Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Art of Discouragement

Discovering the Telescope, 1855
Discovering the...
Edouard Ender
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By Arthur Helps  

Regarding, one day, in company with a humorous friend, a noble vessel
of a somewhat novel construction sailing slowly out of port, he observed,
"What a quantity of cold water somebody must have had down his back." In
my innocence, I supposed that he alluded to the wet work of the artisans
who had been building the vessel; but when I came to know him better, I
found that this was the form of comment he always indulged in when
contemplating any new and great work, and that his "somebody" was the
designer of the vessel.

   My friend had carefully studied the art of discouragement, and there
was a class of men whom he designated simply as "cold-water pourers." It
was most amusing to hear him describe the lengthened sufferings of the man
who first designed a wheel; of him who first built a boat; of the
adventurous personage who first proposed the daring enterprise of using
buttons, instead of fish bones, to fasten the scanty raiment of some
savage tribe.

   Warming with his theme, he would become quite eloquent in describing
the long career of discouragement which  these rash men had brought upon
themselves, and which he said, to his knowledge, must have shortened their
lives. He invented imaginary dialogues between the unfortunate inventor,
say of the wheel, and his particular friend, some eminent cold-water
pourer. For, as he said, every man has some such friend, who fascinates
him by fear, and to whom he confides his enterprises in order to hear the
worst that can be said of them.

   The sayings of the chilling friend, probably, as he observed, ran
thus:--"We seem to have gone on very well for thousands of years without
this rolling thing. Your father carried burdens on his back. The king is
content to be borne on men's shoulders. The high priest is not too proud
to do the same. Indeed, I question whether it is not irreligious to
attempt to shift from men's shoulders their natural burdens.

   "Then, as to its succeeding,--for my part, I see no chance of that. How
can it go up hill? How often you have failed before in other fanciful
things of the same nature! Besides, you are losing your time; and the yams
about your hut are only half planted. You will be a beggar; and it is my
duty, as a friend, to tell you so plainly.

   "There was Nang-chung: what became of him? We had found fire for ages,
in a proper way, taking a proper time about it, by rubbing two sticks
together. He must needs strike out fire at once, with iron and flint; and
did he die in his bed? Our sacred lords saw the impiety of that
proceeding, and very justly impaled the man who imitated heavenly powers.
And, even if you could succeed with this new and absurd rolling thing, the
state would be ruined. What would become of those who carry burdens on
their backs? Put aside the vain fancies of a childish mind, and finish the
planting of your yams."

  It is really very curious to observe how, even in modern times, the
arts of discouragement prevail. There are men whose sole pretense to
wisdom consists in administering discouragement. They are never at a loss.
They are equally ready to prophesy, with wonderful ingenuity, all possible
varieties of misfortune to any enterprise that may be proposed; and when
the thing is produced, and has met with some success, to find a flaw in
it.

   I once saw a work of art produced in the presence of an eminent
cold-water pourer. He did not deny that it was beautiful; but he instantly
fastened upon a small crack in it that nobody had observed; and upon that
crack he would dilate whenever the work was discussed in his presence.
Indeed, he did not see the work, but only the crack in it. That
flaw,--that little flaw,--was all in all to him.

  The cold-water pourers are not all of one form of mind. Some are led to
indulge in this recreation from genuine timidity. They really do fear that
all new attempts will fail. Others are simply envious and ill-natured.
Then, again, there is a sense of power and wisdom in prophesying evil.
Moreover, it is the safest thing to prophesy, for hardly anything at first
succeeds exactly in the way that it was intended to succeed.

   Again, there is the lack of imagination which gives rise to the
utterance of so much discouragement. For an ordinary man, it must have
been a great mental strain to grasp the ideas of the first projectors of
steam and gas, electric telegraphs, and pain-deadening chloroform. The
inventor is always, in the eyes of his fellow-men, somewhat of a madman;
and often they do their best to make him so.

   Again, there is the want of sympathy; and that is, perhaps, the ruling
cause in most men's minds who have given themselves up to discourage. They
are not tender enough, or sympathetic enough, to appreciate all the pain
they are giving, when, in a dull plodding way, they lay out argument after
argument to show that the project which the poor inventor has set his
heart upon, and upon which, perhaps, he has staked his fortune, will not
succeed.

   But what inventors suffer, is only a small part of what mankind in
general endure from thoughtless and unkind discouragement. Those
high-souled men belong to the suffering class, and must suffer; but it is
in daily life that the wear and tear of discouragement tells so much.
Propose a small party of pleasure to an apt discourager, and see what he
will make of it. It soon becomes sicklied over with doubt and despondency;
and, at last, the only hope of the proposer is, that his proposal, when
realized, will not be an ignominious failure. All hope of pleasure, at
least for the proposer, has long been out of the question.

-McGuffey's 5th reader


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