The Debauchery of Mood
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
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
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].