Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

men think it strange, if in discourse, or (where it is often absolutely necessary) in dispute, one sometimes asks the meaning of their terms : though the arguings one may every day observe in conversation, make it evident, that there are few names of complex ideas, which any two men use precisely for the same collection. It is hard to name a word which will not be a clear instance of this. Life is a term : none more familiar. Any one almost would take it for an affront, to be asked what he meant by it. And yet if it comes in question whether a plant that lies ready formed in the seed have life; whether the embryo of an egg before incubation, or a man in a swoon, without sense or motion, be alive or no ? it is easy to perceive that a clear distinct settled idea does not always accompany the use of so known a word as that of life. Some gross and confused conceptions men, indeed, ordinarily have, to which they apply the common words of their language, and such a loose use of their words serves them well enough in their ordinary discourses or affairs. But this is not sufficient for philosophical inquiries. Knowledge and reasoning require precise determinate ideas. And though men will not be so importunately dull, as not to understand what others say, without demanding an explication of their terms; nor so troublesomely critical, as to correct others in the use of the words they receive from them; yet where truth and knowledge are concerned in the case, I know not what fault it can be to desire the explication of words whose sense seems dubious; or why a man should be ashamed to own his ignorance in what sense another man uses his words, since he has no other way of certainly knowing it, but by being informed. This abuse of taking words upon trust has nowhere spread so far, nor with so ill effects, as amongst men of letters. The multiplication and obstinacy of disputes, which have so laid waste the intellectual world, is owing to nothing more than to this ill use of words. For though it be generally believed that there is great diversity of opinions in the volumes and variety of controversies the world is distracted with, yet the most I can find that the contending learned men of different parties do, in their arguings one with another, is, that they speak different languages. For I am apt to imagine, that when any of them, quitting terms, think upon things, and know what they think, they think all the same: though perhaps what they would have be different.

This having been the fate or misfortune of a great part of men

[ocr errors]

of letters, the increase brought into the stock of real knowledge has been very little, in proportion to the schools, disputes, and writings, the world has been filled with ; whilst students being lost in the great wood of words, knew not whereabouts they were, how far their discoveries were advanced, or what was wanting in their own, or in the general stock of knowledge.

[ocr errors]

THE HOMES OF THE WERY POOR.—(CHARLES LAMB.)

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

HOMES there are, we are sure, that are no homes—the home of the very poor man, and another which we shall speak to presently. Crowded places of cheap entertainment, and the benches of alehouses, if they could speak, might bear mournful testimony to the first. To them the very poor man resorts for an image of the home which he cannot find at home. For a starved grate and a scanty firing that is not enough to keep alive the natural heat in the fingers of so many shivering children, with their mother, he finds in the depths of winter always a blazing hearth, and a hob to warm his pittance of beer by. Instead of the clamours of a wife, made gaunt by famishing, he meets with a cheerful attendance beyond the merits of the trifle which he can afford to spend. All this while he deserts his wife and children. But what wife, and what children ? Prosperous men, who ohject to this desertion, image to themselves some clean contented family like that which they go home to. But look at the countenance of the poor wives who follow and persecute their good man to the door of the publichouse which he is about to enter, when something like shame would restrain him, if stronger misery did not induce him to pass the threshold. That face, ground by want, in which every cheerful, every conversable lineament has been long effaced by misery, -is that a face to stay at home with ? Is it more a woman, or a wild cat ? Alas! it is the face of the wife of his youth, that once smiled upon him. It can smile no longer. What comforts can it share ? what burthens can it lighten ? Oh, 'tis fine to talk of the humble meal shared together! But what if there be no bread in the cupboard ? The innocent prattle of his children takes the sting out of a man's poverty. But the children of the very poor do not prattle. It is none of the least frightful features in that condition, that there is no childishness in its dwellings.

“ Poor

a

young dreams.

people,” said a sensible old nurse to us once,“ do not bring up their children—they drag them up." The little carelese darling of the wealthier nursery, in their hovel is transformed betimes into a premature reflecting person. No one has time to dandle it; no one thinks it worth while to coax it, to soothe it, to toss it up and down, to humour it. There is none to kiss away its tears. If it cries, it can only be beaten. It has been prettily said, that

“ babe is fed with milk and praise.” But the aliment of this poor babe was thin, unnourishing ; the return to its little baby tricks and efforts to engage attention, bitter ceaseless objurgation. It never had a toy, or knew what a coral meant.

It grew up without the lullaby of nurses ; it was a stranger to the patient fondle, the hushing caress, the attracting novelty, the costlier plaything, or the cheaper off-hand contrivance to divert the child, the prattled nonsense (best sense to it), the wise impertinences, the wholesome lies, the apt story interposed that puts a stop to present suffering, and awakens the passions of young wonder. It was never sung to; no one ever told to it a tale of the nursery. It was dragged up, to live or to die as it happened. It had no

It broke at once into the iron realities of life. A child exists not for the very poor as any object of dalliance ; it is only another mouth to be fed—a pair of little hands to be betimes inured to labour. It is the rival, till it can be the co-operator for food with the parent. It is never his mirth, his diversion, his solace—it never makes him young again with recalling his young times. The children of the very poor have no young times. It makes the very heart to bleed to overhear the casual street talk between a poor woman and her little girl—a woman of the better sort of poor, in a condition rather above the squalid beings which we have been contemplating. It is not of toys, of nursery-books, of summer holidays (fitting that age), of the promised sight of plays, of praised sufficiency at school. It is of mangling and clear starching, of the price of coals or potatoes. The questions of the child, that should be the very outpourings of curiosity in idleness, are marked with forecast and melancholy providence. It has come to be a woman before it was a child. It has learned to go to market ; it chaffers, it haggles, it envies, it murmurs ; it is knowing, acute, sharpened ; it never prattles. Had we not reason to say, that the home of the very poor is no home ?

The INSECT OP A DAY.—(FROM THE FRENCH.)

ARISTOTLE says

that upon

the river Hypanis there exist little animals who live only one day. Those who die at eight o'clock in the morning, die in their youth ; those who die at five in the evening, die in a state of decrepitude.

Suppose one of the most robust of these Hypanians as old, according to these nations, as time itself, he would have begun to exist at the break of day, and, through the strength of his constitution, would have been enabled to support an active life during the infinite number of seconds contained in ten or twelve hours. During so long a succession of instants, by his own experience, and by his reflections on all he had seen, he must have acquirer great wisdom ; he looks upon his fellows who have died at noon as creatures happily delivered from the great number of infirmities to which old age is subject. He may have to relate to his grandsons an astonishing tradition of facts anterior to all the memories of the nation. The young swarm, composed of beings who have lived but an hour, approach the venerable patriarch with respect, and listen with admiration to his instructive discourse. Everything he relates to them appears a prodigy to this generation whose life has been so short. A day appears to them the entire duration of time, and the dawn of day would be called in their chronology the great era of their creation.

Suppose now that the venerable insect, this Nestor of the Hypanis, a short time before his death, about the hour of sunset, assembles all his descendants, his friends, and acquaintances, to give them, with his dying breath, his last advice. They gather from all parts under the vast shelter of a mushroom, and the dying sage addresses them in the following manner :

“ Friends and compatriots, I feel that the longest life must have an end. The term of mine has arrived, and I do not regret my fate, since my great age has become a burden to me, and there is nothing new under the sun for me. The revolutions and calamities that have desolated my country, the great number of particular accidents to which we are all subject, the infirmities that afflict our species, and the misfortunes that have happened in my own family, all that I have seen in the course of a long life, has only too well taught me this great truth, that happiness placed in things that do not depend upon ourselves can never be certain and lasting. An entire generation has perished by a violent wind, a multitude of our imprudent youth have been swept into the water by a brisk and unexpected breeze. What terrible floods a sudden rain has caused ! Our firmest shelters even are not proof again a hail-storm. A dark cloud causes even the most courageous hearts to tremble.

“ I lived in the early ages, and conversed with insects of larger growth, of stronger constitutions, and I may say of greater wisdom, than any of the present generation. I conjure you to give credit to my last words, when I assure you that the sun which now appears beyond the water, and which seems not far from the earth, I have seen in times past fixed in the middle of the heavens, its rays darting directly upon us. The earth was much lighter in past ages, the air was much warmer, and our ancestors were more sober and more virtuous.

“Although my senses are enfeebled, my memory is not ; I can assure you that this glorious luminary moves. I have seen it rising over the summit of that mountain, and I began my life about the time that it commenced its immense career.

It has, during several centuries, advanced in the heavens with an astonishing heat and brilliancy, of which you can have no idea, and which assuredly you could not have supported ; but now by its decline, and the sensible diminution of its vigour, I foresee that all nature must shortly terminate, and that this world will be buried in darkness in less than a hundred minutes.

“ Alas! my friends, how I flattered myself at one time with the deceitful hope of always living on this earth ! how magnificent were the cells I had hollowed out for myself ! what confidence did I put in the firmness of my limbs, and in the elasticity of their joints, and in the strength of my wings ! But I have lived long enough for nature and for glory, and none of those I leave behind me will have the same satisfaction in the century of darkness and decay that I see about to begin.”

« PredošláPokračovať »