It is curious and very sad to see what might be a really strong nature weakening itself steadily with this philosophy and water. Of course it reaches a maudlin state if it continues.
His Satanic Majesty must offer this dose, sweetened with the sugar of self-love, with intense satisfaction. And if we may personify that gentleman for the sake of illustration, what a fine sarcastic smile must dwell upon his countenance as he sees it swallowed and enjoyed, and knows that he did not even have to waste spice as an ingredient! The sugar would have drowned the taste of any spice he could supply.
There is not even the appearance of strength in sentimentalizing.
Besides the sentimentalizing about ourselves in our desire to live a better life, there is the same morbid practice in our love for others; and this is quite as weakening. It contains, of course, no jot of real affection. What wholesome love there is lives in spite of the sentimentalizing, and fortunately is sometimes strong enough on one side or the other to crowd it out and finally exterminate it.
It is curious to notice how often this sham sentiment for others is merely a matter of nerves. As an instance we can take an example, which is quite true, of a woman who fancied herself desperately fond of another, when, much to her surprise, an acute attack of toothache and dentist-fright put the “affection” quite out of her head. In this case the “love” was a nervous irritant, and the toothache a counter-irritant. Of course the sooner such superficial feeling is recognized and shaken off, the nearer we are to real sentiment.
“But,” some one will say, “how are we to know what is real and what is not? I would much rather live my life and get more or less unreality than have this everlasting analyzing.” There need be no abnormal analyzing; that is as morbid as the other state. Indulge to your heart’s content in whatever seems to you real, in what you believe to be wholesome sentiment. But be ready to recognize it as sham at the first hint you get to that effect, and to drop it accordingly.
A perfectly healthy body will shed germs of disease without ever feeling their presence. So a perfectly healthy mind will shed the germs of sentimentality. Few of us are so healthy in mind but that we have to recognize a germ or two and apply a disinfectant before we can reach the freedom that will enable us to shed the germs unconsciously. A good disinfectant is, to refuse to talk of our own feelings or desires or affections, unless for some end which we know may help us to more light and better strength. Talking, however, is mild in its weakening effect compared with thinking. It is better to dribble sham sentiment in words over and over than to think it, and repress the desire to talk. The only clear way is to drop it from our minds the moment it appears; to let go of it as we would loosen our fingers and drop something disagreeable from our hands.
A good amount of exercise and fresh air helps one out of sentimentalizing. This morbid mental habit is often the result of a body ill in some way or another. Frequently it is simply the effect of tired nerves. We help others and ourselves out of it more rapidly by not mentioning the sentimentalizing habit, but by taking some immediate means towards rest, fresh air, vigorous exercise, and better nourishment.
Mistakes are often made and ourselves or others kept an unnecessary length of time in mental suffering because we fail to attribute a morbid mental state to its physical cause. We blame ourselves or others for behavior that we call wicked or silly, and increase the suffering, when all that is required is a little thoughtful care of the body to cause the silly wickedness to disappear entirely.
We are supposed to be indulging in sickly sentiment when we are really suffering from sickly nerves. An open sympathy will detect this mistake very soon, and save intense suffering by an early remedy.
Sentiment is as strengthening as sentimentality is weakening. It is as strong, as clear, and as fine in flavor as the other is sickly sweet. No one who has tasted the wholesome vigor of the one could ever care again for the weakening sweetness of the other, however much he might have to suffer in getting rid of it. True sentiment seeks us; we do not seek it. It not only seeks us, it possesses us, and runs in our blood like the new life which comes from fresh air on top of a mountain. With that true sentiment we can feel a desire to know better things and to live them. We can feel a hearty love for others; and a love that is, in its essence, the strongest of all human loves. We can give and receive a healthy sympathy which we could never have known otherwise. We can enjoy talking about ourselves and about “being good,” because every word we say will be spontaneous and direct, with more thought of law than of self. This true sentiment seeks and finds us as we recognize the sham and shake it off, and as we refuse to dwell upon our actions and thoughts in the past or to look back at all except when it is a necessity to gain a better result.
We are like Orpheus, and true sentiment is our Eurydice with her touch on our shoulder; the spirits that follow are the sham-sentiments, the temptations to look back and pose. The music of our lyre is the love and thought we bring to our every-day life. Let us keep steadily on with the music, and lead our Eurydice right through Hades until we have her safely over the Lethe, and we know sentimentality only as a name.