Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XIX.

HAPPINESS AND MISERY.

Boston, August 15, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

For the past two weeks Mr. De Demain and I have been comparing notes on the character of the people of two hundred years ago and that of the people of today, and I will give you his summing-up of his side of the case:

“Whether the people of today are more virtuous, more generous, more honest, more sympathetic is a secondary consideration. The main question is: Are they more happy? Without groping about in the semi-darkness that dims the past and trying to discover how man came to be an inhabitant of the earth; without calling upon metaphysics to tell us why he is here and what is his destiny; without even asking our own individual consciousness whether there be another existence after that which seems like death has made our body dead,—we may use our individual experiences in solving, individually, what is known as the problem of life.

“I say to myself: ‘The world is here, and I am here.” My senses and reason combined lead me to believe that certain things have happened, that certain things are happening, and that certain things will happen. The latter is always problematical. I am not sure that certain things will happen. Past experiences, either of myself or others, make it probable that they will happen. Whether there be a reason or be no reason why I am here I care not; my sole object, so far as I consciously control myself, is happiness. There can be no nobler object in life than happiness. That may or may not be what we are here for, but a man who, when dying, can look back over the years, months, and days of his existence and say he has been happy has not lived for nothing. His transitory stay upon the globe has added something to the sum of all things,—that something his individual happiness. He has answered the question: ‘Is life worth living?’ Even if death be the end of existence, it is better to have lived and been happy even for a few years than not to have lived at all.

“The problem of life, then, is how to be happy, or, how to be most happy and least miserable. In order to be happy, we cannot close our eyes and stalk forth through time. The more closely man observes the world, the less he believes that it was created especially for his benefit. I think that most human individuals believe today that the world was no more made for man than man for silk hats. Man must conform himself to the world as the hat must conform to man’s head. Man must watch nature within himself and outside of himself. He must follow nature where he cannot overcome nature to advantage. He must study the future in order to be happy. Happiness depends more upon tomorrow than upon today. To know what is to be tomorrow is to be happy. Look carefully at the circumstances that surround you; then strive to find what will be their result. If you have good reason to believe that the result will not bring you happiness, try to change the circumstances. If you cannot change them, conform yourself to them. Either put the things with which you must come in contact in harmony with yourself, or put yourself in harmony with them. In order to be happy you must do one or the other. Compromise. Don’t lay out a path through the future and rush along it, never mind what obstacles intervene. You are liable to run your head against rocks and trees, to get stuck in the mud or fall over a ledge.

“Lay out your path as you go along. Go slow, unless your way is clear. When you come to a rock or a ditch, stop and calculate whether it be better to climb over or go around. Before you do anything, do not ask yourself: Is this right? Is this honest? Is this virtuous? Right, honesty, virtue mean nothing except as they are interpreted by the individual. What leads to happiness is right, is honest, is virtuous; what leads to misery is wrong, is dishonest, is not virtuous.

“The road to happiness is not straight, and its outlines are often dim. I was once asked by a student in college if I could think of any additional sense that it would be of advantage for man to possess and that might reasonably exist. I answered that a sense which could look into the future would be reasonable and of greater service to man than either hearing or smell. If man could see into tomorrow, there would be little misery in the world. The future is a problem the solution of which can only be approximated by the shrewdest minds, the closest observers, and deepest thinkers. Such men should be most happy, and such men are usually most happy.

“We consider Anarchy the best social condition under which men can live and procure the greatest amount of happiness with the least amount of misery. This is why we think Anarchy better than the State. You must, I think, acknowledge that I have convinced you that the people are at least much more happy today than they were two centuries ago. This is all we claim for Anarchy,—that it is the greatest promoter of happiness that has yet been conceived.”

I am not quite willing yet to acknowledge that I believe the people of today more happy than they were in the good old times that I remember. The common people are more happy today, but the upper classes,—I keep constantly forgetting that there are no upper classes,—the people of superior intellect who should form an upper class,—are no happier, or I do not see how they can be more happy, than they were when I was one of them.

Josephine.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2166 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.