Philosophy And Consistency
( Originally Published 1851 )
Among all the excellent things which Mrs. Barbauld has written, she never penned any thing better than her essay on the inconsistency of human expectations; it is full of sound philosophy. Every thing, says she, is marked at a settled price. Our time, our labor, our ingenuity, is so much ready money, which we are to lay out to the best advantage. Examine, compare, choose, reject; but stand to your own judgment, and do not, like children, when you have purchased one thing, repine that you do not possess another, which you would not purchase. Would you be rich? Do you think that the single point worth sacrificing every thing else to? You may, then, be rich. Thousands have become so from the lowest beginnings by toil, and diligence, and attention to the minutest articles of expense and profit. But you must give up the pleasures of leisure, of an unembarrassed mind, and of a free unsuspicious temper. You must learn to do hard if not unjust things; and as for the embarrassment of a delicate and ingenuous spirit, it is necessary for you to get rid of it as fast as possible. You must not stop to enlarge your mind, polish your taste, or refine your sentiments; but must keep on in one unbeaten track, without turning aside to the right or to the left. " But," you say, "I cannot submit to drudgery like this; 1 feel a spirit above it." 'T is well; be above it, then; only do not repine because you are not rich.
Is knowledge the pearl of price in your estimation? That too may be purchased by steady application, and long solitary hours of study and reflection. "But," says the man of letters, " what a hardship is it that many an illiterate fellow, who cannot construe the motto on his coach, shall raise a fortune, and make a figure,while I possess not the common necessaries of life!" Was it for fortune, then, that you grew pale over the midnight lamp, and gave the sprightly years to study and reflection ? You, then, have mistaken your path, and ill employed your industry. What reward have I, then, for all my labor?" What reward! a large comprehensive soul, purged from vulgar fears and prejudices, able to interpret the works of man and God —a perpetual spring of fresh ideas, and the conscious dignity of superior intelligence. Good Heavens! what other reward can you ask? " But is it not a reproach upon the economy of Providence that such a one, who is a mean, dirty fellow, should have amassed wealth enough to buy half a nation?" Not the least. He made himself a mean, dirty fellow for that very end. Ile has paid his health, his conscience, and his liberty for it. Do you envy him his bargain? Will you hang your head in his presence because he outshines you in equipage and show? Lift up your brow with a noble confidence, and say to yourself, " I have not these things, it is true; but it is because I have not de-sired them nor sought them; it is because I possess something better. I have chosen my lot; I am content and satisfied." The most characteristic mark of a great mind is to choose some one object, which it considers important, and pursue that object through life. If we expect the purchase, we must pay the price.