Obrazy na stronie



Of the sayings of the wise men of former times none has been oftener repeated than that of Solomon, “The thing that hath been, is that which is ; and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.”

The books of the Old Testament are apparently a collection of the whole literary remains of an ancient and memorable people, whose wisdom may furnish instruction to us, and whose poetry abounds in lofty flights and sublime imagery. How this collection came indiscriminately to be considered as written by divine inspiration, it is difficult to pro

The history of the Jews, as contained in the Books of Kings and of Chronicles, certainly did not require the interposition of the Almighty for its production; and the pieces we receive as the compositions of Solomon have conspicuously the air of having emanated from a conception entirely human.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, from which the above sentence is taken, are many sentiments not in accordance with the religion of Christ. For example; “That which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the


other; yea, they have all one breath, so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: all go to one place; all are of the dust, and turn to dust again. Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works.” And again; “ The living know that they shall die ; but the dead know not any thing; their love, and their hatred, and their envy are perished; neither have they any more a reward.” Add to this; “ Wherefore I praise the dead which are already dead, more than the living which are yet alive: yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been.” There can therefore be no just exception taken against our allowing ourselves freely to canvas the maxim cited at the head of this Essay.

It certainly contains a sufficient quantity of unquestionable truth, to induce us to regard it as springing from profound observation, and

comprehensive views of what is acted “under the sun."

A wise man would look at the labours of his own species, in much the same spirit as he would view an ant-hill through a microscope. He would see them tugging a grain of corn up a declivity; he would see the tracks that are made by those who go, and who return; their incessant activity; and would find one day the copy of that which went before ; and their labours ending in nothing : I mean, in nothing that shall carry forward the improvement of the head and the heart, either in the individual or society, or that shall add to the con

veniences of life, or the better providing for the welfare of communities of men. He would smile at their earnestness and zeal, all spent in supplying the necessaries of the day, or, at most, providing for the revolution of the seasons, or for that ephemeral thing we call the life of man.

Few things can appear more singular, when duly analysed, than that articulated air, which we denominate speech. It is not to be wondered at that we are proud of the prerogative, which so eminently distinguishes us from the rest of the animal creation. The dog, the cat, the horse, the bear, the lion, all of them have voice. But we may almost consider this as their reproach. They can utter for the greater part but one monotonous, eternal sound. The lips, the teeth, the palate, the throat, which in man are instruments of modifying the voice in such endless variety, are in this respect given to them in vain : while all the thoughts that occur, at least to the bulk of mankind, we are able to express in words, to communicate facts, feelings, passions, sentiments, to discuss, to argue, to agree, to issue commands on the one part, and report the execution on the other, to inspire lofty conceptions, to excite the deepest feeling of commiseration, and to thrill the soul with extacy, almost too mighty to be endured.

Yet what is human speech for the most part but mere imitation? In the most obvious sense this stands out on the surface. We learn the same

words, we speak the same language, as our elders. Not only our words, but our phrases are the same. We are like players, who come out as if they were real persons, but only utter what is set down for them. We represent the same drama every day; and, however stale is the eternal repetition, pass it off upon others, and even upon ourselves, as if it were the suggestion of the moment. In reality, in rural or vulgar life, the invention of a new phrase ought to be marked down among the memorable things in the calendar. We afford too much honour to ordinary conversation, when we compare it to the exhibition of the recognised theatres ; since men ought for the most part to be considered as no more than puppets. They perform the gesticulations; but the words come from some one else, who is hid from the sight of the general observer. And not only the words, but the cadence: they have not even so much honour as players have, to choose the manner they may deem fittest by which to convey the sense and the passion of what they speak. The pronunciation, the dialect, all, are supplied to them, and are but a servile repetition. Our tempers are merely the work of the transcriber. We are angry, where we saw that others were angry; and we are pleased, because it is the tone to be pleased. We pretend to have each of us a judgment of our own : but in truth we wait with the most patient docility, till he whom we regard as the leader of the chorus gives us the signal, Here you are to applaud, and Here you are to condemn.

What is it that constitutes the manners of nations, by which the people of one country are so eminently distinguished from the people of another, so that you cannot cross the channel from Dover to Calais, twenty-one miles, without finding yourself in a new world? Nay, I need not go among the subjects of another government to find examples of this ; if I pass into Ireland, Scotland or Wales, I see myself surrounded with a new people, all of whose characters are in a manner cast in one mould, and all different from the citizens of the principal state and from one another. We may go further than this. Not only nations, but classes of men, are contrasted with each other. What can be more different than the gentry of the west end of this metropolis, and the money-making dwellers in the east? From them I will pass to Billingsgate and Wapping. What more unlike than a soldier and a sailor? the children of fashion that stroll in St. James's and Hyde Park, and the care-worn hirelings, that recreate themselves, with their wives and their brats, with a little fresh air on a Sunday near Islington? The houses of lords and commons have each their characteristic manners. fession has its own, the lawyer, the divine, and the man of medicine. We are all apes, fixing our eyes upon a model, and copying him, gesture by gesture. We are sheep, rushing headlong through the gap,

Each pro

« PoprzedniaDalej »