Good Fortune

    “HENCEFORTH I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune,” says Whitman. But under what conditions? He enunciates this happy wisdom in the poem where he has just declared, “Afoot and light-hearted, I taken to the open road.” Good fortune, he would seem to say, resides in freedom, in immunity. It is not enough to sell all we have; we must follow in the Way. Good fortune is not an endowment of circumstance merely; it is rather a tenet of the mind, a mood of the spirit, and a physical attribute. It comes to us like a strain of harmonious being, when our complex nature is in accord with the visible world, and attuned to its own secret note [Page 265].
    “Afoot and light-hearted,” no ill-fortune can overpower us. In the pursuit of happy, primitive exercise, the simple needs of the body are satisfied; and its magnetic enthusiasm is communicated to the spirit. Emancipated from roofs and windows, setting forth for the unknown, physical needs reduced to a minimum, we become adventurers and discoverers, touched with elemental daring (timorous, secluded creatures that we are!), elated by a breath of nature. It is so that good fortune comes to the traveller.
    And is it not true that whenever we taste the sweet of life we are in this nomadic frame of mind? A certain sense of detachment and irresponsibility seems necessary to happiness, – a freedom purchased most cheaply, after all, at the price of obligations discharged and duties done. Good fortune, true success, is the indwelling radiance and serenity that comes and goes so mysteriously in every human tenement. Expect her not, and she arrives; seek to detain her with elaborate argument [Page 266] or excuse, and she is gone. Yet must the door ever be open for her coming, and the board spread in her entertainment. So fleeting and incalculable is the best, so outside our own control, that we say it comes by the grace of God.
    Let this be so, indeed. Still the avenues for the approach of happiness are to some extent surely within our control. To be clean and temperate and busy, to try to keep ourselves strong and healthy, not to wear injurious clothes, nor to follow pernicious customs, to simplify the mechanism of living and enrich the motive, and to avoid fanaticism, this is the part of wisdom. It is first of all important, in seeking good fortune, that we should be able to secure coördination and sympathy between body, mind, and heart. To do this, evidently, we must be adaptable, – must try to have the open mind, the spirit of charity, the available strength, and readiness of body. That folly is only too palpable which fancies that happiness [Page 267] could be found in any one of the three natures that make up man. Certainly not in purely physical or sensual conditions does it flourish. We vainly seek it in creature comforts alone, in physical delights alone. Equally futile is our search for it in the kingdom of the mind. That is a noble fallacy, but a fallacy none the less, which pins its faith to knowledge. Time out of mind there have been those who hoped to find happiness in the affairs of the intellect, and still it has eluded them. His royal master said of Lanfranc, “The day is coming, I see it afar, when these thin men will set their feet upon our corselets.” And there is always a tendency toward that extreme.
    Then, too, how many are the children of joy, — those who pursue happiness in the wide bright fields of passion, — not the crude passions of the senses, but the delicate passions of the spirit! How many devotees, how many lovers! How many who have worn away their [Page 268] lives in an ecstasy of longing or prayer or expectation. And yet the loftiest religious elation, the lonely frozen nobility of soul which belongs to the enthusiast and the believer, — cannot be called good fortune, but only a part of good fortune. It avails me nothing to see visions, if I am dyspeptic and cannot understand the Pons assinorum. The pugilist, the zealot, the bookworm, — each of these is but a third of a man, and none is more worthy than the other. An ignorant and brutalized athlete is just as far from complete manhood as a puny scholar or a blind bigot. And differential calculus alone is just as far from according sufficient education as football is.
    Our best ideals have long since ceased to uphold the supremacy of the body. But neither must we despise it, as the Puritans did. Rather should we keep in view the due culture and gradual perfection of body and mind and spirit, discountenancing any favour to one above another. For Whitman’s ideal is the best. “I myself am good fortune [Page 269].” And we should always aim to keep ourselves so healthy that every day, as we step out of doors, we can say after him, “Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road [Page 270].”