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257

MISERIES OF HUMAN LIFE*


BY

JAMES BERESFORD





While you are laughing, or talking wildly to yourself in walking, suddenly seeing a person steal close by you, who, you are sure, must have heard it all, then in an agony of shame, making a wretched attempt to sing, in a voice as like your talk as possible, in hopes of making your hearer think that you had been only singing all the while.

Seeing the boy who is next above you flogged for a repetition which you know you cannot say even half so well as he did.

Entering into the figure of a country-dance with so much spirit as to force your leg and foot through the muslin drapery of your fair partner.

After walking in a great hurry to a place, on very urgent business, by what you think a shorter cut, and supposing that you are just arriving at the door you want — „NO THOROUGHFARE!š

Stopping in the street to address a person whom you know rather too well to pass him without speaking, and yet not quite well enough to have a word to say to him, he feeling himself in the same dilemma; so that, after each has asked and answered the question, „How do you do, sir?š you stand silently face to face, apropos to nothing, during a minute, and then part in a transport of awkwardness.

As you are hastening down the Strand, on a matter of life and death, encountering, at an arch-way, the head of the first of twelve or fourteen horses, who, you know, must successively strain up with an overloaded coal wagon before you can hope to stir an inch, unless you prefer bedeviling your white stockings and clean shoes by scampering and crawling, among and under, coaches and scavengers‚ carts, etc., etc., in the middle of the street.

Walking half over London, side by side with a cart containing a million iron bars, which you must out-bray, if you can, in order to make your companion hear a word you have further to say upon the subject you were earnestly discussing before you were joined by this infernal article of commerce.

Walking briskly forwards, while you are looking backwards, and so advancing towards another passenger (a scavenger) who is doing the same; then meeting with the shock of two battering-rams, which drives your whole stock of breath out of your body, with the groan of a pavier. At length, during a mutual burst of execrations, you each move for several minutes from side to side, with the same motion, vainly endeavoring to pass on.

On your entrance at a formal dinner party, in reaching up your hat to a high peg in the hall, bursting your coat from the arm-hole to the pocket.

At night, after having long lain awake, nervous, restless, and unwell, with an ardent desire to know the hour and the state of the weather, being at last delighted by hearing the watchman begin his cry, from which, however, he allows you to extract no more information than „past . . . clock . . . morning!š then, after impatiently lingering through another hour for the sound of your own clock (which had before been roared down by the watchman) being roused to listen by its preparatory click and purr, followed by one stroke — which you are to make the most of — the rest being cut short by a violent fit of coughing with which you are seized at the instant.

Being accelerated in your walk by the lively application of a chairman‚s pole a posteriori, his „by your leaveš not coming till after he has taken it.

During the endless time that you are kept waiting at a door in a carriage while the ladies are shopping, having your impatience soothed by the setting of a saw close at your ear.

Sitting on the last row, and close to the partition of an upper box, at a pantomime, and hearing all the house laughing around you while you strain your wrists, neck, and back with stretching forward — in vain.

At the play, the sickening scraps of naval loyalty which are crammed down your throat faster than you can gulp them in such after-$$$$ as are called 258„England‚s Glory,š „The British Tars,š etc., with the additional nausea of hearing them boisterously applauded.

On packing up your own clothes for a journey, because your servant is a fool — the burning fever into which you are thrown, when, after all your standing, stamping, lying, kneeling, tugging, and kicking at the lid of your trunk, it still peremptorily refuses to approach nearer than half a yard to the lock.

A chaise window glass, that will not be put down when it is up, nor up when it is down.

Tearing your throat to rags in abortive efforts to call back a person who has just left you, and with whom you have forgotten to touch on one of the most important subjects which you met to discuss.

After having left a company in which you have been galled by the raillery of some wag by profession, thinking, at your leisure, of a repartee, which, if discharged at the proper moment, would have blown him to atoms.

After relating, at much length, a scarce and curious anecdote, with considerable marks of self-complacency at having it to tell, being quietly reminded by the person you have been so kindly instructing that you had it — from himself!

In conversation inadvertently touching the string which you know will call forth the longest story of the flattest proser that ever droned.

Being compelled by a deaf person, in a large and silent company, to repeat some very washy remark three or four times over, at the highest pitch of your voice.

In reading a new and interesting book being reduced to make a paper-knife of your finger.

On arriving at that part of the last volume of an enchanting novel in which the interest is wrought up to the highest pitch, suddenly finding the remaining leaves, catastrophe and all, torn out.

Writing on the creases of paper that has been sharply doubled.

The moment in which you discover that you have taken in a mouthful of fat by mistake for turnip.

At a formal dinner, the awful resting time which occasionally intervenes between the courses.

In the depth of winter trying in vain to effect a union between unsoftened butter and the crumb of a very stale loaf, or a quite new one.

Cracking a hard nut with your teeth, and filling the gap left by the grinder you have knocked out with black, bitter dust.

At the instant of drawing the cork, starting back from the eagerly expected burst of froth, but without the least occasion either for your hopes or fears, the liquor all remaining in the bottle as quiet as a lamb.

Dropping something, when you are either too lame or too lazy to get up for it; and almost breaking your ribs, and quite throwing yourself down, by stretching down to it over the arm of your chair, without reaching it at last.

Suddenly recollecting, as you lie at a very late hour of a Lapland night, that you have neglected to see, as usual, that the fires are all safe below; then, after an agonizing interval of hesitation, crawling out, like a culprit, and quivering down the stairs.

At a long table, after dinner, the eyes of the whole company drawn upon you by a loud observation that you are strikingly like Mrs. or Miss ——, particularly when you smile.

The mental famine created among poor students by the modern luxury of the press — Bulmer‚s types — vignettes in every page, etc., obliging every reader with less than £5,000 per annum to seek for all his knowledge of new books by hearsay; or through the glimmering medium of those wills-o-the-wisp, the reviewers; or out of the circulating library, where nothing circulates — but the catalogue!

Catching a glimpse, at a corner of a street, of your oldest and dearest friends, Punch and his party, all in full squeak and scuffle; from whom, however, the cruel decorums of age and character oblige you, after „snatching a fearful joy,š to tear yourself away.

Wandering from one shop to another in search of a book, and finding twenty copies of it, of a date immediately before and after that of the only edition which will be of any use to you, and which you, consequently, never find.

The state of writhing torture into which you are occasionally thrown by the sudden and unexpected questions or remarks of a child before a large company; a little wretch of your own, for instance, that will run up to an unmarried lady (one who would rather be thought a youthful sinner than an elderly saint), and then harrow you by crying out, before you have time to gag it, „Now, do, miss — let me count the creases in your face — there‚s one, there‚s two, there‚s three,š etc.; or, accosting another lady in the same explicit strain, electrifies you by breaking out with, „Why do you come here so often? for, do you know, my aunt always says she can‚t abide you — don‚t you, aunt?š etc., etc.

Taking a step more or a step less than you want in going up or down the stairs.

The task of inventing a new dinner every morning devolving on you in the long absence of your wife.

On shaking off a long reverie, the sudden consciousness that, during the whole of your absent fit, your eyes have been intently fixed on a letter which a stranger is writing or reading close at your elbow.





* From Living Thoughts in Words that Burn from Poet, Sage, and Humorist, Edited by Daphne Dale; 1891] Reprinted as Classic Gems of Prose and Poetry; Chicago Star Publishing Company; [no date]; pp. 257-258.


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