Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

deduct the depth of the basin, from the surface of the water, twenty fathoms; which leaves the height of the falls, from the natural bed of the river above, to the inferior current, where it flows in the valley; one hundred thirteen and a half faihoms. From this statement, it indubitably appears that our fall of Tequendama, is the most beautiful and stupendous cataract yet known in the world; and that the writers who have described it, have justly applied to it the title of a wonder." Corollary.

Spanish feet. Cataract of the Cohocs near Albany state of New-York 75 Do. Niagara (including the upper contiguous rapid) 184 Do. Terni in the road to Rome

350 Do. Tequendama in the river Bogotá

933

FOR THE PORT FOLIO.

AN ORATION

ON THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF MEMORY, DELIVERED AT NASSAV'

COLLEGE, PRINCETOX, ON THE EVENING PRECEDING THE CONMENCEMENT or 1809, BY GEORGE MIFFLIN DALLAS, OF PENN

SYLVANIA.

In the choice of a subject for the present exercise, recurring to all that I had read, and thought, and heard, I was naturally led to a consideration of Memory itself, as a source of pleasure or of pain.

Through the medium of a mild and benevolent tempcr, one poct beholds in Memory nothing but its pleasures; while another, under the influence of a sad and sombre habit, contemplates nothing but its pains. Dazzled by the illusions of sentiment, or fascinated by the charms of verse, the nobler attributes of memory have been overlooked. The affections common to humanity, instead of the qualities peculiar to the individual, have been selected for its operations; and the resulting dispensations of pleasure, or of pain, have been referred to a physical, rather than to a moral cause.

But in the ordinary retrospect of life, the subjects of memory are the same to the good and the bad, to the weak, and the wise. Every man is capable of the sensations, which arise from disappointed hope, or gratified ambition; from the loss of friends, or the triumph of enemies; from the frolics of youth, or the solicitudes of age. To attribute therefore the pleasures and the pains of memory to such sources, is only to recognize the universal law of nature. But when memory is considered as a moral agent, discriminating between the effects of virtue and of vice, it will be found, that the virtuous cannot feel its pains, nor the vicious enjoy its pleasures; for the good man meditates upon the past, with the never failing solace of conscious rectitude; while the only attendant upon the bad man's remembrance, is an anxious, though ineffectual, wish to forget.

Memory, in its mere mechanical application, as a depositary of knowledge, or as a tablet of events, is, certainly, one of the most distinguished faculties of the mind. But the capacity, in which it becomes the efficient minister of conscience, renders it far more interesting to mankind, than all the acquirements of science, or all the enjoyments of sense. In the disposition of time, Providence, inseparably, mingles with the present, a reflection upon the past, and an anticipation of the future; rendering existence forever dependant, for its weal or its wo, on the thought of what it has been, or of what it may be. The same impartial wisdom, invariably connects the hope of bliss, with the recollections of desert, and fear of evil, with the compunctions of iniquity. Hence arises the moral influence of memory; for man convinced that wealth and power, that genius and learning, do not, in themselves, constitute peace of mind, will the more readily be induced to act well, that he may think well; or, in other words, will learn to be good, in order to be happy.

It is, then, not the possession, but the employment, of Fortune's gifts; not the reputation, but the exercise, of virtue and of talents, that must supply the memory with its stores of pleasure and of pain. Enter the temple of Fame, and of the heroes and statesmen, the philosophers and poets, whose deeds and works are consecrated there, mark how many lived to glory, how few to happiness.

The conquests of Alexander rendered his name immortal; but a reflection upon his follies and his vices, rendered his existence wretched.

The accomplished Caesar, at the summit of his ambition, blushed for the arts, by which his military popularity was attained; groaned beneath the weight of the guilty motives that formed, and that destroyed, the association of the first triumvirate; and when he passed the Rubicon, left the happiness of the man, with the fidelity of the citizen, behind.

Was Bacon

“ The wisest, brightest, meanest, of mankind !"

Was Bacon happy? His intellectual powers adorned and improved the world; but the feelings of moral depravity debased and agonized himself.

From the venerable Homer of Greece, to the polished Horace of Rome; from the garrulous Chaucer, to the dissolute Savage; the splendid catalogue is rather to be regarded as a memorial of genius, to excite admiration, than as a commemoration of worth, to com. mand esteem. For poets, proverbially an irritable race, have too generally preferred the allurements of fancy, to the admonitions of prudence. The sweetest bard that ever sung, has, however, exquisitely portrayed the desperation of a mind, oppressed with guilty recollections.

When Macbeth is told by his physician, that the fair associate of his crimes, is

-“ Not so sick, as she is troubl’d,
“ With thick-coming fancies, that keep her
“From her rest;"—

With what feeling does he exclaim!

_"Cure her of that!
“ Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased;
“Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
“Raze out the written troubles of the brain;
“ And with some sweet oblivious antidote,
“Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff,
“Which weighs upon the heart.”

And being answered;

_“Therein the patient “Must minister to himself:"

He exclaims in bitterness of anguish,

“Throw physic to the dogs I'll none of it!" . But, pass from the temple of Fame, to the shrine of Virtue, and there trace the moral-influence of memory, upon the illustrious votaries that surround it.

When Socrates raised the poisoned chalice to his lips, every eye streamed; every bosom throbbed; every tongue fauitered ;-but his own! The consciousness of innocence, rendered him insensible to the persecutions of injustice, while the remembrance, that he had lived the best, enabled him to die, the happiest, of mortals.

Aristides was requested to inscribe his own name upon the shell of banishment, by a stranger, who remarked, “ I am tired of hearing him called the just,” and smiling complacently, the Athenian sage complied. Memory, presenting an ample source of consolation against the rigours of the Osiracism, taught him to forgive the ungrateful levity of his countrymen, and to anticipate, with confidence, the period of their returning justice.

But why multiply examples, when, for every purpose of illustration, it may be, exultingly, asked, what, in all the worldly possessions, in all the sensual gratifications, of mankind, can be compared with the treasures, which a career of active benevolence accumulated for the meditations of a Howard; or a life of exalted patriotism, bestowed upon the memory of a Washington.

The moral influence of memory, which tends to make individuals better and happier, tends, also, to improve the condition of society. So far as it deters from the commission of crime, or impels to the practice of virtue, the consequence is obvious. But the moral influence of memory arises as well from what is ejected, as from what is retained. The philanthropy which is employed in the conferring of benefits, is not more important, in the scale of mental felicity, than the charity which is exercised, in the forgiveness of injuries. Nor is the absence of envy, malice, and revenge, less essential to the pleasures of remembrance, than the presence of truth, justice, and generosity. Hence it is, that the chastened memory operates upon passions, as well as upon principles; meliorating the manners as well as the dispositions of individuals. And whatever forms and constitutes the characters of individuals, will form and constitute the character of the society, to which they belong. The versatility of Greece, the constancy of Rome, and the perfidy of Carthage, were national characteristics derived from the personal characters of the individuals, that composed the respective nations. And in modern story without dwelling upon the distinctions, which the arts, the arms, the pride, and the prejudice of Europe have produced, let the hope be cherished, that a love of liberty and of justice will forever signalize the American name.

Upon this disquisition (however brief and imperfect) a hint will readily be taken, for applying to the important subject, the test of personal experience; and for deriving from it, a lesson of personal improvement. Throughout the departments of society; in all the pursuits of public, or of private, life; by the rising, as well as by the passing, generation; the moral influence of memory, must, inevitably, be felt either in the participation of its pleasures, or in the sufferance of its pains. The suggestions of memory can neither be silenced, nor eluded. The inflexible, but faithful, monitor, can convert the music of unmerited applause, into grating sounds of irony and reproach; or make the calumny which wounds the ear of Innocence, fall light upon the heart. It is alike, active in the bustle of a crowd, and in the sequestration of solitude-whether we are exposed to the cffulgence of the midday sun; or shrouded in the darkness of the midnight hour. Nay, when nature (seeking the renovation of corporeal strength) seems to extinguish all her mental fires; in the apparent torpor of sleep, and in the mere fiction of a dream; memory (pardon a repetition of the allusion) can fill with thorns the pillow of a Richard, to probe him to the quick; or scatter down on Caro's bed, that he may know, how

“Soft are the slumbers of the virtuous man!" Will it not, then, be just and wise, by an early and a constant care, to cultivate the memory, as an intellectual paradise;-in which whatever is good, shall be planted, as with an angel's hand; and from which whatever is evil, shall be excluded as with an angel's sword?

« AnteriorContinuar »