« PredošláPokračovať »
general good-will which is the natural inheritance of a well-constituted mind, when urged by so bitter oppression and such unendurable sufferings? The whole temper of the human heart must be spoiled, and the wine of life acquire a quality acrimonious and malignant.
But it is not only in the extreme classes of society that the glaring inequality with which property is shared produces its injurious effects. All 'those who are born in the intermediate ranks are urged with a distempered ambition, unfavourable to independence of temper, and to true philanthropy. Each man aspires to the improvement of his circumstances, and the mounting, by one step and another, higher in the scale of the community. The contemplations of the mind are turned towards selfishness. In opulent communities we are presented with the genuine theatre for courts and kings. And, wherever there are courts, duplicity, lying, hypocrisy and cringing dwell as in their proper field. Next come trades and professions, with all the ignoble contemplations, the resolved smoothness, servility and falshood, by which they are enabled to gain a prosperous and triumphant career.
It is by such means, that man, whom “God made upright,” is led away into a thousand devious paths, and, long before the closing scene of his life, is rendered something the very reverse of what in the dawning of existence he promised to be. He is like Hazael in the Jewish history, who, when the prophet set before him the crying enormities he should hereafter perpetrate, exclaimed, “Is thy servant a dog," that he should degrade himself so vilely? He feels the purity of his purposes ; but is goaded by one excitement and exasperation after another, till he becomes debased, worthless and criminal. This is strikingly illustrated in the story of Dr. Johnson and the celebrated Windham, who, when he was setting out as secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, expressed to his aged monitor, some doubts whether he could ever reconcile himself to certain indirect proceedings which he was afraid would be expected of him: to which the veteran replied, “Oh, sir, be under no alarm ; in a short time, depend upon it, you will make a very pretty rascala.”
Such are the “inventions of man,” or rather such is the operation of those institutions which ordinarily prevail in society. Still, however, much honour ought to be rendered to our common nature, since all of us are not led away by the potent spells of the enchantress. If the vulgar crew of the vessel
• The phrase here used by Johnson is marked with the licentiousness we sometimes indulge in familiar conversation. Translate it into a general maxim ; and it contains much melancholy truth. It is true also, that there are few individuals, who, in the urgent realities of life, have not occasionally descended from the heights of theoretical excellence. It is but just however to observe in the case of Windham, that, though he was a man of many errors, he was not the less characterised by high honour and eminent virtue.
of Ulysses were by Circe changed into brutes, so was not their commander. The human species is divided into two classes, the successfully tempted, and the tempted in vain. And, though the latter must be admitted to be a sinall minority, yet they ought to be regarded as the “salt of the earth,” which preserves the entire mass from putridity and dishonour. They are like the remnant, which, if they had been to be found in the cities of the Asphaltic lake, the God of Abraham pronounced as worthy to redeem the whole community. They are like the two witnesses amidst the general apostasy, spoken of in the book of Revelations, who were the harbingers and forerunners of the millenium, the reign of universal virtue and peace. Their excellence only appears with the greater lustre amidst the general defection.
Nothing can be more unjust than the spirit of general levelling and satire, which so customarily prevails. History records, if you will, the vices and follies of mankind. But does it record nothing else? Are the virtues of the best
the noblest philosophers, and the most disinterested patriots of antiquity, nothing? It is impossible for two things to be more unlike than the general profligacy of the reigns of Charles the Second and Louis the Fifteenth on the one hand, and the austere virtues and the extinction of all private considerations in the general happiness and honour, which constitute the spirit of the best pages of ancient history, and which
exalt and transfix the spirit of every ingenuous and high-souled reader, on the other.
Let us then pay to human virtue the honour that is so justly its due! Imagination is indeed a marvellous power ; but imagination never equalled history, the achievements which man has actually performed. It is in vain that the man of contemplation sits down in his closet; it is in vain that the poet yields the reins to enthusiasm and fancy : there is something in the realities of life, that ex. cites the mind infinitely more, than is in the power of the most exalted reverie. The true hero cannot, like the poet, or the delineator of fictitious adventures, put off what he has to do till to-morrow. The occasion calls, and he must obey. He sees the obstacles, and the adversary he has to encounter, before him. He sees the individuals, for whose dear sake he resolves to expose himself to every hazard and every evil. The very circumstance, that he is called on to act in the face of the public, animates him. It is thus that resolution is produced, that martyrdom is voluntarily encountered, and that the deeds of genuine, pure and undeniable heroism are performed.
Let then no man, in the supercilious spirit of a fancied disdain, allow himself to detract from our common nature. We are ourselves the models of all the excellence that the human mind can conceive. There have been men, whose virtues may well redeem all the contempt with which satire and de
traction have sought to overwhelm our species. There have been memorable periods in the history of man, when the best, the most generous and exalted sentiments have swallowed up and obliterated all that was of an opposite character. And it is but just, that those by whom these things are fairly considered, should anticipate the progress of our nature, and believe that human understanding and human virtue will hereafter accomplish such things as the heart of man has never yet been daring enough to conceive.
PRINTED BY RICHARD TAYLOR, PRINTER TO TAE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON,
RED LION COURT, FLEET STREKT.