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Life's Accumulations

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE cumulative process may be said to be the secret of the universe, the plan on which its whole organisation has proceeded. It was in operation long before we came on the scene—was, in fact, the means by which we became possible. The geologic times were times of storing. It took six hundred thousand years to lay a coal bed. That was Nature's leisurely way of stocking our cellar. The further man investigates his planet the vaster become& the inventory of this wonderful storehouse. The point to be noted here is that the development of the world's riches synchronises in a subtle but perfectly exact way with man's own development. It is precisely as he becomes rich inwardly that he becomes rich outwardly. The savage treads century after century his wilderness, and remains a savage in a wilderness. The civilised man comes along and finds in the wilderness an El Dorado. The knowledge within him weds the possibilities outside until it fills the land with wonders. And this process never stops. Man finds the outside always a match for his inside. His universe grows perpetually with his growth, becomes daily richer as his mind is enriched. Let him reach an archangel's dimensions, and still his cosmic dwelling-place will stretch beyond him, immeasureable in its immensity, exhaustless in it wealth.

What we want to deal with specially here, how-ever, is not so much the outside storehouse as this other entity that stands over against it, the human soul. That, too, is a storehouse to whose contents we are perpetually adding. Life, as it beats in our brain and heart, is an enigma whose ultimate solution we are never likely to reach ; but we are, bit by bit, picking up suggestive fragments of information concerning it. On this subject of accumulation, for instance, our age has made a discovery of vast significance. It is in this respect, we find, on another plane from the accumulations of the outside world. In that region—the region of matter and force—the total amount is always constant. You pile up matter in one direction, you diminish it to the same extent in another. You may change your matter into various forms ; you may exhibit your force now as electricity, now as heat, now as motion ; but neither in the one nor the other will you make any difference to the amount. But the scientist who reaches his certainties in this sphere has no such result to record in his analysis of life. Its laws are not those of either matter or force. You cannot convert them into it, or it into them. Related to them in a thousand intimate ways, using them as its instruments, clothing itself in the garments they weave, it is, nevertheless, not of them. It belongs, so science now admits, to another sphere, and is governed by other laws.

We can trace some of its methods of operation as we feel our way into this matter of accumulation. The outstanding feature at the beginning is that, so far as we can ascertain, there is no limit to the possible supply of life. Whence it derives ultimately we cannot say ; but the source seems inexhaustible. The one condition of its action—a condition which is frequently an impediment —is the quality of the organ. But a counter-balancing point here, and of the highest importance, is that the organ constantly grows by a proper use of it. Function, the modern physiologist says, creates structure ; and the higher the structure, the richer the flow of the life. The process is visible in every man we meet. In all of them the inner life is creating the outward structure. In the thinker the daily habit drives the blood to the brain ; in the blacksmith the blood goes to the arm ; in the sensualist the blood feeds the stomach and the rest of his animal appetites. And in all these directions, according as our will directs the flow of the nutrifying blood, the separate structures will gain new powers, in which the life will concentrate itself ; in which its resources will accumulate for higher or lower, for good or ill. Development of character, stated physiologically, lies in this, that the soul's inner motions, repeated and continued, tend to create organisms which work with an ever cumulative effect.

Life as an accumulator works in mysterious, baffling ways. Often it will store up for long antecedent periods the materials that are finally to exhibit themselves on the great scale in one commanding personality. It took generations of obscure musicians to produce finally a Bach, a Rossini, a Beethoven. The current runs under-ground for far distances until finally its hidden forces burst up in some mighty geyser-fountain, towering heaven high. There were generations of Wesleys, all full of character, but when we speak of " Wesley " we know the one we mean. Patrick Brontë, in his gloomy moorland parish, cherished a world of thought and passion in his stern, silent nature. It was his daughters who gave it vent in " Jane Eyre " and " Wuthering Heights." Our separate personality is, indeed, the greatest puzzle in the world. We can never apportion its boundaries ; so little of it is ours, so much a borrowing from the man before us.

Young children gather as their own The harvest that the dead have sown—The dead, forgotten and unknown.

But not less striking is life's cumulative process as seen in a single career. Nature seems here to proceed on a kind of power-grade system. She allows us to stumble along at a certain level for a time, longer or shorter according to our diligence and faculty, and then, suddenly as it seems, lifts us to another plane. She effects a " remove," in school phraseology, to a higher form. The writer who has been vacillating from one borrowed style to another, from Johnson to Stevenson, at last finds himself in possession of one of his own.

He has discovered himself, and that is the moment when the world discovers him. The same thing holds of the singer, the speaker, the scientific discoverer. Every man who knows his work and faithfully keeps him to it is aware of these Nature-promotions. Are we strenuous and faithful? We shall hear from time to time her whisper in the ear, " Come up higher ! "

That is by no means the only way in which life's accumulations serve the worker. The true man casts his word, his deed, day by day, into the humming world outside, and finds afterwards—if the word be true and the deed brave enough—that these have become mighty co-workers. His deed of the past is the chief reinforcement of the deed of the present. What he says now is, may be, in itself no truer or stronger than what he said twenty years ago, but how much farther it carries ! The ancients used to attach a mystic power to certain names. All their schemes of sorcery were built on the potency of names. In primitive religions the name carried a mysterious relationship to the nature and fortune of the bearer. To pronounce the name of a god or a demon was to invoke an awesome, swiftly-working power. These ideas were the primitive clothing of a deep truth. We state it differently to-day, but this power of the name is, to us as much as to the ancients, a leading factor in affairs. It is one of the chief results of life's cumulative process. A great name is the concentration of a career. It is the essence of a man's million deeds. As the man stands there, a Welling-ton at Waterloo, a Nelson flying his Trafalgar signal, he is, in effective force upon his followers, the man of today, plus all he has been and done in ten thousand yesterdays.

It is time to draw some lessons from this theme. One is that of the proper art of accumulating. When we turn out our rooms, our libraries, we are continually astonished at the rubbish we have allowed to gather, rubbish that has crowded out so much better things. The life record shows often worse than that of the rooms. The supreme effort here should be to gather and find house-room for the best only. It is thus we can make life interesting to the last moment. Some of the chief occupations of to-day are occupations which store nothing. What inner accumulation comes from spending six nights in the week at bridge ? There are worse pursuits than this, whose storage department is for ailments, diseases, and chagrins. Seneca in his treatise on the " Brevity of Life " bids us review our days and years " Say how often you have allowed them to be stolen by a creditor, a mistress, a patron, a client ; how many people have been allowed to pillage your life while you were not even aware you were being robbed ! " Diderot wrote on the margin of his copy : " I have never read this chapter without blushing ; it is my history." It is the history of a good many more.

I A scientific ordering of life, we repeat, will be largely a science of accumulations. We shall settle with ourselves what things are to be sought and retained, and what treated as negligible. The strange thing is to see the eagerness for lumber. Cicero asks if anything can be more absurd than, in proportion as less of our journey remains, to seek a greater supply of provisions. And pagan Porphyry, a far better Christian, surely, than many in the Church, gives us the true sense of the matter in that letter to his wife where he bids her lay up the things that can be carried into the world beyond, instead of being solicitous about what will have to be left behind. How striking is the Persian motto, " The bricks are made on earth with which to build our heavenly palace " ; and that saying in the Laws of Manu, " For after death neither father, nor mother, nor son, nor wife, nor relatives are his companions : his virtue alone remains with him." These souls of the early world, seekers after God, whose earnestness shames our indifference, knew well the lesson of our theme. They saw life as continuous, death as a liberation, and the realm beyond as a sphere where the spiritual accumulations of the present would be built into the structure of eternity.

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