The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
How We Take Life: Part II

by Mrs. C. W. Carrell.
Volume 13, 1902, pg.704-711

At this point it may be well to pause awhile and hearken to the voice of the "conscientious objector," to hear him complain: "if pain is inevitable and must be endured in any case, why train for it?" It would involve a philosophical treatise, besides all that has ever been written, to deal with even the subject of this objection. The existence of pain has been a theme for metaphysicians, philosophers and theologians at any period since the beginning of civilization. Time would fail to prove whether, as the poet sings:

    "(God) gives His children pain for friend
    And death for surest hope of life"--
    [from Clifton Chapel, by Henry John Newbolt]

or whether, before man can ultimately "be perfect even as the Father is perfect," the knowledge of pain is necessary as part of this omniscient Perfection. What we are sure of, however, is that pain plays an all-important part in the discipline of the soul; taking this for granted, then, we may at least try and answer the question, "why train for its endurance?"

Upon the way a man behaves in adversity--i.e., under painful experiences--more than at any other period in his career, depend the esteem of his fellow-man (and all that embodies) and his own self-respect (with its prolific consequences). "What you are the race shall be," can be applied to other than the school community; it follows that a nation composed of individuals trained to bear pain and trouble with silent, uncomplaining dignity, without panic, or the desire for vengeance on some scapegoat, is certainly one of those whose fitness entitles it to survival; while others less disciplined are in danger of being self-destroyed by the violence of their own passion. Such a result as the destiny of the race is surely worth striving for individually, even if we leave out of account the advantage endurance brings in the strengthening of the personal character.

It is a matter of pardonable pride with Englishmen that this particular virtue of endurance is a national characteristic. Never has it been better evidenced than during the recent war in South Africa [217-day siege of Mafeking, Second Boer War]. "Sitting tight" saved gallant little Mafeking, and the same quality kept those at home resolute and united during the first dark months of the campaign.

I cannot quit the subject of endurance of pain without referring the reader to the excellent article of the late George Steevens [1736-1800, Shakespearean commentator] on "The New Humanitarianism," published in Things Seen. The "deification of painlessness," he complains, "throttles patriotism and common sense, and virility of individual character . . . the worship of this squat idol means the destruction of all manlier ideals of character than its own." (To be appreciated as it deserves the article should be read in its entirety). Certainly this shrinking from endurance and infliction of pain even though necessary is, in its remotest issues, responsible for half the insincerities of the conversation of today. Much as the establishment of a "Brutal Truth Society," spoken of by a popular reciter, is to be deprecated, it would save endless time and pain, in the long run, if without detracting from refinement and polite tact, people would--offend or please--say more what they mean. When men wish to elicit the plain, unvarnished truth they usually preface their question with, "Now, as man to man"; the logical inference from this remark is too obvious to need comment.

The next social quality to claim our attention is that of philanthropy; to enlarge upon the duty of this virtue would be a "work of supererogation" to those who know the tenets of Christianity. In considering, however, our way of taking life it might help to quiet misgivings and settle doubts if we study, as far as in our power, the limits of what is popularly known as charity. To begin at the very beginning: as soon as we are capable of understanding the elementary facts of existence, we find ourselves, nolentes volentes, occupying a certain social position. Whether placed there by divine ordination or whether by following certain fixed laws, the spirit in process of its evolution simply follows the line of the least resistance and arrives, are purely matters of speculation; the significant fact for us is that the inequality in man's social standing is unalterable. Some would perhaps question this and tell us our present system is an artificiality of man's creation; yet, were wealth and rank distinctions abolished, there would still remain natural inequalities, such as strength and weakness, genius and idiocy, beauty and deformity. In Oriental beliefs, such as Buddhism and Brahminism, this difference in our circumstances is accounted for by the laws of Karma, which supposed man to be reaping in this life what he has sown in a previous existence. Some similar belief was evidently held by the Jews when they asked, "Who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" Whatever may be its cause, irregularity of some sort will always remain, in spite of any human effort to alter this dispensation. For years past it has been the fashion amongst certain sections of society to rail against this law, to preach in its place social equality, and talk extravagantly of our duty to others and the accident (!) of birth. This has been the means of causing some of the hyper-sensitive among us to feel themselves to be not entitled to their possessions and very monsters of greed and egotism for still retaining them; thus disturbing sense of culpability is produced in their minds in place of a perfectly legitimate confidence of having had their position fixed for them, and therefore of it being not only their right but their duty to fill it both worthily and consistently. Such false sentiment may be rare amongst those who have arrived at years of discretion, but the young are frequently seized with fits of extravagant generosity which lead them to perform quixotic actions--afterwards regretted on account of their manifest injustice to themselves.

A charming little lady was once heard to remark tragically that walking upon her drawing-room carpet was to her as if every rose in the pattern was the upturned pleading face of an orphan child, trampled upon by her relentless feet! Asked for an explanation of this startling announcement, she said it was because her husband had given so much for that carpet and she would have willingly given it all to a deserving but impecunious orphanage in which she was interested, and have put up with bare boards in her drawing-room. She admitted her husband had subscribed already to the institution, the carpet was a necessity, and an accessory quite consistent with their social standing, but had forgotten her first duty in her zeal stirred up by emotion.

In deciding as to what proportion of the income should be spent in philanthropy, no one person can legislate for another. The pious Zacchaeus gave the half of his goods to the poor; this seems a very liberal allowance, but there may have been qualifying circumstances in his case. It is possible he had only himself to provide for, and his income a princely one; in any case, the proposition of one's worldly possessions to be spent in almsgiving is purely a matter of individual conscience. In an excellent lecture, given lately at a Branch P.N.E.U. meeting on "The Right Spending of Money," it was suggested that a quarter of a child's pocket money would be a reasonable proportion to ask it to devote to the service of others; but, of course, no hard-and-fast rule was laid down.

All that has been said of the dispensing of money could be applied equally to time; although some have one and some the other to spare, both are of value. That there are more ways of showing charity than by making donations to charitable institutions, is a commonplace. A widow of my acquaintance of very straitened means has quite a garden of what her sons call "hardy annuals" in the way of charities, costing time only; they are so arranged as to allow of one following the other throughout the year thus providing her with at least one "in bloom every month" (as she expresses it). For example; in January comes the collection of pounds of provisions to be given to the local hospital; in February writing canvassing letters for a candidate trying to get into an institution; March, needlework for waifs and strays, &c., in regular succession throughout the year; of course due proportion of her time is allowed to her family, her own recreation, &c. Most of her good works are local and are selected from what she considers the most deserving appeals cropping up promiscuously (or providentially?), "for," said she to me, "I like to help tidy up my own corner of our country first and Providence has never yet failed to send me someone to fill the gap when one of my flock is taken off my hands." It need not be a matter of surprise, then, that this widow is always cheerful, having her life so filled with the lives of others that it becomes of absorbing interest to herself outside her own personal experience. It is a question whether her way of taking the cases as they come and thus letting "God provide the lamb" is not worth consideration. The same scriptural phrase, too, might serve for the text of a sermonette--were it allowed--on the way to take unlooked-for interruptions in our life's work, or enforced deviations in the course of the career planned so carefully for ourselves. Even if we are steering with the best intentions for good, and as well as our finite intellect and senses dictate, yet it would be well to bear in mind our best human guides are extremely limited in their perceptions. History teems with illustrations of thwarted endeavour and unexpected interruptions in the progress of this our country, shewing how, out of apparently absolutely evil happenings, good has ultimately come. How could King Alfred, for instance, have dreamed that the depredations of the Danes, bringing continually destruction of life and property, and, in his eyes, hindering the advancement he was so anxious to promoted, would, by suggesting the necessity of the navy for protection, be eventually the means of inaugurating one of the sources of England's greatness?

The same may be said, too, of the Roman and Norman conquests, which at the time of their occurrence must have caused the ill-starred inhabitants of this country to believe its hour has come. As with the race, so it is with the life of the individual--that the All-wise often orders our path in exactly the opposite direction that we ourselves have chosen as the best was never more emphatically set forth in fiction than in Kipling's poem of "Mulholland's Contract." After the conversion of this sea-faring swash-buckler, he says of himself:--

    "An' I wanted to preach religion, handsome and out of the wet,
    But the word of the Lord was laid on me, an' I done what I was set,"

which was to

    "'Go you back to the cattle-boats and preach my Gospel there.'"

To those, then, who hold that, in a world governed by perfect laws, nothing happens by accident, it may be well to regard interruptions and deviations as matters to be investigated rather than to be railed at as hindrance to real progress.

Thus far life has been dealt with in respect only to its obstacles; nothing has been mentioned of the experience of its joys, its blessings. "Surely no one needs suggestions as to how to take these," one may say; yet there are those whose very happiness is clouded over by a mean, niggardly way of taking it. Accustomed, perhaps, to much storm and stress upon the road, at any change, be it even from gloom to sunshine, they hug tighter their storm-cloak of cautiousness and doubting, rendering it an impossibility for the sun's rays to penetrate sufficiently to warm and invigorate them for future encounters with unfriendly elements. How usual it is for one so constituted, even at such festivities as Christmas brings, to regard the goodwill of men and the joy of children with unrelaxed countenance, occasionally ejaculating with a sigh some such remark as, "I wonder how many of us will be here next Christmas," or "Who would have thought this time last year So-and-so would not have been here?" Not content with their own melancholy, they would damp the spirits of others also by their allusions to grief.

Are we not some of us too prone also to grudge ourselves a perfectly justifiable pride and joy in well-earned success, because we have a mean, unworthy little fear of undue self-esteem? If the Creator paused in His work to pronounce it very good, surely it is not unseemly for the man created "in His own image" to do the same. It ought to be a perfectly natural and harmless thing for a person to have joy in his lawful possessions and attainments, provided that joy is not mixed with a feeling of triumph over the less fortunate. A Public School boy was once showing his sister, with a flush of pardonable pride, his name at the top of his Form List. "Oh," said the girl, "you are actually higher than Smith and Jones-primus!" "Am I?" snapped the boy, his face darkening in rebuke; "Well, if I am, don't gloat, they are heaps better chaps than me, really, only they didn't mug this half and I did!" What a thrice-blessed thing is schoolboy "good form" which inculcates such a spirit as this, even if the motive be a prudential one! How often do some of us "grown-ups" have to pull ourselves up in the act of gloating over instead of making excuses for the vanquished! There is no greater truism, I think, than that those who enjoy most endure best, provided their enjoyment is unalloyed with evil or uncharitableness.

By this time the long-suffering reader must be thinking something of this kind: "this little crowd of maxims is all very well, but the fact is entirely overlooked that the way a person takes life is absolutely dependent upon two essentials--health and temperament." To a certain extent this is true, and, in conclusion, it is proposed to take these two important factors into account.

Perhaps no impediment to life's progress is harder to bear or more encumbering to the traveller than bad health or physical infirmity of any kind, and yet, alas! there are those who are so hampered from their cradles to their graves. This takes us back to what has been affirmed previously of the existence of pain; nothing more can be predicated of its cause or origin than has been said already by the wise of all ages; it is, undoubtedly, one of those hidden things which will be clear to every human understanding some day, when we see not as in a glass darkly. Some, perhaps, are satisfied with the Orientalist's view of reaping only the evil we have previously sown; the thing that matters, however, is our endurance of it, and of that we have elsewhere spoken. It is a noteworthy fact, incidentally, that confirmed invalids are not always the least cheery of mankind; generally, I think, rather the reverse prevails; whether it is they have compensations we wot not of, or that the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb, it is hard to say; certainly they seem, on the whole, to be as cheerful and to accomplish as much for the world's progress as the rest of us.

There is, I think, another matter we parents in our over-anxiety are in danger of doing, that is manufacturing invalids by suggestion. So often when medical science has pronounced a child weak in certain organs, that sentence is discussed and commented on before the subject of it, the child being looked upon from that time forth as the acknowledged invalid. This very acknowledgement goes far towards bringing about the dreaded consummation. There is such a thing as building up as well as pulling down a constitution; disease is, after all, abnormal: happily for us a strong natural bias in favour of getting well. Do we not all reckon among our acquaintances stalwart young athletes of both sexes, who in their extreme youth caused their parents to spend days of anxiety and nights in the midst of alarms over hearts and lungs and spines which are now perfectly sound?

Temperament is much more a matter to be taken in our own hands than health. As this subject has been so admirably treated of in Miss Mason's Parents and Children, I feel I can only refer the reader to those wise pages, merely concluding with one of its many gems of thought:--

"The child brings with him into the world not character, but disposition. He has tendencies which may need only to be strengthened, or again, to be diverted, or even repressed. His character--the efflorescence of the man wherein the fruit of his life is a-preparing--is original disposition, modified, directed, expanded by circumstance, later by self-control and self-culture, above all by the supreme agency of the Holy Ghost, even where that agency is little suspected and as little solicited."

Typed by happi, Oct. 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr. 2021