EGGS are eggs, but some are rotten; and so hopes are hopes, but many of them are delusions. Hopes are like women: there is a touch of angel about them, but there are two sorts. My boy Tom has been blowing out a lot of birds' eggs and threading them on a string; I have been doing the same thing with hopes, and here's a few of them - good, bad and indifferent.
The sanguine man's hope pops up in a moment like jack-in-the-box; it works with a spring and does not go by reason. Whenever this man looks out of the window, he sees better times coming; although it is nearly all in his own eye and nowhere else, yet to see plum puddings in the moon is a far more cheerful habit than croaking at everything like a two-legged frog. This is the kind of brother to be on the road with on a pitch-dark night when it pours with rain, for he carries candles in his eyes and a fireside in his heart. Beware of being mislead by him, and then you may safely keep his company. His fault is that he counts his chickens before they are hatched and sells his herrings before they are in the net. All his sparrow's eggs are bound to turn into thrushes, at the least, if not partridges and pheasants. Summer has fully come, for he has seen one swallow.
He is sure to make his fortune at his new shop, for he had not opened the door five minutes before two of the neighbors crowded in, one of them wanting a loaf of bread on trust, and the other asking change for a shilling. He is certain that the squire means to give him his custom, for he saw him reading the name over the shop door as he rode past. He does not believe in slips between cups and lips, but makes certainties out of perhaps. Well, good soul, though he is a little soft at times, there is much in him to praise, and I like to think of one of his odd sayings, "Never say die till you are dead, and then it's no use, so let it alone." There are other odd people in the world, you see, besides John Ploughman.
My neighbor Shiftless is waiting for his aunt to die, but the old lady has as many lives as nine cats. My notion is that when she does die, she will leave her little money to the Hospital for Diseased Cats or Stray Dogs, sooner than let her nephew Jack have at it. Poor creature, he is dreadfully down at the heel and lays it all on the dear old lady's provoking constitution. However, he hopes on and gets worse and worse, for while the grass grows, the horse starves. He puts at a long rope who waits for another's death; he who hunts after legacies needs to have iron shoes. He that waits for dead men's shoes may long go barefoot; he who waits for his uncle's cow need not be in a hurry to spread the butter. He who lives on hope has a slim diet. If Jack Shiftless had never had an aunt, he might have tucked up his shirt sleeves and worked for himself; but they told him that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and that made a spoon of him.
If anybody likes to leave John Ploughman a legacy, he will be very much obliged to them, but they had better not tell him of it for fear he should not plow so straight a furrow; better they make it twice as much and take him by surprise. On the whole, it would be better to leave it to the Pastor's College or the Stockwell Orphanage, for it will be well used in either case. But now we must get back to our subject.
I wish people would think less about windfalls and plant more apple trees. Hopes that grow out of graves are grave mistakes; and when they cripple a man's own energies, they are a sort of hangman's rope dangling round a man's neck.
Some people were born on the first of April and are always hoping without sense or reason. Their ship is to come in soon; they are to dig up a pot of gold or to hear something to their advantage. Poor sillies, they have wind on the brain and dream while they are awake. They may hold their mouths open a long while before fried ham and eggs will come flying into them, and yet they really seem to believe that some stroke of luck, some windfall of golden apples, will one day set them up and make gentlemen of them. They hope to ride in their coaches, and by-and-by they find themselves shut up in a place where the coaches won't run over them. You may whistle a long time before goldfinches will hop on to your thumb. Once in a while one man in a million may stumble against a fortune, but thousands ruin themselves by idle expectations.
Expect to get half of what you earn, a quarter of what is your due, and none of what you have lent, and you will be near the mark; but to look for a- fortune to fall from the moon is to play the fool with a vengeance. A man ought to hope within the bounds of reason and the promises of the good old Book. Hope leans on an anchor, but an anchor must have something to hold by and to hold to. A hope without grounds is a tub without a bottom, a horse without a head, a goose without a body, a shoe without a sole, a knife without a blade. Who but Simple Simon would begin to build a house at the top? There must be a foundation. Hope is no hope, but sheer folly, when a man hopes for impossibilities, or looks for crops without sowing seed and for happiness without doing good.
Such hopes lead to great boast and small roast; they act like a jack-o'-lantern and lead men into the ditch. There's poor Will at the workhouse who always declares that he owns a great estate, only the right owner keeps him out of it; his name is Jenyns or Jennings, and somebody of that name he says has left enough money to buy the Bank of England, and r one day he is to have a share of it. But meanwhile poor Will finds the parish broth poor stuff for such a great gentleman's stomach; he has promised me an odd thousand or two when he gets his fortune, and I am going to build a castle in the air with it and ride to it on a broomstick. Poor soul, like a good many others, he has windmills in his head, and may make his will on his thumbnail for anything that he has to give.
Depend upon it, plowing the air is not half so profitable as it is easy: he who hopes in this world for more than he can get by his own earnings hopes to find apricots on a crab tree. He who marries a slovenly, dressy girl and hopes to make her a good wife might as well buy a goose and expect it to turn out a milk cow. He who takes his boys to the bar and trusts that they will grow up sober puts his coffeepot on the fire and expects to see it look bright as new tin. Men cannot be in their senses when they brew with bad malt and look for good beer, or set a wicked example and reckon upon raising a respectable family. You may hope and hope till your heart grows sick; but when you send your boy up the chimney, he'll come down black for all your hoping. Teach a child to lie, and then hope that he will grow up honest; better put a wasp in a tar barrel and wait till he makes you honey. When will people act sensibly with their boys and girls? Not till they are sensible themselves.
As to the next world, it is a great pity that men do not take a little more care when they talk of it. If a man dies drunk, somebody or other is sure to say, "I hope he is gone to heaven." It is all very well to wish it, but to hope it is another thing. Men turn their faces to hell and hope to get to heaven; why don't they walk into the pond and hope to be dry? Hopes of heaven are solemn things and should be tried by the word of God. A man might as well hope, as our Lord says, to gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles as look for a happy hereafter at the end of a bad life.
There is only one rock to build good hopes on, and that is not Peter, as the pope says; neither is it the sacraments, as the old Roman beast's cubs tell us, but the merits of the Lord Jesus. All the hope of man is in "the man Christ Jesus." If we believe in him we are saved, for it is written, "he that believeth in him hath everlasting life." Mind he has it now, and it is everlasting, so that there is no fear of his losing it. There John Ploughman rests, and he is not afraid of being confounded, for this is a In footing and gives him a hope sure and steadfast which neither life nor death can shake. But John must not turn preacher, or he may take the bread out of the parson's mouth. So please remember that presumption is a ladder which will break the mounter's neck, and don't try it, as you love your soul.