By John Angell James, 1859


History tells us that Alexander, when setting out on one of his expeditions of conquest, distributed his gratuities with such lavish profusion as to lead to the question from one of his friends, "What he reserved for himself?" His reply was, "HOPE." It was a noble response from a lofty mind, and has served from that day to the present as an inspiration to others—not merely when coveting and seeking some desired object—but in the lowest ebb of adversity—and as a stimulus to the pursuit of brighter days and happier scenes! Few men are so content and satisfied with their present circumstances as not to wish and seek an enlargement of their felicity.

Men live more upon the past and the future—than upon the present. Their memory, and their hope—are the chief sources of their happiness. Poetry has seized upon both these as the subject of its verse, and while one author has sung "The Pleasures of Memory," the muse of the other has chosen as its theme "The Pleasures of Hope."

Perhaps there is no passion so generally indulged as hope. Its subjects are men of all classes from the peasant to the prince—for none are sunk so low as to be beneath its reach, nor are any elevated so high as to be above its influence. The savage and the sage; the wild man of the woods, whose desires do not go beyond the catching of his prey or the gratification of his appetites, and the philosopher whose expectations sublimely extend to some grand discovery in science—are all alike under the power of HOPE. Its beams add splendor to the palace and enliven the gloom of the cottage. The monarch has something more to desire—and the most forlorn child of poverty something yet to expect. It is thus a merciful provision in the construction of our nature, and so powerful, as well as general is its influence—that many indulge it for themselves when none else can for them.

And as it is all but universal as regards its subjects, so is it also in reference to its occasions. Other passions operate by starts in particular circumstances, or in certain parts of life—but hope seems to begin with the first dawn of reason, at the very commencement of our capability to compare our actual, with our possible state. The babe at his mother's bosom, when craving with hunger in sight of the supply for his needs—though he has not yet learned to express his desires and expectations in articulate language, nor to put his passions into words—has hope, and expresses it by a cry and a look; it is then as strong as in manhood. We can recollect the desires of our early years, when we had only trifles to wish for—but trifles which were as important to us then, as the more splendid baubles that were probably to occupy, with a change of follies—our maturer ambition. "Mirthful hope is theirs"—is one of the expressions in reference to the happiness of boyhood in Gray's well-known ode.

Other passions change or cease as situations change and circumstances vary—but hope, never. And human life seems rather a transition from hope to hope than from pleasure to pleasure—for very few sit down contentedly to enjoy what they have—but are ever restless to gain something which they have not.

Hope is the mainspring of human action—the lunar influence that keeps the tide of human affairs in perpetual and healthy motion. Without hope, all things would settle down into an offensive and pestiferous stagnancy. Hope impels to labor, sustains it, and makes its fatigues tolerable. Hope is the parent of enterprise, the impulse of ambition, and the nerve of resolution. Stop any man in any department of activity, and in any stage of his career, and ask him what is his motive for such laborious exertion, such self-denying sacrifices, such untiring efforts—and you will find that he is urged through his weary course by hope.

Let the last ray of hope expire, and all this energy will as certainly and immediately stop as the piston in the cylinder of the engine when the steam pressure ceases and the whole machinery is still. The laborer continues day by day at his toil, wiping away the sweat of his brow, in hope of his wages at the end of the week; the tradesman, manufacturer and merchant are all animated by the same impulse; the scholar and philosopher pursue their studies under the same influence. The warrior and the tradesman, the sailor and the traveler, are all one in the motive power of their conduct—however the objects may differ. And were an inhabitant of another world to survey from the upper regions of our atmosphere one daily revolution of our globe on its axis, and after surveying the endless diversity of human pursuits, the busy activities of our race, the intense concern, the indomitable earnestness, and the untiring labors, with which all their pursuits were carried on, and were to ask the question, "What is it that keeps all these countless millions in such restless motion?" the answer would be—Hope! Let hope take her flight from our world, and her guiding, inspiring and fostering influence be withdrawn, and all this scene of vital activity would become an inert mass, a region of mortal dormancy, a dead sea in which nothing could live.

But that which is the mainspring of exertion—is also the consolation of the distressed. Why, even the prosperous find hope necessary to their enjoyment. Their life, whatever accumulation of the gifts of Providence it may contain, would still be wretched were it not elevated and delighted by the hope of some new possession—of some enjoyment yet ahead—by which the wish shall be at last satisfied, and the heart filled up to its utmost extent. And if hope be necessary to the enjoyment of the sons and daughters of prosperity, how much more to those of adversity and sorrow.

What is it that enables the tradesman, oppressed by declining fortunes, to go on amid disappointment and defeat? Hope that the tide in his affairs will soon turn, and prosperity come. What is it that sustains the sufferer, to whom sleepless nights and painful days are allotted—to bear his sufferings with patience and fortitude? Hope that the hour of recovery and ease will soon come. What is it that helps the poor captive to endure the gloom of the dungeon? Hope that his release will arrive.

How beautifully is this expressed by Thomas Brown—"If we could see all the wild visions of future deliverance, which rise, not to the dreams merely—but to the waking thought of the galley slave, who has been condemned to the oar for life, we would see, indeed, what it might seem madness to every heart but his, to which these visions are, in some measure, like the momentary possession of the freedom of which he is to be forever deprived; and in this very madness of credulous expectation, so admirably adapted to a misery that admits of no earthly expectation which reason can justify—we would see at once the omnipotence of the principle of hope, and the benevolence of Him who has fixed that principle in our mind to be the comfort of even despair itself, or at least of miseries, of which all but the miserable themselves would despair."

In all the varieties of human suffering there are few, however, that are aggravated and embittered by absolute despair. This blessed passion, hope, enters the scene of sorrow with her cup of consolation for almost every lip, her precious balm for every wound, and in the great hospital of bodily and mental maladies, passes like a ministering angel from couch to couch, causing her own smiles to be reflected from the countenances of her patients—and her words of consolation to be echoed from their lips—instead of sighs and groans. How many sighs are every day stifled, and how many tears are every night wiped away—by hope. There is no happiness, then, which hope cannot promise, no difficulty which it cannot surmount, no grief which it cannot mitigate. Hope is the wealth of the indigent, the health of the sick, the freedom of the captive, the panacea for all our wants, and the grand cure all for all our woes!

There can exist no doubt that, though this passion, like all the rest, is implanted by God in our nature, and will be found in every human heart—yet it is stronger in some hearts than in others. Physical organization has something to do with all the faculties of the soul, and with the passions among the rest, which are developed with greater readiness and force in some than in others. We see some naturally, instinctively hopeful and buoyant—always prone to look at the bright side of things, haunted by no specters of fear, never despondent—while a twig remains on which the hand of hope can lay hold—and following the least glimmering ray. Happy natures! Let those who possess them be thankful for this precious boon of Providence. A hopeful mind is one of the greatest blessings of life, and contributes more towards the happiness of our existence—than rank, wealth or fame.

On the contrary, there are those whose material organization predisposes the mind to fear, timidity and despondency. In some cases this deepens into almost settled gloom. There is no doubt that this is incurable—as to absolute recovery. Still, even as in bodily disease, mitigation may be obtained, where a perfect cure is not to be looked for; so in mental tendencies arising from what are called disordered nerves, a therapeutic treatment may be adopted, which may greatly alleviate the disorder—which it cannot remove.

The passions may all be made subject to discipline—and may be all nurtured or repressed. It is of immense importance to know this. Mental tendencies may be controlled. Let those who dwell only in the 'border country of hope'—whose tendency is to despondency and gloom, and who are prone to look on the dark side of things; who, in venturing into the shadowy regions of futurity, rarely see anything but shapes and forms of evil; whose predictions are all, like those of Cassandra, of evil things—learn that this state of a hopeful mind, is more within the reach of remedies than they imagine. Let them not yield themselves up the unresisting captives of this sad distemper. They must struggle against this morbid tendency to fear, and gloom, and despondency. If the soil of their nature be unfriendly to the growth of hope, they must do as good farmers do with their bad soils—that is, bestow more skill and labor upon the cultivation. Such ground will not, of course, be ever so prolific as better land—but it may be much improved, and made to be remunerative. So a gloomy and desponding mind may be greatly improved, and though it may never, even in temporal matters, attain to the full assurance of hope—it may yet acquire a greater measure of hope.

Despondency will grow like everything else—with indulgence. And so will hope. Bodily health has something to do with this, and whatever can strengthen the constitution will tend to remove a tendency to depression. Early rising, plenty of exercise, attention to diet, constant occupation, watchfulness against the disheartening passions of the soul—will, by the blessing of God—go a great way towards counteracting a tendency to gloom and despondency—and strengthening a hopeful disposition.

Even in matters of true religion, pious people are not aware how many of their doubts and fears—their dark and gloomy states of mind—are produced by physical derangement. Hope may be cultivated then—but the misfortune is, that they who stand most in need of this cultivation are least disposed to undertake it. There is a sluggishness about such people which it is difficult to rouse. It is hard I know, to hope against hope, and requires an effort of mind, a determination of will, which people in this state of mind are very much disinclined to make. Yet, as it is essential to their comfort and well-being— is what they should endeavor to accomplish.

As hope from its very nature is so great and urgent a power in the human mind, it requires—like the dynamics of mechanical force—to be placed under a proper direction and control. When injudicious in its choice of objects, and unrestrained in its impulses—what wild projects it has formed! What insane schemes it has devised! And on what absurd enterprises has it adventured! How many of its dupes, after they have blown their soon exploded bubbles, has it led to ruin! The 'follies of hope' might form a theme for the moralist—as well as its 'pleasures' to the poet. Well and wisely, therefore, should we hold the reins of this passion.

True it is that even hope's excesses and frustrations are better than its extinction—but these may be avoided by a little caution. Dr. Johnson, in one of those ingenious allegories with which he has adorned and enlivened the pages of his 'Rambler', has one which he calls the "Garden of Hope," in which hope is represented as seated upon an eminence, while a vast multitude are seen pressing on to obtain the gifts which the goddess has to bestow. Each supposing that her smile was directed specially to himself, and triumphing in his own superiority to others, who had conceived the same confidence from the same mistake. The entrance to the garden was by two gates, Reason and Imagination. From the gate of Reason there was an ascent by the hill of Difficulty, up which those who were wise and cautious, were led by the hand of Fortitude. These received the prize from the hand of the goddess, and were led by Wisdom to the 'bowers of Content'. The rest who had not entered by the gate of Reason, retired with regret and disappointment. Let us then take care that in seeking the gifts of hope, we enter the garden by the gate of Reason. (To both Addison and Johnson I am indebted for some of ideas in this chapter.)

Reason will lead us to take care, that the objects of our hope are worth the pains we take to possess them. It is for a lamentation to see on what worthless objects multitudes are exhausting their energies. What miserable trifles inflame their desires and raise their expectations! How wise and how necessary, before we fix our hope upon anything, is it to pause and ask, "Will it, by fruition, remunerate me for the expenditure of time, effort and money?"

Another exercise of reason in regard to hope is, to inquire if its object is attainable. I know that the illusion of desire is so strong, that some consider objects within their reach—which everyone else perceives to be utterly unattainable.

I am not unmindful that very some—either from an excess of timidity, from a lethargic indolence, or a stupid indifference—lose opportunities for promoting their interests which Providence has thrown in their way. They cry in idleness, "There is no hope," and do nothing—because they expect nothing. "Expect great things, attempt great things," is a motto, the inspiration of which has raised multitudes from poverty and obscurity—to wealth and importance. The man who has soul enough to hope for something great, possesses in part the means for obtaining it.

Still, reason shows us that there is a limit to the attainableness of an object—and a wise man will consider where the limit is fixed—and will not waste his energies in seeking to pass it. Many have lost objects which were attainable—in hoping for those which were unattainable—and have thus made themselves the martyrs of disappointment, when with more wisdom and moderation they might have been the happy partakers of success.

Great care should be taken to guard against the 'illusions of imagination'. Addison gives a somewhat amusing but a striking illustration of this, in the following fable—"Alnaschar was a very idle man, who never would set his hand to any business during his father's life. When his father died, he left him to the value of a hundred drachmas in Persian money. Alnaschar, in order to make the best of it, laid it out in glasses, bottles, and finest earthenware. These he piled up in a large open basket, and acquiring a very little shop, placed the basket at his feet, and leaned his back against the wall in the expectation of customers. As he sat in this position, with his eyes upon the basket, he fell into a most amusing train of thought, and was overheard by one of his neighbors as he talked to himself in the following manner—This basket,' says he, 'cost me a hundred drachmas, which is all I have in the world. I shall quickly make two hundred of it. These two hundred drachmas will, in a very little while, rise to four hundred, which will, of course, amount in time to four thousand. Four thousand drachmas cannot fail of making eight thousand. As soon as, by these means, I am master of ten thousand, I will lay aside my trade of glassman, and become a jeweler. I shall then deal in diamonds, pearls, and all sorts of rich stones. When I have got together as much wealth as I can well desire, I will make a purchase of the finest house I can find, with lands, servants and horses. I shall then begin to enjoy myself, and be famous in the world. I will not, however, stop there—but will continue my business, until I have got together a hundred thousand drachmas. When I have got a hundred thousand drachmas, I shall naturally set myself on the footing of a prince, and will demand the King's daughter in marriage. I will let him know, at the same time, that it is my intention to make him a present of a thousand pieces of gold on my marriage.'

"Alnaschar was entirely swallowed up in this fantastical vision of 'imaginary hopes', when, putting out his foot, he accidentally struck the basket of fragile glassware—which was the foundation of all his imaginary grandeur. And knocking over the glassware, broke them into ten thousand pieces."

Few, it will be admitted, carry up this baseless structure of 'imaginary hope' to such a height as did the self-deluded Persian. But how many, in their measure, deceive themselves with vain imaginations! Hope, more than almost any other passion, is addicted to this practice of "building castles in the air". It tells a flattering tale, which credulity loves to listen to, and though its fallacious promises have so often failed, yet as men love to be deceived, they still hearken to its deceitful voice.

It is by no means my intention to lessen the influence—but only to guide the operations, of this 'solace of affliction' and 'stimulus of industry'; not to weaken its power within the sphere of possibilities—but only to prevent its energies from being exhausted on impossibilities. Hope is too valuable a thing to be wasted on unattainables. It is needed for objects which may be gained by it, and cannot be gained without it. We should guard as much as possible from employing it on things which lie beyond our reach, since it is then sure to be disappointed, and every fresh disappointment weakens its spring, even for objects which may be legitimately considered as within its sphere; while every instance of success encourages fresh exertion of hope, and leads on to other achievements.

"If we hope for things which are at too great a distance from us—it is possible we may be intercepted by death in our progress towards them. If we hope for things we have not thoroughly considered the value of—our disappointment will be greater than our pleasure in the fruition of them. If we hope for what we are not likely to possess—we act and think in vain, and make life a greater dream and shadow than it really is. Many of the miseries and misfortunes of life proceed from our lack of consideration in one or all of these particulars. They are the rocks on which the optimistic tribe of lovers daily split, and on which the bankrupt, the politician, the scientist, and the artist are cast away in every age. Men of warm imaginations and towering thoughts are apt to overlook the goods of fortune which are near them—for something that glitters in the distance. They neglect solid and substantial happiness—for what is showy and superficial; and spurn the good which is within their reach—for that which they are not capable of attaining."