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The Recreations of a Country Parson

AND such, my friendly reader, are my Recreations. It was pleasant to me, amid much work of a very different kind, to write these essays. I trust that it has not been very tiresome for you to read them.

There is a peculiar happiness which is known to the essayist. There is a virtue about his work to draw the sting from the little worries of life. If you fairly look some T^tty vexation of humanity in the face, and write an account of it, it will never annoy you so much any more. It recurs: and it annoys you : but you have a latent feeling of satisfaction at finding how exactly accurate was your description of it; how completely your present sensation runs into the mould you had made. It is a curious thing, too, that there is a certain pleasure in writing about a thing which was very unpleasant when it happened to one. You know how an artist makes a pleasing picture out of a poor cottage, in which it would be very disagreeable to live. You know how a great painter makes a picture, which you often like to look at, of an event at which you would not have liked to have been present You pause for a long time before the representation of some boors drinking; or of a furious struggle in a guard-room; or of a murdered man lying dead. Now, in fact, you would have got out of the way of such sights: the first two would have been disgusting: the last, at least “a sorry sight.”

It is not quite a case in point, that we look with great interest and pleasure at the representation of a sight which it would have been no worse than sad to see. Such a sight may have ,been elevating as well as saddening. I see a figure laid upon a bed: you know it is stiff and cold. It is a female figure: there is the fixed but beautiful face. And through the open window, I see in the west the summer sunset blazing, and the golden light falling upon the pale features, and the closed eyes which will never open more till the sun has ceased to shine. I do not wonder that the exquisite genius of the painter fixed on such a scene, and preserved it with rigid accuracy, and wrote beneath his picture such words as these:—

The sun shall no more be thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

Thy sun shall no more go down j neither shall thy moon withdraw herself j for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.

But there is in this one respect an entire analogy between the feeling of the artist and the feeling of the essayist: that to both, this world is to a certain extent transfigured by the fact, that to each, things become comparatively pleasing if they would please when described or depicted, though they might be unpleasing in fact Not merely are those things good which are good in themselves : those things are good which, though bad, will please and interest when represented. It is extremely certain, that there is a pleasure in writing about what there is no pleasure in bearing: and here is a happiness of the essayist You are grossly cheated, my friend, by a man of most respectable character. You are worried by some glaring instance of that horrible dilatoriness, unfaithfulness, and stupidity, which come across the successful issue of almost all human affairs. You are vexed, in short, at seeing how creakingly and jarringly and uneasily the machine of life and society manages to blunder on. -Well, you suffer; and you have no relief. But the essayist’s painful feeling at such things is much mitigated when he thinks that here is a subject for him: and when he goes and describes it. Once, it was to me unrelieved and unalloyed pain to be cheated: or to listen to the vapouring of some silly person. Now, though still I cannot say I like it, still I dislike it less. I make a mental note. It will all go into an essay. One gets something of the spirit of the morbid anatomist, to whom some peculiar phase of disease is infinitely more interesting than commonplace health. Interesting wrong becomes (must I confess it?) a finer sight than uninteresting right You know how country servants rejoice in coming to tell you that something is amiss: that a horse is lame, or a pig dying, or a field of potatoes blighted. It is something to tell about Perhaps the essayist knows the peculiar emotion.

I sometimes have thought that the writer of fiction is to be envied. He has another life and world than that we see. He has a duality of being. He sits down to his desk; and in a little he is far away, and away in a world where he is absolute monarch. It has not been so with me. In writing these essays, I have not been rapt away into heroic times and distant scenes, and into romantic tracts of feeling. I have been writing amid daily work and worry, of daily work and worry, and of the little things by which daily work and worry are intensified or relieved. I cannot pretend to long experience of life; nor perhaps to much. But from a quiet and lonely life, little varied, and very happy, I have sent out these essays month by month; and I hope to send out more.


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