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LIFE, it is to be feared, bores most men. The proper attitude to assume toward it in society is one of a tolerant and genial pessimism. To be much amused or interested in anything is "bad form," from Numicius downward you ought, at most, to admit grudgingly, that as things go in this worst of all possible worlds, such-andsuch an amusement is a fairly tolerable one. Killing the tyrant time is the sole occupation worthy of a gentleman! But there is one man, and one only (typical, not individual), in our self-annoying universe of clashing atoms, who really passes an enjoyable existence. Except at rare intervals, when he has a bad toothache, for example, or when the doctor's bill is six months in arrear, or when the wife of his bosom feels an abstract difference of opinion with him on
a financial question, he is on the whole supremely happy. The joy of living is to him not a mere phrase, but a veritable experience. He likes life, and clings to it tenaciously. He finds it rich in potentialities of happiness; and those potentialities become mostly actual to him. But as he is personally a very unpopular character, and as the general public pictures him to itself in gloomy colors as a dreadful pedant immersed in the driest technicalities of science, I will not venture so much as to mention his name for fear of disillusion, until I have told you a little beforehand of his simple mode of living and enjoying himself. After that, perhaps, I may dare to let out to you who he is, and allow you to decide impartially for yourself whether in the past you have not grossly and unkindly misjudged him.
The cycle of our unknown optimist's year begins in autumn. Then, when the dying leaves hang golden on the trees, and the brown lie russet on the ground below; then, when all the world beside is grumbling strenuously at November fogs, and looking forward with a shudder to December chills and Christmas festivities, backed by their unpleasant peptic accompaniments so graphically set forth for us in half-a-dozen well-known pictorial advertisementsthen for him universal nature seems full of joyous promise for the future, and life teems on every hand with fresh signs of active evolution. The boughs of the trees stand out naked and leafless, etched in black against the background of gray sky; but this consistent optimist finds them at closer view covered with the full-formed catkins for next spring's flowering, and pregnant with the embryos of undeveloped leaves. Every catkin has the flowers unopened but perfect within it; he breaks one slender cylinder across with his nail, and sees inside it the scales that cover the four small baby stamens, and the tiny ovary or unswollen fruit. On the horse-chestnuts, the brown buds stand thick with gum; and when he peels off one by one those viscid coats, he finds beneath them, in miniature, the wan green foliage of early spring. The willow-wands and osiers seem to other eyes mere bare orange or purple switches: his eye detects the soft and silky knobs scattered at even intervals over their surface, whence the blossoms will start into
"pussies" or "goslings" in early
spring-tide. Already in November the winter gorse is densely covered with hairy buds, their outer surface brown with velvety down, to protect them alike from evening frosts and from the unwelcome attention of intrusive insects. Even in that dreary month of yellow fogs, before the summer furze has quite finished blooming, this shrubbier winter gorse begins sporadically and spasmodically to flower, and it flowers off and on the winter through, till its smaller neighbor takes up the running again in June, lest kissing should ever perchance, become unfashionable. And on every sunny day in December and January, when a stray bee, regardless of the reading of the thermometer at the Meteoro
logical Office at II A.M. by Greenwich Observatory, ventures out in search of pollen and honey, the gorse is there waiting for him beforehand, and displaying its luscious stores of honey, and our optimist stands at his post hard by to chronicle the visit in his little notebook.
He notices, too, that where the bee has once visited, he effectually leaves his card behind him. For the gorseblossom flies open elastically with the caller's weight, and dusts him over with its golden pollen; after which it remains a mere exploded shell, disdaining to recover itself, and other subsequent bees pass it by contemptuously as a damaged article. For your bee will rifle none but virgin flowers; and where he finds a rival has been beforehand with him, he passes on and searches a fresh blossom out for himself, which no intruder has earlier tampered with.
In a thousand ways, indeed, the joy, of living presses itself upon our observer, even through the dreary autumn and winter. He knows that autumn is not, as most of the world vainly imagines, the time of universal death and decay it is rather the time of active preparation for the busy spring-tide, the period of universal growth and development. In November, we all get the garden done up, and set out the bulbs for the spring display of crocuses and tulips. In November, Nature does the self-same thing on a larger scale in her vast garden; she sets her borders everywhere in order, and drills out the bulbs of her orchids and her celandines. Her annuals, even, she sows early : our optimist looks in the hedgerows throughout the autumn months, and sees the seedlings of cleavers and wild geraniums struggling upward manfully against the frosts of evening. The snow falls upon them and covers them close; the hoarfrost nips them off and kills them down; the rain beats them draggled against the soil; but on the whole, they battle somehow through the hard times, and reappear again in the spring months as fresh and green and sturdy as ever. Nobody, save himself, ever deigns to notice these struggles for life on the part of our poor small vegetable friends: but he, our optimist, sees them and follows them with intensest sympathy, and