Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

Herbert's joy was great, and he moved about in excitement, expressing his thanks. Sir Gilbert Talbott remarked drily,

" Ah ha! my young friend ; when you have reached my age you

will not deem the service of courts so enviable a task as you do now. The wearied rook seeks not her woodland nest so steadily as you

as you will your retired home, when your heart, broken with vain struggling, begins to sicken at the emptiness and mortification of royal pomp and regal fickleness.” Herbert paid not attention to the prosy old gentleman, but hurried back to Ritznow, to bid him farewell, and ask if he could assist him, in performing any service for him.

Î'he old soldier shook him heartily by the hand, congratulated him on his changed prospects, told him a few incidents of his life; among others, that his widowed mother was at Milan, and that his religious opinions were the source of his present confinement, and also of his being compelled, contrary to his general's earnest wish, to quit the Spanish service, to appease the Cardinal de Narbonne; and concluded, by adding impressively,

“ Think on what I have uttered.” “Buy the truth, but sell it not.” Get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding."

They parted, and Herbert accompanied his mother home to Eltham, and made haste to prepare for the morrow's journey.

[To be continued.]

DEGERANDO

ON

MORAL PERFECTION.

TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH,

Chapter X.

THE LIFE OF MAN CONSIDERED AS A GREAT AND CONTINUAL

EDUCATION.

The great work of man's education begins under the mildest and most sacred auspices. Providence seems to have taken care of his first steps by trusting them to the heart of a mother : it is the gift of vigilance and love. Let infancy congratulate itself on its weakness, since it thus attains the happiness of being under so perfect and so tender a protection! A great number of individuals, have scarcely any but maternal education; to others, it is prolonged by the deep and salutary influence which a virtuous mother has on her children, and which is the most powerful. Blessed are those mothers who really understand the privilege granted them! Happy the children who are long allowed to enjoy the benefits of it!

People of all ages might find in this education from the cradle, a model, a subject of study for the directions they need, and yet, do people think of studying it? It teaches the pupil the use of his senses, and the trial of his faculties; it informs him of two things which will serve him to learn all others; it teaches him his language, and reveals to him his heart by teaching him to love. Some time after comes, under the influence of teachers, that artificial education which ought to be the continuation of the preceding one, but which is generally very unlike. With the direct instructions of masters, others, lessperceptible, co-operate, and yet, perhaps, they are more durable and more powerful than those which the youth receives from his daily intercourse with other men, particularly his comrades, those he receives from every circumstance. This second education becomes the more fruitful as it accustoms the pupil to act for himself, it promotes thus the progressive and regular use of the gifts he has received from nature : it only teaches him insomuch as it habituates him to study and produce, it gives him neither science nor virtue; it enables him to discover the one and love the other : it requires then, his assistance, which becomes from day to day more important as his strength augments, and his experience extends. At last, masters retire, and, to men of superficial knowledge, the whole education seems complete. Nevertheless it does then but change the means, and, under its new form, it acquires in this third period a singular importance and utility. To the artificial education succeeds the spontaneous one: or rather, the inward and spontaneous education which in secret seconded, more or less, the education received from without, which alone lent to the latter its power, remains alone, and henceforth occupies the rest of his life.

This free activity which ought, until then, to have assisted the instructions of masters, abandoned to itself, recognizes, invokes a new guide, reflection. Possibly the young man, when he enters the world, may give way to the power of circumstances, to his passions, and trust to the habits he may have contracted; then, the career of perfection will be already finished for him, he will not have attained the end, but, unfortunately he will have laid for himself the relative limit in a premature manner; but he must also have given up the prerogatives of youth, he can know but its follies, abandonned as he is to a divergent power, of which he can neither discern the effects nor regulate the influence. Happy then, if a sincere friend can snatch him for an instant from the vortex by which he is hurled away, can warn him of his error, and show him that, henceforth, responsible for his future happiness, great duties spring up from the liberty he acquires; and can teach him the importance of this decisive period, on which will depend all his future destiny! Then if, at this same moment, on becoming master of his fate, he reflects deeply on himself, what an unexpected prospect opens before him! Life, which he had until then scarcely tried, appears to him under a new aspect! He pauses, he hesitates; astonished, he interrogates the universe, his destiny, and himself. A thousand mysteries present themselves to him, agitate, startle him ; he tries, however, to sound their depth.

The more extensive the circle of the ideas he has

acquired, the more these problems multiply. At the same time he feels also the necessity of some certain foundation on which to support his reason. The more honest is his heart, the more energetic also is the want he feels, to draw from his own conviction the maxims which must rule his conduct, and ensure his happiness. In the number of questions to which the last kind of investigation gives rise, none is more natural, none more serious than this-For what end was I placed on earth? What means have I to attain to it? What is the course I must pursue to arrive at it? In this career on which he enters full of spirit, with the consciousness of his strength, but which remains still hidden from his sight by a cloud, he enquires what he may hope for, what use he ought to make of this activity which consumes him.-May a good father hear him, and offer him an instructive example in his own life! May the young man who is sincere, obtain for a friend, a man of experience, who, without laying down precepts, may receive his confidence, be intimate with him, and give some support to his uprightness.

The happy moment, which marks the passage from adolescence to youth, is then the time which must serve to lay the foundation, and conceive the system of spontaneous education, but this education does but begin, for it is the work of all our days, even to our last moments. The life of man is in reality but a great education, the end of which is perfection, a fundamental truth, which answers all the problems, the uncertainty of which agitated the young man, and alarmed his dawning reason ; a truth that resolves, explains, and rules all in our rapid passage upon earth! Here then, is the answer he sought! it explains and answers his doubts and his uneasiness.

Man will always be called, not only to govern himself, but to prepare fresh resources for the time to come. - Each of his actions will exercise an inevitable influence on those that follow.- Each step will

carry him to a new point on the road, he will enlighten himself by experience, he will strengthen himself by practice. men, who, in a moral point of view, have grown but in mature age; we see some, who, in advanced life are young in virtue; both can yet enrich and improve themselves—as long as there is a future, there is an education the setting out on the road of perfection is alone fixed, the end is not. There may be an individual to whom the last day of his life becomes the best.

We must however divest ourselves of all vain illusions, which would disguise our weakness, and make us place too great a confidence in the success of our efforts! The constant trial we must make of our strength would soon undeceive us. But this trial will be for us an instruction the most useful, precisely as it corrects our presumption, and gives us more prudence. Who can tell what even the least favored of beings may attain to, by a sincere and enlightened will, exercised with firmness and perseverance. We are astonished to see that in mechanical works, a constant and regular activity creates work, the execution of which would have appeared impossible: we pause, with just surprise, before this kind of chefs d'euvre, as they are

We see

called, and which are but the proof of an indefatigable perseverance. What chefs d'ouvre much more real would he produce who would give to his moral improvement the same regularity and the same constancy! If at each hour we asked ourselves what it is best to do, if we performed it to the best of our ability, can we say of what we should become capable? Each day that dawns is a new day bringing with it a future yet unknown, it is a veritable creation of Providence; why should we not make it equally new to us by its fruitfulness? How often has a single day changed even the fate of nations ? How many great thoughts and noble resolutions may spring up in a single rapid hour? On this soil, which we trample under our feet in our blind course, another would have brought forth the creations of genius and virtue. A man whose character inspires us with merited admiration, would, perhaps, not have deserved our esteem if he had made no more efforts than we dare attempt: another, whose degradation grieves us, has but neglected himself, and given up the power of doing right; though he be plunged in the corruption of vice,

he can, by a generous resolution, recover his dignity. In each of us there are unknown powers, the existence of which we should perhaps not suspect. Some unforeseen circumstance, a great misfortune, an intense affection, a great example, perhaps a great fault, an hour of propitious meditation, will suddenly reveal to us the mystery. We are surprised then to see to what height we were permitted to aspire ;—a new world seems to unveil itself within and before us. But soon distractions intervene, the torrent hurries us along, the veil falls again; the great discovery is forgotten, or is only retraced to our remembrance as the illusion of an instant, perhaps as a regret which would embitter our life. Oh! why did we not follow this sacred inspiration! it would, perhaps, have decided our whole existence!

The most finished education, given by the most able masters, often produces but persons of mean talent; that which we give to ourselves, alone elevates above the vulgar. The character of great men is always, in part, their own work.

When we here speak of the vulgar, we are far from meaning the obscure conditions of society-we hope to be better understood : denote what is vulgar, morally speaking, in characters and sentiments. Le perfectionnement moral — and this, as a fundamental remark, does not consist in producing extraordinary men; the greater part of these men purchase such a privilege by the sacrifice of some condition essential to amelioration or happiness. Much less do we pretend to require that men elevated to this true moral height should find the chance of occupying on the stage of society a high place, by which they can attract attention and exercise a powerful influence. True perfectionnement is that which agrees with the situation and the destiny of each; and consequently, it is for the generality of men, that which suits the most ordinary situations : it consists in a complete and harmonious ensemble of the intellectual and moral faculties, either with each other or with the circumstances in which each is placed; and for this very reason it rarely strikes the attention of the

we

spectator, it does not excite his surprise; all appears natural, because all is coordinaté.

We may then say that this perfectionnement is in part relative, it is for each of us but in conformity to the calling given us. There is for all social conditions a moral dignity, the value of which augments by obscurity, and the highest degree of which consists in virtues unknown to the world; the same as there is for the most elevated situations in the eyes of the world, a littleness which exterior eclat and the favors of fortune make more apparent. Self-perfectioning far from being a prerogative reserved only for a few, is a course open to every one;—to the humble and unknown in preference, perhaps, to him who is remarked. We succeed, not in quitting our condition, but, on the contrary, by knowing how to conform ourselves to it: in doing thus, we obtain the more real merit; as, from various circumstances, we meet less help and more obstacles. O you! whoever you may be, who precede us, leaving us the inheritance of your fine examples—you who walk before us with a firm and assured step in the path of virtue, while we languish in idleness, why should not we also be called to follow your example? The picture of your lifemust it only serve to charm our careless studies, produce an effect on our stage, or suggest to us empty praises? Endowed with the same nature as you, called to the same end, creatures of the same God! why should we not aspire to share your noble destiny :-Why should we not ask ourselves what we may be, why should we not attempt to become such? We doubt, say we, our own strength! Have we consulted it?-have we made a serious and sufficiently repeated trial of it?

As man has the faculty of improving continually, he has unfortunately that of declining. Placed between an ascending ladder and an abyss, it depends on him to mount the one, or allow himself to be more or less drawn toward the other. Now, the means which lead to perfection are precisely the same as those which prevent degradation, or draw one from it. Those, then, who, prejudiced by sad opinions, are

the subject of the destiny of man, and, doubting the power of virtue, would accuse us of giving way to seducing illusions, when we adopt the prospect of an indefinite perfectionnement, will still find, in the views we present to their meditation, the indication of a government, the utility of which they cannot dispute; and self-education will be, at least in their eyes, the principle of preservation for the gifts that our nature has received from Providence. Hitherto, in considering life as a great and continued education, we have concentered our views on the course of this life. This thought acquires a grandeur and new dignity, if, considering the destiny of man in all its extent, and from a more elevated point, we cast our eyes on the immense future, that philosophy promises him, which even nature announces to him, and of which religion assures him. This faculty of progressive improvement, continued indefinitely, furnishes alone a persuasion as powerful, as legitimate, in favour of a future to which it refers, and of which it is the precursor. It is like the two terms of

« PredošláPokračovať »