but few of us who will not feel self-reproach and apprehension as regards this simple subject of “ Messages !”

The grand error lies in this, that we venture to call anything “worthless" because it is small. Who are we, moving about in worlds not realized,” that we dare to pronounce, absolutely, on the relative value of things ? Life, to the most clear-sighted of us, is often a terrible tangle. With our utmost care we blunder at many a step, and times without number, unknowingly, injure one another, even those we most love. Let us not, then, wilfully and deliberately cast out of our hands, as “of no consequence," any of the small links of that chain that binds us,“darkly,"theone to the other--for the opportunity gone!who can recall it ? the link lost; who can find it? the thread broken; who can mend it? And how can we tell what fine issues of life and death inay hang upon our words and deeds—even the most trivial. The word spoken, the deed done, who can calculate the long series of depending events? who can stay their course? who can make that which has once been as though it had never been ?

Had we but a mental microscope delicate enough, we should find that our individual lives are But the crystallised aggregate of influences and causes, once living; long extinct; while we in our turn, with our “small” ways, and words and works, will go as surely to build up future lives and form and fashion, at some distant day, other portions of the great human world; just as the mountain limestone cliff is but the congeries of myriads of infusoria, a grand mausoleum framed of the once living organisms, whose life and death it chronicles and perpetuates.

Who, then, can venture to say that aught is "worthless," or that anything is a small ?

PROFESSOR MAURICE ON THE

COMMANDMENTS.

We need not apologise for feeling special interest in a new work from the lately appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy in Cambridge University. When he puts forth a word to this generation we expect something glowing with the white heat of a noble spirituality. There is no sense of trifling or frigidity, certainly, in his ten words and ten prayers on the commandments.

The tendency, in these days, is to divorce the Judaical element from Christianity, to lay aside the Old Testament and come only to the New, to rush to the conclusion that inasmuch as the Old Testament has to do with a national faith, it cannot have anything to do with the universal demand for a catholic faith, to assert very vigorously, “clear away the Judaical element and we shall have no religious obstacle in the way of scientific progress.” In this book Mr. Maurice, though he would be the last man to spoil Christianity with a spirit of Judaism, utters his decided protest against the narrowness of such a view and the ignorance of such attempts. He says :“I also

mand a catholic faith, not in any new sense but in the old sense; that old sense satisfying, as I maintain, all the newest demands of the conscience and reason of man. A Father in Heaven must be the root of ita Father of all mankind in the Son of His Love-a Father who bestows His Spirit upon His children, that they may serve Him truly and freely: here is the catholic faith which we have been taught in the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. Modern Papal Catholicism, modern Liberal Catholicism, assume another basis. The Church, not God, is the ground of the one; humanity, not God, is the ground of the other. These opinions must combine at last; one must be absorbed into the other. The Jewish Commandments are the abiding witness against both. I admit that there is a cry for a catholic faith and catholic unity, now, which there was not in the sixteenth century. Just because I recognize the cry as the most genuine one of our century, I turn to these Commandments with the same affection as our fathers felt for them then—if possible, with a greater affection. The struggle for catholicity will be a delusive and mischievous struggle, if it is severed from the struggle for national freedom and order. To connect it with that is to establish, in the most living and practical sense, the union of Gospel with Law.”

Mr. Maurice has a great reverence for, and belief in, an unchangeable law and a living law-giver. He thinks the belief of this has given to the Scotch character its strength and solidity. He thinks Dr. McLeod, to whom he dedicates his book, in parting with these Commandments as the basis of his argument for the Sabbath, is putting himself out of harmony with the best habits and convictions of the Scotch nation, and lessening his power of reforming what is feeble and false in them. He believes the same will apply to England and to every nation under heaven. We cannot do without the conviction that if God has once spoken to a nation and uttered an unchangeable moral law, it must be at our utter peril if we reject that

. The consequences will be fearfully sad; we shall begin to fabricate a system of religion, and it will be very much according to the word of the hour or the individual character of the fabricator. It may be stagnant in the hands of a conservative or fluximal when managed by the men of progess. It may be ornamental, or fanatic, have a dead Christ, or an incendiary Christ, be materialistic or recognize all spirits but the Holy Spirit. This terrible possibility is described in one of the most striking passages in the whole book. No wonder, therefore, we find him turning back with a sense of relief to what he considers the fixed and permanent laws governing the moral world—the disregard of which has brought such bondage, and the observance of which has brought true liberty and freedom from the letter. Possibly some may object to this way of putting it. They may say we, also, believe in fixed, unchangeable laws of morality, but we do not go to these Ten Commandments. We find them elsewhere. They are wrapped up in our very nature; they are embodied in the principles of the New Testament ; they have been discovered by or through other moralists. What was said to the Jews was not necessarily said to us.

Mr. Maurice is quite aware of these objections, admits the truth of some of them, but does not consider them necessarily as objec

« PrécédentContinuer »