12 February 2014

Empty-Handed at the End and at the Beginning

Addison Peale Russell, Library Notes (Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879), p. 14:
We think ourselves of great importance in the eyes of others, when we are only so in our own. Calmly considering it, what can be more astonishing than vanity in a middle-aged person? Know as much as it is possible for a human being to know in this world, he cannot know enough to justify him in being vain of his knowledge. Good as it is possible for a human being to be, he cannot be good enough to excuse a conceit of his goodness. Yet how common it is for full-grown ignorance to have conceit of wisdom, and for ordinary virtue to assume the airs of saintship. How we shall one day wonder, looking back at the world we have left, at the nearly invisible mites, like ourselves, tossing their heads in pride, and gathering their skirts in self-righteousness, that we were ever as vain and shameless as they, and that the little things of life ever so engrossed us. Alas, to learn and unlearn is our fate; to gather as we climb the hill of life, to scatter as we descend it: empty-handed alike at the end and at the beginning.
Thanks to Laudator Temporis Acti for introducing me to this author.