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“ And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
July 30, 1813. I RETIRE with satisfaction and delight to the peace and silence of the woods of ......, after a bustling season of noise and clamour, and distracted thoughts, amid the crowded concourse of public life.
It is with “The shadowy tribes of mind” that I would be more familiar, than with the manners and sentiments of human nature in its most practical shape, struggling with all the selfishness and all the passions of multiplied and elbowing society. Man has not “ leisure to be good,” or to be elevated, in the hum and stir of congregated cities.
If intellect be that which most distinguishes us above the beings of this creation, they stand highest of their order, whose conversance with intellectual objects most predominates over their conversance with those which are material.
It is among solitary trees, under the shade of dark oaks, amid the whispers which a gentle wind
wakes through the leaves, that Spirits of Wisdom and Fancy deign to hold intercourse with a few of the more favoured sons of earth.
Of all the beautiful creation, that which the eye sees, and the ear hears, and the hand touches, is only a part; and not the part most worthy of our admiration or gratitude. It is the train of images and sentiments that the mind associates with objects that gives them their most striking and powerful interest.
The Sylvan WANDERER will endeavour to cultivate a familiarity with this visionary world. The attempt is perilous; but the glory of the aim will justify the adventure. How noble, yet how daring, and almost hopeless, to strive to fix those transitory thoughts which dart their rays in different directions, and then vanish like the rapid coruscations of the northern lights.
These studies are not necessary to him who is in pursuit of wealth, or political importance, or the consequence of a worldling. They would rather impede his career; at any rate they would disturb his self-complacence, and make him doubt the rectitude of his ambition.
But there are, it is hoped, many, to whom The Sylvan WANDERER may bring consolation, sympathy, and pleasure; who want encouragement in the lonely hours, which have fallen to their lot, to cherish those endowments of nature and possessions of the mind, that are far above the riches and worldly notice denied to them.
Perhaps it is only in retirement, that the best part of our nature has room to play. In active life, good is so intermixed with evil, the duties performed are so counterbalanced by the faults committed, that Virtue is too much exposed to temptation, and undergoes too hard a task to give a fair chance of success: and, if she should be successful, at the loss of how many of her graces, and how many of her most attractive and amiable qualities will she have succeeded!
The great danger of retirement is its tendency to indolence. It is too apt to want the spur to exertion, which the collision and rivalry of society generates. To indulge in slumbers of which only the trees and fields are conscious, to ruminate without effort, and think without examining or registering the thoughts, is so gratifying to ease, that it requires the restless flame of strong genius to counteract it.
Many possess the seeds of fancy, which they cannot themselves expand; but which it requires the breath of genius to form into life. Thus awakened, the train of ideas contiues in animation, as long as the master-workman prolongs his impulse. These persons are dependent on others for the consolations of solitude, which without books is to them a mental desert.
A search into the history of mankind proves to us that the genius, the man of creative powers, is much more rare than may at first be believed. Even of those who enjoy the fame of poets, many exhibit those powers but in very faint degrees.
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 totally in vain.
August 2, 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,
“I wrote Odes to Retirement; and wished to be con