Wednesday, October 19, 2011

on wilkie collins, and a system of life


I've been re-reading The Legacy of Cain by Wilkie Collins, the author of the more famous classics The Woman in White and The Moonstone. I personally love Mr Collins; I love his dramatic, entertaining "sensation novel" style, his wit, his grandiloquence, his lavish, convoluted imagination.

The Legacy of Cain was published in 1888, and explores the concept of hereditary evil; it was the final novel completed by Collins. Re-reading it now, almost two decades after I had in university, I come across bits that make me pause and reflect, that make me nod, or smile to myself a little. This one I thought I'd share with you :)
* * *

A sigh escaped the poor lady. Experience told her that my father was going to hold forth.

"You don't know what a philosopher is!" he repeated. "Be so kind as to look at Me. I am a philosopher."

Mrs. Staveley bowed.

"And a philosopher, my charming friend, is a man who has discovered a system of life. Some systems assert themselves in volumes -- my system asserts itself in two words: Never think of anything until you have first asked yourself if there is an absolute necessity for doing it, at that particular moment.

"Thinking of things, when things needn't be thought of, is offering an opportunity to Worry; and Worry is the favorite agent of Death when the destroyer handles his work in a lingering way, and achieves premature results. Never look back, and never look forward, as long as you can possibly help it...

"The present time is the precious time. Live for the passing day: the passing day is all that we can be sure of. You suggested, just now, that I should ask my son if he was engaged to be married. How do we know what wear and tear of your nervous texture I succeeded in saving when I said: 'Wait till Philip mentions it without asking?' There is the personal application of my system" (Ch XLII, ital mine).

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