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"Vanity Of Vanities"
by [?]

Critics say that our modern poetry is all sad; and so it is, save when the dainty muse of Mr. Austin Dobson smiles upon us. The reason is not far to seek–we know so much, and the sense of the vanity of human effort is more keenly impressed upon us than ever it was on men of more careless and more ignorant ages. We see what toys men set store by, we see what shadows we are and what shadows we pursue, so there is no wonder that we are mournful. The sweetest of our poets, the most humorous of our many writers cannot keep the thought of death and futility away. His loveliest lyric begins–

“Oh, fair maids Maying
In gardens green,
Through deep dells straying,
What end hath been.

Two Mays between
Of the flow’rs that shone
And your own sweet queen?
They are dead and gone.”

There is the burden–“dead and gone.” Another singer chants to us thus–

“Merely a round of shadow shows
Shadow shapes that are born to die
Like a light that sinks, like a wind that goes,
Vanishing on to the By-and-by.

Life, sweet life, as she flutters nigh,
‘Minishing, failing night and day,
Cries with a loud and bitter cry,
‘Ev’rything passes, passes away.’

* * * * *

Who has lived as long as he chose?
Who so confident as to defy
Time, the fellest of mortals’ foes?
Joints in his armour who can spy?
Where’s the foot will nor flinch nor fly?
Where’s the heart that aspires the fray?
His battle wager ’tis vain to try–
Ev’rything passes, passes away.”

The age is diseased. Why should men be mournful because what they call their aspirations–precious aspirations–are frustrated? They seek the bubble reputation, and they whimper when the bubble is burst; but how much better would it be to cleave to lowly duties, to do the thing that lies next to hand, to accept cheerfully the bounteous harvest of joys vouchsafed to the humble? Since we all end alike–since the warrior, the statesman, the poet alike leave no name on earth save in the case of the few Titans–what use is there in fretting ourselves into green-sickness simply because we cannot quite get our own way? To the wise man every moment of life may be made fruitful of rich pleasure, and the pleasure can be bought without heartache, without struggling painfully, without risking envy and uncharitableness. Better the immediate love of children and of friends than the hazy respect of generations that must assuredly forget us soon, no matter how prominent we may seem to be for a time. I have read a sermon to my readers, but the sermon is not doleful; it is merely hard truth. Life may be a supreme ironic procession, with laughter of gods in the background, but at any rate much may be made of it by those who refuse to seek the bubble reputation.