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way of arriving at the Indies by a voyage directly west, in distinction from the very complicated way hitherto practised, by sailing up the Mediterranean, crossing the isthmus of Suez, and so falling down the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean. He weighed all the circumstances attendant on such an undertaking in his mind. He enquired into his own powers and resources, imaged to himself the various obstacles that might thwart his undertaking, and finally resolved to engage in it. If Columbus had not entertained a very good opinion of himself, it is impossible that he should have announced such a project, or should have achieved it.
Again. Let our illustration be, of Homer undertaking to compose the Iliad. If he had not believed himself to be a man of very superior powers to the majority of the persons around him, he would most assuredly never have attempted it. What an enterprise! To describe in twenty-four books, and sixteen thousand verses, the perpetual warfare and contention of two great nations, all Greece being armed for the attack, and all the western division of Asia Minor for the defence: the war carried on by two vast confederacies, under numerous chiefs, all sovereign and essentially independent of each other. To conceive the various characters of the different leaders, and their mutual rivalship. To engage all heaven, such as it was then understood, as well as what was most respectable on earth, in the struggle. To form the idea, through twentyfour books, of varying the incidents perpetually, and keeping alive the attention of the reader or hearer without satiety or weariness. For this purpose, and to answer to his conception of a great poem, Homer appears to have thought it necessary that the action should be one; and he therefore took the incidental quarrel of Achilles and the commander in chief, the resentment of Achilles, and his consequent defection from the cause, till
, by the death of Patroclus, and then of Hector, all traces of the misunderstanding first, and then of its consequences, should be fully obliterated.
There is further an essential difference between the undertaking of Columbus and that of Homer. Once fairly engaged, there was for Columbus no drawing back. Being already at sea on the great Atlantic Ocean, he could not retrace his steps. Even when he had presented his project to the sovereigns of Spain, and they had accepted it, and still more when the ships were engaged, and the crews mustered, he must go forward, or submit to indelible disgrace.
It is not so in writing a poem. The author of the latter may stop whenever he pleases. Of consequence, during every day of its execution, he requires a fresh stimulus. He must look back on the past, and forward on what is to come, and feel that he has considerable reason to be satisfied. The great naval discoverer may have his intervals of misgiving and discouragement, and may, as Pope expresses it, “wish that any one would hang him." He goes
forward; for he has no longer the liberty to choose. But the author of a mighty poem is not in the same manner entangled, and therefore to a great degree returns to his work each day, “screwing his courage to the sticking-place.” He must feel the same fortitude and elasticity, and be as entirely the same man of heroic energy, as when he first arrived at the resolution to engage. How much then of self-complacency and self-confidence do his undertaking and performance imply!
I have taken two of the most memorable examples in the catalogue of human achievements : the discovery of a New World, and the production of the Iliad. But all those voluntary actions, or rather series and chains of actions, which comprise energy in the first determination, and honour in the execution, each in its degree rests upon self-complacency as the pillar upon which its weight is sustained, and without which it must sink into nothing.
Self-complacency then being the indispensible condition of all that is honourable in human achievements, hence we may derive a multitude of duties, and those of the most delicate nature, incumbent on the preceptor, as well as a peculiar discipline to be observed by the candidate, both while he is “under a schoolmaster,” and afterwards when he is emancipated, and his plan of conduct is to be regulated by his own discretion.
The first duty of the preceptor is encouragement. Not that his face is to be for ever dressed in smiles, and that his tone is to be at all times that of invitation and courtship. The great theatre of the world is of a mingled constitution, made up
of advantages and sufferings; and it is perhaps best that so should be the different scenes of the drama as they pass. The young adventurer is not to expect to have every difficulty smoothed for him by the hand of another. This were to teach him a lesson of effeminacy and cowardice. On the contrary it is necessary that he should learn that human life is a state of hardship, that the adversary we have to encounter does not always present himself with his fangs sheathed in the woolly softness which occasionally renders them harmless, and that nothing great or eminently honourable was ever achieved but through the dint of resolution, energy and struggle. It is good that the winds of heaven should blow upon him, that he should encounter the tempest of the elements, and occasionally sustain the inclemency of the summer's heat and winter's cold, both literally and metaphorically.
But the preceptor, however he conducts himself in other respects, ought never to allow his pupil to despise himself, or to hold himself as of no account. Self-contempt can never be a discipline favourable to energy or to virtue. The pupil ought at all times to judge himself in some degree worthy, worthy and competent now to attempt, and hereafter to accomplish, things deserving of commendation. The preceptor must never degrade his pupil in his own eyes, but on the contrary must teach him that nothing but resolution and perseverance are necessary, to enable him to effect all that the judicious director can expect from him. He should be encouraged through every step of his progress, and specially encouraged when he has gained a certain point, and arrived at an important resting-place. It is thus we are taught the whole circle of what are called accomplishinents, dancing, music, fencing, and the rest; and it is surely a strange anomaly, if those things which are most essential in raising the mind to its true standard, cannot be communicated with equal suavity and kindness, be surrounded with allurements, and regarded as sources of pleasure and genuine hilarity.
In the mean time it is to be admitted that every human creature, especially in the season of youth, and not being the victim of some depressing disease either of body or mind, has in him a good obstinate sort of self-complacency, which cannot without much difficulty be eradicated. “Though he falleth seven times, yet will he rise again.” And, when we have encountered various mortifications, and have been many times rebuked and inveighed against, we nevertheless recover our own good opinion, and are ready to enter into a fresh contention for the prize, if not in one kind, then in another.
It is in allusion to this feature in the human cha