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"I was merely admitting a little air between the sticks," said my wife.
You always make matters worse, when you touch the fire.' 4. As if in contradiction, a bright tongue of flame darted up between the sticks, and the fire began chattering and snapping at me. Now, if there's anything which would provoke a saint, it is to be jeered and snapped at, in that way, by a man's own fire. It's an unbearable impertinence. I threw out my leg impatiently, and hit Rover, who yelped a yelp that finished the upset of my nerves. I gave him a hearty kick, that he might have something to yelp for, and, in the movement, upset Jennie's embroidery-basket.
“Confound your baskets and balls ! — they are everywhere, so that a man can't move; useless, wasteful things, too."
“Wasteful ?" said Jennie, coloring indignantly; for if there's anything Jennie piques herself upon, it's her economy.
“Yes, wasteful, - wasting time and money both. Here are hundreds of shivering poor to be clothed, and Christian females sit and do nothing but crochet worsted into useless knick-knacks. If they would be working for the poor, there would be some sense in it. But it's all just alike; no real Christianity in the world, - nothing but organized selfishness and self-indulgence."
5. “Why, dear," said Mrs. Crowfield, "you are not well tonight. Things are not quite so desperate as they appear. You hav' n't got over Christmas-week.”
"I am well. Never was better. But I can see, I hope what's before my eyes; and the fact is, Mrs. Crowfield things must not go on as they are going. There musi be more care, more attention to details.
There's Maggie. – that girl never does what she is told. You are too slack with her, ma'am. She will light the fire with the last paper,
and she won't put my slippers in the right place; and I can't have my study made the general catch-all and menagerie for Rover and Jennie, and her basket and balls, and for all the family litter.” Just at this moment, I overheard a sort of a sigh from Jennie, who was swelling with repressed indignation at my attack on her worsted. She sat, with her back to me, knitting energetically, and said, in a low, but very decisive tone, as she twitched her yarn :
“Now, if I should talk in that way, people would call me cross,
-and that's the whole of it." 6. I pretended to be looking into the fire in an absent-minded state; but Jennie's words had started a new idea. Was that it? Was that the whole matter? Was it, then, a fact, that the house, the servants, Jennie and her worsted, Rover and Mrs. Crowfield, were all going on pretty much as usual, and that the only difficulty was, that I was
- cross? times had I encouraged Rover to lie just where he was lying when I kicked him! How many times, in better moods, had I complimented Jennie on her neat little fancy-works, and declared that I liked the social companionship of ladies' work-baskets among my papers! Yes, it was clear. After all, things were much as they had been, only I was cross.
7. Cross! I put it to myself, in that simple, old-fashioned word, instead of saying that I was out of spirits, or nervous, or using any of the other smooth phrases with which we, good Christians, cover up our little sins of temper. “Here you are, Christopher," said I to myself, " a literary man, with a somewhat delicate, nervous organization, and a sensitive stomach, and you have been eating like a sailor or a plowman; you have been merry-making and playing the boy, for two weeks; up at all sorts of irregular hours, and into all sorts of boyish performances; and the consequence is, that, like a thoughtless young scape-grace, you
ten days, the capital of nervous energy that was meant to last you
ten weeks. 8. “You can't cat your cake and have it too, Christopher. When the nervous fluid,—source of cheerfulness, giver of pleasant sensations and pleasant views,-is all spent, you can't feel cheerful; things cannot look as they did when you were full of life and vigor. When the tide is out, there is nothing but unsightly, ill-smelling tide-mud, and you can't help it; but you can keep your senses,—you can know what is the matter with you, — you can keep from visiting your overdose of Christmas mince-pies, and candies, and jocularities on the heads of Mrs. Crowfield, Rover, and Jennie, whether in the form of virulent morality, pungent criticism, or a free kick, such as you just gave the poor brute."
9. “Come here, Rover, poor dog!” said I, extending my hand to Rover, who cowered at the farther corner of the room, eyeing me wistfully,—"come here, you poor doggie, and
with your master. There, there! Was his master cross? Well, he knows it. We must forgive and forget, old boy, musn't we?” And Rover nearly broke his own back and tore me to pieces, with his tremulous tail-waggings.
“ As to you, puss,” I said to Jennie, “I am much obliged to you for your free suggestion. You must take my cynical moralities for what they are worth, and put your little traps into as many of my drawers as you please."
10. In short, I made it up handsomely all around, -even apologizing to Mrs. Crowfield, who, by the by, has summered me and wintered me so many years, and knows all airs and cuts and crinkles, so well, that she took my irritable, unreasonable spirit as tranquilly as if I had been a baby cutting a new tooth.
Chris., I knew what the matter was; don't disturb yourself,” she said, as I began my apology; "we
understand each other. But there is one thing I have to say, and that is, that your article ought to be ready.”
Ah, well, then,” said I, “like other great writers, I shall make capital of my own sins, and treat of the second little family fox; and his name is — Irritability.
X.—THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
1. Irritability is, more than most unlovely states, a sin of the flesh. It is not, like envy, malice, spite, revenge, a vice which we may suppose to belong equally to an embodied or a disembodied spirit. In fact, it comes nearer to being physical depravity than anything else I know of. There are some bodily states, some conditions of the nerves, such that we could not conceive of even an angelic spirit, confined in a body thus disordered, as being able to do any more than simply endure. It is a state of nervous torture; and the attacks which the wretched victim makes on others, are as much the result of a disease, as the snapping and biting of a patient convulsed with hydrophobia.
2. Then, again, there are other people who go through life, loving and beloved, desired in every circle, held up in the church as examples of the power of religion, who, after all, deserve no credit for these things. Their spirits are lodged in an animal nature so tranquil, so cheerful,--all the sensations which come to them are so fresh and vigorous and pleasant,that they cannot help viewing the world charitably, and seeing everything through a glorious medium. The illtemper of others does not provoke them; perplexing business never sets their nerves to vibrating; and all their lives long they walk in the serene sunshine of perfect animal health.
3. Look at Rover, there. He is never nervous, never cross, never snaps or snarls, and is ready, the moment after the grossest affront, to wag the tail of forgiveness, -all because kind nature has put his dog's body together so that it always works harmoniously. If every person in the world were gifted with a stomach and nerves like his, it would be a far better and happier world, no doubt. The man said a good thing who made the remark that the foundation of all intellectual and moral worth must be laid in a good, healthy animal.
4. Now I think it is undeniable that the peace and happiness of the home circle are very generally much invaded by the recurrence, in its members, of those states of bodily irritability. Every person, if he thinks the matter over, will see that his condition in life, the character of his friends, his hopes and expectations, are all very much modified by these things. Cannot we all remember going to bed as very ill-used, persecuted individuals, all whose friends were unreasonable, whose life was full of trials and crosses, and waking up, on a bright, bird-singing morning, to find all these illusions gone with the fogs of the night? Our friends are all nice people, after all; the little things that annoyed us look ridiculous by bright sunshine; and we are fortunate individuals.
5. The philosophy of life, then, as far as this matter is concerned, must consist of two things: first, to keep ourselves out of irritable bodily states; and, second, to understand and control these states, when we cannot ward them off.
Of course, the first of these is the most important; and yet, of all things, it seems to be least looked into and understood. We find abundant rules for the government of the tongue and temper; it is a slough into which, John Bunyan has it, cart-loads of wholesome instruction have been thrown;