"chance" is a disreputable word, i know. it is supposed by many pious persons to be improper and almost blasphemous to use it. but i am not one of those who share this verbal prejudice. i am inclined rather to believe that it is a good word to which a bad reputation has been given. i feel grateful to that admirable "psychologist who writes like a novelist," mr. william james, for his brilliant defence of it. for what does it mean, after all, but that some things happen in a certain way which might have happened in another way? where is the immorality, the irreverence, the atheism in such a supposition? certainly god must be competent to govern a world in which there are possibilities of various kinds, just as well as one in which every event is inevitably determined beforehand. st. peter and the other fishermen-disciples on the lake of galilee were perfectly free to cast their net on either side of the ship. so far as they could see, so far as any one could see, it was a matter of chance where they chose to cast it. but it was not until they let it down, at the master's word, on the right side that they had good luck. and not the least element of their joy in the draft of fishes was that it brought a change of fortune.
leave the metaphysics of the question on the table for the present. as a matter of fact, it is plain that our human nature is adapted to conditions variable, undetermined, and hidden from our view. we are not fitted to live in a world where a + b always equals c, and there is nothing more to follow. the interest of life's equation arrives with the appearance of x, the unknown quantity. a settled, unchangeable, clearly foreseeable order of things does not suit our constitution. it tends to melancholy and a fatty heart. creatures of habit we are undoubtedly; but it is one of our most fixed habits to be fond of variety. the man who is never surprised does not know the taste of happiness, and unless the unexpected sometimes happens to us, we are most grievously disappointed.
much of the tediousness of highly civilized life comes from its smoothness and regularity. to-day is like yesterday, and we think that we can predict to-morrow. of course we cannot really do so. the chances are still there. but we have covered them up so deeply with the artificialities of life that we lose sight of them. it seems as if everything in our neat little world were arranged, and provided for, and reasonably sure to come to pass. the best way of escape from this tædium vitæ is through a recreation like angling, not only because it is so evidently a matter of luck, but also because it tempts us into a wilder, freer life. it leads almost inevitably to camping out, which is a wholesome and sanitary imprudence.
the day before cxlvii