Humanly Speaking by Samuel McChord Crothers


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Page 2

But even Jeremiah, when he was denouncing the evils that would befall
his country, had a saving clause in his gloomy predictions. All manner
of evils would befall them unless they repented, and humanly speaking he
was of the opinion that they couldn't repent. Said he: "Can the
Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do
good that are accustomed to do evil." Nevertheless this did not prevent
him from continually exhorting them to do good, and blaming them when
they didn't do it. Like all great moral teachers he acted on the
assumption that there is more freedom of will than seemed theoretically
possible. It was the same way with his views of national affairs.
Jeremiah's reputation is that of a pessimist. Still, when the country
was in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and he was in prison for predicting
it, he bought a piece of real estate which was in the hands of the
enemy. He considered it a good investment. "I subscribed the deed and
sealed it, and called witnesses and weighed him the money in the
balances." Then he put the deeds in an earthen vessel, "that they may
continue many days." For in spite of the panic that his own words had
caused, he believed that the market would come up again. "Houses and

with a free hand, I should like to dig in that field in Anathoth in the
hope of finding the earthen jar with the deed which Hanameel gave to his
cousin Jeremiah, for a plot of ground that nobody else would buy.

It is the moralists and the reformers who have after all the most
cheerful message for us. They are all the time threatening us, yet for
our own good. They see us plunging heedlessly to destruction. They cry,
"Look out!" They often do not themselves see the way out, but they have
a well-founded hope that we will discover a way when our attention is
called to an imminent danger. The fact that the race has survived thus
far is an evidence that its instinct for self-preservation is a strong
one. It has a wonderful gift for recovering after the doctors have given
it up.

The saving clause is a great help to those idealists who are inclined to
look unwelcome facts in the face. It enables them to retain faith in
their ideals, and at the same time to hold on to their intellectual
self-respect.

There are idealists of another sort who know nothing of their struggles
and self-contradictions. Having formed their ideal of what ought to be,
they identify it with what is. For them belief in the existence of good
is equivalent to the obliteration of evil. Their world is equally good
in all its parts, and is to be viewed in all its aspects with serene
complacency.

Now this is very pleasant for a time, especially if one is tired and
needs a complete rest. But after a while it becomes irksome, and one
longs for a change, even if it should be for the worse. We are floating
on a sea of beneficence, in which it is impossible for us to sink. But
though one could not easily drown in the Dead Sea, one might starve. And
when goodness is of too great specific gravity it is impossible to get
on in it or out of it. This is disconcerting to one of an active
disposition. It is comforting to be told that everything is completely
good, till you reflect that that is only another way of saying that
nothing can be made any better, and that there is no use for you to try.

Now the idealist of the sterner sort insists on criticizing the existing
world. He refuses to call good evil or evil good. The two things are, in
his judgment, quite different. He recognizes the existence of good, but
he also recognizes the fact that there is not enough of it. This he
looks upon as a great evil which ought to be remedied. And he is glad
that he is alive at this particular juncture, in a world in which there
is yet room for improvement.

* * * * *

Besides the ordinary Christian virtues I would recommend to any one, who
would fit himself to live happily as well as efficiently, the
cultivation of that auxiliary virtue or grace which Horace Walpole
called "Serendipity." Walpole defined it in a letter to Sir Horace Mann:
"It is a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell
you, I shall endeavor to explain to you; you will understand it better
by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale
called 'The Three Princes of Serendip.' As their Highnesses traveled,
they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of
things which they were not in quest of.... Now do you understand
_Serendipity_?" In case the reader does not understand, Walpole goes on
to define "Serendipity" as "accidental sagacity (for you must know that
no discovery you _are_ looking for comes under this description)."

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:38