Графични страници
PDF файл

which congratulates a blue-eyed charmer on her parents' prayer for her being only half heard by ascendant Phæbus, who, says he,

Averted half your parents' simple prayer*denying her the pelf that might have bought a tyrant to oppress her married life. How short and obscure, exclaims Swift, are the views of mankind when they look into futurity! “ We are at least as often obliged to Providence for denying as for granting what we most earnestly desire.”+ We read of those who tempted God in the desert, that He gave

them their request, and sent leanness withal into their soul. So they did eat, and were well filled, for He gave them their own desire: but while their meat was yet in their mouths, His wrath came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.

God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers,
And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face,

A gauntlet with a gift in't, and sometimes poison in the gift. Well therefore may the authoress of these lines, which in their original import are scarcely applicable to our theme, make a distressed soul resort to a petition that certainly is so :

-'tis written in the Book,
He heareth the young ravens when they cry;
And yet they cry for carrion.—0 my God, -
And we, who make excuses for the rest,
We do it in our measure. Then I knelt,
And dropped my head upon the pavement too,
And prayed, since I was foolish în desire
Like other creatures, craving offal-food,
That He would stop His ears to what I said,
And listen only to the run and beat

Of this poor, passionate, helpless blood. || Ne mihi contingant que volo, sed quæ sunt utilia : the aspiration has been accepted as an adage, worthy of all acceptation, and of acceptation by all.

In the fairy tale of the Three Wishes, no sooner has the pudding dropped off the goodwife's nose, than that worthy woman, " who did not want wit,” says to her husband, “ The fairy was in the right: possibly we should have been more unhappy with riches than we are at present. Believe me, friend, let us wish for nothing, but take things as it shall please God to send them.” Mais, as the French satirist puts it,

Mais, sans cesse ignorants de nos propres besoins,

Nous demandons au ciel ce qu'il nous faut le moins. [ Montaigne bethinks him that a foremost proof of our imbecility is, that we cannot, by our own wish and desire, find out what we want.“ What play, how happily soe'er begun, That, when achieved, we do not wish undone ?” And he repeats the old-world story of King Midas, who

* Pope's Moral Essays, epistle ii.

Swift's Modest Inquiry into the Report of the Queen's Death.
Psalms, cvi. 15, lxxviii. 29 sq.
E. Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, book ii.
Ibid., book viii.

[ Boileau, epître v.


prayed to the gods that all he touched might be turned into gold; and so it was: his bread became gold, his wine gold, the feathers of his bed, his under-clothing and his over-coats, gold all : “ so that he found himself overwhelmed with the fruition of his desire, and endowed with a boon so intolerable, that he was fain to unpray his


.” In another essay le Sieur Michel tells how severely the gods punished the wicked prayers of Edipus, in granting them. “He had prayed that his children "might amongst themselves determine the succession to his throne by arms; and was so miserable as to see himself taken at his word. We should not pray that all things fall out as our will would have them, but that our will should subserve what is just and right."

."* Owen Feltham records his having observed that what we either desire or fear doth seldom happen something we think not of, for the most part intervening. How infinitely

should perplex ourselves, he exclaims, if we could obtain whatever we might wish for! “Do we not often desire that, which we afterwards see would be our confusion? .... Man could not be more miserable, than if left to choose for himself. Nothing brings destruction on him sooner, than when he presumes to part the empire with God.”+

As Aricie warns Theseus in the French tragedy:

Craignez, seigneur, craignez que le ciel rigoureux

Ne vous haïsse assez pour exaucer vos væux. I And two scenes later Theseus is himself sufficiently of the same mind to exclaim :

Ne précipite point tes funestes bienfaits,

Neptune ! j'aime mieux n'être exaucé jamais. And afterwards again he utters the tristful line :

Inexorables dieux ! qui m'avez trop servi.g
So in a subsequent passage:

Je hais jusqu'aux soins dont m'honorent les dieux :
Et je m'en vais pleurer leurs faveurs meurtrières,
Sans plus les fatiguer d'inutiles prières.
Quoi qu'ils fissent pour moi, leur funeste bonté

Ne me saurait payer de ce qu'ils m'ont öté.|| Madame de Sévigné, in one of her letters to Bussy, moralises on the superior wisdom of Heaven's disposal to man's proposal; and adds : “ C'est ainsi que nous marchons en aveugles, ne sachant où nous allons, prenant pour mauvais ce qui est bon, prenant pour bon ce qui est mauvais, et toujours dans une entière ignorance." The optative mood of yesterday, a past tense, is changed in the present tense of to-day for deprecation and regret. In one of his many onslaughts against conventionalism, Mr. Emerson

that what we ask daily is to be conventional. “Supply, most kind gods! this defect in my dress, in my form, in my fortunes, which puts me a little out of the ring : supply it, and let me be like the rest whom I admire, and on good terms with them.” But the wise gods, according to this essayist, reply, “ No, we have better things for thee. By humi



* Essais de Montaigne, 1. i. § 56; 1. ii. & 12.

† Feltham's Resolves. 1 Racine, Phèdre, Acte V. Sc. 3.

§ Acte V. Sc. 6. Scene 7.

| Mime. de Sévigné au Comte de Bussy, Dec. 16, 1683.

liations, by defeats, by loss of sympathy, by gulfs of disparity, learn a wider truth and humanity than that of a fine gentleman," -a FifthAvenue landlord, or a West-end householder, not being Mr. Emerson's ideal of the highest style of man.* Æsop, Saadi, Cervantes, Regpard, he adds, have been taken by corsairs, left for dead, sold for slaves, and know the realities of human life.-— With Mr. Carlyle, we will not complain, therefore, of Dante's miseries ; who, had all gone right with him, as he wished it, might have been Prior, Podestà, or whatsoever they call it, of Florence, well accepted among neighbours,-in which case, the world had wanted one of the most notable words ever spoken or sung. “ Florence would have had another prosperous Lord Mayor; and the ten dumb centuries continued voiceless, and the ten other listening centuries (for there will be ten of them and more) had no Divina Commedia to hear! We will complain of nothing. A nobler destiny was appointed for this Dante ; and be, struggling like a man towards death and crucifixion, could not help fulfilling it. Give him the choice of his happiness! He knew not, more than we do, what was really happy, what was really miserable."+

Visions, and hopes, and prospects, writes Horace Walpole, are pretty playthings for boys. “It is folly to vex one's self for what cannot last very long. Indeed, what can, even when one is young ? Corydon firmly believes he shall be wretched for ever if he does not marry Phyllis. That misery can but ast till she has lost her bloom. His eternal woe would vanish if her nose grew red. How often do our griefs become our comforts! I know what I wish to-day; not at all what I shall wish tomorrow. Sixty says, you did not wish for me, yet you would like to keep

Sixty is in the right; and I have not a word more to say.”+ The Strawberry-Hill esquire was himself turning the shady side of sixty when he thus wrote.—Of quite another school was that Q. Q. who thus moralised her song:

How false is found, as on in life we go,
Our early estimate of bliss or woe!
—Some sparkling joy attracts us, that we fain
Would sell a precious birthright to obtain :
There all our hopes of happiness are placed,
Life looks without it like a joyless waste;
No good is prized, no comfort sought beside,
Prayers, tears implore, and will not be denied :
Heaven pitying hears th' intemperate, rude appeal,
And suits its answer to our truest weal :
The self-soughts idol, if at last bestowd
Proves, what our wilfulness required-a goad ;
Ne'er, but as needful chastisement, is given
The wish thus forced, and torn, and storm'd from Heaven,
But if withheld, in pity, from our prayer,
We rave, awhile, of torment and despair
Meantime, Heaven bears the grievous wrong, and waits
In patient pity till the storm abates ...
Deigning, perhaps, to show the mourner soon,
'Twas special mercy that denied the boon.||
* Conduct of Life, ess. vii.
t Carlyle, Heroes and Hero-Worship, lect. iii.

Walpole to Sir Horace Mann, Sept. 1, 1777.
Self-sought faultily expresses the writer's meaning.
Jane Taylor.


He was

Chateaubriand's most sentimental of melancholy-mad heroes, overwhelmed, as he flatters himself, with imaginary sufferings, offers up a prayer for some real calamity to overtake him ; and, to his cost, is taken at his word. “Dans mon délire, j'avais été jusqu'à désirer d'éprouver un malheur, pour avoir du moins un objet réel de souffrance : épouvantable souhait, que Dieu, dans sa colère, a trop exaucé !"'* It is but the Christian (yet not too Christian) expression of the old pagan poet's gloomy verse : magnaque numinibus vota exaudita malignis.

There is a sonnet of Filicaja's, of which a good deal is made by Richardson in his History of Sir Charles Grandison,--the concluding lines being an impressive vindication of the ways of Providence to man : Provvidenza alta infinita, if it sometimes denies the favours we implore, denies in kindness; and seeming to deny a blessing, grants one in that very refusal: o negar finge, e nel negar concede.

When Colonel Esmond has succeeded in his fond endeavour to bring over the young Prince, he almost immediately finds reason to regret his success,-in the relations that ensue between the Stuart and Beatrix. “He wished the deed undone for which he had laboured so. not the first that has regretted his own act, or brought about his own undoing. Undoing? Should he write that word in his late years [when inditing his autobiography]? No, on his knees before Heaven, rather be thankful for what then he deemed his misfortune, and which hath caused the whole subsequent happiness of his life.”+ For in losing Beatrix, a heartless Alirt, Henry Esmond gained Lady Castlewood, -a woman pure minded, unselfish, tender, and true.

One of Prior's songs that were set to music by Mr. de Fesch, and, both for the music and the words, were popular in their day, has three verses somewhat to the purpose, that tell their own story, so far as they go:

Well! I will never more complain,

Or call the fates unkind;
Alas, how fond it is, how vain !
But self-conceitedness does reign

'Tis true they long did me deny,

Nor would permit a sight;
I raged; for I could not espy,
Or think that any harm could lie

Disguised in that delight.
At last, my wishes to fulfil,

They did their powers resign;
I saw her; but I wish I still
Had been obedient to their will,

And they not unto mine. I William Collins the painter-a loving and lovable man as well as refined artist-in one of his letters home expresses his “decided opinion, that if the Almighty were to give us everything for which we feel desirous, we should as often find it necessary to pray to Him to take away, as to grant new favours.” And he refers to thousands of cases that he could bring forward in proof of his assertion. * René.

† History of Henry Esmond, book iii. ch. ix. | Prior, Songs, No. xxiv.

Memoirs of William Collins, R.A., vol. i. p. 79. VOL. LX.

every mortal mind.

It amounts to a sort of refrain in the melodious rhythm of that fragmentary prose-poem of De Quincey's, “The Daughter of Lebanon," the admonition of the Prophet to the lovely woman in the Damascus market-place : "Ask what thou wilt-great or small--and through me thou shalt receive it from God. But, my child, ask not amiss. For God is able out of thy own evil asking to weave snares for thy footing. And oftentimes to the lambs whom He loves, He gives by seeming to refuse; gives in some better sense, or” (and here the Prophet's voice swelled into the power of anthems) “ in some far happier world.” And when the sun is declining to the west on the thirtieth day, the Prophet iterates the strain of old : “ Lady of Lebanon, the day is already come, and the hour is coming, in which my covenant must be fulfilled with thee. Wilt thou, therefore, being now wiser in thy thoughts, suffer God thy new Father to give by seeming to refuse; to give in some better sense, or in some far happier world?” But the Daughter of Lebanon sorrowed at these words; she yearned after her native hills, and the sweet twin-born sister with whom from infant days hand in hand she had wandered amongst the everlasting cedars. The delirium of fever, and approaching death, are next described ; and again the evangelist sits down by her bedside, and rebukes the clouds that trouble her vision, and bids them stand no more between that dying Magdalen and the forests of Lebanon. Anon, we read how the blue sky parted to the right and to the left, laying bare the infinite revelations that can be made visible only to dying eyes; and how, as the child of Lebanon gazed upon the mighty visions, she saw bending forward from the heavenly host, as if in gratulation to herself, the one countenance for which she hungered and thirsted. " The twinsister, that should have waited for her in Lebanon, had died of grief, and was waiting for her in Paradise. Immediately in rapture she soared upwards from her couch; immediately in weakness she fell back; and being caught by the evangelist, she flung her arms around his neck; whilst he breathed into her ear his final whisper, 'Wilt thou now suffer that God should give by seeming to refuse ?'— Oh yes yes—yes,' was the fervent answer from the Daughter of Lebanon. Hitherto she had known not what to ask for as she ought. Hitherto her asking had been amiss: she had asked for she knew not what. But now her vision was purged. Now she had the second-sight that could pierce through and beyond the night-side of nature, and gaze on the land that is very far off. Hitherto she had, at the best, seen through a glass darkly ; but now, it might be said, face to face. So that she knew what to ask for, now.

Chactas, the blind old sachem in Chateaubriand's Wertherian romance, is made to bring that once enthusiastically admired story to an end by relating a parable to his woe-fraught young listener. It tells how the Meschacebé, soon after leaving its source among the hills, began to feel weary of being a simple brook; and so asked for snows from the mountains, water from the torrents, rain from the tempests ; until, its petitions granted, it burst its bounds, and ravaged its hitherto delightsome banks. At first the proud stream exulted in its force; but seeing ere long that it carried desolation in its flow, that its progress was now doomed to solitude, and that its waters were for ever turbid, it came to regret the humble bed hollowed out for it by nature,—the birds, the flowers, the

* See the fragment appended to the Confessions of an English Opium-eater, in vol. v. of De Quincey's collected works.

[ocr errors]
« ПредишнаНапред »