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Charles Dickens’ 1841 wisdom regarding the 2016 Presidential Election

charles-dickensFamilies and even countries have systemic and generational patterns that need to be understood, in order to become more healthy and even transformative.  Charles Dickens was deeply loved by the American people, then deeply resented when he told them in his 1841 book American Tales what he saw, and finally loved again after the Civil War, when they bought over a million of his book Christmas Carol, saving him from bankruptcy.

After the often agonizing and endless American election, Dickens’ wise words are well worth pondering, regardless of one’s political preferences.

American Tales, Chapter XVIII, Concluding Remarks

“(Americans) are by nature, frank, brave, cordial, hospitable, and affectionate. Cultivation and refinement seem but to enhance their warmth of heart and ardent enthusiasm; and it is the possession of these later qualities in a most remarkable degree, which renders an educated American one of the most endearing and most generous of friends.  I never was so won upon, as by this class; never yielded up my full confidence and esteem so readily and pleasurably, as to them; never can make again, in half a year, so many friends for whom I seem to entertain the regard of half a life.

These qualities are natural, I implicitly believe, to the whole people. That they are, however, sadly sapped and blighted in their growth among the mass; and that there are influences at work which endanger them still more, and give but little present promise of their healthy restoration, is a truth that ought to be told.

It is an essential part of every national character to pique (i.e. pride) itself mightily upon its faults, and to deduce tokens of its virtue or its wisdom from their very exaggeration.  One great blemish in the popular mind of America, and the prolific parent of an innumerable brood of evils, is Universal Distrust.  Yet the American citizen plumes (i.e. prides) himself upon this spirit, even when he is sufficiently dispassionate to perceive the ruin it works; and will often adduce it, in spite of his own reason, as an instance of the great sagacity and acuteness of the people, and their superior shrewdness and independence.

dickens-at-desk‘You carry,’ says the stranger, ‘this jealousy and distrust into every transaction of public life.  By repelling worthy men from your legislative assemblies, it has bred up a class of candidates for the suffrage, who, in their very act, disgrace your Institutions and your people’s choice.  It has rendered you so fickle, and so given to change, that your inconstancy has passed into a proverb; for you no sooner set up an idol firmly, than you are sure to pull it down and dash it into fragments: and this, because directly you reward a benefactor, or a public servant, you distrust him, merely because he is rewarded; and immediately apply yourselves to find out, either that you have been too bountiful in your acknowledgments, or be remiss in his deserts.  Any man who attains a high place among you, from the President downwards, may date his downfall from that moment; for any printed lie that any notorious villain pens, although it militates directly against the character and conduct of a life, appeals at once to your distrust, and is believed.  You will strain at a gnat in the way of trustfulness and confidence, however fairly won and well deserved; but you will swallow a whole caravan of camels, if they be laden with unworthy doubts and mean suspicions.  Is this well, think you, or likely to elevate the character of the governors or the governed, among you?’

The answer is invariably the same: ‘There’s freedom of opinion here, you know.  Every man thinks for himself, and we are not to be easily overreached. That’s how our people come to be suspicious.’

Another prominent feature is the love of ‘smart’ dealing: which gilds over many a swindle and gross breach of trust; many a defalcation (i.e. misappropriation), public and private; and enables many a knave to hold his head up with the best, who well deserves a halter (i.e. noose); though it has not been without its retributive operation, for this smartness had done more in a few years to impair the public credit, and to cripple the public resources, than dull honesty, however rash, could have effected in a century.  The merits of a broken speculation, or a bankruptcy, or of a successful scoundrel, are not gauged by its or his observance of the golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would be done by,’ but are considered with reference to their smartness.  I recollect, on both occasions of our passing that ill-fated Cairo on the Mississippi, remarking on the bad effects such gross deceits must have been when they exploded, in generating a want of confidence abroad, and discouraging foreign investment: but I was given to understand that this was a very smart scheme by which a deal of money was made: and that its smartest feature was that they forgot these things abroad in a very short time, and speculated again as freely as ever.  The following dialogue I have held a hundred times: ‘Is it not a very disgraceful circumstance that such a man as So-and-so should be acquiring a large property by the most infamous and odious means, and not withstanding all the crimes of which he has been guilty, should be tolerated and abetted by your Citizens? He is a public nuisance, is he not?’  ‘Yes, Sir.’  ‘A convicted liar?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’ ‘He has been kicked and cuffed and caned?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’  ‘And he is utterly dishonorable, debased, and profligate?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’  ‘IN the name of wonder, then, what is his merit?’  ‘Well, Sir, he is a smart man.’

charles-dickens-1-728In like manner, all kinds of deficient and impolitic usages are referred to the national love of trade; though oddly enough it would be a weighty charge against a foreigner that he regarded the Americans as a trading people.  The love of trade is assigned as a reason for that comfortless custom, so very prevalent in country towns, of married people living in hotels, having no fireside of their own, and seldom meeting from early morning until late at night, but at the hasty public meals.  The love of trade is a reason why the literature of America is to remain for ever unprotected: ‘For we are a trading people, and don’t care for poetry:’ though we do, by the way, profess to be very proud of our poets: while healthy amusements, cheerful means of recreation, and wholesome fancies, must fade before the stern utilitarian joys of trade.

These three characteristics are strongly represented at every turn, full in the stranger’s view. But the foul growth of America has a more tangled root than this; and it strikes its fibres, deep into its licentious Press.

Schools may be erected, East, West, North and South; pupils may be taught, and masters reared, by scores upon scores of thousands; colleges may thrive, churches may be crammed, temperance may be diffused, and advancing knowledge in all other forms walk through the land with giant strides: but while the newspaper press of America is in, or near, its present abject state, high moral improvement in that country is hopeless.  Year by year, it must and will go back; year by year, the tone of public feeling must sink lower down; year by year, the Congress and the Senate must become of less account before all decent men; and year by year, the memory of the Great Fathers of the Revolution must be outraged more and more, in the bad life of their degenerate child.

Among the herd of journals that are published in the States, there are some, the reader scarcely needs be told, of character and credit.  From personal intercourse with accomplished gentlemen connected with publications of this class, I have derived both pleasure and profit.  But the name of these is Few, and of the others Legion; and the influence of the good, is powerless to counteract the moral poison of the bad.

Among the gentry of America; among the well-informed and moderate: in the learned professions; at the bar and on the bench: there is, as there can be, but one opinion, in reference to the vicious character of these infamous journals.  It is sometimes contended — I will not say strangely, for it is natural to seek excuses for such a disgrace — that their influence is not so great as a visitor would suppose.  I must be pardoned for saying there is no warrant for this plea, and that every fact and circumstance tends directly to the opposite conclusion.

When any man, of any grade of desert in intellect or character, can climb to any public distinction, no matter what, in America, without first groveling down upon the earth, and bending the knee before this monster of depravity; when any private excellence is safe from its attacks; when any social confidence is left unbroken by it, or any tie of social decency and confidence is held in the least regard; when any man in that free country has freedom of opinion, and presumes fmimg8302753006214740978to think for himself, and speak for himself, without humble reference to a censorship which, for its rampant ignorance and base dishonesty, he utterly loathes and despises in his heart; when those who most acutely feel its infamy and the reproach it casts upon the nation, and who most denounce it to each other, dare to set their heels upon, and  crush it openly, in the sight of all men:  then, I will believe that its influence is lessening, and men  are returning to their manly senses. But while that Press has its evil eye in every house, and its black hand in every appointment in the state, from a president to a postman; while, with ribald slander for its only stock in trade, it is the standard literature of an enormous class, who must find their reading in a newspaper, or they will not read at all; so long must its odium be upon the country’s head, and so long must the evil it works, be plainly visible in the Republic.”

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you. 

 


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Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations at Easter

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Do you have great expectations for Easter? I have always loved Easter, particularly our Easter family turkey dinners. My earliest childhood Easter memories are of bunnies, chocolate, eggs, bonnets, lilies, flower crosses, and joyful singing. Easter can be a time of reconnecting and celebrating, a time of healing and new life.  In Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, as the hero Sydney Carton takes his friend Darnay’s place on the guillotine, he repeats Jesus’ Easter words: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever lives and believes in me, shall never die”.[1]  Most of us, because of the unforgettable Christmas Carol book, associate Dickens more with Christmas than Easter.[2]  Yet Dickens had great expectations not just of Christmas but also of Easter.  Dickens was a true Easter person.  In most of Dickens’ novels, there are Easter moments of unexpected hope, transformation and breakthrough. Dickens rarely leaves us stuck in despair. The Easter moment in Oliver Twist was Oliver being welcomed into the kindly Brownlow family.[3]

In Dickens’ book Hard Times, life without mystery, creativity, and the supernatural is portrayed as barren, meaningless, and empty. In contrast to Easter, the materialistic philosophy in Hard Times taught that everything could be reduced to utilitarian facts and monetary gain: “Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts.  Facts alone are wanted in life.  Plant nothing else, and root out everything else…”[4]  Even heaven, said the teacher Thomas Gradgrind, could only be entered through earning one’s own salvation: “Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter.  And if we didn’t get to heaven that way, it was not a politic-economical place, and we had no business there.”[5] Other people to Gradgrind were little more than depersonalized machines only to be valued as they served the industrial complex. Gradgrind was like an Easter Scrooge, saying ‘bah humbug’ to anyone with great expectations.  But no matter how hard he tried, Gradgrind could not crush the Easter imagination, expectations, and compassion seen in Sissy.[6]  Only when Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa emotionally collapsed did Gradgrind finally realize that life is more than just bare cold facts, saying “The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet.”[7] Through his Easter moment, Gradgrind began “making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity, no longer trying to grind that heavenly trio in his dusty little mills.”[8]  Even Scrooges and Gradgrinds can discover great expectations.

In The Life of our Lord, Dickens’ least-known book, he shared with his ten children the deep faith that he had not only in Christmas, but also in Easter.  Easter for Dickens was about great expectations, about Jesus’ resurrection love: “No one ever loved all people so well and so truly as He did.”[9]  To Dickens, Jesus “was always merciful and tender. And because he did such good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to heaven after death, he was called our Saviour.”[10] Dickens explained that the Saviour would teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and his name will be called Jesus Christ.[11]  Dickens believed in the Easter resurrection of Jesus, saying “as he is now in heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, you can never think what a good place heaven is without knowing who he was and what he did.”[12] In The Life of our Lord, Dickens recorded five accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances after his crucifixion, commenting that the resurrected Jesus “was seen by five hundred of his followers at once, and He remained with others of them forty days.”[13]

Charles Dickens had great expectations at Easter, because he looked past the Easter baskets, bonnets, and bunnies to the very heart of Easter: Jesus’ death and resurrection. As an Easter person, Dickens wanted his children to know because Christ is risen indeed, there is always a way forward, even in hard times. My prayer for those reading this article is that this Easter would be a time of great expectations, great breakthroughs, and great hope.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

[1] Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, 3.9.89.  Right before his guillotining, Carton memorably said: “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.” (3.15.46)

[2] Charles Dickens, Christmas Carol, http://www.stormfax.com/1dickens.htm

[3] Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, https://books.google.ca/books?isbn=1904232469 , 40, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/730

[4] Charles Dickens, Hard Times, (Pocket Books, Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2007, New York, NY),  9.

[5] Hard Times, 376.

[6] Hard Times, 410.

[7] Hard Times, Third Book, One Thing Needful, Chapter 1, p. 2.

[8] Hard Times, Chapter IX, https://books.google.ca/books?isbn=1136413251http://www.victorianlondon.org/etexts/dickens/hard_times-0037.shtml

[9] Charles Dickens, The Life of Our Lord, http://www.chucknorris.com/Christian/Christian/ebooks/dickens_life.pdf

[10] The Life of Our Lord, 8.

[11] The Life of Our Lord, 14.

[12] The Life of Our Lord, 3.

[13] The Life of Our Lord, 31.


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Conquering the Mañana Disease

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

I have been planning on writing this ‘Mañana’ article for several months, but I never got around to it.  Manana is a Spanish word for ‘tomorrow’. There is an old saying “Why do today what you can put off ‘till tomorrow?” Some have coined the expression “mañana disease”, which means to procrastinate and put things off until tomorrow.  The term ‘procrastinate’ is literally Latin “for tomorrow (crastinus)”.

Once a year in January, many of us take time to make New Year’s Resolutions.  Many of us vow to finish certain important tasks that we have been putting off.  For some of us, it may be finding a new job, getting married, having a child, buying a house, earning a University degree, or restoring a broken relationship.

King Solomon 3,000 years ago had this advice for people struggling with the mañana disease: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.” (Proverbs 6:6)

 Solomon challenges each of us to not let fear hold us back: “The sluggard says ‘there is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming in the streets.’ (Proverbs 26:13)

 Solomon encourages us to not be arrogant and unteachable: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.” (Proverbs 26:16).  Solomon cautions us not to become addicted to our pillows: “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.” (Proverbs 26:14).  The ancient word for procrastination is sloth, one of the seven deadly sins.  Solomon humorously points out that sloth can become so addictive that nothing gets done: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.” (Proverbs 26:15).

Why do we procrastinate?  I procrastinated for years in writing my second book “Battle for the Soul of Canada.”*  Sometimes conquering procrastination seems like too much stress, too much work.  I believe that the rise of the ‘living together’ phenomenon in our culture has a lot to do with marital procrastination, especially for men.  The average age for men to be married is now 34; for women, it is 31.  Many people are waiting for the perfect time to tie the knot, the perfect financial situation, perfect educational situation, perfect housing situation, perfect emotional connectedness.  Perfectionism is at the core of the mañana disease.  Our grandparents rarely experienced perfect lives. Somehow they were able to get married and get on with their lives.

For many men, the concept of having children is even more threatening than being married.  The imagined weight of responsibility can be overwhelming.  It is interesting that in the most affluent parts of the world, we are having fewer children and at a much later stage of life.  The biological clock is on a collision course with the mañana disease.  The irony of Quebec is that its fear of cultural extinction is now becoming a biological reality.  Quebec, which had the highest birthrate, now has the lowest birthrate in North America.  Mañana has real consequences.

I love the poster I saw recently of a huge polar bear lying prone on an iceberg.  The caption goes: “When I get the feeling to do something, I lie down until the feeling goes away.”  Charles Dickens in his famous novel David Copperfield wisely observed: “Procrastination is the thief of time.”  I have found that later often means never.  Life moves on.  People die.  People move away.  Nothing on this earth is permanent.

 We all mean very well in our hearts.  Sometimes we fail to show it to our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings.  It is so easy to put off saying “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  How can I make it up to you?  I’ll try not to do that again.  Will you please forgive me”.  It is so easy to let relationships die because of the mañana disease.

When I first came to St. Simon’s North Vancouver, I said to our congregation: “If I haven’t offended you yet, you don’t know me well enough.”  They all laughed at the time, but later found out that I was dead serious.  All of us have the ability to offend others.  We even have the ability to offend ourselves.  Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves.  Women especially are often the hardest on themselves, turning their anger inward.  Perhaps conquering the mañana disease may involve looking yourself in the mirror, and with God’s help, forgiving yourself.  Many people, who have been through a painful divorce or an abortion, secretly condemn themselves for years.  God knows and God forgives, if we will only open our hearts to Him.  Say no to the mañana disease.

In this New Year, my challenge for  those reading this article to seize the day, redeem the time, forgive those who need forgiving, and get on with our life both now and for eternity.  Are you ready yet to meet your Maker?

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, #102-15168 19th Ave, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Ave, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca