I CANNOT finish the letter I meant for my Christmas Fors; and must print merely the begun fragment — and such uncrystalline termination must now happen to all my work, more or less, (and more and more, rather than less,) as it expands in range. As I stated in last letter, I have now seven books in the press at once — and any one of them enough to take np all the remainder of my life. ‘Love’s Meinie,’ for instance, (Love’s Many, or Serving Company,) was meant to become a study of British birds, which would have been occasionally useful in museums, carried out with a care in plume drawing which I learned in many a day’s work from Albert Durer; and with which, in such light as the days give me, I think it still my duty to do all I can towards completion of the six essays prepared for my Oxford schools: — but even the third of these, on the Chough, though already written and in type, is at pause because I can’t get the engravings for it finished, and the rest — merely torment me in other work with the thousand things flitting in my mind, like sea-birds for whom there are no sands to settle upon.
‘Ariadne’ is nearer its close; but the Appendix is a mass of loose notes which need a very sewing machine to bring together — and anyone of these that I take in hand leads me into ashamed censorship of the imperfection of all I have been able to say about engravings; and then, if I take up my Bewick, or return to my old Turner vignettes, I put my appendix off again — ‘till next month,’ and so on.
‘Proserpina’ will, I hope, take better and more harmonious form; but it grows under my hands, and needs most careful thought. For it claims nothing less than complete modification of existing botanical nomenclature, for popular use; and in connexion with ‘Deucalion’ and the recast ‘Elements of Drawing,’ is meant to found a system of education in Natural History, the conception of which I have reached only by thirty years of labour, and the realization of which can only be many a year after I am at rest. And yet none of this work can be done but as a kind of play, irregularly, and as the humour comes upon me. For if I set myself at it gravely, there is too much to be dealt with; my mind gets fatigued in half an hour, and no good can be done; the only way in which any advance can be made is by keeping my mornings entirely quiet, and free of care by opening of letters or newspapers; and then by letting myself follow any thread of thought or point of inquiry that chances to occur first, and writing as the thoughts come,— whatever their disorder; all their connection and co-operation being dependent on the real harmony of my purpose, and the consistency of the ascertainable facts, which are the only ones I teach; and I can no more, now, polish or neatly arrange my work than I can guide it. So this fragment must stand as it was written, and end,— because I have no time to say more.
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And the most curious points, in the modes of study pursued by modern economical science, are, that while it always waives this question of ways and means with respect to rich persons, it studiously pushes it in the case of poor ones; and while it asserts the consumption of such an article of luxury as wine (to take that which Mr. Greg himself instances) to be economically expedient, when the wine is drunk by persons who are not thirsty, it asserts the same consumption to be altogether inexpedient, when the privilege is extended to those who are. Thus Mr. Greg dismisses, at page 618, with compassionate disdain, the extremely vulgar notion “that a man who drinks a bottle of champagne worth five shillings, while his neighbour is in want of actual food, is in some way wronging his neighbour;” and yet Mr. Greg himself, at page 624, evidently remains under the equally vulgar impression that the twenty-four millions of much thirstier persons who spend fifteen per cent, of their incomes in drink and tobacco, are wronging their neighbours by that expenditure.
It cannot, surely, be the difference in degree of refinement between malt liquor and champagne whicn causes Mr. Greg’s conviction that there is moral delinquency and economical error in the latter case, but none in the former; if that be all, I can relieve him from his embarrassment by putting the cases in more parallel form. A clergyman writes to me, in distress of mind, because the able-bodied labourers who come begging to him in winter, drink port wine out of buckets in summer. Of course Mr. Greg’s logical mind will at once admit (as a consequence of his own very just argumentum ad hominen in page 617) that the consumption of port wine out of buckets must be as much a benefit to society in general as the consumption of champagne out of bottles; and yet, curiously enough, I am certain he will feel my question, “Where does the drinker get the means for his drinking?” more relevant in the case of the imbibers of port than in that of the imbibers of champagne. And although Mr. Greg proceeds, with that lofty contempt for the dictates of nature and Christianity which radical economists cannot but feel, to observe (p. 618) that “while the natural man and the Christian would have the champagne drinker forego his bottle, and give the value of it to the famishing wretch beside him, the radical economist would condemn such behaviour as distinctly criminal and pernicious,” he would scarcely, I think, carry out with the same triumphant confidence the conclusions of the unnatural man and the Anti-Christian with respect to the labourer as “well as the idler; and declare that while the extremely simple persons “who still believe in the laws of nature, and the mercy of God, would have the port-drinker forego his bucket, and give the value of it to the famishing wife and child beside him, “the radical economist would condemn such behaviour as distinctly criminal and pernicious.”
Mr. Greg has it indeed in his power to reply that it is proper to economise for the sake of one’s own wife and children, but not for the sake of anybody else’s. But since, according to another exponent of the principles of Radical Economy, in the ‘Cornhill Magazine,’ a well-conducted agricultural labourer must not marry till he is forty-five, his economies, if any, in early life, must be as offensive to Mr. Greg on the score of their abstract humanity, as those of the richest bachelor about town.