THE LORDS OF THE EXCHEQUER, THE DESIRES
The Desire of Society.—Another Desire common to all people is the Desire to be together. We all want company, neighbours, friends, acquaintances. Little children love to play with other little children in the street; you see half a dozen little creatures of two years old or so toddling about together, talking their baby talk, and taking much pleasure in one another. The great joy of going to school is to be with other boys and girls of about the same age and standing. Young men have their clubs, men and women have parties; men of little or no education will hang about together, if they seldom speak, and people of certain savage nations will sit in silent circles by the hour. The same reason is at work in them all; all have the Desire of Society. We want to see each other’s faces, to hear each other’s voices, to give pleasure to, and receive pleasure from, each other.
We learn from Society.—In this way we learn, for most people have things to say that it is good to hear; and we should have something to produce from our own stores that will interest others—something
we have seen or heard, read or thought. When our late beloved Queen was a young girl, many interesting people were introduced to her that she might talk with them—great travellers, men of science, inventors, soldiers, sailors. She had already read and thought about the subject each was interested in, so she was able to converse with them with pleasure and profit both to herself and to them. If you know something of botany, a botanist will care to talk to you about his subject; something of history, a historian will do the same. If you know nothing of his subject, you may be in company with the greatest poet or adventurer or painter, and be able to talk only about the weather. This is well understood among royal and other great people, who, it is said, get most of their knowledge at first hand. They learn about recent discoveries in astronomy from the astronomer who is engaged upon them, about evolution from such an one as Darwin, and so on. We are sometimes inclined to envy the great their opportunities for first-hand information; but let us remember that to profit by the talk of even the most able persons implies a twofold preparation which princes and their like acquire at a cost of diligent labour that would surprise most young people. They bring two things as their share of the talk—cultivated and intelligent minds, and a pretty thorough knowledge of a great range of subjects. With the same equipment we, too, should make the most of our opportunities of talk, and it seems to me that people always get what they are really ready for. I am not sure that this is a rule of God’s providence, but, so far as I can find out, it holds good. Anyway, it is worth while to be ready for the best in conversation as in other things, and then this natural
Desire will do its devoir in collecting sustenance for the mind.
But it is not only from the best and ablest we may learn. I have seen ill-bred people in a room, an even at table, who had nothing to say because they did not think their neighbour worth talking to, whereas, if they could only get speech with So-and-so, whom they watch from a distance, how their words would flow! This is not only unmannerly and unkind, but is foolish, and a source of loss to themselves. Perhaps there is no one who has not some bit of knowledge or experience, or who has not had some thought, all his own. A good story is told of Sir Walter Scott, how he was travelling from London to Edinburgh by the stage-coach, and sharing the box-seat with him was a man who would not talk. He tried the weather, crops, politics, books, every subject he could think of—and we may be sure they were many. At last, in despair, he turned round with, “Well, what can you talk about , sir?” “Bent leather,” said the man; and, added Sir Walter, “we had one of the most interesting conversations I remember.” Everybody has his ‘bent leather’ to talk about, if we have the gift to get at it.
Dangers attending the Love of Society.—Two dangers attend the love of society: one belongs especially, as I said before, to the vain person who will, at all costs, be flattered, and therefore chooses his friends among those who are inferior to himself and who will make believe to look up to him and make much of him.
The other danger attending the love of society is that which belongs to each of our natural desires. It is that this craving should take possession of our whole
lives, and get the mastery over Mansoul. ‘There is no harm in it,’ says the woman at the cottage door, gossiping with her neighbour; so says the girl, who chances on her friends in the morning, plays tennis in the afternoon, and goes out in the evening—is, in fact, all day chattering here and there, with nothing to show for it. There are those who are so busy running hither and thither, seeing and being seen, talking and being talked to, that they are the veriest beggars as regards their own thoughts and resources. This is a sort of shipwreck of life which people do not lament over as they do when a man drinks or falls into some other flagrant vice; but the shipwreck is perhaps just as complete, though not so unpleasant to the person’s friends.
Society, a Banquet at which all Provide.—Society, if it be only a chat between two or three acquaintances, is a banquet to which each of the company must bring something. Young people often find this trying, because they feel they have nothing to say unless to one or two people with whom they are intimate. Let them take comfort; intelligent listening is a very good viand for this table, and, what is more, a viand to everybody’s taste. There are more people who can talk than who can listen. I daresay you have been amused in watching groups of talkers to notice that everyone is talking at once and nobody listening. To listen with all one’s mind is an act of delicate courtesy which draws their best out of even dull people.
People of little culture can talk only to their own set or to their own particular ‘chums.’ ‘Horsey’ men have nothing to say except to ‘horsey’ men; ‘doggy’ boys except to ‘doggy’ boys’; school-boys
to school-boys; school-girls to school-girls; soldiers to soldiers, and sailors to sailors. This is natural enough, for, says the proverb, ‘birds of a feather flock together’; but it is not wise, for it is choosing to live in our own particular paddock instead of taking our share in the interests of the great world.
The Desire of Knowledge.—I have left till last the Desire which truly is to the Mind as Hunger is to the Body, that is, the Desire of Knowledge. Everybody wants to know, but some people wish to know things worthy, and others, things unworthy. The Desire of unworthy knowledge is commonly called Curiosity. ‘Where did you buy it?’ ‘How much did it cost?’ ‘What did she say?’ ‘Who was there?’ ‘Why are they not on good terms?’ and so on, are the sort of questions that Curiosity asks. It seems harmless enough to satisfy oneself with scraps of news about this notable person and the other, a murderer or a millionaire, a statesman or a soldier, a great lady or a dancing-girl—Curiosity is agape for news about any or all of them. Curiosity is eager, too, to know and to tell the latest news about wireless telegraphy, motor cars, and what not. The real, and not spurious, Desire for knowledge would lead a person from the marvels of wireless telegraphy to some serious study of electricity; but Curiosity is satisfied to know something about a matter, and not really to know it.
Curiosity and the Desire of Knowledge.—Just as sweets and tarts satisfy Hunger, while they do very little to sustain life, so Curiosity satisfies the mind with the tit-bits it gathers, and the person who allows himself to be curious has no Desire for real knowledge. This is a pitiable misfortune, because
every human being has a natural Desire to explore those realms open to intellect of which I have already spoken. Upon the knowledge of these great matters—History, Literature, Nature, Science, Art—the Mind feeds and grows. It assimilates such knowledge as the body assimilates food, and the person becomes what is called magnanimous, that is, a person of great mind, wide interests, incapable of occupying himself much about petty, personal matters. What a pity to lose sight of such a possibility for the sake of miserable scraps of information about persons and things that have little connection with one another and little connection with ourselves!
Emulation and the Love of Knowledge.— The love of Knowledge, the noblest of our Desires, is in danger of being pushed out and deprived of its due share in the ordering of Mansoul if any one of the other Desires I have named gets the upper hand. This is especially the case when Emulation takes the place of the love of Knowledge. People employ themselves about Knowledge, about Mathematics, Poetry, History, in a feverish, eager way, not at all for the love of these things, but for the sake of prize or place, some reward bestowed on Emulation. But Knowledge has her own prizes, and these she reserves for her lovers. It is only in so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment. He who delights in her, not for the sake of showing off, and not for the sake of excelling others, but just because she is so worthy to be loved, cannot be unhappy. He says, ‘My mind to me a kingdom is’—and, however unsatisfactory things are in his outer life, he retires into that kingdom and is entertained and delighted by the
curious, beautiful, and wonderful things he has stored within.
‘Marks’ and Knowledge.—Many boys and girls take pleasure in going to school, not for the sake of what they learn there, but for the sake of the marks which give them places above certain of their classmates. They should understand that marks and places and the power to pass examinations is all they get. As Mr Ruskin has said, “They cram to pass, and not to know; they do pass; and they don’t know.” Knowledge, as an abiding joy, comes only to those who love her for her own sake, and not to those who use her to get on in school or in life.
All Persons have Powers of Mind.—There is much more to be said about the House of Mind, but perhaps this is enough to go on with for the present. Probably you are aware, in hearing of Intellect, Imagination, the Beauty Sense, the Desires, and the rest, of a feeling of wondering interest and surprise to recognise that all these things are a part of you, your very self. Still more interesting and surprising it is to know that these amazing powers and possibilities belong, more or less, to every little urchin we meet in the street. I say, more or less, because the greater the powers and qualities of mind possessed by our parents, grandparents, and far-removed ancestors, the greater will our own probably, but by no means certainly, be. But, excepting in the sad case of idiots, there never was a child born into the world, of civilised or of savage parents, who did not come gifted with all these great possibilities in some degree. What a reason have we here for doing whatever in us lies towards giving every person in the world the chance of being
all that he came into the world provided and intended to be!
The Ordering of our Thoughts.—We need not carry this little bit of knowledge about ourselves like a pack on our back. Once one knows a thing it comes to mind when it is wanted, and is not a burden to think of all the time. You are not always thinking, ‘If I put my finger in the fire, it will be burnt,’ but you know that is the case, and so do not do a foolish thing. In the same way, if you know the effect of caring for marks only, you endeavour to throw your mind and interest into your work for its own sake; so, far from being a burden, this knowledge will at once make work become delight. A king’s palace is no more trouble to him than a labourer’s cottage, to him, though the king knows of all the treasures his palace contains, and how they are to be safeguarded, used, and enjoyed; but the needful arrangements are made, and all goes on without further thought on his part. So with us in this matter of ordering our thoughts, for that is all it comes to. To know that we must order our thoughts; that we can do so; and how and when to interfere with the career of these same thoughts, is not the whole, but, I believe, it is half, the battle.