The Debauchery of Mood

    THERE are so many ways of making wreck of this perilous gift of life! A little too strenuous or a little to weak, a little too hot or a little too cold, a little too fast or a little too slow, a little too severe or a little too lax, and we are undone. So nice an adjustment seems to be needed to bring our lives to anything like success and a decent termination. So delicately are we balanced, as it were, on the very brink between sweeping current and relentless eddy. An overfrail physique, and all your splendid attainments of mind and lofty ambitions are brought prematurely to the ground. Or, again, a stout and hardy endowment of [Page 273] body, and you may be undone by some unconquerable habit. For habit, like disease, is often hereditary, and as often contracted. It is germinal in its origin, but sure and virulent in effect. Who does not see in his own round of life a score of his friends undone by some minute lack, some flaw in the adjustment of their powers?
    Yet the great world moves on. Even our own small life proceeds. For whether it be to failure or success, the first need of being is endurance, – to endure with gladness if we can, with fortitude in any event. This is the core of life; this is the kernel of nature. How then shall he contrive to keep always near that central truth, the progress of existence? How shall we manage to share the glad strength of the earth, in spite of pain and danger and sorrow and bitter disappointment? It is not quite enough to be stoical. Or, perhaps one ought to say, it is too much. For the stoics, one feels, were inclined to shut up the doors of the heart against the great currents of pity and love [Page 274]. They hardly kept a welcome for joy; and when pleasure visited them, they were unprepared to make her at home. It seems there was too stubborn and negative a blend in their philosophy. To be stoical and nothing more is to be stolid. Whereas surely one should grow and change, be happy and sad, with changing and growing nature; nor should one always live indoors at the centre of one’s self, but occasionally come to the entry of being to meet one’s friends, to take the air of existence, to look abroad on the hills and valleys of universal life. One should not be unconscious of mood, in short.
    Yes, mood is necessary; mood is good and helpful; and anyhow it is inescapable. He who defies it is a rash man and far from wise. It is only by taking advantage of mood, of the mysterious, uncharted, and invisible tides of the spirit, that we shall ever make any successful ventures upon the deep sea of life, or bring our craft safely to port at last. Whether in art, or in science, or in the affairs [Page 275] of men, he who works with mood will be more successful than he who works without it. As for the mistaken man who sets himself to an accomplishment in defiance of his mood, time must teach him his own folly. He is like the daring and rebellious child who has never heard of the expression Deo volente, but purposes this or that, untempered by restriction, ignorant of fortune, defiant of fate.
    In old times men governed their actions by the stars or by auspices. They would undertake nothing unless the planets were propitious; and if they failed conspicuously, then the gods were against them, or the time in their horoscope had not arrived. They waited upon the convenient season, and sought out many inventions for divining it. In later years we have made mood a god. To-day, if I would invest money, or see a friend, or write a letter, or buy a house, or paint a picture, I no longer consult a soothsayer or con the pages of an ephemeris; I look into my own dark mind and say, “Am I in the mood for it [Page 276]?” We have made mood a touchstone of action. Our fathers made duty their priestess. It may be we are straying too far from their honourable faith, hard and narrow and cruel though it could be. But that was the evil of extremes. We may be in peril from the opposite error, and duty is a word that is dropping out of current use. Mood has usurped its place.
    But there is a debauchery of mood, just as there is an insanity of duty. An unflinching observance of duty, unmodified by any other idea, by mercy, by love, by gentleness, by generosity, might readily lead to almost inhuman hardness. The devotee of duty may become an unlovely and pestiferous monomaniac, a burden to himself and an infliction to others. We all know how angular and sour and uncomfortable a fanatic can be. It matters not whether he is a religious fanatic or a free-thinker, his inordinate devotion to his one conception of life is a nuisance. He is so [Page 277] stiff-necked that he cannot see anything outside of his own pasture. The beautiful plasticity of human nature at its best seems to have been left out of him.
    On the other hand, how much better is your modern watery sentimentalist? Duty for him is an old fabulous fetich. He maunders and meanders down the pavements of life, as he would through a rose garden. He knows no law but the indulgence of whim and the obedience to mood. He may have no strong evil propensities, but his flabby subservience to mood is a spiritual debauchery in itself.
    It is written in “The Book of St. Kavin,” “Take heed lest ye be overtaken in debauchery of mood.” And, indeed, it is a malady likely to attack the finest spirits. Knowing how essential mood is to the accomplishment of anything worth while, they wait upon its coming. Too seldom does it occur to them that mood is in any degree controllable. Yet it is so. And while we wait upon mood, we [Page 278] must also order and direct it; for mood is like fire, a good servant, but an evil master. Have all your hopes and plans come to ground in a day? Has sorrow knocked at your door? Has circumstance foiled your most generous wish? Still there is this life to be lived, and road of fortitude to be followed. Wait not upon returning mood for your happiness, but set forward at once. Perchance then the mood will follow you, with sunny face. If not, still there is the satisfaction that your part in the work of the universe will not have been slighted. Rightly assimilated, adversity, that bitter tonic, may yet yield health and a smiling countenance. So at last we may attain a measure of nobility of character, so that mood will follow us like a patient sister, and we shall be feeble slaves of her caprice no more.
    To sorrow, to misfortune, to anger, to hatred, do not give way. Have, if possible, a sane rule of conduct, and adhere to that gladly. For without adherence to some line of progress, how shall he hope for anything but drifting [Page 279] discontent? Let us keep mood, but as a servant; and let us keep duty, – as a servant, too. For greater than either is the free spirit of man [Page 280].