« ПредишнаНапред »
divinity, we are in a sea which is deeper than the short reach of the line of man. Much may be gained by studious inquisition'; but more will ever rest, which man cannot discover. I wonder at those that will assume a knowledge of all, they are unwisely ashamed of an ignorance which is not disgracive. It is no shame for man not to know that which is not in his possibility. We fill the world with cruel brawls, in the obstinate defence of that, whereof we might with more honour confess ourselves to be ignorant.
One will tell us our Saviour's disputations among the doctors. Another, what became of Moses' body. A third, in what place paradise stood; and where is local hell. Some will know heaven as perfectly, as if they had been hurried about in every sphere, and I think they may. Former writers would have their zones inhabitable; we find them, by experience, temperate, St. Augustine would by no means endure the antipodes; we know of nothing more certain. Every age both confutes old errors, and begets new. Yet still are we more entangled, and the farther we go, the nearer we approach a sun that blinds us. He that went farthest in these things, we find ending with a censure of their vanity, and their vexation. It is questionable, whether the progress of some sorts of learning hath done more hurt or good; whether the schools have not made more questions than they have decided : where have we such peaceable and flourishing commonwealths, as we have found among those, which have not so much as had the knowledge of letters ? Surely those fruitless and enigmatic questions are bones the enemy hath cast among us, that while we strive for a vain conquest in those toys, we forget the prize we should run for. 'The husbandman that looks not beyond the plough and the scythe, is in much more quiet than the divided brain of the statist or the scholar. 'Who will not approve the judgment of our modern epigrammatist?
Judice me, soli semperque perinde beati
may judge, they only happy show, Which do or nothing, or else all things, know. “In things whereof I may be certain, I will labour to be instructed. But, when I come where reason loseth herself, I will be content with retiring admiration. Why should I rack my brains for unprofitable impossibilities ? Though I cannot know how much is hid, I may soon judge what may be discovered.”
The comparatively ignorant man will frequently succeed in life, before the man of real knowledge. If a man possess a passion for information, he will be
apt to despise the objects of other passions, and will be averse from the means by which the good things of the world are generally obtained. He cannot sacrifice his time to low cares and employments, bind his understanding to common affairs; nor conform to the humours of the rich and powerful; therefore ignorance frequently riots in the luxuries of life, while knowledge, like the Saviour of the world, hath scarcely where to lay its head !
It has been shrewdly said, that the fool and the man of genius are the great ornaments of the world; all the intermediary classes are devoid of life and spirit; they are amid plains, between two picturesque mountains. If, however, they figure equally upon their earth, their happiness is very disproportionable. The man of genius and penetration, in seeing all the relations that objects bear to one another, re-unites a thousand, apparently different, under one general principle. To him the picture of the world contracts itself, and its colours approach each other; in the midst of his career, he finds analogies in every thing, and nothing any longer excites his curiosity. The fool, whom all these relations escape, at the end of a life extended to two centuries, without ever having quitted his own town, would still find constant matter to astonish him. As he has no notion of classing his ideas, as he never generalizes any, every thing in the universe is to him detached ; every thing excites his wonder; every thing is a phenomenon ; his life is but a prolonged infancy; nature to him always preserves its freshness. In the eyes of the man of observation, the future soon appears nothing but the probable reproduction of the past, and he looks forward to it without pleasure; to the fool it is a new creation, and the charm of hope embellishes all his days. The man who reflects, and whose reflections embrace a thousand different combinations, if he must choose, if he must make some decision, finds an infinite number of different and contrary motives crowd upon his thoughts, and the whole activity of his mind can scarcely suffice to run over the multiplicity of his perceptions : he is undecided, he is tormented. The fool makes his choice in an instant; he has no comparisons to make: his eye is an officious glass, which never presents more than one or two objects at a time to his thoughts. Another misfortune to persons of talent, unknown to fools, is the difficulty they find in making people comprehend their meaning rightly; their reason is a sixth sense, the effects of which they endeavour in vain to explain. Deceived by seeing the human figure, they make incredible efforts to transmit their ideas to others; and if, at length, they do not obtain experience, after finding the greater part of mankind nothing more than images or puppeis, they must pass their lives in the torments of the Danaïdes.
If, fatigued with external objects, the man of genius reflects upon his own acquirements, he finds himself so defective in a thousand ways, that it interrupts his enjoyment of what he really does possess; he is never satisfied. These are pains unknown to the fool: if he engages in a survey of his internal self, he finds in abundance wherewith to excite his respect and admiration; his mind is an affectionate host, always courteous to him, always polite, always ready to treat and feast him.
To the enlightened man, perfection is a towering rock, the summit of which is lost in the clouds : to a fool it is a perfect globe which turns incessantly upon itself, each one believes himself upon the summit, and thinks he marches over the heads of all his fellow beings. No: nothing can interrupt the serenity of a fool, he knows neither envy nor jealousy; as he rests his glory upon nothings, he finds a place for them every where.
See two fools in conversation together, they do not hear each other, yet they laugh continually; while one speaks, the other is at a point where he is lost in enchantment, 'tis between what he has just said, and what he is about to say. They promise at parting to meet again very soon, and enjoy each other's conversation, and each is fully persuaded that he has delighted his friend by his brilliant sallies. "Tis often with the utmost diffidence that the man of talents ventures to say any thing witty or ingenious. The delicacy of his taste renders him difficult to be pleased; he has observed all the windings, the delu sions of self-love, he has remarked that the greater part of mankind are not disposed to allow wit or genius in another, but inasmuch as that other has the air of not being conscious himself of having said, what, in the familiar phrase of the world, is termed a good thing ; and leaving to his auditors the honour of the discovery, they allow him to enjoy his triumph.
The fool is spared the trouble and perplexity of this kind of management. He distributes his ideas around him with the most complete confidence; and if he does but now and then hit upon some commonplace reflection, he makes it known by sound of trumpet; he precedes it by putting on an air of profound art, and with vain-glory seems to transport himself some paces from himself, the better to contemplate the object of his profound admiration; then he approaches himself again, the better to hear what is coming; and in this delightful occupation, agitated by a most happy intoxication, he is proud of the tributes he has been paying to himself.
Mrs. Barbauld's Address to Wisdom may be properly introduced at this place :
O Wisdom ! if thy soft control
In gloomy shade of cloisters dwell,
The wise themselves shall envy me. Whatever may be thought of the preceding observations, there is another view of the subject, in which it cannot be disputed that Ignorance is our advantage; and that is, our ignorance of futurity. This is a most merciful dispensation of Providence.
Heav'n from all creatures hides the book of fate,
That each may fill the circle mark'd by Heav'n. Pope. Ardently as mankind desire to pry into the book of fate, the most injurious consequences would ensue, were their wishes gratified. It is well for man, that his future fortunes on earth are for the most part concealed from his view. Were it not for the impenetrable cloud that envelops futurity, mankind would sink into sloth, inactivity, carelessness, and sensuality; or otherwise into sullenness and sorrow. Youth would fail to unfold its capacities to any considerable degree, would take little interest in the concerns of life, and would be checked in its progress to its future destination. Man would be prevented from exerting his faculties, and employing his talents in the service of society, could he foresee the difficulties and obstacles that await him. His courage would