« ÖncekiDevam »
SONNET-TO NETLEY ABBEY.
ROMANTIC Ruin! who could gaze on thee
The summer sun had set,—the blue mist sailed
MEN OF THE WORLD.
Swift had a friend on whose success in life he could not always look with complacency—“Stafford (a merchant),” said he, “is worth a plum, and is now lending the Government £40,000, yet we were educated together at the same school and university.”
Budgell in the Spectator (No. 353) thus describes these school-fellows;“One of them was not only thought an impenetrable blockhead at school, but still maintained his reputation at the university; the other was the pride of his master, and the most celebrated person in the college of which he was a member. The man of genius is at present buried in a country parsonage of eightscore pounds a year; while the other with the bare abilities of a common scrivener has got an estate of above an hundred thousand pounds.”
Chalmer's Prefuce to the Rambler.
THERE is a great difference between the power of giving good advice and the ability to act upon it. Theoretical wisdom is,
perhaps, rarely associated with practical wisdom; and we often find that men of no talent whatever contrive to pass through life with credit and propriety, under the guidance of a kind of instinct. These are the persons who seem to stumble by mere good luck upon the philosopher's stone. In the commerce of life every thing they touch seems to turn into gold.
We are apt to place the greatest confidence in the advice of the successful and none at all in that of the unprosperous, as if fortune never favoured fools nor neglected the wise. A man may have more intellect than does him good, for it tempts him to meditate and to compare when he should act with rapidity and decision ; and by trusting too much to his own sagacity and too little to fortune, he often loses many a golden opportunity, that is like a prize in the lottery to his less brilliant competitors. It is not the men of thought but the men of action who are best fitted to push their way upwards in the world. The Hamlets or philosophical speculators are out of their element in the crowd. They are wise enough as reflecting observers, but the moment they descend from their solitary elevation and mingle with the thick throng of their fellow-creatures, there is a sad discrepancy between their dignity as teachers and their conduct as actors. Their wisdom in busy life evaporates in words. They talk like sages, but they act like fools. There is an essential difference between those qualities that are necessary for success in the world, and those that are required in the closet. Bacon was the wisest of human beings in his quiet study, but when he entered the wide and noisy theatre of life, he sometimes conducted himself in a way of which he could have admirably pointed out the impropriety in a moral essay. He knew as well as any man that honesty is the best policy, but he did not always act as if he thought so. The fine intellect of Addison could trace with subtlety and truth all the proprieties of social and of public life, but he was himself deplorably inefficient both as a companion and as a statesman. A more delicate and accurate observer of human life than the poet Cowper, is not often met with, though he was absolutely incapable of turning his knowledge and good sense to a practical account, and when he came to act for himself, was as helpless and dependent as a child. The excellent author of the Wealth of Nations, could not manage the economy of his own house.
People who have sought the advice of successful men of the world, have often experienced a feeling of surprise and disappointment when listening to their common-place maxims and weak and barren observations. There is very frequently the same discrepancy, though in the opposite extreme, between the words and the actions of prosperous men of the world that I have noticed in the case of unsuccessful men of wisdom. The former talk like fools, but they act like men of sense. The reverse is the case with the latter. The thinkers may safely direct the movements of other men, but they do not seem peculiarly fitted to direct their
They who bask in the sunshine of prosperity, are generally inclined to be so ungrateful to fortune, as to attribute all their success to their own exertions, and to season their pity for their less successful friends with some degree of contempt. In the great majority of cases nothing can be more ridiculous and unjust. In the list of the prosperous, there are very few indeed, who owe their advancement to talent and sagacity alone. The majority must attribute their rise to a combination of industry, prudence and good fortune, and there are many who are still more indebted to the lucky accidents of life than to their own character or conduct.
Perhaps not only the higher intellectual gifts, but even the finer moral emotions are an incumbrance to the fortune-hunter. A gentle disposition and extreme frankness and generosity, have been the ruin, in a worldly sense, of many a noble spirit. There is a degree of cautiousness and mistrust, and a certain insensibility and sternness, that seem essential to the man who has to bustle through the world, and secure his own interests.
He cannot turn aside, and indulge in generous sympathies, without neglecting, in some measure, his own affairs. It is like a pedestrian's progress through a crowded street. He cannot pause for a moment, or look to the right or left, without increasing his own obstructions. When time and business press hard upon him, the cry of affliction on the road-side is unheeded and forgotten. He acquires a habit of indifference to all but the one thing needfulhis own success.
I shall not here speak of those by-ways to success in life which require only a large share of hypocrisy and meanness ; nor of those insinuating manners and frivolous accomplishments which are so often better rewarded than worth or genius ; nor of the arts by which a brazen-faced adventurer, sometimes throws a modest and meritorious rival into the shade. Nor shall I proceed to show how great a drawback is a noble sincerity in the commerce of the world. The memorable scene between Gil Blas and the Archbishop of Toledo, is daily and nightly re-acted on the great stage of life. I cannot enter upon minute particulars, or touch upon all the numerous branches of my subject, without exceeding the limits I have proposed to myself in the present essay.
Perhaps a knowledge of the world, in the ordinary acceptation of the phrase, may mean nothing more than a knowledge of conventionalisms, or a familiarity with the forms and ceremonials of society. This, of course, is of easy acquisition when the mind is once bent upon the task. The practice of the small proprieties of life to a congenial spirit, soon ceases to be a study ; it rapidly becomes a mere habit, or an untroubled and unerring instinct. This is always the case when there is no sedentary labour by the midnight lamp to produce an ungainly stoop in the shoulders, and a conscious defect of grace and pliancy in the limbs ; and when there is no abstract thought or poetic vision to dissipate the attention, and blind us to the trivial realities that are passing immediately around us. Some degree of vanity and a perfect self-possession are absolutely essential; but high intellect is only an obstruction. Men whose heads are little better than a pin’s, have rendered themselves extremely acceptable in well-dressed circles. There are some who seem born for the boudoir and the ball-room, while others are as little fitted for fashionable society, as a fish is for the open air and the dry land. They who are more familiar with books than with men, cannot look calm and pleased when their souls are inwardly perplexed. The almost venial hypocrisy of politeness, is the more criminal and disgusting in their judgment, on account of its difficulty to themselves and the provoking ease with which it appears to be adopted by others. The loquacity of the forward, the effeminate affectation of the foppish, and