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SUPERFLUOUS GOODNESS., Issue 15674, 12 December 1914
are many superfluous things in the world, but ope might suppose that it is never overstocked with goodness. And in one sense it is not. Yet there is the possibility of getting too much even of a good thing. :• One of the most charming of living essayists tells a story that may illustrate our assertion and give us a starting-point. It is to this effect: A young gentleman wished to signalise the birthday o! his ladyloveby sending her 20 roses—one for each year of her life. He had been a lavish customer of the florist. That worthy, receiving now an order to send the finest roses, regardless of expense, was moved to unwonted gratitude. Such a customer deserved to be encouraged. Therefore the florist bettered his instructions, and sent the young lady, not 20, but 50 roses! The rest may be imagined. We shall not venj ture to describe it, but pass at once to the I obvious, but much-needed, moral. ******* What is it?' It is the unwisdom in certain circumstances of superfluous goodness. How common that is in ever so many spheres. Take, e.g., the scholastic. We are sailing into the schools’ break-up, with its avalanches of well-meant wisdom. How much needed is this moral in reference to examinations? Those who have passed through a school and university curriculum must know how wise it is to keep to the text-book and the courses prescribed. We had pnqe a student acquaintance who violated this rule. Tie read all round the text-books, partly because the other books were more interesting, and partly because he thought he would surely impress the professor by his mass of erudition. He certainly knew a great deal more than any of his competitors, but he did not know the prescribed text-book on which the questions were mainly set. The result was that ho was “ploughed.” To say he was disappointed is but mildly to express his sense of discomfiture. He deeply resented the professor’s decision, and never forgave him. Yet most people will agree that the latter was right. It would not have been fair to the other competitors, who had religiously obeyed the rules and stuck to the prescribed textbook. The student's compensation was that he had acquired knowledge by disobeying the conditions of examination. But the professor, while he may have appreciated the student’s wider reading, was bound in justice to the others to abide by the text-book he had prescribed. The same thing we see in school companionships. Girls will exhaust superlatives to express love and admiration for one another. But it often happens that some of these would hardly say “ Thank you ” for passing a book, or refrain from a smart utterance for the sake of showing off their own cleverness, even though It may cut to the quick their adored companion.
So, again, in domestic relations. Mothers sometimes speak in ecstatic terms of their husbands or their children. They would dio for them, but they have to be asked th ree times or more to sew a button on the good man’s shirt, or put themselves about in some small way in the interests of the peace and happiness of their boys and girls. They declare that they would dio for them, and very likely they woufd. But for tho moment it is quite a superfluous goodness, and the 20 roses that make all tho difference in living are what is required. .1 asked no other thing. No other was denied, I offered Being for it; The mighty merchant smiled. Brazil? He twirled a button Without a glance my way : “But, madam, is there nothing else 'That we can show to-day?” No, that’s all; and the 50 roses are an impertinence -to-day. So again we have the superfluous goodness illustrated in political and religions spheres. Says the essayist already referred to : There are men who would shed their blood for their political or ecclesiastical principles. They say so, and I do not in the least dispute it. But there is no immediate or general demand for their blood in any part of the country. What , is wanted from them is lhatrthey should do their daily servico, that they should be effective workers in their own ranks, that they should refrain from giving trouble, that they should be uniting rather than divisive forces, and that they should always be ready to take a humble place in service, not sulking and fretting and doing nothing because a foremost place is denied them. ******* We have this superfluous goodness manifested again in business matters. Merchants and employers of labor know how hard it is to get employees who will do just what they are told—no less, no more. A servant of this kind is a treasure in the homo or the shop. You feel sure that the instructions you give will he accurately understood and punctually and punctiliously performed. You have perfect ease of mind after your orders are given. But there seems to be a growing j scarcity of such in industrial and com- j mcrcial circles Employers complain that ] their employees won’t take pains to tin- | derstand their instructions, 'or else won’t ' execute them with accuracy and despatch. I Originality and initiative are good things in their place and time. But when we are under orders it is tho wisest course, as a rule, to obey them to the letter. A servant does not always know the reason for what ho is asked to do, and if he thinks ha does, and acts differently, the blunder, in spite of tho best intentions, may cause confusion and chaos. Sir Robertson Nicoll tells that he once saw in a catalogue a certain book that he wanted. Ho sent someone in the office to buy it He came back triumphantly. Ho had found in the bookseller’s shop a much better copy of the book for the same price. The copy Sir Robertson wanted was bound in poor boards. The other was in half-morocco, and it cost just the same. But this was a new edition, and ho had it in his library. Tlie other copy was a rare edition which Tie particularly desired to possess. The morocco copy was no use to him. It is rarely wise to better one’s instruction. Even in such a simple matter as that of meals this is true. Your delicate friend whom you ask to dinner says he likes the plainest and simplest fare, but in your desire to please him you prepare an elaborate menu, the greater pasit of which his health debars him from partaking. So he must either eat to the injury of his health or abstain, and cause you mortification by his refusal of your wellmeant 50 roses. This 'thirty-rose business comes opt again in our social converse. We exaggerate in our praise of others. There are some people who can't talk except in superlatives. Everything and everybody are described ip extreme vocabulary. Adjectives of the most excessive quality are applied to the simplest facta. All this superfluity of gush grows wearisome. It is due to poverty of thought and language. It is curious that a face magnified in a concave mirror loses its expression, and this exaggerated' method of talking loses alf its effect. Such folks
need to be - reminded that “ every favorite is not. a cherub, nor every cat a griffin, nor each unpleasing person a dark, diabolical intriguer, nor ecstasies our daily bread.” ******* Tho effect of this habit of talking in superlatives is had. It is bad on the persons who thus talk. . It tends to make them squint-eyed. They lose the sense of proportion, and ultimately become inno cent liars. Of course, we are not contending for a pedantic, proeaic, matter-of-fact speech There are things that invite romance and superlatives—scones and experiences that demand them. There are such things as splendid lies, as, for example, When a gallant skipper complained to his owners that he had pumped the Atlantic Ocean three times through the chip on the passage, and it was common to strike seals and a whale some times in the hold. That is not a falsehood, since it deceives nobody. But the other sort of superlative to which we refer is. It deceives both the speaker and the hearer. Such people should bo sent to study Emersos’s essay on ‘ Superlatives.’ If we remember rightly it is in it he offers an apology for strong language, but. when he was giving this lecture ho. used to say, sotto voce ; “ Sham damns confound.” And these sham superlatives should be dismissed from the vocabulary of even, truth-loving pet son. Tlie same evil comes out in. the critics’ praise of bonks. Friends write up their favorite authors and they describe them in superlatives. Sometimes they deserve it ; generally they do not. The result is that the public arc deceived, tho critic tries to make the worse appear the hotter part, and the author gets a inore or less extended attack of swelled lied. , For Art, for Music overthrilled, The wine cup shakos, the wine is spilled. ******* It must be conceded, however, that this talking in superlatives is not, a national vice, though a growing number of individuals are guilty of it., A foreign newspaper wrote recently: “The Eng“lish language reflects some national “ idiosyncrasies, such as the Englishman’s “ abstention from exaggerated praise, and “ his consequent disliko of superlative “terms.” It has been often remarked that the contrast between the despatches of Napoleon and Wellington lay in this: with tho former the constantly recurring word was glory. >vith tho latter it was duty. That , too, used to bo characteristic of tho enemy with whom to-day we are now in death grips Professor Tyndall tolls that in 1871 he met- two German officers. Ho asked them how tho troops behaved in battle; how did they cheer—encourage each other? They said never has wir mnesen isiegen—we must conquer—been heard from German soldiers; always wo have heard them resolutely exclaiming wir mussen unsere Pilichtthun —we must do our duty How great a change the years have brought 1 We know by bitter experience what are the watchwords of the German soldiery of to-day. So we o.ime back to our moral again—tho moral of simple obedience to our trust. That, after all, is the great thing. That unhappy poet who died by his own hand some time ago—John Davidson—has a poem entitled ‘A Ballad of a Workman.’ It tells how a workman grows tired of his work, goes out to find his soul, finds it in the green weed ; it bids-him go back to his labor. On tiie way back he meets an oid alchemist, who has discovered the secret qf perpetual life and is weary of life. The alchemist dies, gives the secret to the workman. Ho has it in his hands now to become rich and powerful, and immortal; ho argues ! tho case out, and at last concludes that it would only lie a curse, for it is Death makes men divine and human Jove sweet and good. Ho burnt the scoll. I shall not cheat My Destiny. Life, Death for me 1 Tho anvil and the grimy street My unknown throne and Calvary. Only obedience can be great ; It brings the Golden Age again. E’en to be still abiding fate Is kingly ministry to men.
SUPERFLUOUS GOODNESS., Issue 15674, 12 December 1914
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