Thus, begging the Positivists not to regard him as a rival or competitor in the business of instructing the human race, he says:—]
I aspire to no such elevated and difficult situation. I declare myself not only undesirous of it, but deeply conscious of a constitutional unfitness for it. Age and hygienic necessities bind me to a somewhat anchoritic life in pure air, with abundant leisure to meditate upon the wisdom of Candide’s sage aphorism, “Cultivons notre jardin”—especially if the term garden may be taken broadly and applied to the stony and weed-grown ground within my skull, as well as to a few perches of more promising chalk down outside it. In addition to these effectual bars to any of the ambitious pretensions ascribed to me, there is another: of all possible positions that of master of a school, or leader of a sect, or chief of a party, appears to me to be the most undesirable; in fact, the average British matron cannot look upon followers with a more evil eye than I do. Such acquaintance with the history of thought as I possess, has taught me to regard schools, parties, and sects, as arrangements, the usual effect of which is to perpetuate all that is worst and feeblest in the master’s, leader’s, or founder’s work; or else, as in some cases, to upset it altogether; as a sort of hydrants for extinguishing the fire of genius, and for stifling the flame of high aspirations, the kindling of which has been the chief, perhaps the only, merit of the protagonist of the movement. I have always been, am, and propose to remain a mere scholar. All that I have ever proposed to myself is to say, this and this have I learned; thus and thus have I learned it: go thou and learn better; but do not thrust on my shoulders the responsibility for your own laziness if you elect to take, on my authority, conclusions, the value of which you ought to have tested for yourself.
[Again, replying to the reproach that all his public utterances had been of a negative character, that the great problems of human life had been entirely left out of his purview, he defends once more the work of the man who clears the ground for the builders to come after him:—]
There is endless backwoodsman’s work yet to be done, If “those also serve who only stand and wait,” still more do those who sweep and cleanse; and if any man elect to give his strength to the weeder’s and scavenger’s occupation, I remain of the opinion that his service should be counted acceptable, and that no one has a right to ask more of him than faithful performance of the duties he has undertaken. I venture to count it an improbable suggestion that any such person—a man, let us say, who has well-nigh reached his threescore years and ten, and has graduated in all the faculties of human relationships; who has taken his share in all the deep joys and deeper anxieties which cling about them; who has felt the burden of young lives entrusted to his care, and has stood alone with his dead before the abyss of the eternal—has never had a thought beyond negative criticism. It seems to me incredible that such an one can have done his day’s work, always with a light heart, with no sense of responsibility, no terror of that which may appear when the factitious veil of Isis—the thick web of fiction man has woven round nature—is stripped off.