"My life is a miserable labour, without pleasure, companionship, or hope. I rise in the mornings shivering in the cold, to work as wearisome as it is uninteresting, and return in the dark evenings, tired and dispirited, to brood over the dull void of the past, or to fret at the uncertain decrees of the future. My past life has been restless and unhappy, my present existence is utterly wretched, and I have but slight hopes that better days may soon be in store for me, page 218for, although I am much given to indulge in vain and childish anticipations, and to build 'castles in the air,' yet sober sense and sad experience teach me how seldom such hopes are realised. But it is the fate of mankind to
'Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay.
To-morrow's falser than the former day.'
"I shall soon leave this place, and then I shall be a stranger and a vagrant on the face of the earth; for, although dear Val's friendly plan may be partly realised, yet I have only to look upon his face to feel how transient must be his resting place.
"He is doomed, poor fellow, doomed by that fell disease that knows no mercy. I have but little hope where he is concerned beyond that of being able to soothe and comfort him in what threatens to be a rapid decline.
"As regards myself, I have no fear for my immediate wants; I can always scratch out a living in this country, even if I have to do it with manual labour. But the prospect is dark and repulsive. I feel that I was never intended to crawl through life as a hired drudge. And yet I have a strong aversion to an aimless life, and I would never consent to be a 'hanger on.' I am estranged in mind and sentiment from the page 219busy practical world, and yet I know that I must find some place in it—some part to play on the world's stage.
"To battle with difficulties, I have courage and resolution for it. To strive, to venture, to endure hardships, I am not afraid of the ordeal. But to plod slowly and drearily along the unvarying course day by day, and year by year, through the freshness of youth and the strength of manhood, to work the treadmill of some regular avocation, is beyond my strength. Yet such is the secret of success in life, to plod, to plod on, ever to plod. The race is not to the swift, but to the persevering. It is not accomplished by eager flights, by heroic efforts, by the generous or the brave, but by incessant drudgery, unvarying attention to business, and sordid accumulation, not forgetting Dame Fortune, who has a big hand in distributing the good things of this world.
"As for me, I have no object in life, and I have tried in vain to make myself one; neither have I any luck, so that my chances of getting on are but poor. And yet I feel at times that I have keen capabilities of both activity and enjoyment within me, and that under more favourable auspices I might be—a happy man!
"I fear that wealth has not sufficient attractions for me. I can appreciate its advantages, and would page 220enjoy a slice as well as most people, but somehow or other money-making is not 'in my line.' I rarely give it a thought, and when forced to consider the miserable business I do so 'against the grain.' Now money-making is not an art, as some people think, still less can it be considered a science, for all that is written about the principles of finance is rubbish—money-making is a worship. The golden calf has to be duly installed in the inmost sanctum of our daily lives; it has to be omnipresent in all our labours and struggles, our hopes and desires. It must become the guiding star before which all other lights pale and vanish.
"I have always refused to commit the idolatry, for which most people would commend me openly; for every one expresses the same outward contempt for 'filthy lucre.' But this is a miserable hypocritical affectation that nobody is deceived by. I rather hold with bluff old Doctor Johnson that this universal striving to make money is not only excusable in itself but even commendable. There are certainly much more unworthy aims towards which a man may direct his energies. Let money-making pass, but when it descends to money-grubbing then it becomes degrading and repulsive.
"Now, by far the greater part—I should say at page 221least nine-tenths—of the wealth accumulated is obtained by money-grubbing—by scraping and saving. The despicable process is hateful to me, and I could almost fly to the other extreme and exclaim with the witty Frenchman—
'Economy is the mother of vices.'
"Rank blasphemy, no doubt; but at least it may be admitted that parsimony is the meanest of virtues. Whatever my foibles and deficiencies may be, at least let me hope that I shall never be mean.
"The enjoyment of accumulating riches must be in the making, for it is rare indeed to find a money-grubber who is happy in the distribution of his hoard. With a few exceptions, it is a case of dragging out the choicest days of youth in slavery and want, exhausting the energies of manhood in wearisome toil, to reap the fruits at some distant and uncertain future, when they may be tasteless or unneeded.
'Poor is my youth, and in life's later scenes
Rich to no end, I curse my natal hour,
Who nought enjoyed while young, denied the means,
And nought when old enjoyed, denied the power.'
"Next to that fatal defect in my character, indiffer-page 222ence to money, I have another deplorable want—the lack of ambition. I came to the conclusion long ago, and I have no reason to doubt its correctness, that I have not got it in me ever to rise above dull mediocrity. I never felt within me the sacred fire that stimulates genius to heroic exertion. I tried my hand at literature, and saw my way to pitiable starvation in the modern Grub Street; I have a natural taste for art, and I once indulged in ardent aspirations of becoming a painter, of course. My kind old master used to pull me affectionately by the ear and whisper, 'Courage, travaillez; travaillez, courage!' but notwithstanding considerable application and no lack of self-confidence, I soon discovered that I should have much difficulty in earning a precarious living as an artist, and that, as to rising to eminence, it was beyond my power. There was only something wanting, but that something was fatal. My horizon has been too vast for my capabilities. I have never been able to achieve distinction even in small things; how useless, therefore, would it be to attempt great ones.
"My illusions have been crushed by the hard knocks of practical experience, and illusion is the greatest stimulant to exertion; without it who would care to struggle on through thorny paths and over endless page 223obstacles towards an unattainable goal? For after all said and done, what is life's ambition but
'A vain pursuit of fugitive false good.'
I give it best."