But short experience does so too. We early learn to be content with screws, and to make the best of imperfect means. As I have been writing that last paragraph, I have been listening to a colloquy outside my study door, which is partly open. The parties engaged in the discussion were a certain little girl of five years old, and her nurse. The little girl is going out to spend the day at the house of a little companion; and she is going to take her doll with her. I heard various sentences not quite distinctly, which conveyed to me a general impression of perplexity; and at length, in a cheerful, decided voice, the little girl said, ’The people will never know it has got no legs!’ The doll, you see, was unsound. Accidents had brought it to an imperfect state. But that wise little girl had done what you and I, my reader, must try to do very frequently: she had made up her mind to make the best of a screw.
I learn a lesson, as I close my essay, from the old woman of eighty, and the little girl of five. Let us seek to reconcile our minds both to possessing screws, and (harder still) to being screws. Let us make the best of our imperfect possessions, and of our imperfect selves. Let us remember that a great deal of good can be done by means which fall very far short of perfection; that our moderate abilities, honestly and wisely husbanded and directed, may serve valuable ends in this world before we quit it,—ends which may remain after we are gone. I do not suppose that judicious critics, in pointing out an author’s faults, mean that he ought to stop writing altogether. There are hopeless cases in which he certainly ought: cases in which the steed passes being a screw, and is fit only for the hounds. But in most instances the critic would be quite wrong, if he argued what because his author has many flaws and defects, he should write no more. With all its errors, what he writes may be much better than nothing; as the serviceable screw is better than no horse at all. And if the critic’s purpose is merely to show the author that the author is a screw,—why, if the author have any sense at all, he knows that already. He does not claim to be wiser than other men; and still less to be better: yet he may try to do his best. With many defects and errors, still fair work may be turned off. I will not forget the lame horses that took the coach so well to Inverary. And I remember certain words in which one who is all but the greatest English poet declared that under the heavy visitation of God he would do his utmost still. Here is the resolution of a noble screw:—
Against Heaven’s hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
Concerning solitary days.