Florida Pier       index

“The Gentler View,” Harper’s Weekly (August 26, 1911) : 21 : link
link (google)

      It is a very hard fate to be the sort of person who is never timely. Some of us are dogged by the phrases, “If you had only been here a fortnight ago,” or “Next month, of course, is the time.” After a lifetime of it there seems little use in going anywhere, since we shall be sure to arrive at the wrong moment. Flowers have always just passed their prime when we visit a garden, sopranos are not in good voice when we hear them, comedians have become spoiled by success and lost their old zest. It is amazing that, however charming a landscape seems to us, there is always some one near to explain that it has to be seen with “lights” to be appreciated.
      If we are doomed forever to miss apexes, humanity need not be so conscientious in seeing that our doom is carried out. Even children recognize us as marked, and add their jot to our unhappiness by piping, “We had on our silk dresses yesterday.” Probably at the moment of our birth some one exclaimed, “What a pity the baby didn’t come out yesterday — then it would have been a June baby.” There is always a reminder from some one of our bad luck. It so pricks the bubble of our enjoyment that we lack the spirit to maintain that we do not like things at their best, that we see virtues in their lesser states which the majority are unable discern. It is unaccounted-for inconveniences such as these that send one hurrying to a belief in reincarnation. It would be the greatest comfort to think that a grandmother who had never been punctual was working out her punishment in us. We would suffer more willingly if we could explain, with noble patience, that the distinguished, if difficult, old lady experienced great relief at our expiation of her little drawback. Some such reason would be infinitely preferable to appearing as we now do, just ridiculously inopportune, and stupidly ahead, or sillily behind, but never sufficiently intelligent to be present at the one and only moment.

The Oldest Inhabitant
      The oldest inhabitant remembers such dull things. It is depressing to think that a person who has lived to be a hundred has been struck by nothing as much as rises and falls in the temperature, with perhaps some slight attention given to floods and droughts. There is almost the deduction to be made that dullness induces longevity, and this plunges us at once into fear of an early death for ourselves, or, worse still, a self-revealing ripe old age. Oldest inhabitants are invariably the objects of congratulation, reigning sovereigns sometimes sending complimentary telegrams when a hundred and one is attained, while neighbors and friends rally around the ancient creatures on all possible occasions. Strangers drive from great distances just to look at such extreme age, and the appalling older parties make a living out of their long-continued triviality. Though it must be honestly confessed that the writer has never known a centenarian personally — and a certain feeling of thankfulness is mingled with the confession — the papers quoting them as they do on every possible occasion leaves little doubt of their uncommon dullness. To have a seen a hundred years pass and remain at the end of it naught but a breathing barometer — there is a sadness in the exhibition. As a believer in the charm of human existence, one is glad that the thing does not happen more frequently. The old souls give to the anxiously listening public solemn words of advice as to the wisest course in diet. One attributes his great achievement in the art of continued respiration to the use of oatmeal, and another to the abstention from all cereals. How can they be anything but heartily embarrassed at thus confessing to a pride in maintaining for a century what ought to have bored them to extinction in a week? One hundred years of eating cereals and watching the thermometer! — we blush for them if they do not blush for themselves.

      Nothing could be more all-round comfortable than the inability of authorities to agree. From their libraries and laboratories they charmingly pronounce the last word, and never is the last word the same as it issues forth from differing sources. This is just as we would have it. No other arrangement would permit us the dogmatism dear to our hearts. We base our beliefs on our preferences, and then find an authority to back us — whose preferences have been so strong that he has unearthed facts to prove their unassailability. Clasping his conclusions to us, we bathe in that agreeable sensation of confronting the world, invulnerable because of the chip on our shoulder. Those whose preferences are the opposite of ours have the simple task of finding an opposing authority, and, thus armed, neither feels the slightest need of proof. Proof would be but so much unnecessary weight when naming our authority, and glaring invincibly is all that is required. It may be that the authorities themselves enjoy our unquestioning adherence. If so, the situation is, indeed, amicable. We do not want anything on which to build our beliefs; what we wish is a name with which to cap them, a name so big that it will snuff out opposition. Oposition necessitate an inspection of our forces, and we do not like that. Marshaling our thoughts is a bothersome business. An expert’s name fits in with our requirements. We smile complacently at the inability of our adversary to refute the prestige of the great name, knowing the while our own ability to build up a logical argument on which to place honestly the expert’s ultimatum. This does not disturb us. We feel that to be vague about everything but the final asseveration is a state wholly compatible with normal man. The substitution of vagueness for processes fairly strengthens us in our opinions. If we believe a thing without knowing why, it resembles predestination, or an act of Providence, and we are not only surprisingly right, we are inspired. The proof of it is that the same ray of light illumined the mind of our authority.

29 August 2022