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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 3. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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page: 308


DOES the character make or attract the dominant circumstances of life? This is one of the problems I have never been able to answer. Yet it is specially interesting to myself, seeing that I have been in the wash of certain results, into which I was not conscious of plunging so much as of being overtaken by; as Orestes did not go to meet the Furies—they followed after him.

I have made, or attracted to myself, as the dominant circumstances of my life—Loneliness and Loss. Most of my moral investments have failed, and I have heaped up more fairy gold than substantial treasure. page: 309 This experience, so uniform in its working—must surely be due to some mental quality; as a man who takes all the epidemics afloat takes them because of some physical condition. Does constancy of circumstance spring from some personal fault, or is it the result of some uncatalogued law of attraction, which is to the moral life what facility for taking disease is to the physical? Is the silver spoon an airy fact, and luck more than the gambler's superstition? Yet how can one act differently from the law laid down by our moral condition? Let me go over those cross-lines which deface the smooth surface of a picture—give a list of various unfortunate investments whereby a man stands to lose all round.

With independence of judgment and inability to follow any leader, sheep-like, a man loses the support of every party, and may be attacked with most virulence by the very journals for which he himself has worked.

page: 310

With a passionate temperament, yet by principle striving after the moralities of patience and forbearance, he suffers wrong up to a certain point, and suffers so quietly that he gets to be looked on as uninflammable as a block of ice and with no more resisting power than a flock of wool. When suddenly the whole thing blazes and breaks asunder, and long-suffering and patience go by the board, like hen-coops in a storm. In which case his reprisals are resented as aggressions.

In politics a democrat, by birth a Brahmin of the Brahmins, he suffers real pain when brought into contact with the jagged edges of his rough diamonds. Yet, being loyal, he sticks by his chosen friends of the third region; and those of his inheritance despise him for his taste.

If a freethinker, all of whose early associations are in the camp of the orthodox, he has to submit to the condemnation of those he loves best—they believing that page: 311 faith is a matter of the will, and that unbelief is as much a voluntary crime as murder or burglary.

Loving peace in private life, but a hard hitter for conscience's conscience' sake, he offends those whom personally he loves and privately respects, because called on to denounce their public work.

If largely vitalized, his moral atmosphere has a certain quality of exaggeration which makes that people read into him and his words meanings other than his own, and give his grip a power he neither intended nor put out when he laid hold.

Having the courage of his convictions, and ready if need be to stand in the pillory for his flag, but as sensitive as a girl underneath his controversial armour, he suffers acutely when the lash falls; and though he makes no cry is tortured as severely as his worst enemies would desire.

Cultivating trust in goodness as a counterpoise to that arid suspiciousness which page: 312 springs from knowledge of the world, he is for ever falling among thieves; and as he would rather suffer loss than protect himself by sharp practice, he has the satisfaction of keeping his integrity at the expense of his worldly substance.

By nature constant, by the circumstances of his life unanchored, and by temperament unable to live on memories and dreams, he is always hoping afresh, to be disappointed anew; and true love of a vital kind is the mirage ever before him and never attained.

Such a man is on all sides a kind of Mohammed's coffin, firmly attached to nothing.

And I ask again the question I have never been able to answer: Does character make or attract the dominant circumstances of the life? Is conduct indeed fate, in any other sense than that in which the form of a crystal is determined by its own law?

page: 313

My own law of life has been, as I have said, that of loneliness and loss. This last is especially true of my deepest hopes and strongest affections. My friendships, on the other hand—friendships pure and simple—flourish when those others have withered and faded into nothingness. Without those friendships, I should be wrecked without redemption. With them, I can bear the intrinsic isolation of my life with the same feeling as I have when I warm my hands by another's fire. But friendship is not love; and another's fire is not my own.

For all that, I have still a life to lead, and ulterior possibilities to attain.

Old, grey-headed, alone—my passions tamed, my energy subdued, my hope dead, my love futile—I sit in the darkening twilight and think over the problem of existence and what it has taught me. So far, all my sorrows and disappointments have been of this good to me: They have broken page: 314 down the masterful passion of my temperament and crushed out of me the egotistical desire of personal happiness with which I began my career. Life has shown me that this personal happiness comes to us in fullest quantity when we give most and ask least; and that in the pain of renunciation itself is the consolation which is born of strength. It is only the weak who demand; the strong give—and in that giving shape for themselves the diadem which others ask from a beneficent fate and a generous fortune.

No age is too old for this outflowing of love. When the day is spent and the sun has gone down, the lustreless earth radiates its stored energy of heat into the night. And the old, who need care, can return gratitude, and while they accept consideration can bestow sympathy. I, who say this, say it with full knowledge of all that my words imply. I, who advocate the generous gift of love and the patient ten- tenderness page: 315 derness of altruism, speak from the door of no full storehouse, but rather from among the ruins of an empty and dismantled home. I do not, like some wealthy man married to the woman he loves and the father of children he adores, preach content with poverty and ascetic self-suppression to the poor wretch shivering and starving in the streets—to the heart-broken lover burning in the fever of despair on the other side of that impassable gulf. The catalogue of my possessions holds very little from which to gather joy or on which to found content. And yet I have both.

I stand absolutely alone, both spiritually and personally; with only my belief in the better future of humanity as a fixed point of faith, and only my desire to help on that better future as a stimulus to endeavour. I have no fulfilled hope; no realized ambition; no steadfast love to make life glad and the grey days golden; and death brings with it no certainty of amends, but only the vague page: 316 possibilities of the great Perhaps. Those whom I have most loved have most sorrowed me; what sacrifices I have made for the good of others have been rendered barren and abortive; my faith given to man has been again and again betrayed. The humanity, in the love of which I live, neither recognises my devotion nor knows of me as I am; and my hold on the present is as unsubstantial as was my hope in the past. I have no resting-place on earth and no surety of a home in heaven; and belief in the Divine Providence of God, which makes others resigned to their fate, has fallen from me, like the glorious dreams of my youth.

Nevertheless, I am neither broken nor unhappy. While there is a sunset to look at or a sunrise to watch for; human sorrow to be soothed and human virtue to be loved; knowledge to be gained; a new fact in science to be learned; a noble picture to see; stately music to hear—while the great work page: 317 of man's moral progress has to be continued and nature has still her secrets to be won—enough is left to make life worth living and energy worth preserving.

I repeat the words I have used once before, because the feeling repeats itself through the circumstance: Of what moment is individual happiness or misery, compared with the sum of the general content or loss? The individual is nothing; the Great Man is all. The present is the smallest of our possessions; in the future lie the unmeasured potentialities. And I find in this altruistic philosophy, as well as in the confession of an absolute, immovable, and impersonal Law, as much help as the pious find in resignation to the Will of God. In each it is the annihilation of self. Thus, though the day is almost over for myself, and all personal fruitfulness of aspiration has become an impossibility—though my past has been a failure, my love a regret, my hope an illusion—I am young, because I live in the page: 318 race which renews its youth with every day that dawns; and I am not disillusioned, because I love the virtues which never fail in the mass.

As I draw nearer and ever nearer to the moment when I shall be resolved into the Great Whole, and passion, which gives to youth its sense of reality, loosens its grip as vitality wanes in volume, I recognise ever more clearly the shifting, phantasmagoric and subjective character of life—and how that nothing is intrinsic nor essential, but all is conditional and accidental. Yet lying at the solid core within this changing world of phantasms is one truth as strong as a triple wall of brass—the great truth of moral evolution whence springs the doctrine of Duty.

Had I to write an ethical testament, it would be to lay on the heirs of my thought repudiation of the indolence of pessimism, of the sterility of egotism, of the fossilization of theology ‘that bastard page: 319 daughter of science and religion.’ I would urge them to measure the distance already traversed between the highest thinker and the lowest savage, and I would ask them: Where, with that long stride from the past, are the limits of the future to be set? I would substitute the good of others for endeavours after individual salvation; and for belief in a special Providence, guarding some and abandoning the rest, the impartiality of Law, which knows nothing beyond itself. For the concentration of thought and energy on the elucidation of unprovable dogmas, I would urge the active amelioration of physical evils; for theological finality, that vitalizing faith in indefinite expansion which makes all things possible. For human insulation I would show the homogeneity of all nature, where man is the brain, truly, of the world, but not outside the ring-fence, nor differing, save in degree and orderly development, from the rest. For the confession of abject sinful- sinfulness page: 320 ness I would teach a virile self-respect; for humility, magnanimity; for revelations, each differing from the other, the manly modesty of Agnosticism which knows nothing save the obligation of active well-doing; for imaginative hierarchies, the living truths of science; for the hope of Divine Blessing as the mainspring of endeavour, the practice of altruistic Duty as the absolute law of moral life; for the heaven that lies Beyond, doing the best we can with the things of time and space; and for an eternity passed in the companionship of saints and angels, cherubim and seraphim, the development of the living human being to the highest point of perfectibility of which he is capable.



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