15 MAY 1915, Page 9


...ALTHOUGH his troubles were great, yet they were not so continual but that he had some intermissions." This was written of George Fox when he was a boy, and suffered tortures from anal dee jeunee, Ze mat de Nene," and his biographer goes on to tell us that during these "inter. missions" he was brought out of suffering into joy. The words might have been written of any of us in time of trouble, and as one goes on in life it is impossible not to believe that the ordinary distresses that flesh is heir to are worse than those afflictions of the spirit which only come to the gifted. But however that may be, the same intermissions occur in all forms of distress. There is something in those joyful moments which can hardly be accounted for by reaction. Suddenly some command goes forth that we should stand at ease, and we do. Repose of spirit steals suddenly over us and we are happy again. We know the " time of refreshing " will not last. We know it will go, less suddenly than it came, but surely. But, short as it may have been, the time when, almost against our inclination, we "stood at ease" becomes conspicuous in our memories. As we look back there are hours in our own lives, there are minutes even, that are out of focus. We shall not know in a little while how long, or rather how short, a time we stood at ease. We shall know that some red letters appeared on our calendar during the days of trouble, and that is all. Those red letters may bring back many things, or they may suggest nothing definite to us whatever. Nothing out of the way may have happened when they feat illuminated our mental record. We saw nothing out of the common, and no one brought us any message of comfort so far as we remember. All we know is that we were freed from the pressure of trouble, and that the feeling of freedom was positive not negative. We ceased to kick against the pricks because the pricks were gone. If we are introspective, we shall perhaps say that some inter- ference was made with the ordinary course of time. The past and the future seemed to close over the present, so that regret and fear had no place. Sometimes, however, the red letters bring back a scene, a sequence of sound, a form of words, or the portrait of a person. Perhaps the commonest experience is an extraordinary heightening of our power to enjoy Nature. The scenes most vividly impressed upon our minds are often such as we saw when we were "standing at ease." After- wards we cannot help recognizing that the delight of the scene was unreal. We may go bask to the place and be unable in any degree to recapture it. We shall find, to our disappoint- ment, that our outlook was enchanted, and the spell long ago broken. The garden which was suddenly a paradise is once more a pleasure-ground made up of lawns and trees and walls and flowers entirely empty of the satisfaction we remember. Or perhaps it was through the medium of the sea that we received the order to "stand at ease." On its waves we floated out of ourselves. Not only words but thoughts seemed inadequate to express what we felt, and we marvelled, as we sometimes marvel in dreams, that we had never really seen the sea before, and we promised ourselves to see it again from this point, at this time, in this light. But when we next went there was nothing to be seen but the everyday sea, sparkling or leaden according to the weather. Less often we read or hear some sentence or verse of poetry which has upon our hearts an inexplicable effect of pacification ; or perhaps we neither read nor hear it—it enters our minds.

Now and then music tells us to "stand at ease." Some fairy melody keeps pace with the sounds we hear. It carries our hearts upon its wings. We remember what we thought we heard each time that we hear the real musio which was its accompaniment. But it is a memory now, not a sensation.

Not only those who are capable of receiving the commands of Nature or of Art know what it is to stand at ease and keep a definite recollection of recreation in times of stress. The voice of ■ friend may relax the tension of the hour. The command may come from some one we do not know very well, and who has no idea that be or she has been the mouthpiece of it. For the moment something comes between us and our anxiety or our regret. We find ourselves able to give our minds, as we say, to some one else—to some one else's experience, some one else's trouble, or even some one else's joy. We know that this time of ease will not last, but as the shadow of trouble returns once more upon us we know that we have " been away." We have been able to take the advice which doctors give to those in trouble, because they can give no other, well knowing as they speak that trains and boats and motor-cars and changes of climate do not take any one away from trouble, but only away from home.

It is a contradiction in terms, but we think it is true to experience, to say that certain people in distress never stand at ease but when they are working hard. They are as a rule people of very strong wilL "Attention!" they shout at their own souls, determined that nothing shall come between them and their tusk. With an effort which takes all their strength, they concentrate upon their work. "Stand at ease," murmurs the still voice which cannot be gainsaid, and suddenly their work is invested with an intense and unnatural intereat, Breathless, delighted, and refreshed, they follow its intricacies, so monotonous in days of peace, so albabsorbing now. Their minds are working at high pressure. Their souls stand at ease, until the next order comes. Then the work is its own dull self again and the suffering returns.

There are no doubt certain temperaments which can never be attuned to joy. We jokingly say that they are melancholic,

and sometimes forget how much they endure. They have also their times of standing at ease ; indeed, many of them seem now and then for a short while to change their natures. Have

we not all had experience of such people P One day, for no

reason that we can see, all the bitterness and depression which have repelled us seems to have passed away. Melancholy

men and women are as a rale people of "parts." If they were not a little more intelligent and sensitive than the average, they would not thus poignantly regret the deficiencies of the world. Suddenly they see life through another medium.

They are sympathetic, hopeful, merry even. The humorous side of things makes a sweet instead of a bitter appeal. Their society probably gives the friend who thus surprises them standing at ease great pleasure. "There is something very

lovable in that disagreeable fellow," he says to himself. "I never knew him before." The sad thing is that in all probability he will never know him again, never again come across him when he is enjoying the ease which at ordinary times he seems neither to desire nor deserve.

It would be of great interest to know whether men of genius, in art or literature or affairs, men of action or of thought, can trace inspiration to these lulls in the storms of life. Religious writers allude to them most freqnently, but they often make upon their readers the impression that they are in a sense seeking to exploit an experience that they cannot explain. It has delighted them, and they are determined that it should mean something. We do not know to what extent times of standing at ease have been productive in what we might call the secular branches of the spiritual life. Perhaps not at all. Perhaps even, as we have said, the religions have been too eager to find inspiration in them. It is a sordid spirit which looks always to profit. These moods, which come from outside ourselves, perhaps simply call a halt when we are tired beyond endurance, and serve to rest not to instruct us.