Life as Music


Life is a tune which has no da capo; and those who play it wrong at first sight, never have an opportunity of correcting their errors.

——James K. Paulding, Letters from the South.

Tolerance the First Principle of Manners

Every denial of, or interference with, the personal freedom or absolute rights of another, is a violation of good manners. He who presumes to censure me for my religious belief, or want of belief; who makes it a matter of criticism or reproach, that I am a Theist or Atheist, Trinitarian or Unitarian, Catholic or Protestant, Pagan or Christian, Jew, Mohamedan, or Mormon, is guilty of rudeness and insult. If any of these modes of belief make me intolerant or intrusive, he may resent such intolerance, or repel such intrusion; but the basis of all true politeness, and social enjoyment, is the mutual tolerance of personal rights. And every one who wishes to see the world anything but a scene of conflict and a prison house, must be willing to give this toleration themselves, and to demand it of all others, and for all others. Admirable was the answer of a friend of ours to some one who came to him with a complaint of what he thought the improper conduct of a neighbor: “I may not approve this man’s acts,” he said; “they may be contrary to my judgment, and offend my taste, but I would shoulder a musket to-morrow in defense of his right to do as he pleases in a matter that infringes upon the rights of no other person.”

No doubt there is a criticism which is proper and useful in society. There is no objection to very free criticism, when made in the spirit of toleration. The critic who says: “Neighbor, I understand that you ate cabbage for dinner to-day. I consider eating cabbage immoral, and opposed to the best interests of society.” This may pass, and I may thank my friend for the suggestion, and engage to take it into respectful consideration. But if he adds, “You have no right to eat cabbages, and if you persist we intend to pull your house down,” I should be apt to buy a revolver and try the issue.

It may be known, as a matter of fact, and innocently related, that such a man is a fire-worshiper; that such a woman knits on Sunday; that another eats his Welsh rarebit with mustard; that Miss Jones has the misfortune to be devotedly in love with her friend’s husband; or that Mrs. Thompson accepts the free-love theories of the Fourierists. But when such matters, the love or the mustard, become causes of persecution, there is a very gross violation of the first principles of good manners.

——The Illustrated Manners Book, 1855.

As to the author, “We have solemnly pledged to keep his incognito sacred,” says the publisher.

Cowed by Rules

“Stop,” “Go,” “Keep Off the Grass,” “No Trespassing,” “Beware of the Dog,” “Watch Your Hat and Overcoat,” “Positively No Checks Cashed,” “Do Not Feed or Annoy the Animals”—how can a free and adventurous soul survive in such a world? Don Marquis has celebrated the exploit of one brave rebel, we think it was Fothergil Finch, who strode into the monkey house and crying “Down with the tyranny of the capitalist system,” or words to that effect, threw a peanut into the baboon’s cage. We know an even bolder soul who makes a point of never watching his hat and overcoat in direct defiance of the edict, but he says that the world has become so cowed by rules that nothing ever happens.

——Heywood Broun, “Promises and Contracts and Clocks.”

Steele on Stress

There is scarce a thinking Man in the World, who is involved in the Business of it, but lives under a secret Impatience of the Hurry and Fatigue he suffers, and has formed a Resolution to fix himself, one time or other, in such a State as is suitable to the End of his Being. You hear Men every Day in Conversation profess, that all the Honour, Power, and Riches which they propose to themselves, cannot give Satisfaction enough to reward them for half the Anxiety they undergo in the Pursuit, or Possession of them. While Men are in this Temper (which happens very frequently) how inconsistent are they with themselves? They are wearied with the Toil they bear, but cannot find in their Hearts to relinquish it; Retirement is what they want, but they cannot betake themselves to it; While they pant after Shade and Covert, they still affect to appear in the most glittering Scenes of Life: But sure this is but just as reasonable as if a Man should call for more Lights, when he has a mind to go to Sleep.

——Sir Richard Steele, The Spectator.