Intercourse is after all mans best teacher. Know thyself is an excellent maxim; but even self-knowledge cannot be perfected in closets and cloistersnor amid lake scenery, and on the sunny side of the mountains. Men who seldom mix with their fellow-creatures are almost sure to be one-sidedthe victims of fixed ideas, that sometimes lead to insanity.
Solitary reading will enable a man to stuff himself with information; but, without conversation, his mind will become like a pond without an outleta mass of unhealthy stagnature. It is not enough to harvest knowledge by study; the wind of talk must winnow it, and blow away the chaff; then will the clear, bright grains of wisdom be garnered, for our own use or that of others.
The countenance may be rightly defined as the title page which heralds the contents of the human volume, but like other title pages, it sometimes puzzles, often misleads, and often says nothing to the purpose.
Then let us laugh. It is the cheapest luxury man enjoys, and, as Charles Lamb says, is worth a hundred groans in any state of the market. It stirs up the blood, expands the chest, electrifies the nerves, clears away the cobwebs from the brain, and gives the whole system a shock to which the voltaic-pile is as nothing. Nay, its delicious alchemy converts even tears into the quintessence of merriment, and makes wrinkles themselves expressive of youth and frolic.
There is a wide difference between general acquaintance and companionship. You may salute a man and exchange compliments with him daily, yet know nothing of his character, his inmost tastes and feelings.
To be contented,what, indeed, is it? Is it not to be satisfied,to hope for nothing, to aspire to nothing, to strive for nothing,in short to rest in inglorious ease, doing nothing for your country, for your own or others material, intellectual, or moral improvement, satisfied with the condition in which you or they are placed? Such a state of feeling may do very well where nature has fixed an inseparable and ascertained barrier,a thus far shalt thou go and no farther,to our wishes, or where we are troubled by ills past remedy. In such cases it is the highest philosophy not to fret or grumble, when, by all our worrying and self-teasing, we cannot help ourselves a jot or tittle, but only aggravate and intensify an affliction that is incurable. To soothe the mind down into patience is then the only resource left us, and happy is he who has schooled himself thus to meet all reverses and disappointments. But in the ordinary circumstances of life this boasted virtue of contentment, so far from being laudable, would be an evil of the first magnitude. It would be, in fact, nothing less than a trigging of the wheels of all enterprise,a cry of Stand still! to the progress of the whole social world.
What are the precise characteristics of an epigram it is not easy to define. It differs from a joke, in the fact that the wit of the latter dies in the words, and cannot therefore be conveyed in another language; while an epigram is a wit of ideas, and hence is translatable. Like aphorisms, songs and sonnets, it is occupied with some single point, small and manageable; but whilst a song conveys a sentiment, a sonnet, a poetical, and an aphorism a moral reflection, an epigram expresses a contrast.
What keeps persons down in the world, besides lack of capacity, is not a philosophical contempt of riches or honors, but thoughtlessness and improvidence, a love of sluggish torpor, and of present gratification. It is not from preferring virtue to wealththe goods of the mind to those of fortunethat they take no thought for the morrow; but from want of forethought and stern self-command. The restless, ambitious man too often directs these qualities to an unworthy object; the contented man is generally deficient in the qualities themselves. The one is a stream that flows too often in a wrong channel, and needs to have its course altered, the other is a stagnant pool.