Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table

A couple of months ago I pushed myself to stick this book out to the end. It was very interesting and amusing; however, the language was rather difficult, requiring frequent trips to the dictionary (not necessarily a bad thing :D). The real issue with the book is the many times when the author's opinions disagree with Scripture. Therefore I cannot bring myself to recommend the book. Here are a few quotations which I found to be of some value for those interested in a taste of it. Oh, one last thing: please don't think I'm endorsing every word in these quotes; I just like them for what good can be found in them.

"Beware of making your moral staple consist of the negative virtues. It is good to abstain, and teach others to abstain, from all that is sinful or hurtful. But making a business of it leads to emaciation of character, unless one feeds largely also on the more nutritious diet of active sympathetic benevolence" (page 17).

"How curious it is that we always consider solemnity and the absence of all gay surprises and encounter of wits as essential to the idea of the future life of theose whom we thus deprive of half their faculties and then call blessed! There are not a few who, even in this live, seem to be preparing themselves for that smileless eternity to which they look forward, by banishing all gayety from their hearts and all joyousness from their countenances. I meet one such in the street not unfrequently, a person of intelligence and education, but who gives me (and all that he passes) such a rayless and chilling look of recognition, - somthing as if he were one of Heaven's assessors, come down to "doom" every acquaintance he met, - that I have sometimes begun to sneeze on the spot, and gone home with a violent cold, dating from that instant. I don't doubt he would cut his kitten's tail off, if he caught her playing with it. Please tell me, who taught her to play with it?" (page 85, emphasis original).

"Every person's feelings have a front-door and a side-door by which they may be entered. The front-door is on the street. Some keep it always open; some keep it latched; some, locked; some bolted, - with a chain that will let you peep in, but not get in; and some nail it up, so that nothing can pass its threshold. This front-door leads into a passage which opens into an ante-room, and this into the interior apartments. THe side-door opens at once into the sacred chambers.

"There is almost always at least one key to this side-door. This is carried for years hidden in a mother's bosom. Fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends, often, but by no means so universally, have duplicates of it. The wedding-ring conveys a right to one; alas, if none is given with it!

"If nature or accident has put one of these keys into the hands of a person who has the torturing instinct, I can only solemnly pronounce the words that Justice utters over its doomed victim, - The Lord have mercy on your soul! You will probably go mad within a reasonable time, - or, if you are a man, run off and die with your head on a curb-stone, in Melbourne or San Francisco, - or, if you are a woman, quarrel and break your heart, or, turn into a pale, jointed petrifaction that moves about as if it were alive, or play some real life-tragedy or other.

"Be very careful to whome you trust one of these keys of the side-door. The fact of possessinjg one renders those even who are dear to you very terrible at times. You can keep the world out from you front-door, or receive visitors only when you are ready for them; but those of your own flesh and blood, or of certain grades of intimacy, can come in at the side-door, if they will, at any hour and in any mood. Som of them have a scale of your whole nervous system, and can play all the gamut of your sensibilities in semi-tones, - touching the naked nerve-pulps as a pianist strikes the keys of his instrument. I am satisfied that there are as great masters of this nerve-playing as Vieuxtemps or Thalberg in their lines of performance. Married life is the school in which the most accomplished artists in this department are found. . . . No stranger can get a great many notes of torture out of a human soul; it takes one that knows it well, - parent, child, brother, sister, intimate. Be very careful to whom you give a side-door key; too many have them already" (pages 114-115, emphasis original).

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