« PrécédentContinuer »
Even the streams, which generally are all peace and quietness, have had their sense of seasonable times confounded by the rush of many waters, as if the March or April torrents had come back. For once, our clearest stream, whose pure transparency no ordinary rain can mar, has worn a troubled look. The river into which it flows, whose general habit is so leisurely that it seems loath to leave our narrow valleys for the wider down below, has sometimes gone hurrying forward with a maddened rush, as if woe were unto it until it mixed itself with the embracing sea. There are who find a pleasure in this haste and tumult which the more quiet moods of brook and stream and river do not yield. Indeed, for almost every one there is a minimum of quietness beyond which the aspect does not please. There are those who have not thought so highly of the Concord River
the Musketaquit,- since they read that Hawthorne lived for several months upon its bank without discovering which way it was flowing. As between the Dead Branch of the Westfield, as its sluggish motion names it in rude farmers' poetry, and the East Branch, which is all hurry, ripple, laughter, flash, and gleam, I am sure all lovers of the brooks and streams would choose the latter for companionship and praise. Indeed, I should not wonder if the still waters that the Psalmist had in mind w?re not such as were glass or satin to the eye, but such as by their pleasant murmur made the silence audible. Such, at any rate, are the still waters that I love the best; and, in a land of streams,” with such I have had many an hour of gentle satisfaction as the summer wore away. Those that chatter loudest with their gleaming pebbles are not without their “cool dark pools and crinkling bends," to which "leaf-shade and sun-fleck lend their tremulous, sweet vicissitude.” Stillness is a relative term. The noisiest of my mountain streams is generally still enough compared with rushing torrents and the roar of smiting seas.
The thing I greatly feared has come upon me. that I should clean forget the spiritual signification of my
text in its suggestions of material things. But, then, I dearly love material things. They are a lovely manifestation of the Eternal God. And they are the trellises on which Memory and Association climb, to which they cling, and fling out their fragrant blossoms, sometimes wet with tears. Where one sees only water, trees, and stones, another sees the form and faces of long-lost or living friends, renews the rapture of moments long since added to the irrevocable past, and listens to unutterable words. Nevertheless, I have not forgotten utterly the spiritual significance of the green pastures and still waters of my text. They stand in men's imagination generally for the freshness and the quietness of life, and therefore stand for that which many consciously desire, and many others sorely need. They are no adequate symbols of the general tendency and aspiration of our modern life.' Freshness and quietness are not the qualities of life which men so much desire as stir and noise, excitement, push, adventure, the fierce competitions of the forum and the market-place. Still waters! No; but waters fretted by a thousand busy keels, on which the ocean steamers break each other's records, with much shifting satisfaction to their friends; waters that the mill-race captures in its snare and the great turbines tear to shreds and tatters; waters that convert in a few
the green pastures and the greener meadows of Holyoke and many a rival city into a huge aggregation of factories very wonderful to see. Green pastures! Yes; if they can fatten sheep and oxen for the shambles at a paying rate. The arrival of his Herald is the brightest spot in many a summer tourist's day, the quotations of the Produce and the Stock Exchange more interesting than any sight of woods or waters. The city fauna appeals to him as does not the country flora. He likes the bulls and bears. A major part of all who leave the city for the seashore and the mountains in the summer go in search of some more keen excitement than their city life affords. That they go for rest is a delusion by which no one is deluded for an hour. If all this is not a railing accusation, if it is substantial truth and
soberness, said I not truly that freshness and quietness are not the qualities of life that men desire ? that the Psalmist's picture is no proper symbol of the things they crave and seek? Still waters, forsooth! Give them the foaming cataract, give them Niagara's headlong rush and thunderous
Yes, you will say, perhaps; and it is the kind of people you have been describing that has kept the world alive and going. Of this kind was Columbus, the four hundredth anniversary of whose great discovery is now drawing near. OF this kind were the Cabots and Vespucci, and the other great discoverers of our.coasts and inland waters. Of this kind were the colonists who followed in their wake, who made themselves homes and set up churches and school-houses and the town house and the State from Maine to Florida.
Of this kind were the men who began shouting, “Westward Ho!” in the hill towns of Massachusetts almost before they had been fairly rescued from the wilderness, when the West was the Mohawk Valley one hundred years ago, and ten years later the Valley of the Ohio, and so on. Of this kind have been the men who have made America the wealthiest country in the world; who have set up their mills on every river and their manufactories in every town; who have covered the continent with a network of railroads from Maine to California, and from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf, with a finer network of telegraphic and telephonic wires. All this I hasten to admit, not grudgingly, but cordially, doubting a little, possibly, whether all our vast material successes and exploits are not sometimes a little overrated, whether life is as much happier as it is more complex and elaborate than formerly, whether a great majority of the people who go steaming about on our railways hadn't better stay at home, whether the sacrifice of a stable life and of a past of sweet and fair associations is made good by the colossal bigness and the infinite rawness of our Western civilization.
But let this civilization be construed as favorably as you please, as favorably, let us say, as Mr. Andrew Carnegie
has construed it in his “Triumphant Democracy,” which tears down our national eagle and puts a proud and jubilant rooster in his place, and, when we have had our fill of admiration, the defects of our excellences will still remain. It will still be true that we generally live a hot and restless life; that in our character and in our literature there is less and less of that meditative quality of which we find so much in earlier times; that, like the camp-followers that straggle on the skirts of an advancing army, there straggles on the skirts of our Triumphant Democracy a host of brain diseases, nervous ailments, and the like, in which young and old are mingled in promiscuous incompetency and regret. The hot and dusty ways of traffic, the struggle for position, wealth, and power, the fierce and blinding competitions of the market and exchange, make something of quiet and freshening necessary for our modern life. I speak of average things. If there are not more people who rust out than wear out, there are enough who do it even in these stirring times. A life can be too quiet and recluse for mind or heart. The country byways as well as the city highways have their own insanities. They have also plenty of men who imagine they have discovered some great thing in science or philosophy or theology, which possibly and probably is the commonplace or the exploded nonsense of the universities and schools and towns. That is an admirable phrase of Bacon about our friends “ tossing our thought for us,” as if it were a kind of hay that would mat down and spoil if it were not well shaken up, so that it could have the sun and wind to play through it and dry and sweeten it. A life unsocial and recluse breeds infinite vagary, self-conceit, and whim. Society is the maker of men : its most strenuous activities are the makers of the best possible men; but the more strenuous the activities, the more the need of green pastures and still waters, of quiet and of freshening, to build up the tissue worn and wasted by the stress and strain of various toil and fret.
You will see at once that I have something more in mind
than any justification of my own summer idleness, or any plea for making general such a term. There are few of you the strain of whose habitual work is not much greater than my own, and who do not need more perfect annual or periodic rest from it than I from mine. But you dare not drop the reins so long. You are convinced that everything, as in Emerson's vision of Uriel, would slide to confusion if you did. Happy are they who are of a more easy disposition, who can deal less sternly with themselves, and find their wisdom and their courage justified by the event; who can go riding off into the free without black care upon
crupper, ready and able to abandon themselves to the pure objectivity of natural sights and sounds. Green pastures and still waters in their most literal significance have wondrous healing in them for tired bodies and tired brains; if the still waters are alive with pretty speckled trout, perhaps so much the better.
“ We bring Our insect miseries to the rocks,
And the whole flight, with folded wing,
Vanish and end their murmuring,–
Which who can tell what mason laid." But what we really need, whatever we may have or miss of special opportunity for physical and mental rehabilitation, is a more restful habit' in our average life. Without such a habit, hardly can we avail ourselves of any special opportunity. The young man in the novel who described himself as “resting like fury” spoke that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed. The resting oftentimes is just as restless, just as furious, as the work, and rests about as little. What we all need is what Ruskin says (quite incorrectly, I imagine) all rivers have,-a quiet, loitering side in our most busy ways, an element of quietness and freshening, something to which we can have habitual recourse, a refuge from the turmoil and the strife, some happy alternation of the struggle for existence with life's easy pleasantness and careless joy.