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Human Longings For Peace And Rest
by [?]

THERE are few whose idea of happiness does not include peace as essential. Most men have been so tempest-tossed, and not comforted, that they long for a closing of all excitements at last in peace. Hence the images of the haven receiving the shattered bark, of the rural vale remote from the noise of towns, have always been dear to human fancy. Hence, too, the decline of life away from severe toil, rapid motion, and passionate action, has often a charm even beyond the kindling enterprise of youth. The cold grave itself repels not altogether, but somewhat allures the imagination.

“How still and peaceful is the grave!”

Especially has heaven risen to the religious mind in this complexion of tranquillity. It is generally conceived as free from all disturbance, broken by not a sound save of harmonious anthems, which, like murmuring water, give deeper peace than could be found in silence.

But man so longs for rest and peace, that he not only soothes himself with these images from afar, but hopes to foretaste their substance. And what are his views to this end? He means to retire from business to some spot where he can calmly enjoy what he has in vain panted for in the race of life. Perhaps he tries the experiment, but finds himself restless still, and learns the great lesson at last, that peace is not in the landscape, but only in the soul; and the calm sky, the horizon’s circle, the steady stars, are only its language, not itself.

Perhaps he seeks peace in his home. Everything there is made soft to the feet; each chair and couch receives him softly; agreeable sounds, odours, viands, regale every sense: and illuminated chambers replace for him at night the splendour of the sun. But here again he is at fault. Peace comes not to him thus, though all the apparatus seems at hand to produce it. Still he may be outshone by a neighbour; or high estate may draw down upon him envy and ill-will; or his senses themselves may refuse the proffered bliss, and ache with disease. Peace is not in outward comforts, which the constitution sharply limits; which pass with time, or pall upon the taste. The human mind is too great a thing to be pleased with mere blandishments.

Man has a soul of vast desires; and the solemn truth will come home irresistibly at times, even to the easy epicure. Something is wanting still. There is more of pain than peace in the remnants of feasting and the exhausted rounds of pleasure.

Man has sometimes sought peace in yet another way. Abjuring all sensual delights, he has gone into the desert to scourge the body, to live on roots and water, and be absorbed in pious raptures; and often has he thus succeeded, better than do the vulgar hunters of pleasure. But unrest mingles even with the tranquillity thus obtained. His innocent, active powers resist this crucifixion. The distant world rolls to his ear the voices of suffering fellow-men; and even his devotions, all lonely, become selfish and unsatisfying.

All men are seeking, in a way better or worse, this same peace and rest. Some seek it objectively in mere outward activity. They are not unfrequently frivolous and ill-furnished within, seeking rest by travelling, by running from place to place, from company to company, changing ever their sky but never themselves. Such persons, deeply to be pitied, seek by dress to hide the nakedness of their souls, or by the gayety of their own prattle to chill the fire which burns away their hearts. The merriest faces may be sometimes seen in mourning coaches; and so, the most melancholy souls, pinched and pining, sometimes stare at you out of the midst of superficial smiles and light laughter.

Others seek rest in more adventurous action. Such are mariners, soldiers, merchants, speculators, politicians, travellers, impelled to adventurous life to relieve the aching void in their hearts. The hazards of trade, the changes of political life, cause them to forget themselves, and so they are rocked into oblivion of internal disquiet by the toss of the ocean waves. They forget the hollowness of their own hearts, and cheat themselves into the belief that they are on their way to peace.