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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 7. Comparisons
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There & Back - Chapter 7. Comparisons Post by :healthyways2101 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1475

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There & Back - Chapter 7. Comparisons

CHAPTER VII. COMPARISONS

All things belong to every man who yields his selfishness, which is his one impoverishment, and draws near to his wealth, which is humanity--not humanity in the abstract, but the humanity of friends and neighbours and all men. Selfishness, I repeat, whether in the form of vanity or greed, is our poverty. John Tuke, being a clever man without a spark of genius, worshipped _faculty as he called it--worshipped it where he was most familiar with it--that is, in his own mind and its operations, in his own hands and their handiwork. His natural atmosphere, however, was, happily, goodwill and kindliness: else the scorn of helplessness which sprang from his worship, would have supplied the other pole to his selfishness.

He even cherished unconsciously the feeling that his faculty was a merit. He took the credit of his individual humanity, as if the good working of his brain, the thing he most admired, was attributable to his own will and forethought. The idea had never arisen in that brain, that he was in the world by no creative intent of his own. Nothing had as yet suggested to him that, after all, if he was clever, he could not help it. It had not occurred to him that there was a stage in his history antecedent to his consciousness--a stage in which his pleasure with regard to the next could not have been appealed to, or his consent asked--a stage, for any satisfaction concerning which, his resultant consciousness must repose on a creative will, answerable to itself for his existence. A man's patent of manhood is, that he can call upon God--not the God of any theology, right or wrong, but the God out of whose heart he came, and in whose heart he is. This is his highest power--that which constitutes his original likeness to God. Had any one tried to wake this idea in Tuke, he would have mocked at the sound of it, never seeing it. The words which represented it he would have thought he understood, but he would never have laid hold of the idea. He found himself what he found himself, and was content with the find; therefore asked no questions as to whence he came--was to himself consequently as if he had come from nowhere--which made it easy for him to imagine that he was going nowhither. He had never reflected that he had not made himself, and that therefore there might be a power somewhere that had called him into being, and had a word to say to him on the matter. The region where he began to be, had never, in speculation or mirage any more than in direct vision, lifted itself above the horizon-line of his consciousness. An ordinarily well-behaved man, with a vague narrow regard for his moral nature, and an admiration of intellectual humanity in the abstract, he thought of himself as exceptionally worthy, and as having neighbours mostly inferior. In relation to Richard, he was specially pleased with himself: had he not, for the sake of the youth, put himself in the danger of the law!

With not much more introspection than his uncle, but with a keener conscience and quicker observation, Richard had early remarked that, notwithstanding her assiduity in church-going, his mother did not seem the happier for her religion: there was a cloud, or seeming cloud, on her forehead--a something that implied the lack of clear weather within. Had he known more he might have attributed it to anxiety about his own future, and the bearing her deed might have upon it. He might have argued that she dreaded the opposition she foresaw to the claim of her nephew; and felt that if her act should have despoiled him of his inheritance, life would be worthless to her. But in truth the cause of her habitual gloom was much deeper. She had from her mother inherited a heavy sense of responsibility, but not the confidence in whose strength her mother had borne it. She had, that is, an oppressive sense of the claims of a supernal power, but no feeling of the relationship which gives those claims, no knowledge of the loving help offered with the presentation of the claims. Where she might have rejoiced in the correlative claims bestowed upon her, she nourished only complaint. That God had made her, she could not sometimes help feeling a liberty he had taken. How could she help it, not knowing him, or the love that gave him both the power and the right to create! She had no window to let in the perpendicular light of heaven; all the light she had was the horizontal light of duty--invaluable, but, ever accompanied by its own shadow of failure, giving neither joy nor hope nor strength. Her husband's sense of duty was neither so strong nor so uneasy.

She had not attempted to teach Richard more, in the way of religion, than the saying of certain prayers, a ceremony of questionable character; but the boy, dearly loving his mother, and saddened by her lack of spirits, had put things together--amongst the rest, that she was always gloomiest on a Sunday--and concluded that religion was the cause of her misery. This made him ready to welcome the merest hint of its falsehood. Well might the doctrine be false that made such a good woman miserable! He had no opportunity of learning what any vital, that is, _obedient believer in the lord of religion, might have to say. Nothing he did hear would, without the reflex of his mother's unhappiness, have waked in him interest enough for hate: what was there about the heap of ashes he heard called the means of grace, to set him searching in it for seeds of truth! If we consider, then, the dullness of the prophecy, the evident suffering of his mother, and the equally evident though silent contempt of his father, we need not wonder that Richard grew up in what seemed to him a conviction that religion was worse than a thing of nought, was an evil phantom, with a terrible power to blight; a miasm that had steamed up from the foul marshes of the world, before man was at home in it, or yet acquainted with the beneficent laws of Nature. It was not merely a hopeless task to pray to a power which could not be entreated, because it did not exist; to believe in what was not, must be ruinous to the nature that so believed! He would give the lie no quarter! The best thing to do for his fellow, the first thing to be done before anything else could be done, was to deliver him from this dragon called Faith--the more fearful that it had no life, but owed its being and strength to the falsehood of cowards! Had he known more of the working of what is falsely called religion, he would have been yet more eager to destroy it. But he knew something of the tares only; he knew nothing of the wheat among the tares; knew nothing of the wintry gleams of comfort shed on thousands of hearts by the most poverty-stricken belief in the merest and faultiest silhouette of a God. What a mission it would be, he thought, to deliver human hearts from the vampyre that, sucking away the very essence of life, kept fanning its unconscious victims with the promise of a dreary existence beyond the grave, secured by self-immolation on the desolate altar of an unlovable God, who yet called himself _Love_! Was it not a high emprise to rescue men from the incubus of such a misimagined divinity?

From the first dawn of consciousness, the young Lestrange had loved his kind. He gathered the chief joy of his life from a true relation to the life around him. Perhaps the cause of the early manifestation of this bent in him, was the longing of his mother in her loneliness after a love that grew the move precious as it seemed farther away. She had parted with those who always loved her, for the love of a man who never loved her! But left to think and think, she had come at last to see that her loss was her best gain. For, with the loss of their presence, she began to know and prize the simplicities of human affection; from lack of love began to lift up her heart to Love himself, the father of all our loves.

Richard's love was not such as makes of another the mirror wherein to realize self; he loved his kind objectively, and was ready to suffer for it. At school he was the champion of the oppressed. Almost always one or other of the little boys would be under his protection; and more than once, for the sake of a weaker he had got severely beaten. But having set himself to learn the art of self-defence, his favour alone became shelter; and successful coverture aroused in him yet more the natural passion of protection. It became his pride as well as delight to be a saviour to his kind. His championship now sought extension to his mother, and to all sufferers from usurping creeds.

His grandfather found him, as he said, a chip of the old block; and rejoiced that Nature had granted his humble blood so potent a part in this compound of gentle and plebeian; for Richard showed himself a worthy workman! Simon Armour declared there was nothing the fellow could not do; and said to himself there never was such a baronet in the old Hall as his boy Dick would make. If only, he said, all the breeds worn out with breeding-in, would revert to the old blood of Tubal Cain, they might recover his lease of life. The day was coming, he said to himself, when there would be a sight to see at Mortgrange--a baronet that could shoe a horse better than any smith in the land! If his people then would not stand up for a landlord able to thrash every man-jack of them, and win his bread with his own hands, they deserved to become the tenants of a London grocer or American money-dealer! For his part, the French might have another try! _He would not lift hammer against them!

By right of inheritance, Richard's muscles grew sinewy and hard, and speedily was he capable of handling a hammer and persuading iron to the full satisfaction of his teacher. When it came to such heavy work as required power and skill at once, the difference between the two men was very evident: where the whole strength is tasked, skill finds itself in the lurch; but Simon understood what could not be at once, as well as what would be at length. Neither was he disappointed, for, in far less than half the time an ordinary apprentice would have taken, Richard could hold alternate swing with the blacksmith or his man, as, blow for blow, they pierced a block of metal to form the nave of a wheel. In ringing a wheel, he soon excelled; and his grandfather's smithy being the place for all kinds of blacksmith-work, Richard had learned the trade before he left. For, as his fortnight's holiday drew to an end, he heard from his parents that, as he was doing so well, they would like him to stay longer.

One reason for this their wish was, that he might become thoroughly attached to his grandfather: they desired to secure the prejudice of the future baronet for his own people. At the same time, by developing in him the workman, they thought to give him a better chance against further dishonouring and degrading his race, than his wretched father had ever had: the breed of Lestranges must, they said, be searched back for generations to find an honest man in it. A landlord above the selfishness, and free from the prejudices of his class, would be a new thing in the county-histories!

At the end of six weeks, Richard could shoe a sound horse as well as his grandfather himself. The old man had taken pains he would not have spent on an ordinary apprentice: it was worth doing, he said; and the return was great. Richard had made, not merely wonderful, but wonderfully steady progress. Not once had he touched the quick in driving those perfect nails through the rind of the marvellous hoof. From the first he disapproved of the mode of shoeing in use, and was certain a better must one day be discovered--one, namely, that would leave the natural motions of hoof and leg unimpeded; but in the meantime he shod as did other blacksmiths, and gave thorough satisfaction.

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