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Shall The Sylvan Wanderer presume then to endeavour to delineate his day-dreams? Shall he hope to seize and pourtray those passing images of the brain, which will find their reflection in the bosoms of others? How many delightful sensations of the heart are intertwined with every tint of the earth, the trees, and the heavens! How are most of the events of moral life combined with some picturesque appearance of nature!
To catch and exhibit these associations, is amongst the most brilliant and affecting acts of genius; to pursue this fearfully-formed being of ours into its recesses, to penetrate the depths of the human heart, is as deserving of admiration, as it is full of instruction and pleasure.
If these Essays should have the good fortune to meet the perusal of the reader of sensibility, he will not throw them away in scorn, nor think that The Sylvan Wanderer has laboured totallv in vain.
"Watching and solitude and grief consume." Lorrr's SHAKEsp. Aphor. «' Solitude makes renew'd society The sweeter welcome." Shakesp.
Augmt 8, 1813.
After what I have said in favour of retirement, I must not conceal the other side of the question.
Mrs. Montagu, in a letter to Dr. Beattie, from Sandleford, in 1778, has, among other well-written remarks on Solitude, the following passages:
"Seasons of recess and retirement are good for the mind, and give time to reflect on what we have done, and what we ought to do. Dr. Beattie will give a voice to all the mute objects I now admire, and lead me farther in virtue and wisdom than I can advance by myself; so he must excuse my being impatient to see him."
These are some of the words of the eloquent poet's reply:
"In my younger days I was much attached to Solitude, and could have envied even
"the shepherd of the Hebride Isles,
l'lac'd far amid the melancholy main."
"I wrote Odes to Betirement; and wished to be conducted to its deepest groves, remote from every rude sound, and from every vagrant foot. In a word, I thought the most profound Solitude the best. But I have now changed my mind. Those solemn and incessant energies of imagination, which naturally take place in such a state, are fatal to the health and spirits, and tend to make us more and more unfit for the business of life: the soul deprived of those ventilations of passion, which arise from social intercourse, is reduced to a state of stagnation, and, if she is not of a very firm consistence indeed, will be apt to breed within herself "many monstrous, and many prodigious things," of which she will find it no easy matter to rid herself, even when she has become sensible of their noxious nature."
But in a letter of older date to Lord Kames, dated from Denton, in Northumberland, in 1766, Mrs. Montagu again enforces the advantages of Solitude:
"Perhaps," says she, "there is not any thing more delightful than the escaping from the bustle of society to the quiet of Solitude. If I was assured your lordship would not draw an inference from it to my disadvantage, I would own to you, that the transitions from the town to the country, and from the country to the town, are inexpressibly delightful to me. Different powers of the mind are exercised in different situations; so pray do not entirely impute this taste in me to levity. ----
"The inherent dignity of the soul makes it sometimes disdain the petty occupations of social life, and love to retire into the proud state of meditation. There it enters into the operations of Omnipotence, and the views of Infinite Wisdom; looks with delight through the infinite gradations of Beings, and with amazement round the boundless system of creation: it exults at feeling itself an intelligent spectator of such a majestic scene; and in the arrogance of its reasoning, and the pride of its reveries, wonders how it could ever condescend to the low commerce of ordinary life, and says to itself, it will in future dream in state. ________
"In a sweet retirement, I imagine the mind keeps pace to the music of the spheres; its movements are not affected by prejudices, or bad examples, but keep even and true measure with reason, and its appointed duties. In the bustle of the world we are often impelled to what is wrong, diverted from what is right, and carried about in the whirl of fashion and predominant opinions."
It must be admitted, that when a few leading images have seized too powerfully on the mind, Solitude does but increase the malady. It feeds, and cherishes the disease which preys upon us. It gives it ample room to trace its characters on the heart in their utmost dimensions.
"To the sorrowful sorrow seems to dwell every where:"
But it most dwells in retirement. There
"Grief fills the room up of departed friends;
There is nothing to give a new impulse to the train of ideas, and force them out of the melancholy course they have taken. Thus the phantoms of the brain grow more hideous and gigantic by indulgence; and get a despotic rule over the unhappy patient, which the bustle of society and the diversity of new objects, too obtrusive to escape notice, can alone weaken.
Domestic afflictions and losses had thus rendered Solitude insupportable to Beattie. His wife deranged, and his too children sunk into an early grave, haunted his very morbid, and too tender fancy; and he dreaded the silence and loneliness which fed contemplations so associated with sorrow and despair.
Magnanimity of mind was not among the prime traits of this amiable and genuine poet, who somewhat mistook the nature of his extraordinary endowments, and sunk into a philosopher, when he ought to have been nothing less than a Minstrel.