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THERE is in most men's minds a graduated scale of sins. There is as much difference between the moral planes on which men live and act and feel as between the sea-level and the mountain-tops; and the man on the heights flushes with quick shame at the bare thought of a thing which the man below does daily and does not mind. Temperament and taste also affect our estimates of the relative enormity of offences more than we dream. We are seldom aware to what an extent we 66 compound for sins we are inclined to." But there is one sin which it seems to me is everywhere and by everybody under-estimated, tolerated with undue tolerance, and quite too much overlooked in our valuations of character. It is the sin of fretting. It is as common as air, as universal as speech; so common that unless it rises above its usual monotone we do not even observe it. Watch any ordinary coming together of people, and see how many minutes it will be before somebody frets-that is, makes a more or less complaining statement of something or other, which, most probably, every one in the room, or the stage, or the car, or the street corner, as it may be, knew before; and which, most probably, nobody can help. Why say anything about it? It is cold, it is hot, it is wet, it is dry; somebody has broken an appointment, ill-cooked a meal; stupidity or bad faith somewhere has resulted in discomfort. There are always plenty of things to fret about. All men go astray, speaking lies and making blunders, as soon as they are born. It is simply astonishing how much annoyance and discomfort may be found in the course of every day's living, even at the simplest, if one only keeps a sharp eye out on that side of things. Fretting is time wasted. This is one of the worst things about it, but not the worst. The worst is that it is a sin—once, twice, three times a sin; a sin because it is a folly, a sin because it is unkindness and cruelty to our fellows; because it is ingratitude to God.
The folly of it would be ludicrous if it were not tragic. The spectacle, for instance, of one puny individual's thinking it worth while to mention resentfully that any single day of rain or snow, which is the appointed and needful thing in nature's economy for a continent, for a century, has thwarted his plan or deranged his digestion. What then? Suppose it even killed him? One might still say, and not impertinently, What then? Thousands just like him die in a night, and are born in a day, and the earth does not miss the thousands that die, nor take account of the
thousands that are born. We were made for the earth, I take it, and not the earth for us. Bigger if not better creatures have come and gone ahead of us; and bigger and better may be yet to come, who will study our inexplicable skeletons with as scientific and quenchless an interest as we study fossils to-day. We are not of the least consequence. It is a folly to fret.
The unkindness and cruelty of it to our fellows are more seriously to be considered. One fretter can destroy the peace of a family, can disturb the harmony of a neighbourhood, can unsettle the councils of cities and hinder the legislation of nations. He who frets is never the one who mends, who heals, who repairs evils; more, he discourages, enfeebles, and too often disables those around him, who, but for the gloom and the depression of his company, would do good work and keep up brave cheer. The effect upon a sensitive person of the mere neighbourhood of a fretter is indescribable. It is to the soul what a cold, icy mist is to the body-more chilling than the bitterest frost, more dangerous than the fiercest storm. And when the fretter is one who is beloved, whose nearness of relation to us makes his fretting even at the weather seem almost like a personal reproach to us, then the misery of it becomes indeed insupportable. Most men call fretting a minor fault, a foible, and not a vice. There is no vice except drunkenness which can so utterly destroy the peace, the happiness of a home.
The ungratefulness of fretting is the basest thing about it. Pensioners, beggars that we are, shall we receive good at the hands of the Lord, and not evil! It is true, as I said before, that it is astonishing how much annoyance and discomfort there is to be found in life if one keeps a sharp eye out on that side of things; but every truth has its converse truth. It is equally true that it is even more astonishing how much there is of enjoyment, of delight, of blessedness in life, if one only keeps a sharp eye out on that side of things. What are called the inequalities of life are not half so unequal as they seem. Common to all men, free to all men, are the essentials of joy. The best things of life the rich cannot buy with his money; the poor need not go without on account of his poverty. If men's hearts were as plain in sight as their faces, if one could get at as accurate statistics of souls' lives as of the lives of bodies, the balances would be found to be marvellously even. Even the balances of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, sickness and health, swing evener than we think. I doubt if ever a day comes to a living human soul in which, if he sought, he could not find a reason for thanking God. If all else fails, there remains still the one great reason for thankfulness, the one great boon of
THE RAILWAY UP VESUVIUS.
simply being alive and of being sure that he cannot cease to be alive; that ages upon ages, world upon world, a glorious eternity of existence stretches out before him. A little more knowledge of perspective and proportion would make serene philosophers of us all. Considered in relation to our eternity of living, a grief, a pain in this human stage, even if it last for seventy years, is not so much as the briefest pin-prick in the morning considered in relation to the day. And grief or pain in this human stage, even if it last for seventy years, is small price to pay for the birthright of immortality. If some supreme power were to say to us to-day: Suffer on the earth for one century, and buy ten centuries of earth's delight, how quickly, how greedily would we buy the ten centuries! And yet ten centuries are but dust in the balances of that future of which we are sure, an unappreciable moment in the eternity we have to live. Looking from such a standpoint as this on the things of to-day, can one fret? Looking from any lower standpoint, does one see truly?
The territory of Colorado is full of wonderful red sandstone rocks. They are lined and grooved and stippled over with fine dots; they are worn and hollowed and curved into innumerable grotesque shapes; from the tiny stone which you can hold in your hand up to the sharp colossal wall, hundreds of feet high, which no man can climb, there is not an inch which does not look as if for millions of years it had been worked by tools. Yet no hand, no tool has been there. Grains of sand have done it all-grains of sand blowing and eddying in wind currents. Slowly, steadily, irreparably, the solid rock has been fretted away, distorted, by things almost too small to see. I see faces sometimes which remind me of these rocks, and lives also-the beauty distorted, the symmetry and harmony simply fretted away!
THE RAILWAY UP VESUVIUS.
"Now then for the crater! Who's going up Vesuvius ?"
A few centuries before the Christian era, a Greek philosopher named Empedocles, who was tired of life, flung himself into the crater of Mount Etna; hoping, it is said, that people would assume that he was a god. Lucian afterwards told how the crater tossed up his sandals in order to defeat his presumption. Now, one of these stories is as good as the other; that is to say, both stories are false.
But one thing is clear-that tales of this kind will in a short time become absurd. There will shortly be policemen in attendance
at the craters of burning mountains; and philosophers and others, if any may attempt to fling themselves down, will be taken up for a breach of civilized law.
There is to be a traction line up Vesuvius at all events. At Buda, and near Vienna, rope-traction engines have been for years in use, for carrying passengers up very steep inclines, and models have latterly been under examination at Rome with a view to the ascent of Mount Vesuvius. At Vienna and at Buda very severe test experiments were made, and it was found that, even in the case of the traction cord being cut, the carriages would be effectually stopped by means of the powerful brakes, catches, or cogs, in use on such lines. A powerful brake will certainly be required in making the ascent of Vesuvius !
Up to the very foot of the mountain it is proposed to construct an ordinary locomotive line. The rope-traction line will then commence and continue the communication up to the summit. The topmost station will be vaulted over with a roof of lava, and it will be so constructed that any lava thrown out by the crater will be turned off at the sides. The rapidity of the incline will prevent the lava from getting hardened and heaped up in one place; and any damage that may accrue will only be small-a little injury to the permanent way can be repaired at small cost.
The observatory on Vesuvius will be in telegraphic communication with the topmost station, and from that point information can be forwarded of anything that may happen, calling for repairs either of the line or the rolling stock. The experience of many years shows that great eruptions are rare; and, besides, several Assurance Companies have already offered to idemnify this railway company at a moderate rate of premium.
Ir is probable that no man has ever achieved anything really great who has not constantly felt that his own resources were his best dependence, that he alone was the arbiter of his own destiny, and must make his own fortune. It is said that God has a plan for every man. However that may be, it is certain that in making men free to do or forbear, and capable of unconstrained volition and action, he puts their destiny into their own hands, and binds himself not to interfere with the free exertion of their powers, but to leave them to work out their own salvation temporally as well as spiritually.
The fact is, will is destiny in a much larger sense than the majority apprehend. Making adequate allowance for the differences of natural endowment, it nevertheless remains that the man with the most meagre endowments may work out for himself a worthy if not an illustrious career in life. Circumstances can only be helpful when a man is self-hopeful. If he relies upon extraneous help, the most encouraging surroundings will prove an incubus to him. But if he will rely upon himself, he can make the most unpropitious circumstances bend to his purpose.
Many people never acquire a spirit of self-dependence and selfhelpfulness, but seem to always require bolstering in order to walk or stand at all. This may be partly owing to the fact that they are naturally weak; but it is more frequently because they are essentially lazy. They go through life relying on others, without ever testing their own resources. At best they appear to be capable of only spasmodic self-exertion; but for the most part they spend their time Micawber-like-" waiting for something to turn up."
It may be be natural for men to want help. Perhaps none are beyond the need of it. But every man should do his best to be independent; or, at least, to convince his fellows that he has a just claim upon their confidence by proving himself efficient and capable. The chronic habit which some men have of always looking for position, and seeking situations for which they are not qualified, is as paralyzing to themselves as it is reprehensible. Yet many succeed, and in succeeding lose the very stimulus they need to make the most of themselves. Having gained the coveted position through the influence of friends, they make a sinecure of it, and only hold it through the forbearance and support of others. How many positions in church and state are mere sinecures, the incumbents of which never render a quid pro quo for what they get? And yet men are greedy for such positions, and constantly struggling to obtain them. A true man ought to fling away such paltry ambitions, and despise the desire or thought of having that for which he does not render an adequate equivalent in service and skill. He should prefer to live on a crust in a hovel rather than have that which he cannot earn.
LITTLE THINGS.-Life is made up of little things. He who travels over a continent must go step by step. He who writes a book must do it sentence by sentence; he who learns a science must master it fact by fact, and principle after principle. What is the happiness of our life made up of? Little courtesies, little kindnesses, pleasant words, genial smiles, a friendly letter, good wishes and good deeds. One in a million, once in a life-time, may do a heroic action; but the little things that make up our life come every day and every hour.