“What, then?” says the congressional candidate from Mettibemps; the “new contributor” to the oceanic magazine; Mrs. Potiphar, from behind her liveries; and poor Dives, senior, from Wall Street; “Are we to give up all ambition?” God forbid. But, because one has a goal, must one be torn by poisoned spurs? We see on the Corso, in the days of the Carnival, what speed can be made by horses under torture. Shall we try those methods and that pace on our journeys?
So long as the American is resolved to do in one day the work of two, to make in one year the fortune of his whole life and his children’s, to earn before he is forty the reputation which belongs to threescore and ten, so long he will go about the streets wearing his present abject, pitiable, overwrought, joyless look. But, even without a change of heart or a reform of habits, he might better his countenance a little, if he would. Even if he does not feel like smiling, he might smile, if he tried; and that would be something. The muscles are all there; they count the same in the American as in the French or the Irish face; they relax easily in youth; the trick can be learned. And even a trick of it is better than none of it. Laughing masters might be as well paid as dancing masters to help on society! “Smiling made Easy” or the “Complete Art of Looking Good-natured” would be as taking titles on book-sellers’ shelves as “The Complete Letter-writer” or “Handbook of Behavior.” And nobody can calculate what might be the moral and spiritual results if it could only become the fashion to pursue this branch of the fine arts. Surliness of heart must melt a little under the simple effort to smile. A man will inevitably be a little less of a bear for trying to wear the face of a Christian.
“He who laughs can commit no deadly sin,” said the wise and sweet-hearted woman who was mother of Goethe.
Milk for babes; but, when they come to the age for meat of doctrine, teeth must be cut. It is harder work for souls than for bodies; but the processes are wonderfully parallel,—the results too, alas! If clergymen knew the symptoms of spiritual disease and death, as well as doctors do of disease and death of the flesh, and if the lists were published at end of each year and month and week, what a record would be shown! “Mortality in Brooklyn, or New York, or Philadelphia for the week ending July 7th.” We are so used to the curt heading of the little paragraph that our eye glances idly away from it, and we do not realize its sadness. By tens and by scores they have gone,—the men, the women, the babies; in hundreds new mourners are going about the streets, week by week. We are as familiar with black as with scarlet, with the hearse as with the pleasure-carriage; and yet “so dies in human hearts the thought of death” that we can be merry.
But, if we knew as well the record of sick and dying and dead souls, our hearts would break. The air would be dark and stifling. We should be afraid to move,—lest we might hasten the last hour of some neighbor’s spiritual breath. Ah, how often have we unconsciously spoken the one word which was poison to his fever!