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Lay Morals by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Transcribed from the Chatto and Windus 1911 edition by David Price,
email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk


Lay Morals
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Father Damien
The Pentland Rising
Chapter I--The Causes of the Revolt
Chapter II--The Beginning
Chapter III--The March of the Rebels
Chapter IV--Rullion Green
Chapter V--A Record of Blood
The Day After To-morrow
College Papers
Chapter I--Edinburgh Students in 1824
Chapter II--The Modern Student
Chapter III--Debating Societies
Chapter I--Lord Lytton's "Fables in Song"
Chapter II--Salvini's Macbeth
Chapter III--Bagster's "Pilgrim's Progress"
The Satirist
Nuits Blanches
The Wreath of Immortelles
A Character
The Great North Road
Chapter I--Nance at the "Green Dragon"
Chapter II--In which Mr. Archer is Installed
Chapter III--Jonathan Holdaway
Chapter IV--Mingling Threads
Chapter V--Life in the Castle
Chapter IV--The Bad Half-Crown
Chapter VII--The Bleaching-Green
Chapter VIII--The Mail Guard
The Young Chevalier
Prologue: The Wine-Seller's Wife
Chapter I--The Prince
Chapter I--Traqairs of Montroymont
Chapter II--Francie
Chapter III--The Hill-End of Drumlowe



The problem of education is twofold: first to know, and then to
utter. Every one who lives any semblance of an inner life thinks
more nobly and profoundly than he speaks; and the best of teachers
can impart only broken images of the truth which they perceive.
Speech which goes from one to another between two natures, and,
what is worse, between two experiences, is doubly relative. The
speaker buries his meaning; it is for the hearer to dig it up
again; and all speech, written or spoken, is in a dead language
until it finds a willing and prepared hearer. Such, moreover, is
the complexity of life, that when we condescend upon details in our
advice, we may be sure we condescend on error; and the best of
education is to throw out some magnanimous hints. No man was ever
so poor that he could express all he has in him by words, looks, or
actions; his true knowledge is eternally incommunicable, for it is
a knowledge of himself; and his best wisdom comes to him by no
process of the mind, but in a supreme self-dictation, which keeps
varying from hour to hour in its dictates with the variation of
events and circumstances.

A few men of picked nature, full of faith, courage, and contempt
for others, try earnestly to set forth as much as they can grasp of
this inner law; but the vast majority, when they come to advise the
young, must be content to retail certain doctrines which have been
already retailed to them in their own youth. Every generation has
to educate another which it has brought upon the stage. People who
readily accept the responsibility of parentship, having very
different matters in their eye, are apt to feel rueful when that
responsibility falls due. What are they to tell the child about
life and conduct, subjects on which they have themselves so few and
such confused opinions? Indeed, I do not know; the least said,
perhaps, the soonest mended; and yet the child keeps asking, and
the parent must find some words to say in his own defence. Where
does he find them? and what are they when found?

As a matter of experience, and in nine hundred and ninety-nine
cases out of a thousand, he will instil into his wide-eyed brat
three bad things: the terror of public opinion, and, flowing from
that as a fountain, the desire of wealth and applause. Besides
these, or what might be deduced as corollaries from these, he will
teach not much else of any effective value: some dim notions of
divinity, perhaps, and book-keeping, and how to walk through a

But, you may tell me, the young people are taught to be Christians.
It may be want of penetration, but I have not yet been able to
perceive it. As an honest man, whatever we teach, and be it good
or evil, it is not the doctrine of Christ. What he taught (and in
this he is like all other teachers worthy of the name) was not a
code of rules, but a ruling spirit; not truths, but a spirit of
truth; not views, but a view. What he showed us was an attitude of
mind. Towards the many considerations on which conduct is built,
each man stands in a certain relation. He takes life on a certain
principle. He has a compass in his spirit which points in a
certain direction. It is the attitude, the relation, the point of
the compass, that is the whole body and gist of what he has to
teach us; in this, the details are comprehended; out of this the
specific precepts issue, and by this, and this only, can they be
explained and applied. And thus, to learn aright from any teacher,
we must first of all, like a historical artist, think ourselves
into sympathy with his position and, in the technical phrase,
create his character. A historian confronted with some ambiguous
politician, or an actor charged with a part, have but one pre-
occupation; they must search all round and upon every side, and
grope for some central conception which is to explain and justify
the most extreme details; until that is found, the politician is an
enigma, or perhaps a quack, and the part a tissue of fustian
sentiment and big words; but once that is found, all enters into a
plan, a human nature appears, the politician or the stage-king is
understood from point to point, from end to end. This is a degree
of trouble which will be gladly taken by a very humble artist; but
not even the terror of eternal fire can teach a business man to
bend his imagination to such athletic efforts. Yet without this,
all is vain; until we understand the whole, we shall understand
none of the parts; and otherwise we have no more than broken images
and scattered words; the meaning remains buried; and the language
in which our prophet speaks to us is a dead language in our ears.

Take a few of Christ's sayings and compare them with our current

'Ye cannot,' he says, 'serve God and Mammon.' Cannot? And our
whole system is to teach us how we can!

'The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the
children of light.' Are they? I had been led to understand the
reverse: that the Christian merchant, for example, prospered
exceedingly in his affairs; that honesty was the best policy; that
an author of repute had written a conclusive treatise 'How to make
the best of both worlds.' Of both worlds indeed! Which am I to
believe then--Christ or the author of repute?

'Take no thought for the morrow.' Ask the Successful Merchant;
interrogate your own heart; and you will have to admit that this is
not only a silly but an immoral position. All we believe, all we
hope, all we honour in ourselves or our contemporaries, stands
condemned in this one sentence, or, if you take the other view,
condemns the sentence as unwise and inhumane. We are not then of
the 'same mind that was in Christ.' We disagree with Christ.
Either Christ meant nothing, or else he or we must be in the wrong.
Well says Thoreau, speaking of some texts from the New Testament,
and finding a strange echo of another style which the reader may
recognise: 'Let but one of these sentences be rightly read from
any pulpit in the land, and there would not be left one stone of
that meeting-house upon another.'

It may be objected that these are what are called 'hard sayings';
and that a man, or an education, may be very sufficiently Christian
although it leave some of these sayings upon one side. But this is
a very gross delusion. Although truth is difficult to state, it is
both easy and agreeable to receive, and the mind runs out to meet
it ere the phrase be done. The universe, in relation to what any
man can say of it, is plain, patent and staringly comprehensible.
In itself, it is a great and travailing ocean, unsounded,
unvoyageable, an eternal mystery to man; or, let us say, it is a
monstrous and impassable mountain, one side of which, and a few
near slopes and foothills, we can dimly study with these mortal
eyes. But what any man can say of it, even in his highest
utterance, must have relation to this little and plain corner,
which is no less visible to us than to him. We are looking on the
same map; it will go hard if we cannot follow the demonstration.
The longest and most abstruse flight of a philosopher becomes clear
and shallow, in the flash of a moment, when we suddenly perceive
the aspect and drift of his intention. The longest argument is but
a finger pointed; once we get our own finger rightly parallel, and
we see what the man meant, whether it be a new star or an old
street-lamp. And briefly, if a saying is hard to understand, it is
because we are thinking of something else.

But to be a true disciple is to think of the same things as our
prophet, and to think of different things in the same order. To be
of the same mind with another is to see all things in the same
perspective; it is not to agree in a few indifferent matters near
at hand and not much debated; it is to follow him in his farthest
flights, to see the force of his hyperboles, to stand so exactly in
the centre of his vision that whatever he may express, your eyes
will light at once on the original, that whatever he may see to
declare, your mind will at once accept. You do not belong to the
school of any philosopher, because you agree with him that theft
is, on the whole, objectionable, or that the sun is overhead at
noon. It is by the hard sayings that discipleship is tested. We
are all agreed about the middling and indifferent parts of
knowledge and morality; even the most soaring spirits too often
take them tamely upon trust. But the man, the philosopher or the
moralist, does not stand upon these chance adhesions; and the
purpose of any system looks towards those extreme points where it
steps valiantly beyond tradition and returns with some covert hint
of things outside. Then only can you be certain that the words are
not words of course, nor mere echoes of the past; then only are you
sure that if he be indicating anything at all, it is a star and not
a street-lamp; then only do you touch the heart of the mystery,
since it was for these that the author wrote his book.

Now, every now and then, and indeed surprisingly often, Christ
finds a word that transcends all common-place morality; every now
and then he quits the beaten track to pioneer the unexpressed, and
throws out a pregnant and magnanimous hyperbole; for it is only by
some bold poetry of thought that men can be strung up above the
level of everyday conceptions to take a broader look upon
experience or accept some higher principle of conduct. To a man
who is of the same mind that was in Christ, who stands at some
centre not too far from his, and looks at the world and conduct
from some not dissimilar or, at least, not opposing attitude--or,
shortly, to a man who is of Christ's philosophy--every such saying
should come home with a thrill of joy and corroboration; he should
feel each one below his feet as another sure foundation in the flux
of time and chance; each should be another proof that in the
torrent of the years and generations, where doctrines and great
armaments and empires are swept away and swallowed, he stands
immovable, holding by the eternal stars. But alas! at this
juncture of the ages it is not so with us; on each and every such
occasion our whole fellowship of Christians falls back in
disapproving wonder and implicitly denies the saying. Christians!
the farce is impudently broad. Let us stand up in the sight of
heaven and confess. The ethics that we hold are those of Benjamin
Franklin. HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY, is perhaps a hard saying; it
is certainly one by which a wise man of these days will not too
curiously direct his steps; but I think it shows a glimmer of
meaning to even our most dimmed intelligences; I think we perceive
a principle behind it; I think, without hyperbole, we are of the
same mind that was in Benjamin Franklin.


But, I may be told, we teach the ten commandments, where a world of
morals lies condensed, the very pith and epitome of all ethics and
religion; and a young man with these precepts engraved upon his
mind must follow after profit with some conscience and Christianity
of method. A man cannot go very far astray who neither dishonours
his parents, nor kills, nor commits adultery, nor steals, nor bears
false witness; for these things, rightly thought out, cover a vast
field of duty.

Alas! what is a precept? It is at best an illustration; it is case
law at the best which can be learned by precept. The letter is not
only dead, but killing; the spirit which underlies, and cannot be
uttered, alone is true and helpful. This is trite to sickness; but
familiarity has a cunning disenchantment; in a day or two she can
steal all beauty from the mountain tops; and the most startling
words begin to fall dead upon the ear after several repetitions.
If you see a thing too often, you no longer see it; if you hear a
thing too often, you no longer hear it. Our attention requires to
be surprised; and to carry a fort by assault, or to gain a
thoughtful hearing from the ruck of mankind, are feats of about an
equal difficulty and must be tried by not dissimilar means. The
whole Bible has thus lost its message for the common run of
hearers; it has become mere words of course; and the parson may
bawl himself scarlet and beat the pulpit like a thing possessed,
but his hearers will continue to nod; they are strangely at peace,
they know all he has to say; ring the old bell as you choose, it is
still the old bell and it cannot startle their composure. And so
with this byword about the letter and the spirit. It is quite
true, no doubt; but it has no meaning in the world to any man of
us. Alas! it has just this meaning, and neither more nor less:
that while the spirit is true, the letter is eternally false.

The shadow of a great oak lies abroad upon the ground at noon,
perfect, clear, and stable like the earth. But let a man set
himself to mark out the boundary with cords and pegs, and were he
never so nimble and never so exact, what with the multiplicity of
the leaves and the progression of the shadow as it flees before the
travelling sun, long ere he has made the circuit the whole figure
will have changed. Life may be compared, not to a single tree, but
to a great and complicated forest; circumstance is more swiftly
changing than a shadow, language much more inexact than the tools
of a surveyor; from day to day the trees fall and are renewed; the
very essences are fleeting as we look; and the whole world of
leaves is swinging tempest-tossed among the winds of time. Look
now for your shadows. O man of formulae, is this a place for you?
Have you fitted the spirit to a single case? Alas, in the cycle of
the ages when shall such another be proposed for the judgment of
man? Now when the sun shines and the winds blow, the wood is
filled with an innumerable multitude of shadows, tumultuously
tossed and changing; and at every gust the whole carpet leaps and
becomes new. Can you or your heart say more?

Look back now, for a moment, on your own brief experience of life;
and although you lived it feelingly in your own person, and had
every step of conduct burned in by pains and joys upon your memory,
tell me what definite lesson does experience hand on from youth to
manhood, or from both to age? The settled tenor which first
strikes the eye is but the shadow of a delusion. This is gone;
that never truly was; and you yourself are altered beyond
recognition. Times and men and circumstances change about your
changing character, with a speed of which no earthly hurricane
affords an image. What was the best yesterday, is it still the
best in this changed theatre of a to-morrow? Will your own Past
truly guide you in your own violent and unexpected Future? And if
this be questionable, with what humble, with what hopeless eyes,
should we not watch other men driving beside us on their unknown
careers, seeing with unlike eyes, impelled by different gales,
doing and suffering in another sphere of things?

And as the authentic clue to such a labyrinth and change of scene,
do you offer me these two score words? these five bald
prohibitions? For the moral precepts are no more than five; the
first four deal rather with matters of observance than of conduct;
the tenth, THOU SHALT NOT COVET, stands upon another basis, and
shall be spoken of ere long. The Jews, to whom they were first
given, in the course of years began to find these precepts
insufficient; and made an addition of no less than six hundred and
fifty others! They hoped to make a pocket-book of reference on
morals, which should stand to life in some such relation, say, as
Hoyle stands in to the scientific game of whist. The comparison is
just, and condemns the design; for those who play by rule will
never be more than tolerable players; and you and I would like to
play our game in life to the noblest and the most divine advantage.
Yet if the Jews took a petty and huckstering view of conduct, what
view do we take ourselves, who callously leave youth to go forth
into the enchanted forest, full of spells and dire chimeras, with
no guidance more complete than is afforded by these five precepts?

HONOUR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER. Yes, but does that mean to obey?
and if so, how long and how far? THOU SHALL NOT KILL. Yet the
very intention and purport of the prohibition may be best fulfilled
by killing. THOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY. But some of the
ugliest adulteries are committed in the bed of marriage and under
the sanction of religion and law. THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE
WITNESS. How? by speech or by silence also? or even by a smile?
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL. Ah, that indeed! But what is TO STEAL?

To steal? It is another word to be construed; and who is to be our
guide? The police will give us one construction, leaving the word
only that least minimum of meaning without which society would fall
in pieces; but surely we must take some higher sense than this;
surely we hope more than a bare subsistence for mankind; surely we
wish mankind to prosper and go on from strength to strength, and
ourselves to live rightly in the eye of some more exacting
potentate than a policeman. The approval or the disapproval of the
police must be eternally indifferent to a man who is both valorous
and good. There is extreme discomfort, but no shame, in the
condemnation of the law. The law represents that modicum of
morality which can be squeezed out of the ruck of mankind; but what
is that to me, who aim higher and seek to be my own more stringent
judge? I observe with pleasure that no brave man has ever given a
rush for such considerations. The Japanese have a nobler and more
sentimental feeling for this social bond into which we all are born
when we come into the world, and whose comforts and protection we
all indifferently share throughout our lives:- but even to them, no
more than to our Western saints and heroes, does the law of the
state supersede the higher law of duty. Without hesitation and
without remorse, they transgress the stiffest enactments rather
than abstain from doing right. But the accidental superior duty
being thus fulfilled, they at once return in allegiance to the
common duty of all citizens; and hasten to denounce themselves; and
value at an equal rate their just crime and their equally just
submission to its punishment.

The evading of the police will not long satisfy an active
conscience or a thoughtful head. But to show you how one or the
other may trouble a man, and what a vast extent of frontier is left
unridden by this invaluable eighth commandment, let me tell you a
few pages out of a young man's life.

He was a friend of mine; a young man like others; generous,
flighty, as variable as youth itself, but always with some high
motions and on the search for higher thoughts of life. I should
tell you at once that he thoroughly agrees with the eighth
commandment. But he got hold of some unsettling works, the New
Testament among others, and this loosened his views of life and led
him into many perplexities. As he was the son of a man in a
certain position, and well off, my friend had enjoyed from the
first the advantages of education, nay, he had been kept alive
through a sickly childhood by constant watchfulness, comforts, and
change of air; for all of which he was indebted to his father's

At college he met other lads more diligent than himself, who
followed the plough in summer-time to pay their college fees in
winter; and this inequality struck him with some force. He was at
that age of a conversible temper, and insatiably curious in the
aspects of life; and he spent much of his time scraping
acquaintance with all classes of man- and woman-kind. In this way
he came upon many depressed ambitions, and many intelligences
stunted for want of opportunity; and this also struck him. He
began to perceive that life was a handicap upon strange, wrong-
sided principles; and not, as he had been told, a fair and equal
race. He began to tremble that he himself had been unjustly
favoured, when he saw all the avenues of wealth, and power, and
comfort closed against so many of his superiors and equals, and
held unwearyingly open before so idle, so desultory, and so
dissolute a being as himself. There sat a youth beside him on the
college benches, who had only one shirt to his back, and, at
intervals sufficiently far apart, must stay at home to have it
washed. It was my friend's principle to stay away as often as he
dared; for I fear he was no friend to learning. But there was
something that came home to him sharply, in this fellow who had to
give over study till his shirt was washed, and the scores of others
who had never an opportunity at all. IF ONE OF THESE COULD TAKE
HIS PLACE, he thought; and the thought tore away a bandage from his
eyes. He was eaten by the shame of his discoveries, and despised
himself as an unworthy favourite and a creature of the back-stairs
of Fortune. He could no longer see without confusion one of these
brave young fellows battling up-hill against adversity. Had he not
filched that fellow's birthright? At best was he not coldly
profiting by the injustice of society, and greedily devouring
stolen goods? The money, indeed, belonged to his father, who had
worked, and thought, and given up his liberty to earn it; but by
what justice could the money belong to my friend, who had, as yet,
done nothing but help to squander it? A more sturdy honesty,
joined to a more even and impartial temperament, would have drawn
from these considerations a new force of industry, that this
equivocal position might be brought as swiftly as possible to an
end, and some good services to mankind justify the appropriation of
expense. It was not so with my friend, who was only unsettled and
discouraged, and filled full of that trumpeting anger with which
young men regard injustices in the first blush of youth; although
in a few years they will tamely acquiesce in their existence, and
knowingly profit by their complications. Yet all this while he
suffered many indignant pangs. And once, when he put on his boots,
like any other unripe donkey, to run away from home, it was his
best consolation that he was now, at a single plunge, to free
himself from the responsibility of this wealth that was not his,
and do battle equally against his fellows in the warfare of life.

Some time after this, falling into ill-health, he was sent at great
expense to a more favourable climate; and then I think his
perplexities were thickest. When he thought of all the other young
men of singular promise, upright, good, the prop of families, who
must remain at home to die, and with all their possibilities be
lost to life and mankind; and how he, by one more unmerited favour,
was chosen out from all these others to survive; he felt as if
there were no life, no labour, no devotion of soul and body, that
could repay and justify these partialities. A religious lady, to
whom he communicated these reflections, could see no force in them
whatever. 'It was God's will,' said she. But he knew it was by
God's will that Joan of Arc was burnt at Rouen, which cleared
neither Bedford nor Bishop Cauchon; and again, by God's will that
Christ was crucified outside Jerusalem, which excused neither the
rancour of the priests nor the timidity of Pilate. He knew,
moreover, that although the possibility of this favour he was now
enjoying issued from his circumstances, its acceptance was the act
of his own will; and he had accepted it greedily, longing for rest
and sunshine. And hence this allegation of God's providence did
little to relieve his scruples. I promise you he had a very
troubled mind. And I would not laugh if I were you, though while
he was thus making mountains out of what you think molehills, he
were still (as perhaps he was) contentedly practising many other
things that to you seem black as hell. Every man is his own judge
and mountain-guide through life. There is an old story of a mote
and a beam, apparently not true, but worthy perhaps of some
consideration. I should, if I were you, give some consideration to
these scruples of his, and if I were he, I should do the like by
yours; for it is not unlikely that there may be something under
both. In the meantime you must hear how my friend acted. Like
many invalids, he supposed that he would die. Now, should he die,
he saw no means of repaying this huge loan which, by the hands of
his father, mankind had advanced him for his sickness. In that
case it would be lost money. So he determined that the advance
should be as small as possible; and, so long as he continued to
doubt his recovery, lived in an upper room, and grudged himself all
but necessaries. But so soon as he began to perceive a change for
the better, he felt justified in spending more freely, to speed and
brighten his return to health, and trusted in the future to lend a
help to mankind, as mankind, out of its treasury, had lent a help
to him.

I do not say but that my friend was a little too curious and
partial in his view; nor thought too much of himself and too little
of his parents; but I do say that here are some scruples which
tormented my friend in his youth, and still, perhaps, at odd times
give him a prick in the midst of his enjoyments, and which after
all have some foundation in justice, and point, in their confused
way, to some more honourable honesty within the reach of man. And
at least, is not this an unusual gloss upon the eighth commandment?
And what sort of comfort, guidance, or illumination did that
precept afford my friend throughout these contentions? 'Thou shalt
not steal.' With all my heart! But AM I stealing?

The truly quaint materialism of our view of life disables us from
pursuing any transaction to an end. You can make no one understand
that his bargain is anything more than a bargain, whereas in point
of fact it is a link in the policy of mankind, and either a good or
an evil to the world. We have a sort of blindness which prevents
us from seeing anything but sovereigns. If one man agrees to give
another so many shillings for so many hours' work, and then
wilfully gives him a certain proportion of the price in bad money
and only the remainder in good, we can see with half an eye that
this man is a thief. But if the other spends a certain proportion
of the hours in smoking a pipe of tobacco, and a certain other
proportion in looking at the sky, or the clock, or trying to recall
an air, or in meditation on his own past adventures, and only the
remainder in downright work such as he is paid to do, is he,
because the theft is one of time and not of money,--is he any the
less a thief? The one gave a bad shilling, the other an imperfect
hour; but both broke the bargain, and each is a thief. In
piecework, which is what most of us do, the case is none the less
plain for being even less material. If you forge a bad knife, you
have wasted some of mankind's iron, and then, with unrivalled
cynicism, you pocket some of mankind's money for your trouble. Is
there any man so blind who cannot see that this is theft? Again,
if you carelessly cultivate a farm, you have been playing fast and
loose with mankind's resources against hunger; there will be less
bread in consequence, and for lack of that bread somebody will die
next winter: a grim consideration. And you must not hope to
shuffle out of blame because you got less money for your less
quantity of bread; for although a theft be partly punished, it is
none the less a theft for that. You took the farm against
competitors; there were others ready to shoulder the responsibility
and be answerable for the tale of loaves; but it was you who took
it. By the act you came under a tacit bargain with mankind to
cultivate that farm with your best endeavour; you were under no
superintendence, you were on parole; and you have broke your
bargain, and to all who look closely, and yourself among the rest
if you have moral eyesight, you are a thief. Or take the case of
men of letters. Every piece of work which is not as good as you
can make it, which you have palmed off imperfect, meagrely thought,
niggardly in execution, upon mankind who is your paymaster on
parole and in a sense your pupil, every hasty or slovenly or untrue
performance, should rise up against you in the court of your own
heart and condemn you for a thief. Have you a salary? If you
trifle with your health, and so render yourself less capable for
duty, and still touch, and still greedily pocket the emolument--
what are you but a thief? Have you double accounts? do you by any
time-honoured juggle, deceit, or ambiguous process, gain more from
those who deal with you than it you were bargaining and dealing
face to face in front of God?--What are you but a thief? Lastly,
if you fill an office, or produce an article, which, in your heart
of hearts, you think a delusion and a fraud upon mankind, and still
draw your salary and go through the sham manoeuvres of this office,
or still book your profits and keep on flooding the world with
these injurious goods?--though you were old, and bald, and the
first at church, and a baronet, what are you but a thief? These
may seem hard words and mere curiosities of the intellect, in an
age when the spirit of honesty is so sparingly cultivated that all
business is conducted upon lies and so-called customs of the trade,
that not a man bestows two thoughts on the utility or
honourableness of his pursuit. I would say less if I thought less.
But looking to my own reason and the right of things, I can only
avow that I am a thief myself, and that I passionately suspect my
neighbours of the same guilt.

Where did you hear that it was easy to be honest? Do you find that
in your Bible? Easy! It is easy to be an ass and follow the
multitude like a blind, besotted bull in a stampede; and that, I am
well aware, is what you and Mrs. Grundy mean by being honest. But
it will not bear the stress of time nor the scrutiny of conscience.
Even before the lowest of all tribunals,--before a court of law,
whose business it is, not to keep men right, or within a thousand
miles of right, but to withhold them from going so tragically wrong
that they will pull down the whole jointed fabric of society by
their misdeeds--even before a court of law, as we begin to see in
these last days, our easy view of following at each other's tails,
alike to good and evil, is beginning to be reproved and punished,
and declared no honesty at all, but open theft and swindling; and
simpletons who have gone on through life with a quiet conscience
may learn suddenly, from the lips of a judge, that the custom of
the trade may be a custom of the devil. You thought it was easy to
be honest. Did you think it was easy to be just and kind and
truthful? Did you think the whole duty of aspiring man was as
simple as a horn-pipe? and you could walk through life like a
gentleman and a hero, with no more concern than it takes to go to
church or to address a circular? And yet all this time you had the
eighth commandment! and, what makes it richer, you would not have
broken it for the world!

The truth is, that these commandments by themselves are of little
use in private judgment. If compression is what you want, you have
their whole spirit compressed into the golden rule; and yet there
expressed with more significance, since the law is there
spiritually and not materially stated. And in truth, four out of
these ten commands, from the sixth to the ninth, are rather legal
than ethical. The police-court is their proper home. A magistrate
cannot tell whether you love your neighbour as yourself, but he can
tell more or less whether you have murdered, or stolen, or
committed adultery, or held up your hand and testified to that
which was not; and these things, for rough practical tests, are as
good as can be found. And perhaps, therefore, the best
condensation of the Jewish moral law is in the maxims of the
priests, 'neminem laedere' and 'suum cuique tribuere.' But all
this granted, it becomes only the more plain that they are
inadequate in the sphere of personal morality; that while they tell
the magistrate roughly when to punish, they can never direct an
anxious sinner what to do.

Only Polonius, or the like solemn sort of ass, can offer us a
succinct proverb by way of advice, and not burst out blushing in
our faces. We grant them one and all and for all that they are
worth; it is something above and beyond that we desire. Christ was
in general a great enemy to such a way of teaching; we rarely find
him meddling with any of these plump commands but it was to open
them out, and lift his hearers from the letter to the spirit. For
morals are a personal affair; in the war of righteousness every man
fights for his own hand; all the six hundred precepts of the Mishna
cannot shake my private judgment; my magistracy of myself is an
indefeasible charge, and my decisions absolute for the time and
case. The moralist is not a judge of appeal, but an advocate who
pleads at my tribunal. He has to show not the law, but that the
law applies. Can he convince me? then he gains the cause. And
thus you find Christ giving various counsels to varying people, and
often jealously careful to avoid definite precept. Is he asked,
for example, to divide a heritage? He refuses: and the best
advice that he will offer is but a paraphrase of that tenth
commandment which figures so strangely among the rest. TAKE HEED,
AND BEWARE OF COVETOUSNESS. If you complain that this is vague, I
have failed to carry you along with me in my argument. For no
definite precept can be more than an illustration, though its truth
were resplendent like the sun, and it was announced from heaven by
the voice of God. And life is so intricate and changing, that
perhaps not twenty times, or perhaps not twice in the ages, shall
we find that nice consent of circumstances to which alone it can


Although the world and life have in a sense become commonplace to
our experience, it is but in an external torpor; the true sentiment
slumbers within us; and we have but to reflect on ourselves or our
surroundings to rekindle our astonishment. No length of habit can
blunt our first surprise. Of the world I have but little to say in
this connection; a few strokes shall suffice. We inhabit a dead
ember swimming wide in the blank of space, dizzily spinning as it
swims, and lighted up from several million miles away by a more
horrible hell-fire than was ever conceived by the theological
imagination. Yet the dead ember is a green, commodious dwelling-
place; and the reverberation of this hell-fire ripens flower and
fruit and mildly warms us on summer eves upon the lawn. Far off on
all hands other dead embers, other flaming suns, wheel and race in
the apparent void; the nearest is out of call, the farthest so far
that the heart sickens in the effort to conceive the distance.
Shipwrecked seamen on the deep, though they bestride but the
truncheon of a boom, are safe and near at home compared with
mankind on its bullet. Even to us who have known no other, it
seems a strange, if not an appalling, place of residence.

But far stranger is the resident, man, a creature compact of
wonders that, after centuries of custom, is still wonderful to
himself. He inhabits a body which he is continually outliving,
discarding and renewing. Food and sleep, by an unknown alchemy,
restore his spirits and the freshness of his countenance. Hair
grows on him like grass; his eyes, his brain, his sinews, thirst
for action; he joys to see and touch and hear, to partake the sun
and wind, to sit down and intently ponder on his astonishing
attributes and situation, to rise up and run, to perform the
strange and revolting round of physical functions. The sight of a
flower, the note of a bird, will often move him deeply; yet he
looks unconcerned on the impassable distances and portentous
bonfires of the universe. He comprehends, he designs, he tames
nature, rides the sea, ploughs, climbs the air in a balloon, makes
vast inquiries, begins interminable labours, joins himself into
federations and populous cities, spends his days to deliver the
ends of the earth or to benefit unborn posterity; and yet knows
himself for a piece of unsurpassed fragility and the creature of a
few days. His sight, which conducts him, which takes notice of the
farthest stars, which is miraculous in every way and a thing
defying explanation or belief, is yet lodged in a piece of jelly,
and can be extinguished with a touch. His heart, which all through
life so indomitably, so athletically labours, is but a capsule, and
may be stopped with a pin. His whole body, for all its savage
energies, its leaping and its winged desires, may yet be tamed and
conquered by a draught of air or a sprinkling of cold dew. What he
calls death, which is the seeming arrest of everything, and the
ruin and hateful transformation of the visible body, lies in wait
for him outwardly in a thousand accidents, and grows up in secret
diseases from within. He is still learning to be a man when his
faculties are already beginning to decline; he has not yet
understood himself or his position before he inevitably dies. And
yet this mad, chimerical creature can take no thought of his last
end, lives as though he were eternal, plunges with his vulnerable
body into the shock of war, and daily affronts death with
unconcern. He cannot take a step without pain or pleasure. His
life is a tissue of sensations, which he distinguishes as they seem
to come more directly from himself or his surroundings. He is
conscious of himself as a joyer or a sufferer, as that which
craves, chooses, and is satisfied; conscious of his surroundings as
it were of an inexhaustible purveyor, the source of aspects,
inspirations, wonders, cruel knocks and transporting caresses.
Thus he goes on his way, stumbling among delights and agonies.

Matter is a far-fetched theory, and materialism is without a root
in man. To him everything is important in the degree to which it
moves him. The telegraph wires and posts, the electricity speeding
from clerk to clerk, the clerks, the glad or sorrowful import of
the message, and the paper on which it is finally brought to him at
home, are all equally facts, all equally exist for man. A word or
a thought can wound him as acutely as a knife of steel. If he
thinks he is loved, he will rise up and glory to himself, although
he be in a distant land and short of necessary bread. Does he
think he is not loved?--he may have the woman at his beck, and
there is not a joy for him in all the world. Indeed, if we are to
make any account of this figment of reason, the distinction between
material and immaterial, we shall conclude that the life of each
man as an individual is immaterial, although the continuation and
prospects of mankind as a race turn upon material conditions. The
physical business of each man's body is transacted for him; like a
sybarite, he has attentive valets in his own viscera; he breathes,
he sweats, he digests without an effort, or so much as a consenting
volition; for the most part he even eats, not with a wakeful
consciousness, but as it were between two thoughts. His life is
centred among other and more important considerations; touch him in
his honour or his love, creatures of the imagination which attach
him to mankind or to an individual man or woman; cross him in his
piety which connects his soul with heaven; and he turns from his
food, he loathes his breath, and with a magnanimous emotion cuts
the knots of his existence and frees himself at a blow from the web
of pains and pleasures.

It follows that man is twofold at least; that he is not a rounded
and autonomous empire; but that in the same body with him there
dwell other powers tributary but independent. If I now behold one
walking in a garden, curiously coloured and illuminated by the sun,
digesting his food with elaborate chemistry, breathing, circulating
blood, directing himself by the sight of his eyes, accommodating
his body by a thousand delicate balancings to the wind and the
uneven surface of the path, and all the time, perhaps, with his
mind engaged about America, or the dog-star, or the attributes of
God--what am I to say, or how am I to describe the thing I see? Is
that truly a man, in the rigorous meaning of the word? or is it not
a man and something else? What, then, are we to count the centre-
bit and axle of a being so variously compounded? It is a question
much debated. Some read his history in a certain intricacy of
nerve and the success of successive digestions; others find him an
exiled piece of heaven blown upon and determined by the breath of
God; and both schools of theorists will scream like scalded
children at a word of doubt. Yet either of these views, however
plausible, is beside the question; either may be right; and I care
not; I ask a more particular answer, and to a more immediate point.
What is the man? There is Something that was before hunger and
that remains behind after a meal. It may or may not be engaged in
any given act or passion, but when it is, it changes, heightens,
and sanctifies. Thus it is not engaged in lust, where satisfaction
ends the chapter; and it is engaged in love, where no satisfaction
can blunt the edge of the desire, and where age, sickness, or
alienation may deface what was desirable without diminishing the
sentiment. This something, which is the man, is a permanence which
abides through the vicissitudes of passion, now overwhelmed and now
triumphant, now unconscious of itself in the immediate distress of
appetite or pain, now rising unclouded above all. So, to the man,
his own central self fades and grows clear again amid the tumult of
the senses, like a revolving Pharos in the night. It is forgotten;
it is hid, it seems, for ever; and yet in the next calm hour he
shall behold himself once more, shining and unmoved among changes
and storm.

Mankind, in the sense of the creeping mass that is born and eats,
that generates and dies, is but the aggregate of the outer and
lower sides of man. This inner consciousness, this lantern
alternately obscured and shining, to and by which the individual
exists and must order his conduct, is something special to himself
and not common to the race. His joys delight, his sorrows wound
him, according as THIS is interested or indifferent in the affair;
according as they arise in an imperial war or in a broil conducted
by the tributary chieftains of the mind. He may lose all, and THIS
not suffer; he may lose what is materially a trifle, and THIS leap
in his bosom with a cruel pang. I do not speak of it to hardened
theorists: the living man knows keenly what it is I mean.

'Perceive at last that thou hast in thee something better and more
divine than the things which cause the various effects, and, as it
were, pull thee by the strings. What is that now in thy mind? is
it fear, or suspicion, or desire, or anything of that kind?' Thus
far Marcus Aurelius, in one of the most notable passages in any
book. Here is a question worthy to be answered. What is in thy
mind? What is the utterance of your inmost self when, in a quiet
hour, it can be heard intelligibly? It is something beyond the
compass of your thinking, inasmuch as it is yourself; but is it not
of a higher spirit than you had dreamed betweenwhiles, and erect
above all base considerations? This soul seems hardly touched with
our infirmities; we can find in it certainly no fear, suspicion, or
desire; we are only conscious--and that as though we read it in the
eyes of some one else--of a great and unqualified readiness. A
readiness to what? to pass over and look beyond the objects of
desire and fear, for something else. And this something else? this
something which is apart from desire and fear, to which all the
kingdoms of the world and the immediate death of the body are alike
indifferent and beside the point, and which yet regards conduct--by
what name are we to call it? It may be the love of God; or it may
be an inherited (and certainly well concealed) instinct to preserve
self and propagate the race; I am not, for the moment, averse to
either theory; but it will save time to call it righteousness. By
so doing I intend no subterfuge to beg a question; I am indeed
ready, and more than willing, to accept the rigid consequence, and
lay aside, as far as the treachery of the reason will permit, all
former meanings attached to the word righteousness. What is right
is that for which a man's central self is ever ready to sacrifice
immediate or distant interests; what is wrong is what the central
self discards or rejects as incompatible with the fixed design of

To make this admission is to lay aside all hope of definition.
That which is right upon this theory is intimately dictated to each
man by himself, but can never be rigorously set forth in language,
and never, above all, imposed upon another. The conscience has,
then, a vision like that of the eyes, which is incommunicable, and
for the most part illuminates none but its possessor. When many
people perceive the same or any cognate facts, they agree upon a
word as symbol; and hence we have such words as TREE, STAR, LOVE,
HONOUR, or DEATH; hence also we have this word RIGHT, which, like
the others, we all understand, most of us understand differently,
and none can express succinctly otherwise. Yet even on the
straitest view, we can make some steps towards comprehension of our
own superior thoughts. For it is an incredible and most
bewildering fact that a man, through life, is on variable terms
with himself; he is aware of tiffs and reconciliations; the
intimacy is at times almost suspended, at times it is renewed again
with joy. As we said before, his inner self or soul appears to him
by successive revelations, and is frequently obscured. It is from
a study of these alternations that we can alone hope to discover,
even dimly, what seems right and what seems wrong to this veiled
prophet of ourself.

All that is in the man in the larger sense, what we call impression
as well as what we call intuition, so far as my argument looks, we
must accept. It is not wrong to desire food, or exercise, or
beautiful surroundings, or the love of sex, or interest which is
the food of the mind. All these are craved; all these should be
craved; to none of these in itself does the soul demur; where there
comes an undeniable want, we recognise a demand of nature. Yet we
know that these natural demands may be superseded; for the demands
which are common to mankind make but a shadowy consideration in
comparison to the demands of the individual soul. Food is almost
the first prerequisite; and yet a high character will go without
food to the ruin and death of the body rather than gain it in a
manner which the spirit disavows. Pascal laid aside mathematics;
Origen doctored his body with a knife; every day some one is thus
mortifying his dearest interests and desires, and, in Christ's
words, entering maim into the Kingdom of Heaven. This is to
supersede the lesser and less harmonious affections by
renunciation; and though by this ascetic path we may get to heaven,
we cannot get thither a whole and perfect man. But there is
another way, to supersede them by reconciliation, in which the soul
and all the faculties and senses pursue a common route and share in
one desire. Thus, man is tormented by a very imperious physical
desire; it spoils his rest, it is not to be denied; the doctors
will tell you, not I, how it is a physical need, like the want of
food or slumber. In the satisfaction of this desire, as it first
appears, the soul sparingly takes part; nay, it oft unsparingly
regrets and disapproves the satisfaction. But let the man learn to
love a woman as far as he is capable of love; and for this random
affection of the body there is substituted a steady determination,
a consent of all his powers and faculties, which supersedes,
adopts, and commands the other. The desire survives, strengthened,
perhaps, but taught obedience and changed in scope and character.
Life is no longer a tale of betrayals and regrets; for the man now
lives as a whole; his consciousness now moves on uninterrupted like
a river; through all the extremes and ups and downs of passion, he
remains approvingly conscious of himself.

Now to me, this seems a type of that rightness which the soul
demands. It demands that we shall not live alternately with our
opposing tendencies in continual see-saw of passion and disgust,
but seek some path on which the tendencies shall no longer oppose,
but serve each other to a common end. It demands that we shall not
pursue broken ends, but great and comprehensive purposes, in which
soul and body may unite like notes in a harmonious chord. That
were indeed a way of peace and pleasure, that were indeed a heaven
upon earth. It does not demand, however, or, to speak in measure,
it does not demand of me, that I should starve my appetites for no
purpose under heaven but as a purpose in itself; or, in a weak
despair, pluck out the eye that I have not yet learned to guide and
enjoy with wisdom. The soul demands unity of purpose, not the
dismemberment of man; it seeks to roll up all his strength and
sweetness, all his passion and wisdom, into one, and make of him a
perfect man exulting in perfection. To conclude ascetically is to
give up, and not to solve, the problem. The ascetic and the
creeping hog, although they are at different poles, have equally
failed in life. The one has sacrificed his crew; the other brings
back his seamen in a cock-boat, and has lost the ship. I believe
there are not many sea-captains who would plume themselves on
either result as a success.

But if it is righteousness thus to fuse together our divisive
impulses and march with one mind through life, there is plainly one
thing more unrighteous than all others, and one declension which is
irretrievable and draws on the rest. And this is to lose
consciousness of oneself. In the best of times, it is but by
flashes, when our whole nature is clear, strong and conscious, and
events conspire to leave us free, that we enjoy communion with our
soul. At the worst, we are so fallen and passive that we may say
shortly we have none. An arctic torpor seizes upon men. Although
built of nerves, and set adrift in a stimulating world, they
develop a tendency to go bodily to sleep; consciousness becomes
engrossed among the reflex and mechanical parts of life; and soon
loses both the will and power to look higher considerations in the
face. This is ruin; this is the last failure in life; this is
temporal damnation, damnation on the spot and without the form of
judgment. 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world

It is to keep a man awake, to keep him alive to his own soul and
its fixed design of righteousness, that the better part of moral
and religious education is directed; not only that of words and
doctors, but the sharp ferule of calamity under which we are all
God's scholars till we die. If, as teachers, we are to say
anything to the purpose, we must say what will remind the pupil of
his soul; we must speak that soul's dialect; we must talk of life
and conduct as his soul would have him think of them. If, from
some conformity between us and the pupil, or perhaps among all men,
we do in truth speak in such a dialect and express such views,
beyond question we shall touch in him a spring; beyond question he
will recognise the dialect as one that he himself has spoken in his
better hours; beyond question he will cry, 'I had forgotten, but
now I remember; I too have eyes, and I had forgot to use them! I
too have a soul of my own, arrogantly upright, and to that I will
listen and conform.' In short, say to him anything that he has
once thought, or been upon the point of thinking, or show him any
view of life that he has once clearly seen, or been upon the point
of clearly seeing; and you have done your part and may leave him to
complete the education for himself.

Now, the view taught at the present time seems to me to want
greatness; and the dialect in which alone it can be intelligibly
uttered is not the dialect of my soul. It is a sort of
postponement of life; nothing quite is, but something different is
to be; we are to keep our eyes upon the indirect from the cradle to
the grave. We are to regulate our conduct not by desire, but by a
politic eye upon the future; and to value acts as they will bring
us money or good opinion; as they will bring us, in one word,
PROFIT. We must be what is called respectable, and offend no one
by our carriage; it will not do to make oneself conspicuous--who
knows? even in virtue? says the Christian parent! And we must be
what is called prudent and make money; not only because it is
pleasant to have money, but because that also is a part of
respectability, and we cannot hope to be received in society
without decent possessions. Received in society! as if that were
the kingdom of heaven! There is dear Mr. So-and-so;--look at him!-
-so much respected--so much looked up to--quite the Christian
merchant! And we must cut our conduct as strictly as possible
after the pattern of Mr. So-and-so; and lay our whole lives to make
money and be strictly decent. Besides these holy injunctions,
which form by far the greater part of a youth's training in our
Christian homes, there are at least two other doctrines. We are to
live just now as well as we can, but scrape at last into heaven,
where we shall be good. We are to worry through the week in a lay,
disreputable way, but, to make matters square, live a different
life on Sunday.

The train of thought we have been following gives us a key to all
these positions, without stepping aside to justify them on their
own ground. It is because we have been disgusted fifty times with
physical squalls, and fifty times torn between conflicting
impulses, that we teach people this indirect and tactical procedure
in life, and to judge by remote consequences instead of the
immediate face of things. The very desire to act as our own souls
would have us, coupled with a pathetic disbelief in ourselves,
moves us to follow the example of others; perhaps, who knows? they
may be on the right track; and the more our patterns are in number,
the better seems the chance; until, if we be acting in concert with
a whole civilised nation, there are surely a majority of chances
that we must be acting right. And again, how true it is that we
can never behave as we wish in this tormented sphere, and can only
aspire to different and more favourable circumstances, in order to
stand out and be ourselves wholly and rightly! And yet once more,
if in the hurry and pressure of affairs and passions you tend to
nod and become drowsy, here are twenty-four hours of Sunday set
apart for you to hold counsel with your soul and look around you on
the possibilities of life.

This is not, of course, all that is to be, or even should be, said
for these doctrines. Only, in the course of this chapter, the
reader and I have agreed upon a few catchwords, and been looking at
morals on a certain system; it was a pity to lose an opportunity of
testing the catchwords, and seeing whether, by this system as well
as by others, current doctrines could show any probable
justification. If the doctrines had come too badly out of the
trial, it would have condemned the system. Our sight of the world
is very narrow; the mind but a pedestrian instrument; there's
nothing new under the sun, as Solomon says, except the man himself;
and though that changes the aspect of everything else, yet he must
see the same things as other people, only from a different side.

And now, having admitted so much, let us turn to criticism.

If you teach a man to keep his eyes upon what others think of him,
unthinkingly to lead the life and hold the principles of the
majority of his contemporaries, you must discredit in his eyes the
one authoritative voice of his own soul. He may be a docile
citizen; he will never be a man. It is ours, on the other hand, to
disregard this babble and chattering of other men better and worse
than we are, and to walk straight before us by what light we have.
They may be right; but so, before heaven, are we. They may know;
but we know also, and by that knowledge we must stand or fall.
There is such a thing as loyalty to a man's own better self; and
from those who have not that, God help me, how am I to look for
loyalty to others? The most dull, the most imbecile, at a certain
moment turn round, at a certain point will hear no further
argument, but stand unflinching by their own dumb, irrational sense
of right. It is not only by steel or fire, but through contempt
and blame, that the martyr fulfils the calling of his dear soul.
Be glad if you are not tried by such extremities. But although all
the world ranged themselves in one line to tell you 'This is
wrong,' be you your own faithful vassal and the ambassador of God--
throw down the glove and answer 'This is right.' Do you think you
are only declaring yourself? Perhaps in some dim way, like a child
who delivers a message not fully understood, you are opening wider
the straits of prejudice and preparing mankind for some truer and
more spiritual grasp of truth; perhaps, as you stand forth for your
own judgment, you are covering a thousand weak ones with your body;
perhaps, by this declaration alone, you have avoided the guilt of
false witness against humanity and the little ones unborn. It is
good, I believe, to be respectable, but much nobler to respect
oneself and utter the voice of God. God, if there be any God,
speaks daily in a new language by the tongues of men; the thoughts
and habits of each fresh generation and each new-coined spirit
throw another light upon the universe and contain another
commentary on the printed Bibles; every scruple, every true
dissent, every glimpse of something new, is a letter of God's
alphabet; and though there is a grave responsibility for all who
speak, is there none for those who unrighteously keep silence and
conform? Is not that also to conceal and cloak God's counsel? And
how should we regard the man of science who suppressed all facts
that would not tally with the orthodoxy of the hour?

Wrong? You are as surely wrong as the sun rose this morning round
the revolving shoulder of the world. Not truth, but truthfulness,
is the good of your endeavour. For when will men receive that
first part and prerequisite of truth, that, by the order of things,
by the greatness of the universe, by the darkness and partiality of
man's experience, by the inviolate secrecy of God, kept close in
His most open revelations, every man is, and to the end of the ages
must be, wrong? Wrong to the universe; wrong to mankind; wrong to
God. And yet in another sense, and that plainer and nearer, every
man of men, who wishes truly, must be right. He is right to
himself, and in the measure of his sagacity and candour. That let
him do in all sincerity and zeal, not sparing a thought for
contrary opinions; that, for what it is worth, let him proclaim.
Be not afraid; although he be wrong, so also is the dead, stuffed
Dagon he insults. For the voice of God, whatever it is, is not
that stammering, inept tradition which the people holds. These
truths survive in travesty, swamped in a world of spiritual
darkness and confusion; and what a few comprehend and faithfully
hold, the many, in their dead jargon, repeat, degrade, and

So far of Respectability; what the Covenanters used to call 'rank
conformity': the deadliest gag and wet blanket that can be laid on
men. And now of Profit. And this doctrine is perhaps the more
redoubtable, because it harms all sorts of men; not only the heroic
and self-reliant, but the obedient, cowlike squadrons. A man, by
this doctrine, looks to consequences at the second, or third, or
fiftieth turn. He chooses his end, and for that, with wily turns
and through a great sea of tedium, steers this mortal bark. There
may be political wisdom in such a view; but I am persuaded there
can spring no great moral zeal. To look thus obliquely upon life
is the very recipe for moral slumber. Our intention and endeavour
should be directed, not on some vague end of money or applause,
which shall come to us by a ricochet in a month or a year, or
twenty years, but on the act itself; not on the approval of others,
but on the rightness of that act. At every instant, at every step
in life, the point has to be decided, our soul has to be saved,
heaven has to be gained or lost. At every step our spirits must
applaud, at every step we must set down the foot and sound the
trumpet. 'This have I done,' we must say; 'right or wrong, this
have I done, in unfeigned honour of intention, as to myself and
God.' The profit of every act should be this, that it was right
for us to do it. Any other profit than that, if it involved a
kingdom or the woman I love, ought, if I were God's upright
soldier, to leave me untempted.

It is the mark of what we call a righteous decision, that it is
made directly and for its own sake. The whole man, mind and body,
having come to an agreement, tyrannically dictates conduct. There
are two dispositions eternally opposed: that in which we recognise
that one thing is wrong and another right, and that in which, not
seeing any clear distinction, we fall back on the consideration of
consequences. The truth is, by the scope of our present teaching,
nothing is thought very wrong and nothing very right, except a few
actions which have the disadvantage of being disrespectable when
found out; the more serious part of men inclining to think all
things RATHER WRONG, the more jovial to suppose them RIGHT ENOUGH
FOR PRACTICAL PURPOSES. I will engage my head, they do not find
that view in their own hearts; they have taken it up in a dark
despair; they are but troubled sleepers talking in their sleep.
The soul, or my soul at least, thinks very distinctly upon many
points of right and wrong, and often differs flatly with what is
held out as the thought of corporate humanity in the code of
society or the code of law. Am I to suppose myself a monster? I
have only to read books, the Christian Gospels for example, to
think myself a monster no longer; and instead I think the mass of
people are merely speaking in their sleep.

It is a commonplace, enshrined, if I mistake not, even in school
copy-books, that honour is to be sought and not fame. I ask no
other admission; we are to seek honour, upright walking with our
own conscience every hour of the day, and not fame, the
consequence, the far-off reverberation of our footsteps. The walk,
not the rumour of the walk, is what concerns righteousness. Better
disrespectable honour than dishonourable fame. Better useless or
seemingly hurtful honour, than dishonour ruling empires and filling
the mouths of thousands. For the man must walk by what he sees,
and leave the issue with God who made him and taught him by the
fortune of his life. You would not dishonour yourself for money;
which is at least tangible; would you do it, then, for a doubtful
forecast in politics, or another person's theory in morals?

So intricate is the scheme of our affairs, that no man can
calculate the bearing of his own behaviour even on those
immediately around him, how much less upon the world at large or on
succeeding generations! To walk by external prudence and the rule
of consequences would require, not a man, but God. All that we
know to guide us in this changing labyrinth is our soul with its
fixed design of righteousness, and a few old precepts which commend
themselves to that. The precepts are vague when we endeavour to
apply them; consequences are more entangled than a wisp of string,
and their confusion is unrestingly in change; we must hold to what
we know and walk by it. We must walk by faith, indeed, and not by

You do not love another because he is wealthy or wise or eminently
respectable: you love him because you love him; that is love, and
any other only a derision and grimace. It should be the same with
all our actions. If we were to conceive a perfect man, it should
be one who was never torn between conflicting impulses, but who, on
the absolute consent of all his parts and faculties, submitted in
every action of his life to a self-dictation as absolute and
unreasoned as that which bids him love one woman and be true to her
till death. But we should not conceive him as sagacious,
ascetical, playing off his appetites against each other, turning
the wing of public respectable immorality instead of riding it
directly down, or advancing toward his end through a thousand
sinister compromises and considerations. The one man might be
wily, might be adroit, might be wise, might be respectable, might
be gloriously useful; it is the other man who would be good.

The soul asks honour and not fame; to be upright, not to be
successful; to be good, not prosperous; to be essentially, not
outwardly, respectable. Does your soul ask profit? Does it ask
money? Does it ask the approval of the indifferent herd? I
believe not. For my own part, I want but little money, I hope; and
I do not want to be decent at all, but to be good.


We have spoken of that supreme self-dictation which keeps varying
from hour to hour in its dictates with the variation of events and
circumstances. Now, for us, that is ultimate. It may be founded
on some reasonable process, but it is not a process which we can
follow or comprehend. And moreover the dictation is not
continuous, or not continuous except in very lively and well-living
natures; and between-whiles we must brush along without it.
Practice is a more intricate and desperate business than the
toughest theorising; life is an affair of cavalry, where rapid
judgment and prompt action are alone possible and right. As a
matter of fact, there is no one so upright but he is influenced by
the world's chatter; and no one so headlong but he requires to
consider consequences and to keep an eye on profit. For the soul
adopts all affections and appetites without exception, and cares
only to combine them for some common purpose which shall interest
all. Now, respect for the opinion of others, the study of
consequences, and the desire of power and comfort, are all
undeniably factors in the nature of man; and the more undeniably
since we find that, in our current doctrines, they have swallowed
up the others and are thought to conclude in themselves all the
worthy parts of man. These, then, must also be suffered to affect
conduct in the practical domain, much or little according as they
are forcibly or feebly present to the mind of each.

Now, a man's view of the universe is mostly a view of the civilised
society in which he lives. Other men and women are so much more
grossly and so much more intimately palpable to his perceptions,
that they stand between him and all the rest; they are larger to
his eye than the sun, he hears them more plainly than thunder, with
them, by them, and for them, he must live and die. And hence the
laws that affect his intercourse with his fellow-men, although
merely customary and the creatures of a generation, are more
clearly and continually before his mind than those which bind him
into the eternal system of things, support him in his upright
progress on this whirling ball, or keep up the fire of his bodily
life. And hence it is that money stands in the first rank of
considerations and so powerfully affects the choice. For our
society is built with money for mortar; money is present in every
joint of circumstance; it might be named the social atmosphere,
since, in society, it is by that alone that men continue to live,
and only through that or chance that they can reach or affect one
another. Money gives us food, shelter, and privacy; it permits us
to be clean in person, opens for us the doors of the theatre, gains
us books for study or pleasure, enables us to help the distresses
of others, and puts us above necessity so that we can choose the
best in life. If we love, it enables us to meet and live with the
loved one, or even to prolong her health and life; if we have
scruples, it gives us an opportunity to be honest; if we have any
bright designs, here is what will smooth the way to their
accomplishment. Penury is the worst slavery, and will soon lead to

But money is only a means; it presupposes a man to use it. The
rich can go where he pleases, but perhaps please himself nowhere.
He can buy a library or visit the whole world, but perhaps has
neither patience to read nor intelligence to see. The table may be
loaded and the appetite wanting; the purse may be full, and the
heart empty. He may have gained the world and lost himself; and
with all his wealth around him, in a great house and spacious and
beautiful demesne, he may live as blank a life as any tattered
ditcher. Without an appetite, without an aspiration, void of
appreciation, bankrupt of desire and hope, there, in his great
house, let him sit and look upon his fingers. It is perhaps a more
fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be
born a millionaire. Although neither is to be despised, it is
always better policy to learn an interest than to make a thousand
pounds; for the money will soon be spent, or perhaps you may feel
no joy in spending it; but the interest remains imperishable and
ever new. To become a botanist, a geologist, a social philosopher,
an antiquary, or an artist, is to enlarge one's possessions in the
universe by an incalculably higher degree, and by a far surer sort
of property, than to purchase a farm of many acres. You had
perhaps two thousand a year before the transaction; perhaps you
have two thousand five hundred after it. That represents your gain
in the one case. But in the other, you have thrown down a barrier
which concealed significance and beauty. The blind man has learned
to see. The prisoner has opened up a window in his cell and
beholds enchanting prospects; he will never again be a prisoner as
he was; he can watch clouds and changing seasons, ships on the
river, travellers on the road, and the stars at night; happy
prisoner! his eyes have broken jail! And again he who has learned
to love an art or science has wisely laid up riches against the day
of riches; if prosperity come, he will not enter poor into his
inheritance; he will not slumber and forget himself in the lap of
money, or spend his hours in counting idle treasures, but be up and
briskly doing; he will have the true alchemic touch, which is not
that of Midas, but which transmutes dead money into living delight
and satisfaction. Etre et pas avoir--to be, not to possess--that
is the problem of life. To be wealthy, a rich nature is the first
requisite and money but the second. To be of a quick and healthy
blood, to share in all honourable curiosities, to be rich in
admiration and free from envy, to rejoice greatly in the good of
others, to love with such generosity of heart that your love is
still a dear possession in absence or unkindness--these are the
gifts of fortune which money cannot buy and without which money can
buy nothing. For what can a man possess, or what can he enjoy,
except himself? If he enlarge his nature, it is then that he
enlarges his estates. If his nature be happy and valiant, he will
enjoy the universe as if it were his park and orchard.

But money is not only to be spent; it has also to be earned. It is
not merely a convenience or a necessary in social life; but it is
the coin in which mankind pays his wages to the individual man.
And from this side, the question of money has a very different
scope and application. For no man can be honest who does not work.
Service for service. If the farmer buys corn, and the labourer
ploughs and reaps, and the baker sweats in his hot bakery, plainly
you who eat must do something in your turn. It is not enough to
take off your hat, or to thank God upon your knees for the
admirable constitution of society and your own convenient situation
in its upper and more ornamental stories. Neither is it enough to
buy the loaf with a sixpence; for then you are only changing the
point of the inquiry; and you must first have BOUGHT THE SIXPENCE.
Service for service: how have you bought your sixpences? A man of
spirit desires certainty in a thing of such a nature; he must see
to it that there is some reciprocity between him and mankind; that
he pays his expenditure in service; that he has not a lion's share
in profit and a drone's in labour; and is not a sleeping partner
and mere costly incubus on the great mercantile concern of mankind.

Services differ so widely with different gifts, and some are so
inappreciable to external tests, that this is not only a matter for
the private conscience, but one which even there must be leniently
and trustfully considered. For remember how many serve mankind who
do no more than meditate; and how many are precious to their
friends for no more than a sweet and joyous temper. To perform the
function of a man of letters it is not necessary to write; nay, it
is perhaps better to be a living book. So long as we love we
serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that
we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.
The true services of life are inestimable in money, and are never
paid. Kind words and caresses, high and wise thoughts, humane
designs, tender behaviour to the weak and suffering, and all the
charities of man's existence, are neither bought nor sold.

Yet the dearest and readiest, if not the most just, criterion of a
man's services, is the wage that mankind pays him or, briefly, what
he earns. There at least there can be no ambiguity. St. Paul is
fully and freely entitled to his earnings as a tentmaker, and
Socrates fully and freely entitled to his earnings as a sculptor,
although the true business of each was not only something
different, but something which remained unpaid. A man cannot
forget that he is not superintended, and serves mankind on parole.
He would like, when challenged by his own conscience, to reply: 'I
have done so much work, and no less, with my own hands and brain,
and taken so much profit, and no more, for my own personal
delight.' And though St. Paul, if he had possessed a private
fortune, would probably have scorned to waste his time in making
tents, yet of all sacrifices to public opinion none can be more
easily pardoned than that by which a man, already spiritually
useful to the world, should restrict the field of his chief
usefulness to perform services more apparent, and possess a
livelihood that neither stupidity nor malice could call in
question. Like all sacrifices to public opinion and mere external
decency, this would certainly be wrong; for the soul should rest
contented with its own approval and indissuadably pursue its own
calling. Yet, so grave and delicate is the question, that a man
may well hesitate before he decides it for himself; he may well
fear that he sets too high a valuation on his own endeavours after
good; he may well condescend upon a humbler duty, where others than
himself shall judge the service and proportion the wage.

And yet it is to this very responsibility that the rich are born.
They can shuffle off the duty on no other; they are their own
paymasters on parole; and must pay themselves fair wages and no
more. For I suppose that in the course of ages, and through reform
and civil war and invasion, mankind was pursuing some other and
more general design than to set one or two Englishmen of the
nineteenth century beyond the reach of needs and duties. Society
was scarce put together, and defended with so much eloquence and
blood, for the convenience of two or three millionaires and a few
hundred other persons of wealth and position. It is plain that if
mankind thus acted and suffered during all these generations, they
hoped some benefit, some ease, some wellbeing, for themselves and
their descendants; that if they supported law and order, it was to
secure fair-play for all; that if they denied themselves in the
present, they must have had some designs upon the future. Now, a
great hereditary fortune is a miracle of man's wisdom and mankind's
forbearance; it has not only been amassed and handed down, it has
been suffered to be amassed and handed down; and surely in such a
consideration as this, its possessor should find only a new spur to
activity and honour, that with all this power of service he should
not prove unserviceable, and that this mass of treasure should
return in benefits upon the race. If he had twenty, or thirty, or
a hundred thousand at his banker's, or if all Yorkshire or all
California were his to manage or to sell, he would still be morally
penniless, and have the world to begin like Whittington, until he
had found some way of serving mankind. His wage is physically in
his own hand; but, in honour, that wage must still be earned. He
is only steward on parole of what is called his fortune. He must
honourably perform his stewardship. He must estimate his own
services and allow himself a salary in proportion, for that will be
one among his functions. And while he will then be free to spend
that salary, great or little, on his own private pleasures, the
rest of his fortune he but holds and disposes under trust for
mankind; it is not his, because he has not earned it; it cannot be
his, because his services have already been paid; but year by year
it is his to distribute, whether to help individuals whose
birthright and outfit have been swallowed up in his, or to further
public works and institutions.

At this rate, short of inspiration, it seems hardly possible to be
both rich and honest; and the millionaire is under a far more
continuous temptation to thieve than the labourer who gets his
shilling daily for despicable toils. Are you surprised? It is
even so. And you repeat it every Sunday in your churches. 'It is
easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a
rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' I have heard this and
similar texts ingeniously explained away and brushed from the path
of the aspiring Christian by the tender Great-heart of the parish.
One excellent clergyman told us that the 'eye of a needle' meant a
low, Oriental postern through which camels could not pass till they
were unloaded--which is very likely just; and then went on, bravely
confounding the 'kingdom of God' with heaven, the future paradise,
to show that of course no rich person could expect to carry his
riches beyond the grave--which, of course, he could not and never
did. Various greedy sinners of the congregation drank in the
comfortable doctrine with relief. It was worth the while having
come to church that Sunday morning! All was plain. The Bible, as
usual, meant nothing in particular; it was merely an obscure and
figurative school-copybook; and if a man were only respectable, he
was a man after God's own heart.

Alas! I fear not. And though this matter of a man's services is
one for his own conscience, there are some cases in which it is
difficult to restrain the mind from judging. Thus I shall be very
easily persuaded that a man has earned his daily bread; and if he
has but a friend or two to whom his company is delightful at heart,
I am more than persuaded at once. But it will be very hard to
persuade me that any one has earned an income of a hundred
thousand. What he is to his friends, he still would be if he were
made penniless to-morrow; for as to the courtiers of luxury and
power, I will neither consider them friends, nor indeed consider
them at all. What he does for mankind there are most likely
hundreds who would do the same, as effectually for the race and as
pleasurably to themselves, for the merest fraction of this
monstrous wage. Why it is paid, I am, therefore, unable to
conceive, and as the man pays it himself, out of funds in his
detention, I have a certain backwardness to think him honest.

At least, we have gained a very obvious point: that WHAT A MAN
Thence flows a principle for the outset of life, which is a little
different from that taught in the present day. I am addressing the
middle and the upper classes; those who have already been fostered
and prepared for life at some expense; those who have some choice
before them, and can pick professions; and above all, those who are
what is called independent, and need do nothing unless pushed by
honour or ambition. In this particular the poor are happy; among
them, when a lad comes to his strength, he must take the work that
offers, and can take it with an easy conscience. But in the richer
classes the question is complicated by the number of opportunities
and a variety of considerations. Here, then, this principle of
ours comes in helpfully. The young man has to seek, not a road to
wealth, but an opportunity of service; not money, but honest work.
If he has some strong propensity, some calling of nature, some
over-weening interest in any special field of industry, inquiry, or
art, he will do right to obey the impulse; and that for two
reasons: the first external, because there he will render the best
services; the second personal, because a demand of his own nature
is to him without appeal whenever it can be satisfied with the
consent of his other faculties and appetites. If he has no such
elective taste, by the very principle on which he chooses any
pursuit at all he must choose the most honest and serviceable, and
not the most highly remunerated. We have here an external problem,
not from or to ourself, but flowing from the constitution of
society; and we have our own soul with its fixed design of
righteousness. All that can be done is to present the problem in
proper terms, and leave it to the soul of the individual. Now, the
problem to the poor is one of necessity: to earn wherewithal to
live, they must find remunerative labour. But the problem to the
rich is one of honour: having the wherewithal, they must find
serviceable labour. Each has to earn his daily bread: the one,
because he has not yet got it to eat; the other, who has already
eaten it, because he has not yet earned it.

Of course, what is true of bread is true of luxuries and comforts,
whether for the body or the mind. But the consideration of
luxuries leads us to a new aspect of the whole question, and to a
second proposition no less true, and maybe no less startling, than
the last.

At the present day, we, of the easier classes, are in a state of
surfeit and disgrace after meat. Plethora has filled us with
indifference; and we are covered from head to foot with the
callosities of habitual opulence. Born into what is called a
certain rank, we live, as the saying is, up to our station. We
squander without enjoyment, because our fathers squandered. We eat
of the best, not from delicacy, but from brazen habit. We do not
keenly enjoy or eagerly desire the presence of a luxury; we are
unaccustomed to its absence. And not only do we squander money
from habit, but still more pitifully waste it in ostentation. I
can think of no more melancholy disgrace for a creature who
professes either reason or pleasure for his guide, than to spend
the smallest fraction of his income upon that which he does not
desire; and to keep a carriage in which you do not wish to drive,
or a butler of whom you are afraid, is a pathetic kind of folly.
Money, being a means of happiness, should make both parties happy
when it changes hands; rightly disposed, it should be twice blessed
in its employment; and buyer and seller should alike have their
twenty shillings worth of profit out of every pound. Benjamin
Franklin went through life an altered man, because he once paid too
dearly for a penny whistle. My concern springs usually from a
deeper source, to wit, from having bought a whistle when I did not
want one. I find I regret this, or would regret it if I gave
myself the time, not only on personal but on moral and
philanthropical considerations. For, first, in a world where money
is wanting to buy books for eager students and food and medicine
for pining children, and where a large majority are starved in
their most immediate desires, it is surely base, stupid, and cruel
to squander money when I am pushed by no appetite and enjoy no
return of genuine satisfaction. My philanthropy is wide enough in
scope to include myself; and when I have made myself happy, I have
at least one good argument that I have acted rightly; but where
that is not so, and I have bought and not enjoyed, my mouth is
closed, and I conceive that I have robbed the poor. And, second,
anything I buy or use which I do not sincerely want or cannot
vividly enjoy, disturbs the balance of supply and demand, and
contributes to remove industrious hands from the production of what
is useful or pleasurable and to keep them busy upon ropes of sand
and things that are a weariness to the flesh. That extravagance is
truly sinful, and a very silly sin to boot, in which we impoverish
mankind and ourselves. It is another question for each man's
heart. He knows if he can enjoy what he buys and uses; if he
cannot, he is a dog in the manger; nay, it he cannot, I contend he
is a thief, for nothing really belongs to a man which he cannot
use. Proprietor is connected with propriety; and that only is the
man's which is proper to his wants and faculties.

A youth, in choosing a career, must not be alarmed by poverty.
Want is a sore thing, but poverty does not imply want. It remains
to be seen whether with half his present income, or a third, he
cannot, in the most generous sense, live as fully as at present.
He is a fool who objects to luxuries; but he is also a fool who
does not protest against the waste of luxuries on those who do not
desire and cannot enjoy them. It remains to be seen, by each man
who would live a true life to himself and not a merely specious
life to society, how many luxuries he truly wants and to how many
he merely submits as to a social propriety; and all these last he
will immediately forswear. Let him do this, and he will be
surprised to find how little money it requires to keep him in
complete contentment and activity of mind and senses. Life at any
level among the easy classes is conceived upon a principle of
rivalry, where each man and each household must ape the tastes and
emulate the display of others. One is delicate in eating, another
in wine, a third in furniture or works of art or dress; and I, who
care nothing for any of these refinements, who am perhaps a plain
athletic creature and love exercise, beef, beer, flannel shirts and
a camp bed, am yet called upon to assimilate all these other tastes
and make these foreign occasions of expenditure my own. It may be
cynical: I am sure I shall be told it is selfish; but I will spend
my money as I please and for my own intimate personal
gratification, and should count myself a nincompoop indeed to lay
out the colour of a halfpenny on any fancied social decency or
duty. I shall not wear gloves unless my hands are cold, or unless
I am born with a delight in them. Dress is my own affair, and that
of one other in the world; that, in fact and for an obvious reason,
of any woman who shall chance to be in love with me. I shall lodge
where I have a mind. If I do not ask society to live with me, they
must be silent; and even if I do, they have no further right but to
refuse the invitation! There is a kind of idea abroad that a man
must live up to his station, that his house, his table, and his
toilette, shall be in a ratio of equivalence, and equally imposing
to the world. If this is in the Bible, the passage has eluded my
inquiries. If it is not in the Bible, it is nowhere but in the
heart of the fool. Throw aside this fancy. See what you want, and
spend upon that; distinguish what you do not care about, and spend
nothing upon that. There are not many people who can differentiate
wines above a certain and that not at all a high price. Are you
sure you are one of these? Are you sure you prefer cigars at
sixpence each to pipes at some fraction of a farthing? Are you
sure you wish to keep a gig? Do you care about where you sleep, or
are you not as much at your ease in a cheap lodging as in an
Elizabethan manor-house? Do you enjoy fine clothes? It is not
possible to answer these questions without a trial; and there is
nothing more obvious to my mind, than that a man who has not
experienced some ups and downs, and been forced to live more
cheaply than in his father's house, has still his education to
begin. Let the experiment be made, and he will find to his
surprise that he has been eating beyond his appetite up to that
hour; that the cheap lodging, the cheap tobacco, the rough country
clothes, the plain table, have not only no power to damp his
spirits, but perhaps give him as keen pleasure in the using as the
dainties that he took, betwixt sleep and waking, in his former
callous and somnambulous submission to wealth.

The true Bohemian, a creature lost to view under the imaginary
Bohemians of literature, is exactly described by such a principle
of life. The Bohemian of the novel, who drinks more than is good
for him and prefers anything to work, and wears strange clothes, is
for the most part a respectable Bohemian, respectable in
disrespectability, living for the outside, and an adventurer. But
the man I mean lives wholly to himself, does what he wishes, and
not what is thought proper, buys what he wants for himself, and not
what is thought proper, works at what he believes he can do well
and not what will bring him in money or favour. You may be the
most respectable of men, and yet a true Bohemian. And the test is
this: a Bohemian, for as poor as he may be, is always open-handed
to his friends; he knows what he can do with money and how he can
do without it, a far rarer and more useful knowledge; he has had
less, and continued to live in some contentment; and hence he cares
not to keep more, and shares his sovereign or his shilling with a
friend. The poor, if they are generous, are Bohemian in virtue of
their birth. Do you know where beggars go? Not to the great
houses where people sit dazed among their thousands, but to the
doors of poor men who have seen the world; and it was the widow who
had only two mites, who cast half her fortune into the treasury.

But a young man who elects to save on dress or on lodging, or who
in any way falls out of the level of expenditure which is common to
his level in society, falls out of society altogether. I suppose
the young man to have chosen his career on honourable principles;
he finds his talents and instincts can be best contented in a
certain pursuit; in a certain industry, he is sure that he is
serving mankind with a healthy and becoming service; and he is not
sure that he would be doing so, or doing so equally well, in any
other industry within his reach. Then that is his true sphere in
life; not the one in which he was born to his father, but the one
which is proper to his talents and instincts. And suppose he does
fall out of society, is that a cause of sorrow? Is your heart so
dead that you prefer the recognition of many to the love of a few?
Do you think society loves you? Put it to the proof. Decline in
material expenditure, and you will find they care no more for you
than for the Khan of Tartary. You will lose no friends. If you
had any, you will keep them. Only those who were friends to your
coat and equipage will disappear; the smiling faces will disappear
as by enchantment; but the kind hearts will remain steadfastly
kind. Are you so lost, are you so dead, are you so little sure of
your own soul and your own footing upon solid fact, that you prefer
before goodness and happiness the countenance of sundry diners-out,
who will flee from you at a report of ruin, who will drop you with
insult at a shadow of disgrace, who do not know you and do not care
to know you but by sight, and whom you in your turn neither know
nor care to know in a more human manner? Is it not the principle
of society, openly avowed, that friendship must not interfere with
business; which being paraphrased, means simply that a
consideration of money goes before any consideration of affection
known to this cold-blooded gang, that they have not even the honour
of thieves, and will rook their nearest and dearest as readily as a
stranger? I hope I would go as far as most to serve a friend; but
I declare openly I would not put on my hat to do a pleasure to
society. I may starve my appetites and control my temper for the
sake of those I love; but society shall take me as I choose to be,
or go without me. Neither they nor I will lose; for where there is
no love, it is both laborious and unprofitable to associate.

But it is obvious that if it is only right for a man to spend money
on that which he can truly and thoroughly enjoy, the doctrine
applies with equal force to the rich and to the poor, to the man
who has amassed many thousands as well as to the youth precariously
beginning life. And it may be asked, Is not this merely preparing
misers, who are not the best of company? But the principle was
this: that which a man has not fairly earned, and, further, that
which he cannot fully enjoy, does not belong to him, but is a part
of mankind's treasure which he holds as steward on parole. To
mankind, then, it must be made profitable; and how this should be
done is, once more, a problem which each man must solve for
himself, and about which none has a right to judge him. Yet there
are a few considerations which are very obvious and may here be
stated. Mankind is not only the whole in general, but every one in
particular. Every man or woman is one of mankind's dear
possessions; to his or her just brain, and kind heart, and active
hands, mankind intrusts some of its hopes for the future; he or she
is a possible well-spring of good acts and source of blessings to
the race. This money which you do not need, which, in a rigid
sense, you do not want, may therefore be returned not only in
public benefactions to the race, but in private kindnesses. Your
wife, your children, your friends stand nearest to you, and should
be helped the first. There at least there can be little imposture,
for you know their necessities of your own knowledge. And
consider, if all the world did as you did, and according to their
means extended help in the circle of their affections, there would
be no more crying want in times of plenty and no more cold,
mechanical charity given with a doubt and received with confusion.
Would not this simple rule make a new world out of the old and
cruel one which we inhabit?

[After two more sentences the fragment breaks off.]


February 25, 1890.

Sir,--It may probably occur to you that we have met, and visited,
and conversed; on my side, with interest. You may remember that
you have done me several courtesies, for which I was prepared to be
grateful. But there are duties which come before gratitude, and
offences which justly divide friends, far more acquaintances. Your
letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage is a document which, in my sight,
if you had filled me with bread when I was starving, if you had sat
up to nurse my father when he lay a-dying, would yet absolve me
from the bonds of gratitude. You know enough, doubtless, of the
process of canonisation to be aware that, a hundred years after the
death of Damien, there will appear a man charged with the painful
office of the DEVIL'S ADVOCATE. After that noble brother of mine,
and of all frail clay, shall have lain a century at rest, one shall
accuse, one defend him. The circumstance is unusual that the
devil's advocate should be a volunteer, should be a member of a
sect immediately rival, and should make haste to take upon himself
his ugly office ere the bones are cold; unusual, and of a taste
which I shall leave my readers free to qualify; unusual, and to me
inspiring. If I have at all learned the trade of using words to
convey truth and to arouse emotion, you have at last furnished me
with a subject. For it is in the interest of all mankind, and the
cause of public decency in every quarter of the world, not only
that Damien should be righted, but that you and your letter should
be displayed at length, in their true colours, to the public eye.

To do this properly, I must begin by quoting you at large: I shall
then proceed to criticise your utterance from several points of
view, divine and human, in the course of which I shall attempt to
draw again, and with more specification, the character of the dead
saint whom it has pleased you to vilify: so much being done, I
shall say farewell to you for ever.

'August 2, 1889.

'Rev. H. B. GAGE.

'Dear Brother,--In answer to your inquiries about Father Damien, I
can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the
extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly
philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man,
head-strong and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went
there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before
he became one himself), but circulated freely over the whole island
(less than half the island is devoted to the lepers), and he came
often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements
inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as
occasion required and means were provided. He was not a pure man
in his relations with women, and the leprosy of which he died
should be attributed to his vices and carelessness. Others have
done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the government
physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic idea of
meriting eternal life.--Yours, etc.,

'C. M. HYDE.' {1}

To deal fitly with a letter so extraordinary, I must draw at the
outset on my private knowledge of the signatory and his sect. It
may offend others; scarcely you, who have been so busy to collect,
so bold to publish, gossip on your rivals. And this is perhaps the
moment when I may best explain to you the character of what you are
to read: I conceive you as a man quite beyond and below the
reticences of civility: with what measure you mete, with that
shall it be measured you again; with you, at last, I rejoice to
feel the button off the foil and to plunge home. And if in aught
that I shall say I should offend others, your colleagues, whom I
respect and remember with affection, I can but offer them my
regret; I am not free, I am inspired by the consideration of
interests far more large; and such pain as can be inflicted by
anything from me must be indeed trifling when compared with the
pain with which they read your letter. It is not the hangman, but
the criminal, that brings dishonour on the house.

You belong, sir, to a sect--I believe my sect, and that in which my
ancestors laboured--which has enjoyed, and partly failed to
utilise, an exceptional advantage in the islands of Hawaii. The
first missionaries came; they found the land already self-purged of
its old and bloody faith; they were embraced, almost on their
arrival, with enthusiasm; what troubles they supported came far
more from whites than from Hawaiians; and to these last they stood
(in a rough figure) in the shoes of God. This is not the place to
enter into the degree or causes of their failure, such as it is.
One element alone is pertinent, and must here be plainly dealt
with. In the course of their evangelical calling, they--or too
many of them--grew rich. It may be news to you that the houses of
missionaries are a cause of mocking on the streets of Honolulu. It
will at least be news to you, that when I returned your civil
visit, the driver of my cab commented on the size, the taste, and
the comfort of your home. It would have been news certainly to
myself, had any one told me that afternoon that I should live to
drag such matter into print. But you see, sir, how you degrade
better men to your own level; and it is needful that those who are
to judge betwixt you and me, betwixt Damien and the devil's
advocate, should understand your letter to have been penned in a
house which could raise, and that very justly, the envy and the
comments of the passers-by. I think (to employ a phrase of yours
which I admire) it 'should be attributed' to you that you have
never visited the scene of Damien's life and death. If you had,
and had recalled it, and looked about your pleasant rooms, even
your pen perhaps would have been stayed.

Your sect (and remember, as far as any sect avows me, it is mine)
has not done ill in a worldly sense in the Hawaiian Kingdom. When
calamity befell their innocent parishioners, when leprosy descended
and took root in the Eight Islands, a quid pro quo was to be looked
for. To that prosperous mission, and to you, as one of its
adornments, God had sent at last an opportunity. I know I am
touching here upon a nerve acutely sensitive. I know that others
of your colleagues look back on the inertia of your Church, and the
intrusive and decisive heroism of Damien, with something almost to
be called remorse. I am sure it is so with yourself; I am
persuaded your letter was inspired by a certain envy, not
essentially ignoble, and the one human trait to be espied in that
performance. You were thinking of the lost chance, the past day;
of that which should have been conceived and was not; of the
service due and not rendered. Time was, said the voice in your
ear, in your pleasant room, as you sat raging and writing; and if
the words written were base beyond parallel, the rage, I am happy
to repeat--it is the only compliment I shall pay you--the rage was
almost virtuous. But, sir, when we have failed, and another has
succeeded; when we have stood by, and another has stepped in; when
we sit and grow bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain,
uncouth peasant steps into the battle, under the eyes of God, and
succours the afflicted, and consoles the dying, and is himself
afflicted in his turn, and dies upon the field of honour--the
battle cannot be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has
suggested. It is a lost battle, and lost for ever. One thing
remained to you in your defeat--some rags of common honour; and
these you have made haste to cast away.

Common honour; not the honour of having done anything right, but
the honour of not having done aught conspicuously foul; the honour
of the inert: that was what remained to you. We are not all
expected to be Damiens; a man may conceive his duty more narrowly,
he may love his comforts better; and none will cast a stone at him
for that. But will a gentleman of your reverend profession allow
me an example from the fields of gallantry? When two gentlemen
compete for the favour of a lady, and the one succeeds and the
other is rejected, and (as will sometimes happen) matter damaging
to the successful rival's credit reaches the ear of the defeated,
it is held by plain men of no pretensions that his mouth is, in the
circumstance, almost necessarily closed. Your Church and Damien's
were in Hawaii upon a rivalry to do well: to help, to edify, to
set divine examples. You having (in one huge instance) failed, and
Damien succeeded, I marvel it should not have occurred to you that
you were doomed to silence; that when you had been outstripped in
that high rivalry, and sat inglorious in the midst of your
wellbeing, in your pleasant room--and Damien, crowned with glories
and horrors, toiled and rotted in that pigsty of his under the
cliffs of Kalawao--you, the elect who would not, were the last man
on earth to collect and propagate gossip on the volunteer who would
and did.

I think I see you--for I try to see you in the flesh as I write
these sentences--I think I see you leap at the word pigsty, a
hyperbolical expression at the best. 'He had no hand in the
reforms,' he was 'a coarse, dirty man'; these were your own words;
and you may think it possible that I am come to support you with
fresh evidence. In a sense, it is even so. Damien has been too
much depicted with a conventional halo and conventional features;
so drawn by men who perhaps had not the eye to remark or the pen to
express the individual; or who perhaps were only blinded and
silenced by generous admiration, such as I partly envy for myself--
such as you, if your soul were enlightened, would envy on your
bended knees. It is the least defect of such a method of
portraiture that it makes the path easy for the devil's advocate,
and leaves for the misuse of the slanderer a considerable field of
truth. For the truth that is suppressed by friends is the readiest
weapon of the enemy. The world, in your despite, may perhaps owe
you something, if your letter be the means of substituting once for
all a credible likeness for a wax abstraction. For, if that world
at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be
named Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the
Reverend H. B. Gage.

You may ask on what authority I speak. It was my inclement destiny
to become acquainted, not with Damien, but with Dr. Hyde. When I
visited the lazaretto, Damien was already in his resting grave.
But such information as I have, I gathered on the spot in
conversation with those who knew him well and long: some indeed
who revered his memory; but others who had sparred and wrangled
with him, who beheld him with no halo, who perhaps regarded him
with small respect, and through whose unprepared and scarcely
partial communications the plain, human features of the man shone
on me convincingly. These gave me what knowledge I possess; and I
learnt it in that scene where it could be most completely and
sensitively understood--Kalawao, which you have never visited,
about which you have never so much as endeavoured to inform
yourself; for, brief as your letter is, you have found the means to
stumble into that confession. 'LESS THAN ONE-HALF of the island,'
you say, 'is devoted to the lepers.' Molokai--'Molokai ahina,' the
'grey,' lofty, and most desolate island--along all its northern
side plunges a front of precipice into a sea of unusual profundity.
This range of cliff is, from east to west, the true end and
frontier of the island. Only in one spot there projects into the
ocean a certain triangular and rugged down, grassy, stony, windy,
and rising in the midst into a hill with a dead crater: the whole
bearing to the cliff that overhangs it somewhat the same relation
as a bracket to a wall. With this hint you will now be able to
pick out the leper station on a map; you will be able to judge how
much of Molokai is thus cut off between the surf and precipice,
whether less than a half, or less than a quarter, or a fifth, or a
tenth--or, say, a twentieth; and the next time you burst into print
you will be in a position to share with us the issue of your

I imagine you to be one of those persons who talk with cheerfulness
of that place which oxen and wain-ropes could not drag you to
behold. You, who do not even know its situation on the map,
probably denounce sensational descriptions, stretching your limbs
the while in your pleasant parlour on Beretania Street. When I was
pulled ashore there one early morning, there sat with me in the
boat two sisters, bidding farewell (in humble imitation of Damien)
to the lights and joys of human life. One of these wept silently;
I could not withhold myself from joining her. Had you been there,
it is my belief that nature would have triumphed even in you; and
as the boat drew but a little nearer, and you beheld the stairs
crowded with abominable deformations of our common manhood, and saw
yourself landing in the midst of such a population as only now and
then surrounds us in the horror of a nightmare--what a haggard eye
you would have rolled over your reluctant shoulder towards the
house on Beretania Street! Had you gone on; had you found every
fourth face a blot upon the landscape; had you visited the hospital
and seen the butt-ends of human beings lying there almost
unrecognisable, but still breathing, still thinking, still
remembering; you would have understood that life in the lazaretto
is an ordeal from which the nerves of a man's spirit shrink, even
as his eye quails under the brightness of the sun; you would have
felt it was (even to-day) a pitiful place to visit and a hell to
dwell in. It is not the fear of possible infection. That seems a
little thing when compared with the pain, the pity, and the disgust
of the visitor's surroundings, and the atmosphere of affliction,
disease, and physical disgrace in which he breathes. I do not
think I am a man more than usually timid; but I never recall the
days and nights I spent upon that island promontory (eight days and
seven nights), without heartfelt thankfulness that I am somewhere
else. I find in my diary that I speak of my stay as a 'grinding
experience': I have once jotted in the margin, 'HARROWING is the
word'; and when the Mokolii bore me at last towards the outer
world, I kept repeating to myself, with a new conception of their
pregnancy, those simple words of the song -

''Tis the most distressful country that ever yet was seen.'

And observe: that which I saw and suffered from was a settlement
purged, bettered, beautified; the new village built, the hospital
and the Bishop-Home excellently arranged; the sisters, the doctor,
and the missionaries, all indefatigable in their noble tasks. It
was a different place when Damien came there and made his great
renunciation, and slept that first night under a tree amidst his
rotting brethren: alone with pestilence; and looking forward (with
what courage, with what pitiful sinkings of dread, God only knows)
to a lifetime of dressing sores and stumps.

You will say, perhaps, I am too sensitive, that sights as painful
abound in cancer hospitals and are confronted daily by doctors and
nurses. I have long learned to admire and envy the doctors and the
nurses. But there is no cancer hospital so large and populous as
Kalawao and Kalaupapa; and in such a matter every fresh case, like
every inch of length in the pipe of an organ, deepens the note of
the impression; for what daunts the onlooker is that monstrous sum
of human suffering by which he stands surrounded. Lastly, no
doctor or nurse is called upon to enter once for all the doors of
that gehenna; they do not say farewell, they need not abandon hope,
on its sad threshold; they but go for a time to their high calling,
and can look forward as they go to relief, to recreation, and to
rest. But Damien shut-to with his own hand the doors of his own

I shall now extract three passages from my diary at Kalawao.

A. 'Damien is dead and already somewhat ungratefully remembered in
the field of his labours and sufferings. "He was a good man, but
very officious," says one. Another tells me he had fallen (as
other priests so easily do) into something of the ways and habits
of thought of a Kanaka; but he had the wit to recognise the fact,
and the good sense to laugh at' [over] 'it. A plain man it seems
he was; I cannot find he was a popular.'

B. 'After Ragsdale's death' [Ragsdale was a famous Luna, or
overseer, of the unruly settlement] 'there followed a brief term of
office by Father Damien which served only to publish the weakness
of that noble man. He was rough in his ways, and he had no
control. Authority was relaxed; Damien's life was threatened, and
he was soon eager to resign.'

C. 'Of Damien I begin to have an idea. He seems to have been a
man of the peasant class, certainly of the peasant type: shrewd,
ignorant and bigoted, yet with an open mind, and capable of
receiving and digesting a reproof if it were bluntly administered;
superbly generous in the least thing as well as in the greatest,
and as ready to give his last shirt (although not without human
grumbling) as he had been to sacrifice his life; essentially
indiscreet and officious, which made him a troublesome colleague;
domineering in all his ways, which made him incurably unpopular
with the Kanakas, but yet destitute of real authority, so that his
boys laughed at him and he must carry out his wishes by the means
of bribes. He learned to have a mania for doctoring; and set up
the Kanakas against the remedies of his regular rivals: perhaps
(if anything matter at all in the treatment of such a disease) the
worst thing that he did, and certainly the easiest. The best and
worst of the man appear very plainly in his dealings with Mr.
Chapman's money; he had originally laid it out' [intended to lay it
out] 'entirely for the benefit of Catholics, and even so not
wisely; but after a long, plain talk, he admitted his error fully
and revised the list. The sad state of the boys' home is in part
the result of his lack of control; in part, of his own slovenly
ways and false ideas of hygiene. Brother officials used to call it
"Damien's Chinatown." "Well," they would say, "your China-town
keeps growing." And he would laugh with perfect good-nature, and
adhere to his errors with perfect obstinacy. So much I have
gathered of truth about this plain, noble human brother and father
of ours; his imperfections are the traits of his face, by which we
know him for our fellow; his martyrdom and his example nothing can
lessen or annul; and only a person here on the spot can properly
appreciate their greatness.'

I have set down these private passages, as you perceive, without
correction; thanks to you, the public has them in their bluntness.
They are almost a list of the man's faults, for it is rather these
that I was seeking: with his virtues, with the heroic profile of
his life, I and the world were already sufficiently acquainted. I
was besides a little suspicious of Catholic testimony; in no ill
sense, but merely because Damien's admirers and disciples were the
least likely to be critical. I know you will be more suspicious
still; and the facts set down above were one and all collected from
the lips of Protestants who had opposed the father in his life.
Yet I am strangely deceived, or they build up the image of a man,
with all his weaknesses, essentially heroic, and alive with rugged
honesty, generosity, and mirth.

Take it for what it is, rough private jottings of the worst sides
of Damien's character, collected from the lips of those who had
laboured with and (in your own phrase) 'knew the man';--though I
question whether Damien would have said that he knew you. Take it,

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