S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
If we consider cheerfulness in three lights, with regard to ourselves, to those we converse with, and to the great Author of our being, it will not a little recommend itself on each of these accounts. The man who is possessed of this excellent frame of mind is not only easy in his thoughts, but a perfect master of all the powers and faculties of his soul. His imagination is always clear, and his judgment undisturbed; his temper is even and unruffled, whether in action or in solitude. He comes with relish to all those goods which nature has provided for him, tastes all the pleasures of the creation which are poured about him, and does not feel the full weight of those accidental evils which may befall him.
If we consider him in relation to the persons whom he converses with, it naturally produces love and good will towards him. A cheerful mind is not only disposed to be affable and obliging, but raises the same good humour in those who come within its influence. A man finds himself pleased, he does not know why, with the cheerfulness of his companion. It is like a sudden sunshine that awakens a secret delight in the mind, without her attending to it. The heart rejoices of its own accord, and naturally flows out into friendship and benevolence towards the person who has so kindly an effect upon it.
When I consider this cheerful state of mind in its third relation, I cannot but look upon it as a constant habitual gratitude to the great Author of nature. An inward cheerfulness is an implicit praise and thanksgiving to Providence under all its dispensations. It is a kind of acquiescence in the state wherein we are placed, and a secret approbation of the Divine Will in his conduct towards man.
I have, in former papers, shown how great a tendency there is to cheerfulness in religion, and how such a frame of mind is not only the most lovely, but the most commendable, in a virtuous person. In short, those who represent religion in so unamiable a light are like the spies sent by Moses to make a discovery of the land of promise, when by their reports they discouraged the people from entering upon it. Those who show us the joy, the cheerfulness, the good humour, that naturally springs up in this happy state, are like the spies bringing along with them the clusters of grapes and delicious fruits that might invite their companions into the pleasant country which produced them.
Between levity and cheerfulness there is a wide distinction; and the mind which is most open to levity is frequently a stranger to cheerfulness. It has been remarked that transports of intemperate mirth are often no more than flashes from the dark cloud; and that in proportion to the violence of the effulgence is the succeeding gloom. Levity may be the forced production of folly or vice; cheerfulness is the natural offspring of wisdom and virtue only. The one is an occasional agitation; the other a permanent habit. The one degrades the character; the other is perfectly consistent with the dignity of reason, and the steady and manly spirit of religion. To aim at a constant succession of high and vivid sensations of pleasure is an idea of happiness perfectly chimerical. Calm and temperate enjoyment is the utmost that is allotted to man. Beyond this we struggle in vain to raise our state; and in fact depress our joys by endeavouring to heighten them. Instead of those fallacious hopes of perpetual festivity with which the world would allure us, religion confers upon us a cheerful tranquillity. Instead of dazzling us with meteors of joy which sparkle and expire, it sheds around us a calm and steady light, more solid, more equal, and more lasting.
Give us, O give us the man who sings at his work! Be his occupation what it may, he is equal to any of those who follow the same pursuit in silent sullenness. He will do more in the same timehe will do it betterhe will persevere longer. One is scarcely sensible of fatigue whilst he matches to music. The very stars are said to make harmony as they revolve in their spheres. Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, altogether past calculation its powers of endurance. Efforts, to be permanently useful, must be uniformly joyousa spirit all sunshinegraceful from very gladnessbeautiful because bright.
Be cheerful, no matter what reverse obstruct your pathway, or what plagues follow you in your trail to annoy you. Ask yourself what is to be gained by looking or feeling sad when troubles throng around you, or how your condition is to be alleviated by abandoning yourself to despondency. If you are a young man, nature designed you to be of good cheer; and should you find your road to fortune, fame, or respectability, or any other boon to which your young heart aspires, a little thorny, consider it all for the best, and that these impediments are only thrown in your way to induce greater efforts and more patient endurance on your part. Far better spend a whole life in diligent, aye, cheerful and unremitting toil, though you never attain the pinnacle of your ambitious desires, than to turn back at the first appearance of misfortune, and allow despair to unnerve your energies, or sour your naturally sweet and cheerful disposition. If you are of the softer, fairer portion of humanity, be cheerful; though we know full well that most affections are sweet to you when compared with disappointment and neglect, yet let hope banish despair and ill forebodings. Be cheerful: do not brood over fond hopes unrealized, until a chain, link after link, is fastened on each thought and wound around the heart. Nature intended you to be the fountain-spring of cheerfulness and social life, and not the travelling monument of despair and melancholy.
Whatever we do, we should keep the cheerfulness of our spirits, and never let them sink below an inclination at least to be well pleased. The way to this, is to keep our bodies in exercise, our minds at ease. That insipid state wherein neither are in vigour, is not to be accounted any part of our portion of being. When we are in the satisfaction of some innocent pleasure, or pursuit of some laudable design, we are in the possession of life, of human life. Fortune will give us disappointments enough, without our adding to the unhappy side of our account by our spleen or ill humour.
Cheerfulness is always to be supported if a man is out of pain, but mirth to a prudent man should always be accidental. It should naturally arise out of the occasion, and the occasion seldom laid out for it: for those tempers who want mirth to be pleased are like the constitutions which flag without the use of brandy. Therefore I say, let your precept be, Be easy. That mind is dissolute and ungoverned which must be hurried out of itself by loud laughter or sensual pleasure, or else be wholly inactive.