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The Opinions of a Philosopher   By: (1852-1940)

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With an Etching by W. H. Hyde

[Frontispiece: Etching by W. H. Hyde]

New York Charles Scribner's Sons 1895 Copyright, 1893, 1895, by Charles Scribner's Sons



My wife Josephine declares that I have become a philosopher in my old age, and perhaps she is right. Now that I am forty, and a trifle less elastic in my movements, with patches of gray about my ears which give me a more venerable appearance, I certainly have a tendency to look at the world as through a glass. Yet not altogether darkly be it said. That is, I trust I am no cynic like that fellow Diogenes who set the fashion centuries ago of turning up the nose at everything. I have a natural sunniness of disposition which would, I believe, be proof against the sardonic fumes of contemplation even though I were a real philosopher.

However, just as the mongoose of the bag man's story was not a real mongoose, neither am I a real philosopher.

You will remember that Diogenes, who was a real philosopher, occupied a tub as a permanent residence. He would roll in hot sand during the heat of summer, and embrace a statue of snow in winter, just to show his superiority to ordinary human conventions and how much wiser he was than the rest of the world. The real philosophers of the present day are not quite so peculiar; but they are apt to be fearfully and wonderfully superior to the weaknesses of humanity. For the most part they are to be found in the peaceful environs of a university or on some mountain top a Sabbath day's journey from the hum of civilization, where they eschew nearly everything which the every day mortal finds requisite to comfort and convenience, unless it be whiskey and water. I have sometimes fancied that more real philosophers than we are aware of are partial on the sly to whiskey and water. But that is neither here nor there; for, as I have already stated, I am not a real philosopher.

I have altogether too many faults to be one, and should constantly be flying in the face of my own theories. Barring the aforesaid weakness for whiskey and water, it is fair to assume that the average real philosopher lives up to his own lights and by them; whereas I, at least according to Josephine, am liable to be frightfully inconsistent. She has never forgotten my profanity on the occasion when we discovered after dinner that the soot had come down in the drawing room and was over everything in spite of the fact that the chimney had been swept three weeks before. Now, if there is one thing which I abhor and am perpetually inveighing against as vulgar and futile, it is unbridled language. Josephine must have heard me say fifty times if she has heard me one that the man who fouls his tongue with an oath is a senseless oaf. And yet I am bound to admit that when I discovered what had happened I swore deliberately and roundly like the veriest trooper. In order to appreciate the situation exactly I should add that it has long been a mooted point between Josephine and me whether chimneys require to be swept at all. My darling insists that the sweep shall overhaul the house annually, while I cling, with what she is pleased to call masculine fatuity, to the theory that soot, like sleeping dogs, should be let alone.

Have you ever entered a drawing room just after a healthy, thorough fall of soot? If so, you will appreciate what is meant by its all pervasiveness. The remotest articles of furniture are rife with infinitesimal smut, much as they were rife with the remains of the lady in Kipling's story after the jealous orang outang had done with her. And yet granting that the provocation was dire, a philosopher, a real philosopher, would have acted very differently. A philosopher of the grandest type would have reasoned that what was done was done, and that there was no more use in crying over fallen soot than over spilt milk. He would calmly have adopted prompt measures to ameliorate the situation, and after the servants were fairly at work would have taken his wife apart and pointed out to her, in well chosen language, that here was only another instance of his superior wisdom... Continue reading book >>

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