Autobiography HTML version

practice not exceeding a month in the year, while my taste was strong for a country life,
and my sojourn in France had left behind it an ardent desire of travelling. But though
these tastes could not be freely indulged, they were at no time entirely sacrificed. I passed
most Sundays, throughout the year, in the country, taking long rural walks on that day
even when residing in London. The month's holiday was, for a few years, passed at my
father's house in the country; afterwards a part or the whole was spent in tours, chiefly
pedestrian, with some one or more of the young men who were my chosen companions;
and, at a later period, in longer journeys or excursions, alone or with other friends.
France, Belgium, and Rhenish Germany were within easy reach of the annual holiday:
and two longer absences, one of three, the other of six months, under medical advice,
added Switzerland, the Tyrol, and Italy to my list. Fortunately, also, both these journeys
occurred rather early, so as to give the benefit and charm of the remembrance to a large
portion of life.
I am disposed to agree with what has been surmised by others, that the opportunity which
my official position gave me of learning by personal observation the necessary conditions
of the practical conduct of public affairs, has been of considerable value to me as a
theoretical reformer of the opinions and institutions of my time. Not, indeed, that public
business transacted on paper, to take effect on the other side of the globe, was of itself
calculated to give much practical knowledge of life. But the occupation accustomed me
to see and hear the difficulties of every course, and the means of obviating them, stated
and discussed deliberately with a view to execution: it gave me opportunities of
perceiving when public measures, and other political facts, did not produce the effects
which had been expected of them, and from what causes; above all, it was valuable to me
by making me, in this portion of my activity, merely one wheel in a machine, the whole
of which had to work together. As a speculative writer, I should have had no one to
consult but myself, and should have encountered in my speculations none of the obstacles
which would have started up whenever they came to be applied to practice. But as a
Secretary conducting political correspondence, I could not issue an order, or express an
opinion, without satisfying various persons very unlike myself, that the thing was fit to be
done. I was thus in a good position for finding out by practice the mode of putting a
thought which gives it easiest admittance into minds not prepared for it by habit; while I
became practically conversant with the difficulties of moving bodies of men, the
necessities of compromise, the art of sacrificing the non-essential to preserve the
essential. I learnt how to obtain the best I could, when I could not obtain everything;
instead of being indignant or dispirited because I could not have entirely my own way, to
be pleased and encouraged when I could have the smallest part of it; and when even that
could not be, to bear with complete equanimity the being overruled altogether. I have
found, through life, these acquisitions to be of the greatest possible importance for
personal happiness, and they are also a very necessary condition for enabling anyone,
either as theorist or as practical man, to effect the greatest amount of good compatible
with his opportunities.