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Sentiment _versus_ Sentimentality

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: As A Matter Of Course

FREEDOM from sentimentality opens the way for true sentiment.

An immense amount of time, thought, and nervous force is wasted in

sentimentalizing about "being good." With many, the amount of talk

about their evils and their desire to overcome them is a thermometer

which indicates about five times that amount of thought Neither the

talk nor the thought is of assistance in leading to any greater

strength or
to a more useful life; because the talk is all talk, and

the essence of both talk and thought is a selfish, morbid pleasure

in dwelling upon one's self. I remember the remark of a young girl

who had been several times to prayer-meeting where she heard the

same woman say every time that she "longed for the true spirit of

religion in her life." With all simplicity, this child said: "If she

longs for it, why doesn't she work and find it, instead of coming

every week and telling us that she longs?" In all probability the

woman returned from every prayer-meeting with the full conviction

that, having told her aspirations, she had reached the height

desired, and was worthy of all praise.

Prayer-meetings in the old, orthodox sense are not so numerous as

they were fifty years ago; but the same morbid love of telling one's

own experiences and expressing in words one's own desires for a

better life is as common as ever.

Many who would express horror at these public forms of

sentimentalizing do not hesitate to indulge in it privately to any

extent. Nor do they realize for a moment that it is the same morbid

spirit that moves them. It might not be so pernicious a practice if

it were not so steadily weakening.

If one has a spark of real desire for better ways of living,

sentimentalizing about it is a sure extinguisher if practised for

any length of time.

A woman will sometimes pour forth an amount of gush about wishing to

be better, broader, nobler, stronger, in a manner that would lead

you, for a moment, perhaps, to believe in her sincerity. But when,

in the next hour, you see her neglecting little duties that a woman

who was really broad, strong, and noble would attend to as a matter

of course, and not give a second thought to; when you see that

although she must realize that attention to these smaller duties

should come first, to open the way to her higher aspirations, she

continues to neglect them and continues to aspire,--you are surely

right in concluding that she is using up her nervous system in

sentimentalizing about a better life; and by that means is doing all

in her power to hinder the achievement of it.

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


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


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.