Chapter VI Love's Lords In Waiting: Generosity

Generous Impulses common to all the World––At first sight it seems as if Generosity were not a Lord in every bosom, but ruled only the noblest hearts; but this is not the fact. When all England goes mad with joy because little Mafeking is relieved, when everybody forgets private cares, schemes, worries, annoyances, even hunger and cold and bodily need, being warmed and fed, as it were, by a public joy, or softened and made tender by a public sorrow, it is because all are stirred by what is called a generous impulse, an impulse which causes them, if only for a moment, to live outside of their own lives. I once heard a generous lecture, upon a great poet, given to a crowded audience of some thousands of people of very varying culture and condition. It was interesting to listen to the remarks that were passing as we made our way out of the crowd. One man said, with a choke in his voice, "Why, why, that man could do anything with us, lead us on any crusade he liked!" and he was right. This is the history of the generous movements that have stirred the world, the Crusades, the Anti-Slavery War in America; a thought has been dropped which has stirred some Generous impulse common to all the world. The nature of Generosity is to bring forth, to give, always at the cost of personal suffering or deprivation, little or great. There is no generosity in giving what we shall never miss and do not want; this is mere good-nature, and is not even kindness, unless it springs out of a real thought about another person's needs.

Large Trustfulness.––Generosity at its highest level, and with a certain added tincture, becomes Enthusiasm, but of that we shall speak later. We may understand the nature of this ruler of men better if we consider that what Magnanimity is to the things of the mind, Generosity is to the things of the heart. Large and warm thoughts of life and of our relations with one another find place in the generous man. He is incapable of wholesale and bitter condemnation of classes or countries, parties or creeds. He is impatient of the cheap wit whose jokes are at the expense of the character for probity of some whole class of people, plumbers or plasterers or candlestick makers. He is equally impatient of the worldly wisdom which goes through life expecting to be defrauded here and cheated there; and he finds that, on the whole, it is he who possesses the wisdom of this world; for, by dint of fair and generous dealing, he may pass through a long life with hardly a record to show of the iniquity and cheating ways of his fellow-creatures. But then, if he has only sixpence to spend, he spends it in a liberal and trustful way. It is a certain large trustfulness in his dealings, rather than the largeness of his gifts, or the freedom of his outlay, that marks the generous man.

Generosity is Costly, but also Remunerative.––In like manner, in his commerce with his friends and neighbours, he harbours no grudges; that is, he is not on the watch that others should give him what he thinks his due of observance, consideration, service, or what not. He allows others to be the arbiters of their own conduct in all such matters; and those others respond, for the most part, to the trust reposed in them. This is not the easy attitude of mind which permits everything, because a want of self-respect creates a thirst for popularity. The generous man will have friends of widely different types, because he is able to give large entertainment to men of many minds, and to meet them upon many points. His interests are wide, his interpretations are liberal; and wherever his interest goes, it goes with a latent glow, ready to break forth in the heat of action upon occasion.

Generosity is costly, because it is always disbursing, be it the contents of the heart or of the purse; but it is also remunerative, for it has been said, "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom." Generosity is also a saving grace; for the generous man escapes a thousand small perplexities, worries, and annoys; he walks serene in a large room. There are so many great things to care about that he has no mind and no time for the small frettings of life; his concerns are indeed great, for what concerns man concerns him. But because his is a concern of the heart, warm and glowing, it is duly distributed. There are the equatorial and the polar regions of his care, neither of them quite unwarmed. He does not affect to love other countries as he loves his own, or his neighbour's children as his own family.

Fallacious Notions that restrain Generosity.––I have spoken of the generous man; but, indeed, this Lord of the Bosom is present in all of us, ready with the offer of large and warm living. But certain fallacious notions and small propensities are apt to keep him shut in narrow limits, unless some happy word or occasion let him loose. When this happens to the whole community, we become alarmed and fear that we are all going mad; but really it is that we have suddenly burst into large living without the restraints proper to an accustomed way of life.

'Let every man mind his own business' is one of the fallacies that come to a person with a sense of obligation, and of limitation to his own business only. The man not only shuts out the generous cares of a wider life, but he is consumed by the cares of his condition in all their petty details. Yet we must each mind our own business, or we are unworthy members of society, and throw so much of the world's work as is our own proper share upon the shoulders of other people. The secret is, to mind our business strenuously within its proper hours, whether these hours are ruled for us, or we rule them for ourselves. But the hours of work over, let us think it trespass so much as to turn our thoughts in that direction, and let us throw all our interest into outer and wider channels. That which seems to us our business in life, even that incessant business of being the mother of a family, will be far better done if we rule ourselves in this matter, because we shall be better, broader persons; and the more there is of a person, the more work will be done.

'Every man for himself, and Heaven for us all,' is another fallacy that shuts up lives in narrow rooms. Man is not for himself, and to get out of ourselves and into the wide current of human life, of all sorts and conditions, is our wisdom and should be our care.

Another miserable and unspoken fallacy is 'Every person that I have dealings with is worse than myself.' This is startling, put into words; but why else should we suppose that this person means to slight us and the other to offend us, when we have no such intentions with regard to them; that we shall be cheated here and defrauded there, when we ourselves would not willingly cheat and defraud? It is generous to trust, to trust freely, to trust our tradespeople and our servants, our friends and neighbours, those in authority over us and those subordinate to us.

     Be noble! and the nobleness that lies
     In other men, sleeping, but never dead––
     Will rise in majesty to meet thine own!"
          ––LOWELL.