By William Makepeace Thackeray
* Reprinted from the Westminster Review for June, 1840. (No 66.)
Accusations of ingratitude, and just accusations no doubt, are made against every inhabitant of this wicked world, and the fact is, that a man who is ceaselessly engaged in its trouble and turmoil, borne hither and thither upon the fierce waves of the crowd, bustling, shifting, struggling to keep himself somewhat above water—fighting for reputation, or more likely for bread, and ceaselessly occupied to-day with plans for appeasing the eternal appetite of inevitable hunger to-morrow—a man in such straits has hardly time to think of anything but himself, and, as in a sinking ship, must make his own rush for the boats, and fight, struggle, and trample for safety. In the midst of such a combat as this, the “ingenious arts, which prevent the ferocity of the manners, and act upon them as an emollient” (as the philosophic bard remarks in the Latin Grammar) are likely to be jostled to death, and then forgotten. The world will allow no such compromises between it and that which does not belong to it—no two gods must we serve; but (as one has seen in some old portraits) the horrible glazed eyes of Necessity are always fixed upon you; fly away as you will, black Care sits behind you, and with his ceaseless gloomy croaking drowns the voice of all more cheerful companions. Happy he whose fortune has placed him where there is calm and plenty, and who has the wisdom not to give up his quiet in quest of visionary gain.
Here is, no doubt, the reason why a man, after the period of his boyhood, or first youth, makes so few friends. Want and ambition (new acquaintances which are introduced to him along with his beard) thrust away all other society from him. Some old friends remain, it is true, but these are become as a habit—a part of your selfishness; and, for new ones, they are selfish as you are. Neither member of the new partnership has the capital of affection and kindly feeling, or can even afford the time that is requisite for the establishment of the new firm. Damp and chill the shades of the prison-house begin to close round us, and that “vision splendid” which has accompanied our steps in our journey daily farther from the east, fades away and dies into the light of common day.
And what a common day! what a foggy, dull, shivering apology for light is this kind of muddy twilight through which we are about to tramp and flounder for the rest of our existence, wandering farther and farther from the beauty and freshness and from the kindly gushing springs of clear gladness that made all around us green in our youth! One wanders and gropes in a slough of stock-jobbing, one sinks or rises in a storm of politics, and in either case it is as good to fall as to rise—to mount a bubble on the crest of the wave, as to sink a stone to the bottom.