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The Angel and the Author, and Others By Jerome K. Jerome Characters: 12402

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Philosophy and the D?mon.

Philosophy, it has been said, is the art of bearing other people's troubles. The truest philosopher I ever heard of was a woman. She was brought into the London Hospital suffering from a poisoned leg. The house surgeon made a hurried examination. He was a man of blunt speech.

"It will have to come off," he told her.

"What, not all of it?"

"The whole of it, I am sorry to say," growled the house surgeon.

"Nothing else for it?"

"No other chance for you whatever," explained the house surgeon.

"Ah, well, thank Gawd it's not my 'ead," observed the lady.

The poor have a great advantage over us better-off folk. Providence provides them with many opportunities for the practice of philosophy. I was present at a "high tea" given last winter by charitable folk to a party of char-women. After the tables were cleared we sought to amuse them. One young lady, who was proud of herself as a palmist, set out to study their "lines." At sight of the first toil-worn hand she took hold of her sympathetic face grew sad.

"There is a great trouble coming to you," she informed the ancient dame.

The placid-featured dame looked up and smiled:

"What, only one, my dear?"

"Yes, only one," asserted the kind fortune-teller, much pleased, "after that all goes smoothly."

"Ah," murmured the old dame, quite cheerfully, "we was all of us a short-lived family."

Our skins harden to the blows of Fate. I was lunching one Wednesday with a friend in the country. His son and heir, aged twelve, entered and took his seat at the table.

"Well," said his father, "and how did we get on at school to-day?"

"Oh, all right," answered the youngster, settling himself down to his dinner with evident appetite.

"Nobody caned?" demanded his father, with-as I noticed-a sly twinkle in his eye.

"No," replied young hopeful, after reflection; "no, I don't think so," adding as an afterthought, as he tucked into beef and potatoes, "'cepting, o' course, me."

When the D?mon will not work.

It is a simple science, philosophy. The idea is that it never matters what happens to you provided you don't mind it. The weak point in the argument is that nine times out of ten you can't help minding it.

"No misfortune can harm me," says Marcus Aurelius, "without the consent of the d?mon within me."

The trouble is our d?mon cannot always be relied upon. So often he does not seem up to his work.

"You've been a naughty boy, and I'm going to whip you," said nurse to a four-year-old criminal.

"You tant," retorted the young ruffian, gripping with both hands the chair that he was occupying, "I'se sittin' on it."

His d?mon was, no doubt, resolved that misfortune, as personified by nurse, should not hurt him. The misfortune, alas! proved stronger than the d?mon, and misfortune, he found did hurt him.

The toothache cannot hurt us so long as the d?mon within us (that is to say, our will power) holds on to the chair and says it can't. But, sooner or later, the d?mon lets go, and then we howl. One sees the idea: in theory it is excellent. One makes believe. Your bank has suddenly stopped payment. You say to yourself.

"This does not really matter."

Your butcher and your baker say it does, and insist on making a row in the passage.

You fill yourself up with gooseberry wine. You tell yourself it is seasoned champagne. Your liver next morning says it is not.

The d?mon within us means well, but forgets it is not the only thing there. A man I knew was an enthusiast on vegetarianism. He argued that if the poor would adopt a vegetarian diet the problem of existence would be simpler for them, and maybe he was right. So one day he assembled some twenty poor lads for the purpose of introducing to them a vegetarian lunch. He begged them to believe that lentil beans were steaks, that cauliflowers were chops. As a third course he placed before them a mixture of carrots and savoury herbs, and urged them to imagine they were eating saveloys.

"Now, you all like saveloys," he said, addressing them, "and the palate is but the creature of the imagination. Say to yourselves, 'I am eating saveloys,' and for all practical purposes these things will be saveloys."

Some of the lads professed to have done it, but one disappointed-looking youth confessed to failure.

"But how can you be sure it was not a saveloy?" the host persisted.

"Because," explained the boy, "I haven't got the stomach-ache."

It appeared that saveloys, although a dish of which he was fond, invariably and immediately disagreed with him. If only we were all d?mon and nothing else philosophy would be easier. Unfortunately, there is more of us.

Another argument much approved by philosophy is that nothing matters, because a hundred years hence, say, at the outside, we shall be dead. What we really want is a philosophy that will enable us to get along while we are still alive. I am not worrying about my centenary; I am worrying about next quarter-day. I feel that if other people would only go away, and leave me-income-tax collectors, critics, men who come round about the gas, all those sort of people-I could be a philosopher myself. I am willing enough to make believe that nothing matters, but they are not. They say it is going to be cut off, and talk about judgment summonses. I tell them it won't trouble any of us a hundred years hence. They answer they are not talking of a hundred years hence, but of this thing that was due last April twelvemonth. They won't listen to my d?mon. He does not interest them. Nor, to be candid, does it comfort myself very much, this philosophical reflection that a hundred years later on I'll be sure to be dead-that is, with ordinary luck. What bucks me up much more is the hope that they will be dead. Besides, in a hundred years things may have improved. I may not want to be dead. If I were sure of being dead next morning, before their threat of cutting off that water or that gas could by any possibility be carried out, before that judgment summons they are bragging about could be made returnable, I might-I don't say I should-be amused, thinking how I was going to dish them. The wif

e of a very wicked man visited him one evening in prison, and found him enjoying a supper of toasted cheese.

"How foolish of you, Edward," argued the fond lady, "to be eating toasted cheese for supper. You know it always affects your liver. All day long to-morrow you will be complaining."

"No, I shan't," interrupted Edward; "not so foolish as you think me. They are going to hang me to-morrow-early."

There is a passage in Marcus Aurelius that used to puzzle me until I hit upon the solution. A foot-note says the meaning is obscure. Myself, I had gathered this before I read the foot-note. What it is all about I defy any human being to explain. It might mean anything; it might mean nothing. The majority of students incline to the latter theory, though a minority maintain there is a meaning, if only it could be discovered. My own conviction is that once in his life Marcus Aurelius had a real good time. He came home feeling pleased with himself without knowing quite why.

"I will write it down," he said to himself, "now, while it is fresh in my mind."

It seemed to him the most wonderful thing that anybody had ever said. Maybe he shed a tear or two, thinking of all the good he was doing, and later on went suddenly to sleep. In the morning he had forgotten all about it, and by accident it got mixed up with the rest of the book. That is the only explanation that seems to me possible, and it comforts me.

We are none of us philosophers all the time.

Philosophy is the science of suffering the inevitable, which most of us contrive to accomplish without the aid of philosophy. Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor of Rome, and Diogenes was a bachelor living rent free. I want the philosophy of the bank clerk married on thirty shillings a week, of the farm labourer bringing up a family of eight on a precarious wage of twelve shillings. The troubles of Marcus Aurelius were chiefly those of other people.

"Taxes will have to go up, I am afraid," no doubt he often sighed. "But, after all, what are taxes? A thing in conformity with the nature of man-a little thing that Zeus approves of, one feels sure. The d?mon within me says taxes don't really matter."

Maybe the paterfamilias of the period, who did the paying, worried about new sandals for the children, his wife insisting she hadn't a frock fit to be seen in at the amphitheatre; that, if there was one thing in the world she fancied, it was seeing a Christian eaten by a lion, but now she supposed the children would have to go without her, found that philosophy came to his aid less readily.

"Bother these barbarians," Marcus Aurelius may have been tempted, in an unphilosophical moment, to exclaim; "I do wish they would not burn these poor people's houses over their heads, toss the babies about on spears, and carry off the older children into slavery. Why don't they behave themselves?"

But philosophy in Marcus Aurelius would eventually triumph over passing fretfulness.

"But how foolish of me to be angry with them," he would argue with himself. "One is not vexed with the fig-tree for yielding figs, with the cucumber for being bitter! One must expect barbarians to behave barbariously."

Marcus Aurelius would proceed to slaughter the barbarians, and then forgive them. We can most of us forgive our brother his transgressions, having once got even with him. In a tiny Swiss village, behind the angle of the school-house wall, I came across a maiden crying bitterly, her head resting on her arm. I asked her what had happened. Between her sobs she explained that a school companion, a little lad about her own age, having snatched her hat from her head, was at that moment playing football with it the other side of the wall. I attempted to console her with philosophy. I pointed out to her that boys would be boys-that to expect from them at that age reverence for feminine headgear was to seek what was not conformable with the nature of boy. But she appeared to have no philosophy in her. She said he was a horrid boy, and that she hated him. It transpired it was a hat she rather fancied herself in. He peeped round the corner while we were talking, the hat in his hand. He held it out to her, but she took no notice of him. I gathered the incident was closed, and went my way, but turned a few steps further on, curious to witness the end. Step by step he approached nearer, looking a little ashamed of himself; but still she wept, her face hidden in her arm.

He was not expecting it: to all seeming she stood there the personification of the grief that is not to be comforted, oblivious to all surroundings. Incautiously he took another step. In an instant she had "landed" him over the head with a long narrow wooden box containing, one supposes, pencils and pens. He must have been a hard-headed youngster, the sound of the compact echoed through the valley. I met her again on my way back.

"Hat much damaged?" I inquired.

"Oh, no," she answered, smiling; "besides, it was only an old hat. I've got a better one for Sundays."

I often feel philosophical myself; generally over a good cigar after a satisfactory dinner. At such times I open my Marcus Aurelius, my pocket Epicurus, my translation of Plato's "Republic." At such times I agree with them. Man troubles himself too much about the unessential. Let us cultivate serenity. Nothing can happen to us that we have not been constituted by Nature to sustain. That foolish farm labourer, on his precarious wage of twelve shillings a week: let him dwell rather on the mercies he enjoys. Is he not spared all anxiety concerning safe investment of capital yielding four per cent.? Is not the sunrise and the sunset for him also? Many of us never see the sunrise. So many of our so-termed poorer brethen are privileged rarely to miss that early morning festival. Let the d?mon within them rejoice. Why should he fret when the children cry for bread? Is it not in the nature of things that the children of the poor should cry for bread? The gods in their wisdom have arranged it thus. Let the d?mon within him reflect upon the advantage to the community of cheap labour. Let the farm labourer contemplate the universal good.

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