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On Living To One’s-Self
by [?]

ON LIVING TO ONE’S-SELF[1]

Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow,
Or by the lazy Scheldt or wandering Po.

I never was in a better place or humour than I am at present for writing on this subject. I have a partridge getting ready for my supper, my fire is blazing on the hearth, the air is mild for the season of the year, I have had but a slight fit of indigestion to-day (the only thing that makes me abhor myself), I have three hours good before me, and therefore I will attempt it. It is as well to do it at once as to have it to do for a week to come.

If the writing on this subject is no easy task, the thing itself is a harder one. It asks a troublesome effort to ensure the admiration of others: it is a still greater one to be satisfied with one’s own thoughts. As I look from the window at the wide bare heath before me, and through the misty moonlight air see the woods that wave over the top of Winterslow,

While Heav’n’s chancel-vault is blind with sleet,

my mind takes its flight through too long a series of years, supported only by the patience of thought and secret yearnings after truth and good, for me to be at a loss to understand the feeling I intend to write about; but I do not know that this will enable me to convey it more agreeably to the reader.

Lady Grandison, in a letter to Miss Harriet Byron, assures her that ‘her brother Sir Charles lived to-himself’; and Lady L. soon after (for Richardson was never tired of a good thing) repeats the same observation; to which Miss Byron frequently returns in her answers to both sisters, ‘For you know Sir Charles lives to himself,’ till at length it passes into a proverb among the fair correspondents. This is not, however, an example of what I understand by living to one’s-self, for Sir Charles Grandison was indeed always thinking of himself; but by this phrase I mean never thinking at all about one’s-self, any more than if there was no such person in existence. The character I speak of is as little of an egotist as possible: Richardson’s great favourite was as much of one as possible. Some satirical critic has represented him in Elysium ‘bowing over the faded hand of Lady Grandison’ (Miss Byron that was)–he ought to have been represented bowing over his own hand, for he never admired any one but himself, and was the God of his own idolatry.–Neither do I call it living to one’s-self to retire into a desert (like the saints and martyrs of old) to be devoured by wild beasts nor to descend into a cave to be considered as a hermit, nor to got to the top of a pillar or rock to do fanatic penance and be seen of all men. What I mean by living to one’s-self is living in the world, as in it, not of it: it is as if no one know there was such a person, and you wished no one to know it: it is to be a silent spectator of the mighty scene of things, not an object of attention or curiosity in it; to take a thoughtful, anxious interest in what is passing in the world, but not to feel the slightest inclination to make or meddle with it. It is such a life as a pure spirit might be supposed to lead, and such an interest as it might take in the affairs of men, calm, contemplative, passive, distant, touched with pity for their sorrows, smiling at their follies without bitterness, sharing their affections, but not troubled by their passions, not seeking their notice, nor once dreamt of by them. He who lives wisely to himself and to his own heart looks at the busy world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray. ‘He hears the tumult, and is still.’ He is not able to mend it, nor willing to mar it. He sees enough in the universe to interest him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds, he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at the note of a thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes an author’s style without thinking of turning author. He is fond of looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to be what he is not, or to do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make a figure in the world. He feels the truth of the lines–