Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/490

This page has been validated.

fullness of life but by its indirect influence in increasing or diminishing the totality of happiness. To quote again the words of the great teacher who is so often misquoted and so much misunderstood:

"There is no escape from the admission that in calling good the conduct which subserves life, and bad the conduct which hinders or destroys it, and in so implying that life is a blessing and not a curse, we are inevitably asserting that conduct is good or bad according as its total[1] effects are pleasurable or painful."—Knowledge,


HOW can we describe, how can an artist paint, the aurora borealis? We of temperate climates are not strangers to the phenomena; we know something of the arcs and radiating streaks of various-colored light which frequently adorn our northern skies; and we are occasionally permitted to witness exhibitions in which the whole heavens shine with their marvelous glow. Yet travelers from the far North say that we can have no conception of the wonderful splendor of the phenomena as witnessed within the Polar Circle, and that nothing but the actual sight can convey an adequate idea of it.

The aurora borealis was well known to the ancients. The Greeks, discovering graceful symbols in everything, thought it was the glory of the Olympian gods holding council in a sky illuminated for the occasion. The Romans, on the other hand, always looking for unlucky omens, were in dread of it. Pliny, following Aristotle and Seneca, speaks of celestial fires that tinged the sky with a blood-red, of beams of light, of openings yawning in the starry vault, of fantastic lights that changed night into day; and he took care not to omit the political events that accompanied such manifestations, without, however, affirming that the phenomena were the cause of the catastrophes that attended or followed them.

  1. I have ventured to emphasize this word (though the emphasis is not necessary for the ordinarily attentive), simply because so many have either actually misunderstood Mr. Spencer's saying here, or else have pretended to do so. The word emphasized makes the saying not only true, but (as it was intended to be) obviously true. Mr. Spencer is here purposely stating a truism, or what ought to be a truism. No matter what a man's doctrine in religious matters may be, no matter what his views as to a future state, the saying above quoted is absolutely true. It is true in small matters as well as in great. By overlooking the word "total," or by treating the saying as though for the word "total" the word "immediate" might honestly be substituted, the saying expresses what Carlyle contemptuously called pig-philosophy; but Spencer's actual saying is about as remote from pig-philosophy as any teaching well could be. It inculcates a philosophy more truly regardful of self than the sheerest egoism, more justly and beneficently regardful of others than the purest altruism.