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you and I to be thankful to Providence! Theologians may puzzle their heads about dogmas as they will, the religion of gratitude cannot mislead us.
Of that we are sure, and gratitude is the handmaid to hope, and hope the harbinger of faith. I look abroad upon Nature, I think of the best part of our Species, I lean upon my friends, and I meditate upon the Scriptures, especially the Gospel of St. John, and my creed rises up of itself with the ease of an exhalation, yet a fabric of adamant.1
I am standing on the brink of that vast ocean I must sail so soon; I must speedily lose sight of the shore, and I could not once have conceived how little I now am troubled by the thought of how long or short a time they who remain on that shore may have sight of me. The other day I chanced to be looking over a MS. poem belonging to the year 1803, though not actually composed till many years afterwards. It was suggested by visiting the neighbourhood of Dumfries, in which Burns had resided, and where he died; it concluded thus :
Sweet Mercy to the gates of heaven
With vain endeavour,
of earth's bitter leaven,
Effaced for ever. Here the verses closed; but I instantly added, the other day
But why to him confine the prayer,
On the frail heart the purest share
With all that live ?-
Just God, forgive!
The more I reflect upon this last exclamation, the more I feel justified in attaching comparatively small importance to any literary monument that I
be enabled to leave behind. It is well, however, I am convinced that men think otherwise in the earlier part of their lives. 1
Where lies the truth ? has Man, in wisdom's creed,
SIR WALTER SCOTT (1771–1832) THE THE great art of life, so far as I have been able to
observe, consists in fortitude and perseverance. Life . . . is like a game at cards—our hands are 1 From letter to Professor Henry Reed (December 1839).
2 Sonnet written in 1846.
alternately good or bad, and the whole seems at first glance to depend on mere chance. But it is not so, for in the long-run the skill of the player predominates over the casualties of the game.
This is a melancholy letter, but it is chiefly so from the sad tone of yours—who have had such real disasters to lament—while mine is only the humorous sadness which a retrospect on human life is sure to produce on the most prosperous. For my own course of life, I have only to be ashamed of its prosperity and afraid of its termination ; for I have little reason, arguing on the doctrine of chances, to hope that the same good fortune will attend me for ever. I have had an affectionate and promising family, many friends, few unfriends, and, I think, no enemies and more of fame and fortune than mere literature ever procured for a man before.
I dwell among my own people, and have many whose happiness is dependent on me, and which I study to the best of my power. I trust my temper, which you know is by nature good and easy, has not been spoiled by flattery or prosperity; and therefore I have escaped entirely that irritability of disposition which I think is planted, like the slave in the poet's chariot, to prevent his enjoying his triumph.
Should things, therefore, change with me--and in these times, or indeed in any times, such change is to be apprehended—I trust I shall be able to surrender these adventitious advantages, as I would my upper dress, as something extremely comfortable, but which I can make shift to do without.2 1 From letter written in 1817 (Lije, by Lockhart).
Life, by Lockhart. From letter to the Countess Purgstall (1821)
There is no theme more awful than to attempt to cast a glance among the clouds and mists which hide the broken extremity of the celebrated bridge of Mirza. Yet, when every day brings us nearer that termination, one would almost think that our views should become clearer as the regions we are approaching are brought nigher. Alas! it is not so; there is a curtain to be withdrawn, a veil to be rent, before we shall see things as they really are. There are few, I trust, who disbelieve the existence of a God; nay, I doubt if at all times, and in all moods, any single individual ever adopted that hideous creed, though some have professed it. With the belief of a Deity, that of the immortality of the soul and of the state of future rewards and punishments is indissolubly linked. More we are not to know; but neither are we prohibited from our attempts, however vain, to pierce the solemn, sacred gloom. The expressions used in Scripture are doubtless metaphorical, for penal fires and heavenly melody are only applicable to bodies endowed with senses; and, at least till the period of the resurrection of the body, the spirits of men, whether entering into the perfection of the just or committed to the regions of punishment, are incorporeal. Neither is it to be supposed that the glorified bodies which shall arise in the last day will be capable of the same gross indulgences with which they are now solaced. That the idea of Mahomet's paradise is inconsistent with the purity of our heavenly religion will be readily granted; and see Mark xii. 25. Harmony is obviously chosen as the least corporeal of all gratifications of the sense, and as the type of love, unity, and a state of peace and perfect happiness. But they have a poor idea of the Deity, and
the rewards which are destined for the just made perfect, who can only adopt the literal sense of an eternal concert-a never-ending Birthday Ode. I rather suppose there should be understood some commission from the Highest, some duty to discharge with the applause of a satisfied conscience. That the Deity, who himself must be supposed to feel love and affection for the beings he has called into existence, should delegate a portion of those powers, I for one cannot conceive altogether so wrong a conjecture. We would then find reality in Milton's sublime machinery of the guardian saints or genii of kingdoms. Nay, we would approach to the Catholic idea of the employment of saints, though without approaching the absurdity of saint-worship which degrades their religion. There would be, we must suppose, in these employments difficulties to be overcome and exertions to be made, for all which the celestial beings employed would have certain appropriate powers. I cannot help thinking that a life of active benevolence is more consistent with my ideas than an eternity of music. But it is all speculation, and it is impossible even to guess what we shall [do), unless we could ascertain the equally difficult previous question, what we are to be. But there is a God, and a just God -a judgment and a future life—and all who own so much let them act according to the faith that is in them. I would [not], of course, limit the range of my genii to this confined earth. There is the universe, with all its endless extent of worlds.1
It is not my Charlotte—it is not the bride of my youth, the mother of my children, that will be laid
1 From Journal, December 10, 1825.