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when the bell-wether shews us the way. We are choristers, mechanically singing in a certain key, and giving breath to a certain tone.
Our religion, our civil practices, our political creed, are all imitation. How many men are there, that have examined the evidences of their religious belief, and can give a sound “reason of the faith that is in them ' When I was a child, I was taught that there were four religions in the world, the Popish, the Protestant, the Mahometan, the Pagan. It is a phenomenon to find the man, who has held the balance steadily, and rendered full and exact justice to the pretensions of each of these. No: tell me the longitude and latitude 'in which a man is born, and I will tell
And thus the child imposes on the man. And, if this happens, where we are told our everlasting salvation is at issue, we may easily judge of the rest.
The author, with one of whose dicta I began this Essay, has observed, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever." It is a maxim of the English constitution, that “the king never dies;" and the same may with nearly equal propriety be observed of every private man, especially if he have children. “Death,” say the writers of natural history, “is the
generator of life :” and what is thus true of animal corruption, may with small variation be affirmed of human mortality. I turn off my footman, and hire another; and he puts on the livery of his predecessor: he thinks himself somebody; but he is only a tenant. The same thing is true, when a countrygentleman, a noble, a bishop, or a king dies. He puts off his garments, and another puts them on. Every one knows the story of the Tartarian dervise, who mistook the royal palace for a caravansera, and who proved to his majesty by genealogical deduction, that he was only a lodger. In this sense the mutability, which so eminently characterises every thing sublunary, is immutability under another
The most calamitous, and the most stupendous scenes are nothing but an eternal and wearisome repetition : executions, murders, plagues, famine and battle. Military execution, the demolition of cities, the conquest of nations, have been acted a hundred times before. The mighty conqueror, who “smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke,” who “sat in the seat of God, shewing himself that he was God,” and assuredly persuaded himself that he was doing something to be had in everlasting remembrance, only did that which a hundred other vulgar conquerors had done in successive ages of the world, whose very names have long since perished from the records of mankind.
Thus it is that the human species is for ever engaged in laborious idleness. We put our shoulder to the wheel, and raise the vehicle out of the mire in which it was swallowed, and we say, I have done something; but the same feat under the same circumstances has been performed a thousand times before. We make what strikes us as a profound observation; and, when fairly analysed, it turns out to be about as sagacious, as if we told what's o'clock, or whether it is rain or sunshine. Nothing can be more delightfully ludicrous, than the important and emphatical air with which the herd of mankind enunciate the most trifling observations. With much labour we are delivered of what is to us a new thought; and, after a time, we find the same in a musty volume, thrown by in a corner, and covered with cobwebs and dust. This is pleasantly ridiculed in the well known exclamation, “Deuce take the old fellows who gave utterance to our wit, before we ever thought of it!"
The greater part of the life of the mightiest genius that ever existed is spent in doing nothing, and saying nothing. Pope has observed of Shakespear's plays, that, “ had all the speeches been printed without the names of the persons, we might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.” To which another critic has rejoined, that that was impossible, since the greater part of what every man says is unstamped with peculiarity. We have all more in us of what belongs to the common nature of man, than of what is peculiar to the individual.
It is from this beaten, turnpike road, that the favoured few of mankind are for ever exerting themselves to escape. The multitude grow up, and are carried away, as grass is carried away by the mower. The parish-register tells when they were born, and when they died: “known by the ends of being to have been.” We pass away, and leave nothing behind. Kings, at whose very glance thousands have trembled, for the most part serve for nothing when their breath has ceased, but as a sort of distance-posts in the race of chronology. “The dull swain treads on" their relics “ with his clouted shoon.” Our monuments are as perishable as ourselves; and it is the most hopeless of all problems for the most part, to tell where the mighty ones of the earth repose.
All men are aware of the frailty of life, and how short is the span assigned us. Hence every one, who feels, or thinks he feels the power to do so, is desirous to embalm his memory, and to be thought of by a late posterity, to whom his personal presence shall be unknown. Mighty are the struggles; everlasting the efforts. The greater part of these we well know are in vain. It is Æsop's mountain in labour : “ Dire was the tossing, deep the groans :" and the result is a mouse. But is it always so?
This brings us back to the question : “Is there indeed nothing new under the sun?”
Most certainly there is something that is new. If, as the beast dies, so died man, then indeed we should
be without hope. But it is his distinguishing faculty, that he can leave something behind, to testify that he has lived. And this is not only true of the pyramids of Egypt, and certain other works of human industry, that time seems to have no force to destroy. It is often true of a single sentence, a single word, which the multitudinous sea is incapable of washing away :
Quod non imber edar, non Aquilo impotens
Annorum series, et fuga temporum. It is the characteristic of the mind and the heart of man, that they are progressive. One word, happily interposed, reaching to the inmost soul, may “ take away the heart of stone, and introduce a heart of flesh.” And, if an individual may be thus changed, then his children, and his connections, to the latest page of unborn history.
This is the true glory of man, that “one generation doth not pass away, and another come,” velut unda supervenit undam; but that we leave our improvements behind us. What infinite ages of refinement on refinement, and ingenuity on ingenuity, seem each to have contributed its quota, to make up the accommodations of every day of civilised man; his table, his chair, the bed he lies on, the food he eats, the garments that cover him! It has often been said, that the four quarters of the world are put under contribution, to provide the most moderate table. To this what mills, what looms, what