Графични страници
PDF файл

in the water of a cold, deep river; in a moment we | the phases of the never-ending strangulation. We have forgotten all the past, even the friends that are stand upon our little platforms of life and time, and now weeping at the bed-side; in a few more moments over the edge peer curiously and shudderingly into they will have forgotten us, to be themselves in due the dark, outer void; and through the magnifying turn forgotten.

lenses of fear and imagination descry therein, or seem The pebble on the beach neither lives nor dies; to descry, ghastly and hideous forms of physical and and we can but imperfectly describe the conditions spiritual decomposition. of its actuality by negational terms. The trees of And it were not so very sad that we should do all the forest lead an unconscious life through leafy this, if the doing so made us in the least sad. But ages; they toil not, neither do they spin; in the the unspeakable sadness of it all is, that the process pleasant spring-tide they don gradually their green gives a general though undefined thrill of pleasurable robes; in the rich and sad autumn they pass slowly satisfaction. into beautiful decay; slowly and noiselessly, like In the days when men would stand together in the dreams. The lower type of animals most probably shade and argue a dog's tail off, it was a favorite oc. have no anticipatory fears of death, but may pass cupation of the old philosophers to define, chrono. ..lmost painlessly into inanimate matter out of semi- logically, geographically, and circumstantially, the vegetable life.

conditions of perfect happiness. We have no time I passed yesterday, in the neighborhood of Leith, now-a-days for such idle speculations. We are pulla public slaughter-house. A flock of sheep were ing down our old barns and building greater ones; going one by one up an inclined gangway into an we are grovelling on the ground before a golden upper room of unpremeditated death. They were image, like that set up of old in the plain of Babylon; pushing each other upwards, to the yelping music we are searching for a vulgar and ignoble philosoof two collie-dogs, in apparent eagerness to follow pher's stone. But supposing we could give the time their leader. As each in turn would stand upon the and pains required for the consideration of the old gangway's upper ledge, too soon he would solve the question, should we find the problem an easy one? secret of the horrible charnel-house. Too soon; and Childhood can not be esteemed happy, as being an too late! For Ba-ba is the cry behind; which inter- age that, apart from the troubles of teething, is a preted would mean:"Move on, and let us see what's continued lamentation and a cry. Educational trato be seen.” They would see it soon enough, poor ditions sit as a nightmare on the elastic spirits of Eileating simpletons; and then there would be the boyhood. Youth and early manhood bring heat of last Ba-ba and the babbling o'green fields.

blood and immature judgment to cope with the perThe higher animals, and especially such as have ilous temptations of the unknown world. Over been highly educated by companionship with man, professional life in manhood broods an universal have unquestionably some dim idea of the last Grundyism; and commercial life is crenellated by a change. Man alone is prescient of all its horrible corroding covetousness. We might look to religion concomitants; can predict with a fearful accuracy for consolation, were it not that the usually received the gradations of the humbling analysis. In the face doctrines represent divinity as sterner than the sternof these terrible considerations, may we not expect est of all human judges, and mankind as a set of some comfort to be derived from reflections upon hopeless and incorrigible scoundrels. We are sailing our spiritual nature?

in a shut-up ark over a wide sea, fathomless and Comfort?--comfort there might have been, but for shoreless. Send out Hope like a dove, and it will our suicidal propensity of turning blessings into come back with no green leaf in its bill. Let us

We may safely premise that, in respect of open the narrow door-way, the one window, and end philanthropy, any one sect of Christians is in ad- our misery by a plunge into the deep sea. Nay; we vance of any body whatsoever of other religionists. are so numerous and disorderly a crew, that we Yet there is not a single sect of Christians, but that should only trample each other to death in the effort jeoples its particular hell with by far the greater

to get out. Let us sit still in the cabin and wait the portion of the outer-lying world, and no inconsider- end. What? Are we to go drifting on and on, until able portion of its own adherents. So covetous are we are starved or suffocated; until our melancholy we of pain; so greedy of sorrow; so dissatisfied with bark, with its ghastly crew of sitting skeletons, is the diseases and mischances of life, and the death picked up and opened by mariners of the new order; that inevitably crowns all, that in our most serious mariners to whom are reserved the new heavens and and meditative moods we revel in prefigurements of the new earth, after the subsidence of our troubled cternal, unutterable, and all but universal misery. waters? Heaven forbid! sit still, and wait in hope. I'rom our little noisy pulpits we wag wise pows, and One day or other we shall come bump upon Mount condole in an exhilarating way with our credulous Ararat. Yea, surely; one day or other. congregations on the steady approach of our com- We are, indeed, weak creatures, moving ever on. mon doom. We build in air a world-wide, spiritual wards beneath some irresistible pressure towards an scaffold, and erect thereor innumerable gibbets, and inevitable gulf. From time to time we catch a fleetcomfort one another with detailed speculations on ing glimpse of happiness; but misfortunes cling to


us like burrs; and sorrow clothes us with a Nessus.

where there were heretics, Jews, lepers; where the shirt of pain. In the morning we are green and houses had battlements and loopholes; where they grow up; in the evening we are cut down, dried up, shut up the streets with a chain, the rivers with a and withered. But is there no balm in Gilead? Hath chain, the cities with walls, the kingdoms with prophilosophy no anodyne, and religion no herb of hibitions and penalties; where, except authority and healing?

force, which were closely banded, all was penned up, Let us cease complaining; and consider awhile the doled out, cut up, divided, parcelled, hated and hating, dignity, and majesty, and sublimity of our human scattered and dead; men but dust-power, the king nature. Let us draw comfort, as in a bucket, from Log. the well of tears. For our weakness is our strength, Now, there is a world in which all is alive, united, and our shame our glory. It is the unspeakable sad. combined, related, mingled together; a world where ness of our common lot that gives that lot whate'er reign thought, commerce, and industry; where poliof sweetness and of beauty it can call its own. The tics, continually more settled, tends to associate itself angels in heaven, amid their monotone of grand, with science; a world where the last scaffolds and eternal praise, must look, not with pity, but with an the last cannon are hastening to cut off their last almost envying wonderment, at the spectacle of a heads, and to vomit their last shells; a world where son weeping beside his dead mother, or of a father the day grows with each minute; a world in which staring down into the new grave of his dead son. distance has disappeared, where Constantinople is

Good men have told us that the Infinite made nearer to Paris than Lyons was a century ago, where himself finite, and that the Omnipotent divested America and Europe throb with the same pulsation himself of power, to save a ruined world. They of the heart; a world all circulation and all affection, have only given us half the reason. If a world whose brain is France, whose arteries are railways, could not be saved by less than such a sacrifice, by and whose fibres are the electric wires. Do you not only such a sacrifice could Divinity win love. The see that simply to state such a situation, is to explain, Hand that guides the stars and wields the thunder. to demonstrate, and to solve everything? Do you bolt might enforce obedience and strike terror; but not perceive that the old world was fatally possessed Omnipotence is not omnipotent in respect of love. by an old spirit, tyranny, and that upon the new Nay, even goodness is not lovable; but admirable world must necessarily, irresistibly, divinely descend only, unless it be crowned with sorrow and girdled a new spirit, that of liberty. round about with infirmity.

Let us proclaim it firmly, proclaim it even in fall Divinity was not perfect until when the Lord and in defeat, this age is the grandest of all ages; wept; there was a culmination of Godhead when the and do you know wherefore? Because it is the most Man-Christ was agonized in the garden; when his benignant. This age, the immediate issue of the sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to French Revolution, and its first-born, enfranchises the ground. There went a shudder of awful joy the slave in America, uplifts the pariah in Asia, dethroughout the universe, when the dying lips said, - stroys the suttee in India, and extinguishes in Europe * It is finished."

the last brands of the stake, civilizes Turkey, peneSo grand a thing is human sorrow; so grand, and

trates the Koran with the Gospel, dignifies woman, terrible, and sublime, and holy.

subordinates the right of the strongest to the right of the most just, suppresses pirates, ameliorates

penal laws, purifies the galleys, throws the bloody THE PRESENT AGE.

sword in the gutter, condemns the death penalty, takes the chain and ball from the foot of the convict,

abolishes torture, degrades and stigmatizes war, Formerly the world was a place where men walked weakens the dukes of Alba and the Charles Ninths, with slow steps, with backs bent, faces lowered; plucks out the fangs from tyrants. where the Count de Gouvion was waited upon at This age proclaims the sovereignty of the citizen, table by Jean-Jacques (Rousseau); where the Cheva- and the inviolability of life; it crowns the people lier de Rohan beat Voltaire with blows of a cudgel; and consecrates man. where they set Daniel De Foe in the pillory; where In art, it possesses every kind of genius; writers, a city like Dijon was separated from a city like Paris orators, poets, historians, publicists, philosophers, by a will to be made, by robbers at all the corners of painters, sculptors, musicians; majesty, grace, power, the woods, and by ten days of coach; where a book figure, splendor, depth, color, form, style; it reinforces was a kind of infamy and rubbish which the execu- itself at once in the real and in the ideal, and carries tioner burned on the steps of the Hall of Justice; in its hand those two thunderbolts, the true and the where superstition and ferocity joined hand in hand; beautiful. In science it works all miracles; it makes where the pope said to the emperor: Fungamus saltpetre out of cotton, a horse out of steam, a la. dexteras, gladium gladio copulemus; where one en- borer out of the voltaic pile, a courier out of the elec. countered at every step crosses on which were hung tric fluid, and a painter of the sun; it bathes itself in amulets, and gibbets on which were hung men; the subterranean waters, while it is warmed with the



central fires; it opens upon the two infinities those two windows, the telescope on the infinitely great, the microscope on the infinitely little, and it finds in the first abyss the stars of heaven, and in the second abyss the insects which prove the existence of a God. It annihilates time, it annihilates distance, it annihilates suffering; it writes a letter from Paris to London, and has the answer back in ten minutes; it cuts off the leg of a man—the man sings and smiles.

It has only to realize--and it already touches ita progress which is nothing by the side of the other miracles which it has already achieved; it has only to find the means of directing in a body of air a bubble of air still lighter; it has already found the bubble of air, it holds it imprisoned; it has yet only to find the impulsive force, only to create the vacuum before the balloon, for example, only to heat the air before the aeronaut, as the rocket does before it; it has only to solve in some manner this problem-and it will be solved. And do you know what will happen then? On the very instant, frontiers will disappear, barriers will vanish away. All that is thrown like a Chinese wall around thought, around commerce, around industry, around nationality, around progress, will crumble; in spite of censorships, in spite of the index expurgatorius, it will rain books and journals everywhere; Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau will fall in showers on Rome, on Naples, on Vienna, on St. Petersburg; the human Word becomes manna, and the surf gathers it in the furrow; fanaticisms die; oppression becomes impossible; man no longer crawls upon the earth, he escapes from it; civilization takes to itself the wings of birds, and flies and whirls and alights joyously on all parts of the globe at once; hold! see there-it passes; point your cannon, ye old despotisms, it disdains you; you are but the cannon ball, it is the flash of lightning; no more hatreds, no more interests devouring one another, no more wars; a kind of new life, made up of concord and of light, surrounds and soothes the world; the brotherhood of nations crosses the bounds of space and mingles in the eternal blue; men frater. nize in the heavens.

and every heart melted with benevolence; "and who then,” says he, "will be sutiered to be wretched?"

Imlac permitted the pleasing delusion, and was unwilling to crush the hope of inexperience, till one day, having sat awhile silent, “ I know not,” said the Prince, “what can be the reason that I am more unhappy than any of our friends. I see them perpetually and unalterably cheerful, but feel my own mind restless and uneasy. I am unsatisfied with those pleasures which I seeni most to court. I live in the crowds of jollity, not so much to enjoy company as to shun myself, and am only loud and merry to conceal my sadness."

Every man,” said Imlac, “may, by examining his own mind, guess what passes in the minds of others; when you feel that your own gayety is counterfeit, it may justly lead you to suspect that of your companions not to be sincere. Envy is com. monly reciprocal. We are long before we are convinced that happiness is never to be found, and each believes it possessed by others, to keep alive the hope of obtaining it for himself. In the assembly, where you passed the last night, there appeared such sprightliness of air and volatility of fancy as might have suited beings of a higher order, formed to inhabit serener regions, inaccessible to care or sorrow': yet, believe me, Prince, there was not one who did not dread the moment when solitude should deliver him to the tyranny of reflection.”

“ This," said the Prince, “may be true of others since it is true of me; yet whatever be the general infelicity of man, one condition is more happy than another, and wisdom surely directs us to take the least evil in the choice of life.

“The causes of good and evil," answered Imlac, are so various and uncertain, so often entangled with each other, so diversified by various relations, and so much subject to accidents which cannot be foreseen, that he who would fix his condition upon incontestable reasons of preference, must live and die inquiring and deliberating."

“But surely,” said Rasselas, “the wise men, to whom we listen with reverence and wonder, chose that mode of life for themselves which they thought most likely to make them happy.”

“Very few," said the poet, “live by choice. Every man is placed in his present condition by causes which acted without his foresight, and with which he did not always willingly cooperate; and therefore you will rarely meet one who does not think the lot of his neighbor better than his own.” “ I am pleased to think,” said the Prince,

" that my birth has given me at least one advantage over others, by enabling me to determine for myself. I have here the world before me; I will review it at leisure; surely happiness is somewhere to be found.”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


SAMUEL JOHNSON—"RASSELAS." The Prince being now able to converse with fluency, and having learned the caution necessary to be observed in his intercourse with strangers, began to accompany Imlac to places of resort, and to enter into all assemblies, that he might make his choice of ife.

For some time he thought choice needless, because all appeared to him equally happy. Wherever he went he met gayety and kindness, and heard the song of joy, or laugh of carelessness. He began to believe that the world overflowed with universal plenty, and that nothing was withheld either from want or merit; that every hand showered liberality,

[blocks in formation]


[ocr errors]

experiments upon life. “Youth,” cried he, “is the

gant. He showed with great strength of sentiment, time of gladness; I will join myself to the young and variety of illustration, that human nature is de men, whose only business is to gratify their desires, graded and debased when the lower faculties preand whose time is only spent in a succession of en- dominate over the higher; that when fancy, the joyments.”

narent of passion, usurps the dominion of the mind, To such societies he was readily admitted, but a 110thing ensues but the natural effect of unlawful few days brought him back weary and disgusted. government, perturbation and confusion; that she Their mirth was without images; their laughter betrays the fortresses of the intellect to rebels, and without motive; their pleasures were gross and

excites her children to sedition against reason, their sensual, in which the mind had no part; their con- lawful sovereign. He compared reason to the sun, duct was at once wild and mean; they laughed at of which the light is constant, uniform, and lasting; order and at law, but the frown of power dejected and fancy to a meteor, of bright but transitory lusand the eye of wisdom abashed them.

ter, irregular in its motion, and delusive in its direc. The Prince soon concluded that he should never tion. be happy in a course of life of which he was He then communicated the various precepts given ashamed. He thought it unsuitable to a reasonable from time to time, for the conquest of passion, and being to act without a plan, and to be sad or cheer. displayed the happiness of those who had obtained ful only by chance. * Happiness,” said he, “must be the important victory, after which man is no longer something solid and permanent, without fear and the slave of fear, nor the fool of hope; is no more without uncertainty.”

emaciated by envy, inflamed by anger, emasculated But his young companions had gained so much of by tenderness, or depressed by grief: but walks on his regard by their frankness and courtesy, that he calmly through the tumults or privacies of life, as could not leave them without warning and the sun pursues alike his course through the calm monstrance. “My friends," said he, “I have seri- or the stormy sky. ously considered our manners and our prospects, and He enumerated many examples of heroes immovfind that we have mistaken our own interest. The able by pain or pleasure, who looked with indifferfirst years of a man must make provision for the ence on those modes or accidents to which the vulgar last. He that never thinks never can be wise. Per. gave the names of good and evil. He exhorted his petual levity must end in ignorance; and intemper- hearers to lay aside their prejudices, and arm themance, though it may fire the spirits for an hour, will selves against the shafts of malice or misfortune, by make life short or miserable. Let us consider that invulnerable patience; concluding that this state only youth is of no long duration, and that in maturer was happiness, and that this happiness was in every age, when the enchantments of fancy shall cease, one's power. and phantoms of delight dance no more about us, we

Rasselas listened to him with the veneration due shall have no comforts but the esteem of wise men, to the instructions of a superior being, and waiting and the means of doing good. Let us, therefore, for him at the door, humbly implored the liberty of stop, while to stop is in our power; let us live as visiting so great a master of true wisdom. The lectmen who are sometime to grow old, and to whom urer hesitated a moment, when Rasselas put a purse it will be the most dreadful of all evils to count their of gold into his hand, which he received with a mixpast years by follies, and to be reminded of their ture of joy and wonder. former luxuriance of health only by the maladies “ I have found,” said the Prince, at his return to which riot has produced.”

Imlac, “a man that can teach all that is necessary to They stared awhile in silence one upon another, be known, who from the unshaken throne of rational and at last drove him away by a general chorus of fortitude looks down on the scenes of life changing continued laughter.

beneath him. He speaks, and attention watches his The consciousness that his sentiments were just, lips. He reasons, and conviction closes his periods. and his intentions kind, was scarcely sufficient to This man shall be my future guide; I will learn his support him against the horror of derision. But he doctrines; and imitate his life.” recovered his tranquility, and pursued his search. “ Be not too hasty,” said Imlac, “to trust or to ad

mire the teachers of morality; they discourse like

angels, but they live like men." As he was one day walking in the street he saw a Rasselas, who could not conceive how any man spacious building, which all were, by the open doors, could reason so forcibly without feeling the cogency invited to enter; he followed the stream of people, of his own arguments, paid his visit in a few days, and found it a hall or school of declamation, in and was denied admission. He had now learned which professors read lectures to their auditory. He the power of money, and made his way by a piece fixed his eye upon a sage raised above the rest, who of gold to the inner apartment, where he found the discoursed with great energy upon the government philosopher in a room half darkened, with his eyes of the passions. His look was venerable, his action misty and his face pale. “Sir,” said he, “you are graceful, his pronunciation clear, and his diction ele- come at a time when all human friendship is use



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


less; what I suffer cannot be remedied, what I have ous of seeing any more specimens of rustic happi. lost cannot be supplied. My daughter, my only ness, but could not believe that all the accounis of daughter, from whose tenderness I expected all the primeval pleasures were fabulous and was yet in comforts of my age, died last night of a fever. My doubt whether life had anything that could be justly views, my purposes, my hopes are at an end; I am preferred to the placid gratifications of fields and now a lonely being disunited from society.”

woods. She hoped that the time would come, when, “Sir," said the Prince, “mortality is an event by with a few virtuous and elegant companions, she which a wise man can never be surprised; we know should gather flowers planted by her own hand, that death is always near, and it should, therefore, fondle the lambs of her own ewe, and listen without always be expected.” “Young man," answered the care, among brooks and breezes, to one of her philosopher, "you speak like one that has never felt maidens reading in the shade. the pangs of separation.” “Have you then forgot the precepts,” said Rasselas, “ which you so powerfully enforced? Has wisdom no strength to arm On the next day they continued their journey till the heart against calamity? Consider, that external the heat compelled them to look round for shelter. things are naturally variable, but truth and reason At a small distance they saw a thick wood, which are always the same." “What comfort,” said the they no sooner entered than they perceived that mourner, “can truth and reason afford me of what they were approaching the habitations of men. The effect are they now but to tell me that my daughter shrubs were diligently cut away to open walks where will not be restored?"

the shades were darkest; the boughs of opposite The Prince, whose humanity would not suffer him trees were artificially interwoven; seats of flowery to insult misery with reproof, went away, convinced turf were raised in vacant spaces, and a rivulet that of the emptiness of rhetorical sound, and the ineffi- wantoned along the side of a winding path, had its cacy of polished periods and studied sentences. banks sometimes opened into small basins, and its

stream sometimes obstructed by little mounds of

stone heaped together to increase its murmurs. He was still eager upon the same inquiry, and They passed slowly through the wood, delighted having heard of a hermit, that lived near the lowest with such unexpected accommodations, and entercataract of the Nile, and filled the whole country tained each other with conjecturing what, or who he with the fame of his sanctity, resolved to visit his could be, that, in those rude and unfrequented reretreat, and inquire whether that felicity, which pub- gions, had leisure and art for such harmless luxury. lic life could not afford, was to be found in solitude; As they advanced they heard the sound of inusic, and whether a man, whose age and virtue made him and saw youths and virgins dancing in the grove; venerable, could teach any peculiar art of shunning and going still further, beheld a stately palace built evils or enduring them?

upon a hill surrounded with woods. The laws of Imlac and the Princess agreed to accompany him, eastern hospitality allowed them to enter, and the and, after the necessary preparations, they began master welcomed them like a man liberal and their journey. Their way lay through the fields wealthy. where shepherds tended their flocks, and the lambs He was skillful enough in appearances soon to were playing upon the pasture. “ This," said the discern that they were no common guests, and poet, “ is the life which has been often celebrated for spread his table with magnificence. The eloquence its innocence and quiet; let us pass the heat of the of Imlac caught his attention, and the lofty courtesy day among the shepherds' tents, and know whether of the Princess excited his respect. When they all our searches are not to terminate in pastoral sim- offered to depart he entreated their stay, and was plicity.”

the next day still more unwilling to dismiss them The proposal pleased them, and they induced the than before. They were easily persuaded to stop, shepherds by small presents and familiar questions, and civility grew up in time to freedom and confi. to tell their opinion of their own state; they were so dence. rude and ignorant, so little able to compare the good The Prince now saw all the domestics cheerful, with the evil of the occupation, and so indistinct in and all the face of nature smiling round the place, their narratives and descriptions, that very little and could not forbear to hope that he should find could be learned from them. But it was evident here what he was seeking; but when he was con. that their hearts were cankered with discontent, that gratulating the master upon his possessions, he an. they considered themselves as condemned to labor swered with a sigh, “My condition has indeed the for the luxury of the rich, and looked up with stupid appearance of happiness, but appearances are de. malevolence toward those that were placed above lusive. My prosperity puts my life in danger; the them.

Bassa of Egypt is my enemy, incensed only by my The Princess pronounced with vehemence that she wealth and popularity. I have been hitherto prowould never suffer these envious savages to be her tected against him by the princes of the country; companions, and that she should not soon be desir. but, as the favor of the great is uncertain, I know

[ocr errors]
« ПредишнаНапред »