And the anecdote of Charles II. and the Royal Society is well known. “Why is it, my lords and gentlemen," said he, “that if you fill a vessel with water to the very brim, so that it will not hold a single drop more, yet putting a turbot into the water it will not overflow the vessel ? ” Many were the sage conjectures; that the fish would drink'as much water as compensated for its own bulk, condensing the water to that amount; that the air-bladder had something to do with the phenomena, and a hundred others which were propounded and abandoned in their turn, much to the amusement of the merry monarch. * At length Mr. Wren (afterwards Sir Christopher) modestly asked, “But is your majesty sure that such would be the case ?“Ay, there," exclaimed his majesty, laughing, “you have it; always, gentlemen, find out if a thing be true before you proceed to account for it; then I shall not be ashamed of the charter I have given you.” Dean Swift must have had in his mind some such vain excursions of the fancy when, in his voyage to Laputa, he was permitted to see the grand academy of Lagado; and wandering through the various class-rooms he found in one the professor who had, for eight years, been engaged in a project for extractting sunbeams from cucumbers ;. and in another, one who was at work calcining ice into gunpowder ; in another, an architect who had contrived'a new method of building a house by beginning at the roof.

In one apartment a projector who had devised å plan for ploughing the ground with hogs to save the charges of ploughs, cattle, and labour ; and in another, one who had proposed to himself to employ spiders effectually to save the difficulty and expense of silkworms; while in the School of Language professors were found who had devised a project for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever, as an advantage in point of brevity and health, while others not prepared to advance so far, proposed to shorten discourse by cutting polysyllables into one, leaving out verbs and participles, because in reality all things are but nouns. Mr. Gulliver must have had a keen sense of the disputes which have gone on beneath the shadow of the ass, but we are not to conceal from ourselves that it is often from the most unlikely topics of inquiry that the most important discoveries connected with the advancement of science have originated; all is not foolish which looks so; a fop laughed as he passed by the garden of a gentleman and saw him engaged in blowing soap-bubbles; but a passer-by reproved the sneerer, and told him that he saw Sir Isaac Newton watching certain prismatic effects and analysing through them the laws of light.

Many persons appear to have disdained the lessons of common sense; they have slighted and have been ashamed to look for the humble causes lying near them, even at their feet; yet we may be sure that to slight these humble lessons is to slight our own happiness. It is evident that God has made the happiness of most people to depend upon the simple fulfilment of an ordinary round of duties—duties clear and legible, and very easily to be apprehended and understood. Man is kindly endowed by the All-Good Father with eyes, ears, touch, taste and smell. These are common senses; they are the property of all, or nearly all, human beings. Suppose a man to cut these common sensations off from himself, he destroys the means of his happiness, he robs himself of the great auxiliaries to his enjoyment. There is a muscular sense which is the common property of mankind, and the exceptions to its enjoyment are perhaps rarer than those to the other senses. There is the sense that delights in motion ; it loves to exercise itself by leaping, running, walking; it feels pleasure in exposure to the elements, if such exposure calls for the exertion of the muscular nature. Suppose a man to cut himself off from these enjoyments, from his common sense; now, are there not other sensations which we all share in common with the whole human family? For instance, are not the commandments of God, in His great moral law, addressed to common perceptions; do they not find a response in our higher and more intuitive faculties, as well as in the more ordinary intimations of the mind?-the sentiment of self-preservation, the sentiment of society, the sentiments of religion, of justice, of order, of propriety, these are everywhere developed. Over some minds a veil has been spread preventing their full recognition, but still they are in the heart and mind of man; they are everywhere engraven, and a departure from these, too, is a departure from the common sense of mankind. Well, may it not be said that the lives of nearly all of us, in our present state of society, are robberies upon common sense ? As we should say that those senses best met their original design which are excited in health and life, so that eye, and ear, and taste, and touch, and smell were each active, and all healthy and all harmonious, so that seems to be the healthy state of mind in which all its senses are exercised in due and proper balance, when all things are cared for in their proper proportions, and estimated at their real and proper value. In such a state as this men will not dispute concerning the shadow of an ass, or spend their days and years in fishing for the one-eyed perch.

Some misunderstanding in reference to the meaning of the word common sense has originated from our good friend the practical man

n; it is very usual to hear people express themselves as if common sense signified the renunciation of every idea above the simple knowledge that two and two make four, and that twenty shillings make a pound. “ I'm a common-sense sort of a man ; I'm none of your theorists; I'm a practical man." But we have found


these “ practical men” sometimes of all men the farthest removed from common sense, for common sense does not mean stolidity, blindness, mental inactivity; it perhaps does not signify profoundness, but it implies acuteness. The practical man is very often a man who cannot be certain of anything beyond his nose, and does not believe that his nose is upon his face, unless he squints, to be certain that it is indeed there; the common-sense man occupies a medium place between thick-skinned, stolid ignorance and erudite philosophy; for the first it is far too sensible, for the last it has not time nor opportunity. Perhaps common-sense men have been the greatest theorists, for theories have only been the illustration and amplification of data built on facts. The province of these perceptive faculties we denominate common sense; it is to observe facts, and to make inferences from them, and to apply those inferences to the great and various concerns of life. Practical me look at the facts before them, and never go beyond. A “ practical man ”would never notice any analogy from the boiling kettle which might expand itself into the idea of a steam engine. A practical man walking through the market of his country town sees no resemblance between it and the great markets of the world; but the common-sense man perceives readily the meaning of the whole laws of trade, he comprehends, from the necessities of his own markets, the necessity of freedom for trade everywhere, learns the supreme importance of leaving it to its own resources. In fact, common sense looks at nature everywhere, and, putting two ideas together, it says I can make this thought do that work. For common sense does not so much reflect and reason, as we have said above; it sees and applies. It does not read homilies, and make sermons, and deliver speeches ; it seeks to do and to be. It is eminently the practical angel of life; its office is not to make orations and poems, but to make ploughs and ploughshares ; not to construct a camera obscura, or a panorama, but a diving-bell, a steam-ship; and it would enumerate amongst its apostles. and devotees, not Seneca nor Spinoza, still less names even far loftier than these; but Caxton, and Watt, and Franklin, and Bacon. The wise man's eyes are in his head.” Common sense enlightens those eyes by caution, prudence, calculation, self-preservation, watchfulness. Perhaps it is the utilitarian element of the soul, fronting it everywhere with the proportion of price to value, but it is undoubtedly that element which gives to the mind its self-respect, to the body ease and comfort, which strews life with enjoyments, and surrounds the avenues of home, if not with the graces, with the proprieties and order which smoothe over the ruggedness of daily toil, and twine around the higher hopes and ambitions to which life is but a prelude and a preparation.


In the course of these papers I have referred to the almost invariable bearing of proverbs on the practical aspects of life. How seldom they indulge in dreams or speculations; these pursuits of the mind are left to the imaginative and poetic faculties of our nature, and it is to be hoped that these will never cease to find appropriate exercise, fields for flight, and food for sustenance; but it is common sense which uses words as the helves for the axe of a keen practical wit like that proverbial saying of old, But will they carry the Thames with them?

It was Richard III., I believe, who sent a message by a courtier to the City of London that, so great was his displeasure against the city that he had a mind to divert both the terms and Parliaments to Oxford, when one of the aldermen of the City said, “But will he turn the channel of the Thames ? will he take away the Thames with him? If not, we shall do well enough.” And truly there are times when, amidst the envy and anger of men, we may ask for our own satisfaction the same question. There are some things of which malice cannot deprive us; always it remains true that " A good man shull be satisfied from himself.In the time of famine he shall be satisfied.Thou shalt make them to drink of the river of Thy pleasures.” If I have lost my ring, I have not lost my fingers.What the wind gathers the wind scatters.And " What is found in the highway may be lost in the highway.I remember hearing Mr. Cobden once, when some of the large landowners had almost threatened that, if the anti-Corn Law measures were passed, they would be compelled to live out of England, reply, “ But will they take the land with them?” And it was almost a paraphrase of the speech of the old alderman in the time of Richard III. The speeches of folly can often only be answered by some such pert rejoinder setting the folly in a strong light. Words seem often to be used as heedlessly as hurriedly; it is not only true In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin,but almost in the proportion to their rapidity will be their senselessness. The horseshoe that clatters wants a nail.” This proverb seems to be spoken of those talkative persons and vain boasters who, by their loud speech, give the assurance that they have no great stock on hand ; it is no good sign either to horse or rider when the horse-shoe clatters; and the old proverb says, It is well to do all the good we talk of, but it is not well to talk of all the good we do.” This is much cry and little wool,” the old enemy said when he was shearing the pigs. And although another proverb says, Every man is his own trumpeter," the lips which never erred warned us against “sounding a trumpet before us as the hypocrites do." And another proverb says, “ Answer a fool according to his folly."

When that eminent man, Robert Robinson, first went to Cambridge, he was exceedingly annoyed by some of the younger gownsmen. Dissent was subject to much scorn, persecution, and satire in those days. He succeeded, however, in effecting a change, and frequently had the opportunity of replying to the irritating insects, as in the following instance :-A wager was laid among a party of undergraduates. One of them wagered that he would take his station on the steps of the pulpit with a large ear trumpet in his hand and remain there till the end of the service. Accordingly he mounted the steps, put the trumpet to his ear, and played the part of a deaf man with all possible gravity ; bis friends were in the aisles below tittering at the hoax, the congregation were scandalised, but the preacher alone seemed insensible to what was going on. The sermon was on God's mercy. Pursuing his reflections for some time, at length the preacher said, “Not only, my Christian friends, does the mercy of God extend to the most enormous of criminals, so that none, however guilty, may not, if duly penitent, be partakers of the Divine grace, but also there are none so low, so mean, so worthless as not to be objects of God's fatherly solicitude and care; indeed, I do hope that it may one day be extended to "-and, leaning over the pulpit, he stretched out his arm to its utmost length, placing his hand on the head of the gownsman-"even to this silly boy.” It is said the wager was lost, for the trumpet fell

, and the discomfited stripling himself soon vanished from the


The Children's Hour.




CHAPTER IX.- Lost. Bessie was overwhelmed with grief at finding how much mischief had resulted from tidying away a letter. When Carrie threw herself into a chair and wept and sobbed violently, and Mr. Lacey turned pale and looked very sad and perplexed, Bessie wished that she could hide herself away from the sight of it all. She could not understand why a letter should be of so much importance, but she very plainly saw that it was, and she was greatly troubled at what she had done.

Bessie, as you know already, though she had some strange ways, was a loving little girl, who liked to be a comfort to others, and to

« ElőzőTovább »