Изображения страниц
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

What? shall the mind of bard, historian, sage

Be prostrate laid upon oblivion's bier,
Shall darkness quench the beacon of our age,
“ Without the meed of one melodious tear ?"

Will none, with genius like his own,

Mourn the fine intellect o'erthrown,
That died in giving life to deathless heirs ?

Are worthier voices mute ?-then I,

The muse's humblest votary,
Will pour my wailful dirge, and sympathizing prayers.

Well may I mourn that mental sun's eclipse,

For in his study have I sate enshrined,
And reverently listen’d while his lips
Master'd the master spirits of mankind,

As his expanding wisdom took
New range from each consulted book.

Oh! to what noble thoughts did'st thou give birth,

Thou poet-sage! whose life and mind

In mutual perfectness combined
The spirit's loftiest flight, with purest moral worth.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Behold the with’ring change!-amid the rays

That form a halo round those volumed wits,
Amid his own imperishable lays,
In silent, blank fatuity he sits !
Seeking a respite from luis curse,

14. Tit'
His body, now his spirit's hearse, ,',Piripi
Still haunts that book-charm'd room, for there alone"? "*
Thought gleams illume his wand'ring eyes,

rarit lit Tag ** As lightnings flicker o'er the skies,


59.71 1, Where the departed sun in cloudless glory shone.

11 vit 12 Oh, withering, woful change-oh, living death'!

) ) : ۱۲۰ Lo! where he stra ys at fancy's aimless beck, On his dementate brow the titled wreath, A mournful mockery of reason's wreck.

Roaming by Derwent's silent shore,

Or dark-hued Greta's rushing roar, A human statue! His unconscious stare

Knows not the once familiar spot,

Knows not the partner of his lot,
Who, as she guides him, sobs a broken-hearted prayer.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Oh, flood and fell, lake, moorland valley, hill!

Mourn the dark bard who sang your praise of yore.'
Oh, Rydal-Falls, Lodore, and Dungeon Gill!
Down the rock's cheek your tearful gushes pour.

Ye crag-envelop'd Tarns that sleep

In your hush'd craters, wake and weep,
Ye mountains ! hide your sorrowing heads in cloud.

As sobbing winds around ye moan ;

Helvellyn! Skiddaw! wail and groan, And clothe your giant forms in vapour's mourning shroud.

Why make appeal to these ? Ye good and wise,

Who worshipp'd at his intellectual shrine, Ye kindred natures, who can sympathize With genius reft of reason's light divine,

Ye whom his learning, virtue, lays,

Taught, guided, charmed in other days, Let all your countless voices be combin'd,

As, on your knees, ye pour on high

This choral supplicating cry~
Restore, restore, O God! our poet's wand'ring mind!"


Et licet ipsa vitium sit ambitio, frequenter tamen causa virtutum est.--QUINCTI


Le bien est l'ennemi du mieux.-FRENCH PROVERB.

To the readers of the New Monthly Magazine, who have done the author of these essays the honour of an occasional glance, it will be no novelty to tell them that there are two distinct codes of morality afloat in the world-like Poins's shirts, one for superfluity and one for use or to speak more precisely, one to act upon, and another to talk about. It is not merely, as some may imagine, that there is one law for the rich, and another for the poor; for, though in some instances, there may be a connexion between the dispensations of these codes, and the fortunes of those to whom they are especially applicable, yet there are still more, in which the bearings of the law are referable to all mankind, without distinction of caste or fortune. Much, however, it must be confessed, depends on the sense in which a dictum is taken; and that sense is often influenced by the point of view from whence it is regarded. Still it is no fauli of a code, that it is liable to such abusive interpretations : for codification is not properly answerable for that universal disposition, or perversity, if you will, incidental to the infirmity of human nature-the predetermination to consider all laws as binding, in as far only as the obligation is consistent with individual convenience. Something also must be allowed for the circumstance that moral writers are generally found to belong to the easy classes, and therefore may sometimes lean lightly on points which affect their class-fellows, and fall d main basse upon the peccadilloes to which they and their friends are but little exposed. Thus we have known great saints to ride to church in their own coach on a Sunday, after having spent the week in thundering against sabbath-breaking omnibuses, and boats, that ply against the stream of the fourth commandment. So we have beard the imbibers of champagne and claret denounce the sin of indulging in ardent spirits; and “ heard tell” of the possessors of “paunches with good capon lined,” the entertainers of a man cook, and heaven knows how many assistants, virulently crusading against sundry baked meats, toads in holes, and apple-pies “all hot. But all this notwithstanding, when we reflect how universally the lions have been the painters, one needs must admire at the preponderating candour and forbearance of the pictures they have produced. Malice itself must admit, that if rogues in ruffles do not hang quite so often as rogues in rags, if men of substance evade the scrutiny of justice more frequently, than they who have not even the shadow of the queen's picture, or if, in general, any man may indulge in as much mischief as he has the means to pay for, it is not so much the fault of lawgivers, as that of the parties to whom governments in their simplicity confide the administration of the law.

When we notice, then, the existence of these two codes, it is with no political malice, no intention of pitting one set of men against another; but merely to call to mind a fact in human nature, which is necessary to the better understanding what is to follow.

From an occasional forgetfulness that there is such a thing as a talking code, as opposed to a practical dispensation, we have ourselves transiently fallen into the error of fancying that ethical science was created for the especial convenience of writing-masters; and that its maxims were intended rather as models of caligraphy, than as rules of conduct ;-so obviously are they inapplicable to use, even when they are not also unbacked by theoretic reasons. When we are told, for instance, in good round text, that “ humility is a virtue,” we are prepared to add (in a neat running hand, to suit the narrow limits of the page), “ which deserves the kicking it infallibly meets with ;" and when we read on the same authority, that“ honesty is the best policy," we cannot but believe that, here again, the size of the foolscap album alone prevented the (very necessary) intercalation of the words for those who can afford it.” But when we are told, that "content is as good as a feast,” we want terms to express our indignation at the obvious cheat. A much graver and more consequential error will be committed by those who may overlook the distinction here laid down, when they come to read what we shall proceed to place on record, our deliberate opinion, namely, that contentment, so far from being abstractedly the amiable and excellent quality which the talking moralists profess it to be, is oftentimes a quality not merely worthless, but only not mischievous in society, because it cannot in possibility be carried practically into life, save under the most restricted circumstances.

Hey-day! will cry the ignoramuses, what an absurdity have we here! Contentment not a virtue! contentment not bonum in se !! contentment not as necessary to individual comfort, as to public tranquillity-not as beneficial to man as pleasing to heaven!!! Do not the clergy preach contentment? do not all governments profess to direct all their energies towards diffusing it to the meanest of their subjects ? Show us the moralist, Christian or Pagan, who has not cried it up, exalted it as the last result of religion and philosophy combined, placed it above riches, as a crown of happiness, and railed against its opposite, as the origin of every disturbance of social order, every interruption of public tranquillity. Show us one-one only--writer who has discredited it, and we shall be contented to admit that you are right, and that we are wrong; otherwise, be not offended that we consider you as utterly without common sense, paradoxical, irrational.

Gently, good ignoramuses, “gently over the stones, John," we have only to take you at your word, and gain the whole cause at once without more inkshed. One author, at least, we could marshal on our side the question, who agrees with us to the full extent of our notion ; but we disdain to ride over any man's argument on the high horse of authority, and, moreover, we would prefer not to lose the praise of originality implied in this rather precipitous challenge. We are satisfied that the talkers should be against us to a man, that books should rule the matter just as they please, that preachers, dramatists, and composers of last dying speeches, should all agree in the same view of the subject, and that view not our own; and still we shall no less maintain to the death (exclusive), that our opponents very grossly mistake the matter, if they mean and intend in the very slightest degree that their sentence be more than a brutum fulmen-a maxim to fill the ear, but not to be applied in practice to the regulation of individual conduct.

Let us, however, start fair, and not under a load of unnecessary and unjustifiable prejudice, as the upholders of the whole race of Smell

funguses, whom nothing can please, and who disturb the peace of society by weak lamentations, because they have not the ball of this world at their feet; or because having it there, they cannot find in their hearts to enjoy the goods the gods provide them, but grumble at the erumpling of pleasure's rose-leaves, as if they were stretched on “ Damien's iron bed,” or were tied to

A smoky house, a falling trade,

Six squalling brats, and a scolding jade for life, without bail or mainprize. No, good sirs, the opposite of wrong is not necessarily right; and it is possible, sometimes, to have too much of a good thing.

This being premised, we may proceed to show that all the clatter raised in praise of content, resolves itself at once into a palpable neglect of the moral distinction we have noticed. The preachers are thrown in our teeth as uniform in their eulogy of contentinent; but how? as the subject matter of a discourse, as a suitable preliminary to the voluntary which plays the parishioners out of church, as rox et præterea nihil mas a moving principle in life, the matter is all the other way. Why, contentment in practice is absurd, imbecile, nay, downright heterodoxy. From Swift's college fellow, who passes his life in wishes for six hundred pounds a year, to him in possession of the greatest number of valuable pluralities, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the only churchman who would not change with somebody; or who at least is exempt from the possibility of occasionally repining at the obstinate vitality of the man, who stands between him and a step upwards in the hierarchy.

Or granting, for argument's sake, that a really contented man (clerical or layman) may be quoted as somewhat less rare than a black swan, yet surely will he not exhibit the virtue, or even praise it, in its utmost extension, and uncircumscribed by conditions. The most contented philosopher that breathes, presupposes, if not a liberal competence, at least a sufficiency to satisfy nature, as a necessary preliminary to his satisfaction. An anchoret would grumble, if roots were scarce, and all the wells dry; and a Simeon Stylites would not derogate, by some importunity, in respect to that part of the Lord's prayer which makes earnest petition for daily bread.

In favour of our own view, we have affirmed the authority of one quotable author, and that is Mandeville; who describes contentment as implying “a favourable construction of our present circumstances ; and a beautiful tranquillity, which men are strangers to, as long as they are solicitous about mending their condition :-a virtue of which the applause is very precarious and uncertain : for, according as men's circumstauces vary, they'll be blamed or commended for being possessed of it.”

The man recorded as having been the most thoroughly contented with a little, quarrelled with Alexander for abridging his sunshine; while the holy man, Job, is celebrated, not for contentment, but for patient suffering under affliction, and for a pious resignation to the will of Heaven. Again, as to the heathen philosopher, we have high authority for believing, that pride had more to do with bis arrangements, than genuine contentment.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »