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The Aunt, The Nieces, And The Dog
by [?]


When a thing is old, broken, and useless we throw it on the dust-heap, but when it is sufficiently old, sufficiently broken, and sufficiently useless we give money for it, put it into a museum, and read papers over it which people come long distances to hear. By-and-by, when the whirligig of time has brought on another revenge, the museum itself becomes a dust-heap, and remains so till after long ages it is re-discovered, and valued as belonging to a neo-rubbish age–containing, perhaps, traces of a still older paleo-rubbish civilisation. So when people are old, indigent, and in all respects incapable, we hold them in greater and greater contempt as their poverty and impotence increase, till they reach the pitch when they are actually at the point to die, whereon they become sublime. Then we place every resource our hospitals can command at their disposal, and show no stint in our consideration for them.

It is the same with all our interests. We care most about extremes of importance and of unimportance; but extremes of importance are tainted with fear, and a very imperfect fear casteth out love. Extremes of unimportance cannot hurt us, therefore we are well disposed towards them; the means may come to do so, therefore we do not love them. Hence we pick a fly out of a milk-jug and watch with pleasure over its recovery, for we are confident that under no conceivable circumstances will it want to borrow money from us; but we feel less sure about a mouse, so we show it no quarter. The compilers of our almanacs well know this tendency of our natures, so they tell us, not when Noah went into the ark, nor when the temple of Jerusalem was dedicated, but that Lindley Murray, grammarian, died January 16, 1826. This is not because they could not find so many as three hundred and sixty-five events of considerable interest since the creation of the world, but because they well know we would rather hear of something less interesting. We care most about what concerns us either very closely, or so little that practically we have nothing whatever to do with it.

I once asked a young Italian, who professed to have a considerable knowledge of English literature, which of all our poems pleased him best. He replied without a moment’s hesitation:–

“Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.”

He said this was better than anything in Italian. They had Dante and Tasso, and ever so many more great poets, but they had nothing comparable to “Hey diddle diddle,” nor had he been able to conceive how any one could have written it. Did I know the author’s name, and had we given him a statue? On this I told him of the young lady of Harrow who would go to church in a barrow, and plied him with whatever rhyming nonsense I could call to mind, but it was no use; all of these things had an element of reality that robbed them of half their charm, whereas “Hey diddle diddle” had nothing in it that could conceivably concern him.

So again it is with the things that gall us most. What is it that rises up against us at odd times and smites us in the face again and again for years after it has happened? That we spent all the best years of our life in learning what we have found to be a swindle, and to have been known to be a swindle by those who took money for misleading us? That those on whom we most leaned most betrayed us? That we have only come to feel our strength when there is little strength left of any kind to feel? These things will hardly much disturb a man of ordinary good temper. But that he should have said this or that little unkind and wanton saying; that he should have gone away from this or that hotel and given a shilling too little to the waiter; that his clothes were shabby at such or such a garden-party–these things gall us as a corn will sometimes do, though the loss of a limb way not be seriously felt.