« AnteriorContinuar »
many. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem : also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine
desired I kept not from them: I withheld not my heart from any joy, for my heart rejoiced because of all
my and this was my portion from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that
hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
The king is next portrayed as giving himself in a similar spirit to ambition, with a like reflection on the experiment while he is trying it; the result is the same: “ What hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart wherein he laboreth under the sun ? For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea even in the night his heart taketh no rest. This also is vanity.” 2
The preacher's experience of wealth, pleasure, ambition is much that which Lord Byron has expressed, imputing his interpretation to Childe Harold :
“ Years steal Fire from the mind as vigor from the limb; And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.
“ His had been quaffed too quickly, and he found.
2 Eccles. ii. 22, 23.
And heavy though it clanked not; worn with pain,
Next the king tries philosophy; the result is no better. The wise man is none the better off for all his thinking: for “that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts ; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; and man hath no pre-eminence above the beasts : for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”
Wisdom, ambition, wealth, pleasure, all are vanity. It is useless to build houses and plant gardens and get men singers and women singers; useless to allow oneself to be inspired by a great ambition to attempt great things in the world, or to be incited by a great curiosity to understand life's mysteries ; for nothing can be changed and nothing can be discovered; all is vanity of vanities. The poet's conclusion as to wisdom, “of making many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh,” brings to mind that of the Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, as interpreted by Edward Fitzgerald :
“Myself when young, did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
1 Childe Harold : Canto iii., stanzas viii. and ix. 2 Eccles. iii. 19.
Next the king tries the golden mean: he proposes to take life as he finds it; to live day by day without ambition, without philosophy; to choose the middle path, the path of safety. He will try the plan of taking care of his own interests, but with some regard for his neighbor's property :
“Two are better than one ; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fail, the one will lift up
his fellow ; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth, but how can one be warm alone ? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." 1 Combination is better than unregulated competition: not because love and service are higher than self-seeking, but because combination is a wiser kind of self-seeking. All excess fails : feasting is to be moderated by sympathy for the mourner, for “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men;
and the king will lay it to his heart.” It is well to be righteous, but not too righteous; there is a golden mean between abandoning oneself unreservedly to self-indulgence and devoting oneself too heroically to virtue:
“Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise; why shouldest thou destroy thyself ? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish ; why shouldest thou die before thy time ? " 2 1 Eccles. iv. 9-12.
2 Eccles. vii. 16, 17.
The satirical conclusion of the king may be stated thus: be as virtuous as the public opinion of
your time requires; more than that is perilous ; less than that is fatal. In the same spirit of keen satire Cardinal Newman has graphically described 66 the safe man :
“In the present day, mistiness is the mother of wisdom. A man who can set down a half a dozen general propositions, which escape from destroying one another only by being diluted into truisms, who can hold the balance between opposites so skillfully as to do without fulcrum or beam, who never enunciates a truth without guarding himself against being supposed to exclude the contradictory, -- who holds that Scripture is the only authority, yet that the Church is to be deferred to, that faith only justifies, yet that it does not justify without works, that grace does not depend on the Sacraments, yet is not given without them, that bishops are a divine ordinance, yet those who have them not are in the same religious condition as those who have, safe man and the hope of the Church; this is what the Church is said to want, not party men, but sensible, temperate, sober, well-judging persons, to guide it through the channel of no-meaning between the Scylla and Charybdis of Aye and No.” 1
To be as good as the public opinion of your time requires is the golden mean. And what comes of that? How does it seem when old age comes on and death draws near? The poet endeavors in imagination to forecast the end of life, and with beau
1 Apologia Pro Vita Sua. By John Henry, Cardinal Newman. pp. 102, 103.
this is your
tiful poetic figures describes the habitation of the old man breaking down into decay and ruin :
I have no
“Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth ; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways
of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes ; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh ; for youth and the prime of life are vanity. Remember also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, or ever the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt
say, pleasure in them; or ever the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, be darkened, and the clouds return after the rain ; in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the street ; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low : yea, they shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way; and the almond tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and the caperberry shall fall : because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets; or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern; and the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return unto God who gave
it. ... “ This is the end of the matter; all that hath been heard : fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
For God shall bring every