We make bold guesses and confident affirmations as to the comparative influence of heredity and environment. We enter into learned disputations as to the blessing or the bane of an education such as his. But every such case is still a profound and insoluble mystery. The most comprehensive laws and the most careful generalizations meet with too many exceptions to enable us to form a science. The children of the good are too often bad and the children of the bad too often good to permit us to dogmatize about heredity. We learn as our experience deepens and our horizon widens to regard such collapses with a compassionate sympathy and a humbled consciousness of our own unfitness to judge and condemn. Whether we create our individuality or only bring it to light—is the question that makes us stumble! But while we move in the midst of uncertainties in this realm, there is another in which we walk in the glare of noonday. We know beyond the peradventure of a doubt that whatever may be the origin of such weakness as that of the young mystic, the results are always inevitable! Nature never asks any questions nor makes any allowances. To her mind, sin is sin! Whatsoever a man sows—that shall he also reap. Whether he yield to evil voluntarily or be driven into it by resistless force; whether he sin because of a self-originating propensity or because his father sinned before him, is all one to those resistless executors of Nature’s law, sickness, sorrow, disaster, death!
No man ever defeated Nature! No man ever will! From the instant when he turned his back upon his home, David’s fate was sealed. He was playing against a certainty and he knew it. But he ought to have remembered it! It was of this that he ought to have been thinking, and not of the gypsy’s eyes!
Sometimes such men escape from the final catastrophe of the long series; but not from the intermediate lashings!
This brutal, idiotic step of Corson’s looks like a final plunge; a fatal fall; a hopeless retrogression. But we must not judge prematurely. “Man advances; but in spiral lines,” said Goethe. The river goes forward, in spite of its eddies. You can complete a geometric circle from a minute portion of its curve; but not a human cycle. We can not predict the final issue of a human life until the last sigh is drawn.
THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL
“To tell men they
cannot help themselves is to fling them into
recklessness and despair.”—Froude.
Although David did not know the exact route the quack had laid out for his journey, he was certain that it would be easy enough to trace him in that sparsely-settled region, and so he turned his face in the direction in which the equipage vanished when he watched it from the barn. His movements did not seem to come from his own volition but to originate in something external. He had a sense of yielding to necessity. There are heroic moments in our lives, when that subtle force we call our “will” demonstrates, or at all events persuades us, that we are “free.” There are others, like those through which the young adventurer was now passing, when we experience a feeling of utter helplessness amidst cosmic forces and believe ourselves to be straws in a mighty wind or ill-fated stars borne along a predestined orbit.