Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/389

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THE NEW ASCETICISM.

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wrought "kists" contained — these kists, which look like the coffins of the dead-and-gone occupiers of the stately beds? The old pictures, many of them portraits — of course, there is a Mary Stuart and a Queen Elizabeth among them — aided the impression that the old inn was not an inn at all, but a venerable mansion, with all its old life stealthily stirring in it, and we impertinent intruders upon its grave dignity and solid grandeur. Everything in the house looked as immovable as it was ancient; the walls and door-frames bristled with brackets of old oak, which tell the tale of their derivation; here is a bishop's mitre, there a baron's escutcheon, a third has adorned a banqueting-room, a fourth has formed a portion of the decoration of a church organ, then comes a finely-carven face, or a delightful group of fruit or flowers. The art-objects have been brought together from innumerable different places, but they assort with one another, like the time-grown plenishing of an old house, the home of an old race. The antique mirrors might have reflected the faces that lay on the satin pillows under those heavy bed-roofs, sheltered by the curtains of cut velvet or of cunning needlework; and all the bride-gear and the weeds of generations, since long before "the Young Man" marched through China Lane — the narrow street unchanged to this day, in front of the old inn — on his way to Worcester, might be mouldering in the great cabinets and chests. It was a pleasant sight to see, before the dispersion of it all, and it was pleasant to leave it, still undisturbed. Not a stick — we should rather say beam — of the old furniture but is now in the hands of new owners, and a year hence, not a stone will be left standing of the famous old King's Arms Hotel at Lancaster.




THE NEW ASCETICISM.

[To The Editor of the " Spectator."]

Miss Martineau's autobigraphy is the first book that has given the inward experience of a positivist with the same vividness and unction with which the "experience "of Evangelicals used to be given forty years ago. Such pictures are always powerful and have a strong effect upon immature minds, and in this instance the effect is likely to be so hurtful on one point that I should like to see it noticed by some one more capable than I am of showing where the mistake lies. Miss Martineau is always praising the virtue of that sort of obliteration of self which is shown in the utter absence of all wish for life, present or future. We have heard this virtue preached by many prophets, from George Eliot to Schopenhauer, but in Miss Martineau we see it in actual (though partial) operation. Is it truly a virtue, and ought we to strive to possess it?

At first sight it appeals to a high instinct, — we are weary of our selfish hopes and fears, and it looks like an escape from them. The old asceticism appealed to the same instinct, — men were weary of the fightings of passion, and the convent promised them peace. But it was at the price of half their nature; all their human affections and their health of body and mind had to be given up. This new asceticism strikes deeper still; it attacks our whole nature, for it requires us to care nothing for the existence of that individual self which is the root of all our affections and the key to the worth of the universe. Of course, this true self must not be confounded with the mass of egoistic and unjust desires which we are bound to renounce, — with them we have no concern here. Our present question is, — Can it be wrong to care for that self which is our only means of knowing God, loving man, and doing right? Miss Martineau asks what it can signify whether we, with our individual consciousness, live again; and says that "the real and justifiable subject of interest to human beings is the welfare of their fellows," and "the important thing is that the universe should be full of life." But if my own existence is valueless, how do I know that my fellows have any value? If I, who am a part of the universe (and seem to myself to be worth something, though very little) am really worth nothing at all, how do I know that the other parts — animals, rocks, seas, Professor Tyndall's fiery cloud itself — are worth anything?

Such questions sound futile, but they have a serious bearing, though their chief interest, as yet, relates to the future life, not to the present one. Suicide may possibly some day come to be the fashion, at least among the disciples of Schopenhauer, but as yet it is chiefly the heavenly life that we are taught to despise. We are continually told that our longing for it is "selfish." To this our first reply is, that we who believe it long for it quite as much for others as we do for ourselves; it is a desire that unites us with our fellows,