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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August 1, 1934)


Persistence and Desistance.

A Psychological shandy of Persistence and Desistance is the elixir of existence, as the Wise wot. For when to desist is as important to impress as where to persist. In truth, forsooth, desistance is a part of persistence, as practised by the prescient, and interludes of idleness or delapses of desistance constitute a correct attitude to Altitude, when applied to the heights of Ambition.

For Life is mainly a matter of attitudes and altitudes, and a lofty mental altitude minus a mellow mental attitude is fallacious flying in a blizzard of blunders which can only end in a crash on the peaks of Parnassus.

The Loftiness of Lowliness.

But humility (without servility) is an attitude towards Altitude which hits the high spots without actual aiming Lofty thought and lowly feeling are the brothers of the Big, who are tall enough to think among the stars with their feet firmly on the earth. They can as easily stoop to lift a wingless wasp as they can reach to pluck intellectual ice-blooms from Himalayan heights.

The Synthetically Sapient.

Conversely, the synthetically sapient enthrone their ego on a puff of pigment vapour which the temperature of Time transmutes—and down they drop to the dust from which their own breath blew them. They are mental contortionists who, by looking at life from between their own ankles, imagine that they are as tall as they make themselves.

Heroes in Homespun.

But Greatness is graded, and there exists a humbler brand, which is the grim greatness of the Great Unsung.

The Great Unsung.

The truly Great can never grate
Or juggle with their fellows' fate;
Their thoughts are high enough, but mellow,
And aim to help the lesser fellow.
Of greatness there are sundry kinds.
But chiefly two concern our minds—
The Great whose greatness Fame has sown,
And those who're great but lesser known.
These lesser Great perhaps can claim
The privilege of greater fame
Because, unsung by bard or poet,
They're great because they never know it.
The common folk who, day by day,
Just do their jobs and pay their way
The widowed “char” whose job is done
Before the East presents the sun,
The man who got a scurvy deal
From Fate, and yet declines to squeal;
The sick who carry on; the sticker;
The “game,” the gay, the anti-kicker;
The jester who can raise a quip
When Luck has given him the slip;
The “failure” who has tried and lost
But doesn't stop to count the cost;
The old and battered —laid aside—
Who've kept their courage and their pride,
They're here and there and everywhere,
The people who defy despair—
The great unsung, the common Great
Of whom no future scribe will prate;
The Little-big, the Fate-defying,
Who fight and lose and keep on trying;
The great who never reach for Fame
Or know the meaning of the name,
The humble Great whose lives are writ
In simple words—“They did their bit.

Not that the heroes in homespun desire us to step on the sob-stuff. They take what they can when and where they can, if they can, and they “can” the cant if they can't. To such as these Fame means weighing their pay and paying their way.

Bread and Stones.

But what is Fame, anyway? It is not notoriety, which is a gas balloon which rises swiftly and explodes in the rarefied realms of just judgment. Fame is found where notoriety is not sought —notoriety is sought where Fame is not found.

“By looking at life from between their own ankles, imagine that they are as tall as they make themselves.”

“By looking at life from between their own ankles, imagine that they are as tall as they make themselves.”

page 13
“Fame is often accidental.”

“Fame is often accidental.”

Many of the famous dead would be amazed to learn that they were famous. In life they simply did what they did— simply. For genius and simplicity, greatness and modesty, high thinking and lowly living, seem to be twin twiners on the tree of knowledge. Fame, as fame, has seldom promoted personal prosperity. It is always incidental and often accidental. It usually comes when the one it concerns most is most unconcerned about it. For, what is a sunset to the blind? What is a song to the deaf? What is fame to the dead? In truth, Fame and the Phoenix both arise from ashes.

And justly so; for the really great usually anticipate Time, so that only those living after they are dead are qualified to assess their lives.

Was Shakespeare accepted as a genius by his generation or did the elevated elements of the Elizabethan era regard him more or less as a mad mummer? Did William Blake, the artist-poet, have to die to “live?” Was Aristotle appreciated by his age or was he harried for “high-hatting” the hoi polloi? The answer is written on the pavements of Progress.

The Stock-pot of Posterity.

Greatness is not a negotiable commercial commodity because it flouts the fond fallacies of the grated majority, which will only agree that—that which is must always be, because it is. Thus the great must always wait for their greatness to find flavour in the stockpot of Posterity.

Many of the great to whom statues have been erected after death would no doubt have preferred bread while alive. The ghosts of the great might reasonably complain. “We asked for bread and you gave us a stone.” Greatness, like golf, demands that you “hole in” before you “hole out.” It seems unjust that those who leave the most when they go, often get the least while they're here.

But do they? Not while every man's mind is his empire and his thoughts are his sun—unless they are a frost.

Mining the Mind.

For the mind is the one gift of the gods which man can call his own. He may have to say what he's told to say, but he can think what he likes. He can live in his mind, he can share it, he can speak it (if he's rich enough), he can give it away, or he can sell it for a crust. He can feed it on wisdom or wish-wash, humour or husks, triumph or tripe. He can listen to it or talk it to death. He can use it for prophecy or profitry. He can lift himself with it or down himself by it.

To-day's the Day!

But the Great have always lived with it rather than by it. They have cultivated it rather than captivated it. They have treated it rather as a star boarder than a life tenant.

But none sought fame; it found them. Fame is a posthumous pronouncement and as such, is of less value for raising a loan than a conscience.

Fame? What is Fame but a name?
It can't be a gift, for a gift is received
By someone—unless by the word we're deceived.
For Fame seldom comes 'til the famous are dead—
Their fame takes their place when their egos are sped;
And so, proving Fortune a mischievous dame,
The famous themselves seldom sample their fame.
But what does it matter to them when they're dead?
In life they would rather have jam on their bread.

And so, methinks, it is better to laugh and to live, and let the dead dust of what might be, float forward into the limbo of Posterity. To-day is to-day but tomorrow might never come—and where will all the post-dated great of to-day be then? 'Tis better to make sure of happiness to-day than to gamble on greatness to-morrow.