The Grapes We
Can't Reach by
The grapes we can't reach are not, as a general thing, sour grapes;
and it is a despicable kind of philosophy that asserts them to be so.
Why should we despise good things because we do not possess them?
Cicero, indeed, says that if we do not have wealth, there is nothing
better and nobler than to despise it. But this assertion was
artificial in the case of Cicero, and it is no nearer the truth now
than it was two thousand years ago.
In fact, on the question of money this dictum appeals to us with
great force; for though it may be true that some of the best things of
life cannot be bought with money, it is equally true that there are
other good things that nothing but money can buy. Therefore, to follow
Cicero's advice and despise wealth if we have not got it, is to despise
a great many excellent things; and not only that, it is to despise also
the power of imparting these excellent things to other people. The
golden grapes may be out of our reach, but we need not say the fruit is
sour; rather let us give thanks that others have been able to gather
and press the rich vintage and to give graciously to the world of its
wine of consolation.
In the same way it has long been, fashionable to assert a contempt
for the bubble reputation, whether sought on the battlefield or in
the senate, or forum, or study. But why despise one of the grandest
moral forces in the universe? For when a man can get out of self to
follow the fortunes of an idea, when he can fall in love with a cause,
when he can fight for some public good, when he can forfeit life, if
need be, for his conviction, the reputation that is sure to follow
such abnegation and courage is not a bubble; it is a glorious
fact,one through which the general level of humanity is raised and
the whole world impelled forward.
I do not say that all persons who conscientiously use to their
utmost ability the one or two talents they possess are not as happy as
they can be. Thank God! life can be full in small measures. But if any
man or woman has been given five or ten talents, I do say they have no
right to keep them for their own delectation, falling back upon such
cheap sentiments as the hollowness of fame and the bubble reputation.
Fame is not a bubble; it is a power whose beneficent achievements have
done a great deal toward making this world a comfortable
A great many high-sounding maxims in use at the present day have
lost their application. There was a time, centuries ago, when the
humiliations attending any upward climb were sufficient to deter a
sensitive, honorable soul. But such days are forever past. Any one now
bearing precious gifts for humanity finds the gates lifted up and a
wide entrance ready for him. Men and women can make what mark they are
able to make, and the world stands watching with sympathetic heart.
They will not find its reputation a bubble.
Another fine, windy theme of warning from sour-grape philosophers
is the hollowness of friendship and the general insincerity of the
world. They have seen through the world, they know all its falseness
and worthlessness; and, as the world is far too busy to dispute their
assertions or to defend itself, the superior discernment of this class
of people is not brought to accurate accounting. As a matter of fact,
however, people generally get just as much consideration from the
world, and just as much fidelity from their friends, as they deserve. A
friend may ask us to dinner, but not therefore should we expect that he
share his purse with us. Community of taste and sentiment does not
imply community of goods. But, for all this, friendship is not hollow,
nor are the grapes of its hospitality sour.
I may notice here the prevalent opinion that there is no such
friendship now in the world as there used to be. There are no Davids
and Jonathans now, say the unbelievers in humanity. Very true, for
David and Jonathan did not belong to the nineteenth century. To keep up
such a friendship, we require, not a spare hour now and then, but an
amount of certain and continuous leisure. There are still great
friendships among boys at school and young men in college, for they
have a large amount of steady leisure; and this is necessary to signal
friendship. When we have more time, we shall have more and stronger
The vanity of life, the deceitfulness of women, the falseness of
love, the impossibility of happiness, the passing away of all that is
lovely and of good report, are old, old, old texts of complaint. Men
and women talk about them until they feel ever so much better than the
rest of the world; and such talk enables them to look down with proper
contempt upon the hypocrisies of society,that is, of their next-door
neighbors and near acquaintances,and fosters a comfortable, but
dangerous self-esteem. The world, upon the whole, is a good world to
those who try to be good and to do good, and every year it is growing
better. During the last fifty years how much it has grown! How
sympathetic, how charitable, how evangelizing it has become! Yes,
indeed, if we choose to do so, we shall meet with far more good hearts
than bad ones, and the topmost grapes are not sour.