Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
On a Siding at a Railway Station
By James Anthony Froude (1818–1894)
From ‘Short Studies on Great Subjects’

SOME years ago I was traveling by railway, no matter whence or whither. I was in a second-class carriage. We had been long on the road, and had still some distance before us, when one evening our journey was brought unexpectedly to an end by the train running into a siding. The guards opened the doors, we were told that we could proceed no further, and were required to alight. The passengers were numerous, and of all ranks and sorts. There were third class, second, first, with saloon carriages for several great persons of high distinction. We had ministers of State, judges on circuit, directors, leading men of business, idle young men of family who were out amusing themselves, an archbishop, several ladies, and a duke and duchess with their suite. These favored travelers had Pullman cars to themselves, and occupied as much room as was allotted to scores of plebeians. I had amused myself for several days in observing the luxurious appurtenances by which they were protected against discomfort,—the piles of cushions and cloaks, the baskets of dainties, the novels and magazines to pass away the time, and the profound attention which they met with from the conductors and station-masters on the line. The rest of us were a miscellaneous crowd,—commercial people, lawyers, artists, men of letters, tourists moving about for pleasure or because they had nothing to do; and in third-class carriages, artisans and laborers in search of work, women looking for husbands or for service, or beggars flying from starvation in one part of the world to find it follow them like their shadows, let them go where they pleased. All these were huddled together, feeding hardly on such poor provisions as they carried with them or could pick up at the stopping-places. No more consideration was shown them than if they had been so many cattle. But they were merry enough: songs and sounds of laughter came from their windows, and notwithstanding all their conveniences, the languid-looking fine people in the large compartments seemed to me to get through their journey with less enjoyment after all than their poor fellow travelers. These last appeared to be of tougher texture, to care less for being jolted and shaken, to be better humored and kinder to one another. They had found life go hard with them wherever they had been, and not being accustomed to have everything which they wished for, they were less selfish and more considerate.  1
  The intimation that our journey was for the present at an end came on most of us as an unpleasant surprise. The grandees got out in a high state of indignation. They called for their servants, but their servants did not hear them, or laughed and passed on. The conductors had forgotten to be obsequious. All classes on the platform were suddenly on a level. A beggar woman hustled the duchess, as she was standing astonished because her maid had left her to carry her own bag. The patricians were pushed about among the crowd with no more concern than if they had been common mortals. They demanded loudly to see the station-master. The minister complained angrily of the delay; an important negotiation would be imperiled by his detention, and he threatened the company with the displeasure of his department. A consequential youth who had just heard of the death of his elder brother was flying home to take his inheritance. A great lady had secured, as she had hoped, a brilliant match for her daughter; her work over, she had been at the baths to recover from the dissipation of the season; difficulty had arisen unlooked for, and unless she was at hand to remove it the worst consequences might be feared. A banker declared that the credit of a leading commercial house might fail, unless he could be at home on the day fixed for his return; he alone could save it. A solicitor had the evidence in his portmanteau which would determine the succession to the lands and title of an ancient family. An elderly gentleman was in despair about his young wife, whom he had left at home; he had made a will by which she was to lose his fortune if she married again after his death, but the will was lying in his desk unsigned. The archbishop was on his way to a synod, where the great question was to be discussed whether gas might be used at the altar instead of candles. The altar candles were blessed before they were used, and the doubt was whether gas could be blessed. The right reverend prelate conceived that if the gas tubes were made in the shape of candles the difficulty could be got over, but he feared that without his moderating influence the majority might come to a rash decision.  2
  All these persons were clamoring over their various anxieties with the most naïve frankness, the truth coming freely out, whatever it might be. One distinguished-looking lady in deep mourning, with a sad, gentle face, alone was resigned and hopeful. It seemed that her husband had been stopped not long before at the same station. She thought it possible that she might meet him again.  3
  The station-master listened to the complaints with composed indifference. He told the loudest that they need not alarm themselves. The State would survive the absence of the minister. The minister, in fact, was not thinking of the State at all, but of the party triumph which he expected; and the peerage which was to be his reward, the station-master said, would now be of no use to him. The youth had a second brother who would succeed instead of him, and the tenants would not be inconvenienced by the change. The fine lady’s daughter would marry to her own liking instead of her mother’s, and would be all the happier for it. The commercial house was already insolvent, and the longer it lasted the more innocent people would be ruined by it. The boy whom the lawyer intended to make into a rich baronet was now working industriously at school, and would grow up a useful man. If a great estate fell in to him he would be idle and dissolute. The old man might congratulate himself that he had escaped so soon from the scrape into which he had fallen. His wife would marry an adventurer, and would suffer worse from inheriting his fortune. The archbishop was commended for his anxiety. His solution of the candle problem was no doubt an excellent one; but his clergy were now provided with a harmless subject to quarrel over, and if it was adopted they might fall out over something else which might be seriously mischievous.  4
  “Do you mean, then, that you are not going to send us forward at all?” the minister inquired sternly.  5
  “You will see,” the station-master answered with a curious short laugh. I observed that he looked more gently at the lady in mourning. She had said nothing, but he knew what was in her mind, and though he held out no hope in words that her wish would be gratified, he smiled sadly, and the irony passed out of his face.  6
  The crowd meanwhile were standing about the platform, whistling tunes or amusing themselves, not ill-naturedly at the distress of their grand companions. Something considerable was happening. But they had so long experienced the ups and downs of things that they were prepared for what fortune might send. They had not expected to find a Paradise where they were going, and one place might be as good as another. They had nothing belonging to them except the clothes they stood in and their bits of skill in their different trades. Wherever men were, there would be need of cobblers, and tailors, and smiths, and carpenters. If not, they might fall on their feet somehow, if there was work to be done of any sort.  7
  Presently a bell rang, a door was flung open, and we were ordered into a waiting-room, where we were told that our luggage was to be examined. It was a large, barely furnished apartment, like the salle d’attente at the Northern Railway Station at Paris. A rail ran across, behind which we were all penned; opposite to us was the usual long table, on which were piled boxes, bags, and portmanteaus, and behind them stood a row of officials, in a plain uniform with gold bands round their caps, and the dry peremptory manner which passengers accustomed to deference so particularly dislike. At their backs was a screen extending across the room, reaching half-way to the ceiling; in the rear of it there was apparently an office.  8
  We each looked to see that our particular belongings were safe, but we were surprised to find that we could recognize none of them. Packages there were in plenty, alleged to be the property of the passengers who had come in by the train. They were arranged in the three classes,—first, second, and third,—but the proportions were inverted: most of it was labeled as the luggage of the travelers in fustian, who had brought nothing with them but what they carried in their hands; a moderate heap stood where the second-class luggage should have been, and some of superior quality; but none of us could make out the shapes of our own trunks. As to the grand ladies and gentlemen, the innumerable articles which I had seen put as theirs into the van were nowhere to be found. A few shawls and cloaks lay upon the planks, and that was all. There was a loud outcry; but the officials were accustomed to it, and took no notice. The station-master, who was still in charge of us, said briefly that the saloon luggage would be sent forward in the next train. The late owners would have no more use for it, and it would be delivered to their friends.  9
  The late owners! Were we no longer actual owners, then? My individual loss was not great, and besides, it might be made up to me; for I saw my name on a strange box on the table, and being of curious disposition, the singularity of the adventure made it interesting to me. The consternation of the rest was indescribable. The minister supposed that he had fallen among communists, who disbelieved in property, and was beginning a speech on the elementary conditions of society; when silence was called, and the third-class passengers were ordered to advance, that their boxes might be opened. Each man had his own carefully docketed. The lids flew off, and within, instead of clothes, and shoes, and dressing apparatus, and money, and jewels, and such-like, were simply samples of the work which he had done in his life. There was an account-book also, in which were entered the number of days which he had worked, the number and size of the fields, etc., which he had drained and inclosed and plowed, the crops which he had reaped, the walls which he had built, the metal which he had dug out and smelted and fashioned into articles of use to mankind, the leather which he had tanned, the clothes which he had woven,—all entered with punctual exactness; and on the opposite page, the wages which he had received, and the share which had been allotted to him of the good things which he had helped to create.  10
  Besides his work, so specifically called, there were his actions,—his affection for his parents or his wife and children, his self-denials, his charities, his purity, his truth, his honesty; or it might be ugly catalogues of sins and oaths and drunkenness and brutality. But inquiry into action was reserved for a second investigation before a higher commissioner. The first examination was confined to the literal work done by each man for the general good,—how much he had contributed, and how much society had done for him in return; and no one, it seemed, could be allowed to go any further without a certificate of having passed this test satisfactorily. With the workmen, the balance in most instances was found enormously in their favor. The state of the case was so clear that the scrutiny was rapidly got over, and they and their luggage were passed in to the higher court. A few were found whose boxes were empty, who had done nothing useful all their lives, and had subsisted by begging and stealing. These were ordered to stand aside till the rest of us had been disposed of.  11
  The saloon passengers were taken next. Most of them, who had nothing at all to show, were called up together and were asked what they had to say for themselves. A well-dressed gentleman, who spoke for the rest, said that the whole investigation was a mystery to him. He and his friends had been born to good fortunes, and had found themselves, on entering upon life, amply provided for. They had never been told that work was required of them, either work with their hands or work with their heads,—in fact, work of any kind. It was right of course for the poor to work, because they could not honestly live otherwise. For themselves, they had spent their time in amusements, generally innocent. They had paid for everything which they had consumed. They had stolen nothing, taken nothing from any man by violence or fraud. They had kept the Commandments, all ten of them, from the time when they were old enough to understand them. The speaker, at least, declared that he had no breach of any Commandment on his own conscience, and he believed that he might say as much of his companions. They were superior people, who had been always looked up to and well spoken of; and to call upon them to show what they had done was against reason and equity.  12
  “Gentlemen,” said the chief official, “we have heard this many times; yet as often as it is repeated we feel fresh astonishment. You have been in a world where work is the condition of life. Not a meal can be had by any man that some one has not worked to produce. Those who work deserve to eat; those who do not work deserve to starve. There are but three ways of living: by working, by stealing, or by begging. Those who have not lived by the first have lived by one of the other two. And no matter how superior you think yourselves, you will not pass here till you have something of your own to produce. You have had your wages beforehand—ample wages, as you acknowledge yourselves. What have you to show?”  13
  “Wages!” the speaker said: “we are not hired servants; we received no wages. What we spent was our own. All the orders we received were that we were not to do wrong. We have done no wrong. I appeal to the higher court.”  14
  But the appeal could not be received. To all who presented themselves with empty boxes, no matter who they were, or how excellent their characters appeared to one another, there was the irrevocable answer—“No admittance, till you come better furnished.” All who were in this condition, the duke and duchess among them, were ordered to stand aside with the thieves. The duchess declared that she had given the finest parties in the season, and as it was universally agreed that they had been the most tedious, and that no one had found any pleasure there, a momentary doubt rose whether they might not have answered some useful purpose in disgusting people with such modes of entertainment; but no evidence of this was forthcoming: the world had attended them because the world had nothing else to do, and she and her guests had been alike unprofitable. Thus the large majority of the saloon passengers was disposed of. The minister, the archbishop, the lawyer, the banker, and others who although they had no material work credited to them had yet been active and laborious in their different callings, were passed to the superior judges.  15
  Our turn came next,—ours of the second class,—and a motley gathering we were. Busy we must all have been, from the multitude of articles which we found assigned to us: manufacturers with their wares, solicitors with their law-suits, doctors and clergymen with the bodies and souls which they had saved or lost, authors with their books, painters and sculptors with their pictures and statues. But the hard test was applied to all that we had produced,—the wages which we had received on one side, and the value of our exertions to mankind on the other,—and imposing as our performances looked when laid out to be examined, we had been paid, most of us, out of all proportion to what we were found to have deserved. I was reminded of a large compartment in the Paris Exhibition, where an active gentleman, wishing to show the state of English literature, had collected copies of every book, review, pamphlet, or newspaper which had been published in a single year. The bulk was overwhelming, but the figures were only decimal points, and the worth of the whole was a fraction above zero. A few of us were turned back summarily among the thieves and the fine gentlemen and ladies: speculators who had done nothing but handle money which had clung to their fingers in passing through them, divines who had preached a morality which they did not practice, and fluent orators who had made speeches which they knew to be nonsense; philosophers who had spun out of moonshine systems of the universe, distinguished pleaders who had defeated justice while they established points of law, writers of books upon subjects of which they knew enough to mislead their readers, purveyors of luxuries which had added nothing to human health or strength, physicians and apothecaries who had pretended to knowledge which they knew that they did not possess,—these all, as the contents of their boxes bore witness against them, were thrust back into the rejected herd.  16
  There were some whose account stood better, as having at least produced something of real merit, but they were cast on the point of wages: modest excellence had come badly off; the plausible and unscrupulous had thriven and grown rich. It was tragical, and evidently a surprise to most of us, to see how mendacious we had been: how we had sanded our sugar, watered our milk, scamped our carpentering and mason’s work, literally and metaphorically; how in all things we had been thinking less of producing good work than of the profit which we could make out of it; how we had sold ourselves to tell lies and act them, because the public found lies pleasant and truth expensive and troublesome. Some of us were manifest rogues, who had bought cheap and sold dear, had used false measures and weights, had made cotton pass for wool, and hemp for silk, and tin for silver. The American peddler happened to be in the party, who had put a rind upon a grindstone and had sold it as a cheese. These were promptly sifted out and placed with their fellows; only persons whose services were on the whole greater than the pay which they had received were allowed their certificates. When my own box was opened, I perceived that though the wages had been small, the work done seemed smaller still; and I was surprised to find myself among those who had passed.  17
  The whistle of a train was heard at this moment, coming in upon the main line. It was to go in half an hour, and those who had been turned back were told that they were to proceed by it to the place where they had been originally going. They looked infinitely relieved at the news; but before they started, a few questions had to be put to them, and a few alterations made which were to affect their future. They were asked to explain how they had come to be such worthless creatures. They gave many answers, which came mainly to the same thing. Circumstances had been against them. It was all owing to circumstances. They had been badly brought up. They had been placed in situations where it had been impossible for them to do better. The rich people repeated that they had never been informed that any work was expected of them. Their wants had all been provided for, and it was unfair to expect that they should have exerted themselves of their own accord when they had no motive for working. If they had only been born poor, all would have gone well with them. The cheating tradesman declared that the first duty of a shopkeeper, according to all received principles, was to make money and better his condition. It was the buyer’s business to see to the quality of the articles which he purchased; the shopkeeper was entitled to sell his wares at the highest price which he could get for them. So, at least, it was believed and taught by the recognized authorities on the subject. The orators, preachers, newspaper writers, novel-writers, etc., etc., of whom there were a great many, appealed to the crowds who came to listen to them, or bought and read their productions. Tout le monde, it was said, was wiser than the wisest single sage. They had given the world what the world wished for and approved; they had worked at supplying it with all their might, and it was extremely hard to blame them for guiding themselves by the world’s judgment. The thieves and vagabonds argued that they had been brought into existence without their consent being asked: they had not wished for it; although they had not been without their pleasures, they regarded existence on the whole as a nuisance which they would gladly have been spared. Being alive, however, they had to keep alive; and for all that they could see, they had as full a right to the good things which the world contained as anybody else, provided they could get them. They were called thieves. Law and language were made by the property-owners, who were their natural enemies. If society had given them the means of living honestly they would have found it easy to be honest. Society had done nothing for them—why should they do anything for society?  18
  So, in their various ways, those who had been “plucked” defended themselves. They were all delighted to hear that they were to have another chance; and I was amused to observe that though some of them had pretended that they had not wished to be born, and had rather not have been born, not one of them protested against being sent back. All they asked was that they should be put in a new position, and that the adverse influences should be taken off. I expected that among these adverse influences they would have mentioned the faults of their own dispositions. My own opinion had been that half the misdoings of men came from congenital defects of character which they had brought with them into the world, and that constitutional courage, right-mindedness, and practical ability were as much gifts of nature or circumstance as the accidents of fortune. A change in this respect was of more consequence than in any other. But with themselves they were all apparently satisfied, and they required only an improvement in their surroundings. The alterations were rapidly made. The duchess was sent to begin her life again in a laborer’s cottage. She was to attend the village school and rise thence into a housemaid. The fine gentleman was made a plowboy. The authors and preachers were to become mechanics, and bound apprentices to carpenters and blacksmiths. A philosopher who, having had a good fortune and unbroken health, had insisted that the world was as good as it could be made, was to be born blind and paralytic, and to find his way through life under the new conditions. The thieves and cheats, who pretended that their misdemeanors were due to poverty, were to find themselves, when they arrived in the world again, in palaces surrounded with luxury. The cup of Lethe was sent round. The past became a blank. They were hurried into the train; the engine screamed and flew away with them.  19
  “They will be all here again in a few years,” the station-master said, “and it will be the same story over again. I have had these very people in my hands a dozen times. They have been tried in all positions, and there is still nothing to show, and nothing but complaints of circumstances. For my part, I would put them out altogether.” “How long is it to last?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “it does not depend on me. No one passes here who cannot prove that he has lived to some purpose. Some of the worst I have known made at last into pigs and geese, to be fatted up and eaten, and made of use that way. Others have become asses, condemned to carry burdens, to be beaten with sticks, and to breed asses like themselves for a hundred generations. All animated creatures tend to take the shape at last which suits their character.”  20
  The train was scarcely out of sight when again the bell rang. The scene changed as at a theatre. The screen was rolled back, and we who were left found ourselves in the presence of four grave-looking persons, like the board of examiners whom we remembered at college. We were called up one by one. The work which had passed the first ordeal was again looked into, and the quality of it compared with the talent or faculty of the producer, to see how far he had done his best,—whether anywhere he had done worse than he might have done and knew how to have done; while besides, in a separate collection, were the vices, the sins, the selfishnesses and ill-humors, with—in the other scale—the acts of personal duty, of love and kindness and charity, which had increased the happiness or lightened the sorrows of those connected with him. These last, I observed, had generally been forgotten by the owner, who saw them appear with surprise, and even repudiated them with protest. In the work, of course, both material and moral, there was every gradation both of kind and merit. But while nothing was absolutely worthless, everything, even the highest achievements of the greatest artist or the greatest saint, fell short of absolute perfection. Each of us saw our own performances, from our first ignorant beginnings to what we regarded as our greatest triumph; and it was easy to trace how much of our faults were due to natural deficiencies and the necessary failures of inexperience, and how much to self-will or vanity or idleness. Some taint of mean motives, too,—some desire of reward, desire of praise or honor or wealth, some foolish self-satisfaction, when satisfaction ought not to have been felt,—was to be seen infecting everything, even the very best which was presented for scrutiny.  21
  So plain was this that one of us, an earnest, impressive-looking person, whose own work bore inspection better than that of most of us, exclaimed passionately that so far as he was concerned the examiners might spare their labor. From his earliest years he had known what he ought to do, and in no instance had he ever completely done it. He had struggled; he had conquered his grosser faults: but the farther he had gone, and the better he had been able to do, his knowledge had still grown faster than his power of acting upon it; and every additional day that he had lived, his shortcomings had become more miserably plain to him. Even if he could have reached perfection at last, he could not undo the past, and the faults of his youth would bear witness against him and call for his condemnation. Therefore, he said, he abhorred himself. He had no merit which could entitle him to look for favor. He had labored on to the end, but he had labored with a full knowledge that the best which he could offer would be unworthy of acceptance. He had been told, and he believed, that a high Spirit not subject to infirmity had done his work for him, and done it perfectly, and that if he abandoned all claim on his own account, he might be accepted for the sake of what another had done. This, he trusted, was true, and it was his sole dependence. In the so-called good actions with which he seemed to be credited, there was nothing that was really good; there was not one which was altogether what it ought to have been.  22
  He was evidently sincere, and what he said was undoubtedly true—true of him and true of every one. Even in the vehemence of his self-abandonment a trace lingered of the taint which he was confessing, for he was a polemical divine; he had spent his life and gained a reputation in maintaining this particular doctrine. He believed it, but he had not forgotten that he had been himself its champion.  23
  The examiner looked kindly at him, but answered:—  24
  “We do not expect impossibilities; and we do not blame you when you have not accomplished what is beyond your strength. Only those who are themselves perfect can do anything perfectly. Human beings are born ignorant and helpless. They bring into the world with them a disposition to seek what is pleasant to themselves, and what is pleasant is not always right. They learn to live as they learn everything else. At first they cannot do rightly at all. They improve under teaching and practice. The best only arrive at excellence. We do not find fault with the painter on account of his first bad copies, if they were as good as could be looked for at his age. Every craftsman acquires his art by degrees. He begins badly; he cannot help it; and it is the same with life. You learn to walk by falling down. You learn to live by going wrong and experiencing the consequences of it. We do not record against a man ‘the sins of his youth’ if he has been honestly trying to improve himself. We do not require the same self-control in a child as in a man. We do not require the same attainments from all. Some are well taught, some are ill taught, some are not taught at all. Some have naturally good dispositions, some have naturally bad dispositions. Not one has had power ‘to fulfill the law,’ as you call it, completely. Therefore it is no crime in him if he fails. We reckon as faults those only which arise from idleness, willfulness, selfishness, and deliberate preference of evil to good. Each is judged according to what he has received.”  25
  I was amused to observe how pleased the archbishop looked while the examiner was speaking. He had himself been engaged in controversy with this gentleman on the share of “good works” in justifying a man; and if the examiner had not taken his side in the discussion, he had at least demolished his adversary. The archbishop had been the more disinterested in the line which he had taken, as his own “works,” though in several large folios, weighed extremely little; and indeed, had it not been for passages in his early life,—he had starved himself at college that he might not be a burden upon his widowed mother,—I do not know but that he might have been sent back into the world to serve as a parish clerk.  26
  For myself, there were questions which I was longing to ask, and I was trying to collect my courage to speak. I wanted chiefly to know what the examiner meant by “natural disposition.” Was it that a man might be born with a natural capacity for becoming a saint, as another man with a capacity to become a great artist or musician, and that each of us could only grow to the limits of his natural powers? And again, were idleness, willfulness, selfishness, etc., etc., natural dispositions? for in that case—  27
  But at the moment the bell rang again, and my own name was called. There was no occasion to ask who I was. In every instance the identity of the person, his history, small or large, and all that he had said or done, was placed before the court so clearly that there was no need for extorting a confession. There stood the catalogue inexorably impartial, the bad actions in a schedule painfully large, the few good actions veined with personal motives which spoilt the best of them. In the way of work there was nothing to be shown but certain books and other writings, and these were spread out to be tested. A fluid was poured on the pages, the effect of which was to obliterate entirely every untrue proposition, and to make every partially true proposition grow faint in proportion to the false element which entered into it. Alas! chapter after chapter vanished away, leaving the paper clean, as if no compositor had ever labored in setting type for it. Pale and illegible became the fine-sounding paragraphs on which I had secretly prided myself. A few passages, however, survived here and there at long intervals. They were those on which I had labored least, and had almost forgotten; or those, as I observed in one or two instances, which had been selected for special reprobation in the weekly journals. Something stood to my credit, and the worst charge, of willfully and intentionally setting down what I did not believe to be true, was not alleged against me. Ignorance, prejudice, carelessness; sins of infirmity,—culpable indeed, but not culpable in the last degree; the water in the ink, the commonplaces, the ineffectual sentiments—these, to my unspeakable comfort, I perceived were my heaviest crimes. Had I been accused of absolute worthlessness, I should have pleaded guilty in the state of humiliation to which I was reduced; but things were better than they might have been. I was flattering myself that when it came to the wages question, the balance would be in my favor: so many years of labor—such and such cheques received from my publisher. Here at least I held myself safe, and I was in good hope that I might scrape through.  28
  The examiner was good-natured in his manner. A reviewer who had been listening for my condemnation was beginning to look disgusted, when suddenly one of the walls of the court became transparent, and there appeared an interminable vista of creatures—creatures of all kinds from land and water, reaching away into the extreme distance. They were those which in the course of my life I had devoured, either in part or whole, to sustain my unconscionable carcass. There they stood in lines with solemn and reproachful faces,—oxen and calves, sheep and lambs, deer, hares, rabbits, turkeys, ducks, chickens, pheasants, grouse, and partridges, down to the larks and sparrows and blackbirds which I had shot when a boy and made into puddings. Every one of them had come up to bear witness against their murderer; out of sea and river had come the trout and salmon, the soles and turbots, the ling and cod, the whiting and mackerel, the smelts and whitebait, the oysters, the crabs, the lobsters, the shrimps. They seemed literally to be in millions, and I had eaten them all. I talked of wages. These had been my wages. At this enormous cost had my existence been maintained. A stag spoke for the rest: “We all,” he said, “were sacrificed to keep this cormorant in being, and to enable him to produce the miserable bits of printed paper which are all that he has to show for himself. Our lives were dear to us. In meadow and wood, in air and water, we wandered harmless and innocent, enjoying the pleasant sunlight, the light of heaven and the sparkling waves. We were not worth much; we have no pretensions to high qualities. If the person who stands here to answer for himself can affirm that his value in the universe was equivalent to the value of all of us who were sacrificed to feed him, we have no more to say. Let it be so pronounced. We shall look at our numbers, and we shall wonder at the judgment, though we shall withdraw our complaint. But for ourselves we say freely that we have long watched him,—him and his fellows,—and we have failed to see in what the superiority of the human creature lies. We know him only as the most cunning, the most destructive, and unhappily the longest lived of all carnivorous beasts. His delight is in killing. Even when his hunger is satisfied, he kills us for his mere amusement.”  29
  The oxen lowed approval, the sheep bleated, the birds screamed, the fishes flapped their tails. I, for myself, stood mute and self-condemned. What answer but one was possible? Had I been myself on the bench I could not have hesitated. The fatal sentence of condemnation was evidently about to be uttered, when the scene became indistinct, there was a confused noise, a change of condition, a sound of running feet and of many voices. I awoke. I was again in the railway carriage; the door was thrown open; porters entered to take our things. We stepped out upon the platform. We were at the terminus for which we had been originally destined. Carriages and cabs were waiting; tall powdered footmen flew to the assistance of the duke and duchess. The station-master was standing hat in hand, and obsequiously bowing; the minister’s private secretary had come to meet his right honorable chief with the red dispatch box, knowing the impatience with which it was waited for. The duke shook hands with the archbishop before he drove away. “Dine with us to-morrow?” he said. “I have had a very singular dream. You shall be my Daniel and interpret it for me.” The archbishop regretted infinitely that he must deny himself the honor; his presence was required at the Conference. “I too have dreamt,” he said; “but with your Grace and me the realities of this world are too serious to leave us leisure for the freaks of imagination.”  30

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.