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The doctrine that time exists only in remembrance, may serve to explain some apparent inconsistencies in the language which we use respecting our sense of its passage. We hear persons complaining of the slow passage of time, when they have spent a single night of unbroken wearisomeness, and wondering how speedily hours, filled with pleasure or engrossing occupations, have flown; and yet we all know how long any period seems which has been crowded with events or feelings leaving a strong impression behind them. In thinking on seasons of ennui we have nothing but a sense of length-we merely remember that we felt the tedium of existence; but there is really no space in the imagination filled up by the period. Mere time, unpeopled with diversified emotions or circumstances, is but one idea, and that idea is nothing more than the remembrance of a listless sensation. A night of dull pain and months of lingering weakness are, in the retrospect, nearly the same thing. When our hands or our hearts are busy, we know nothing of time—it does not exist for us; but as soon as we pause to meditate on that which is gone, we seem to have lived long, because we look back through a long series of events, or feel them at once peering one above the other like ranges of distant hills. Actions or feelings, not hours, mark all the backward course of our being. Our sense of the nearness to us of any circumstance in our life is determined on the same principles—not by the revolution of the seasons, but by the relation which the event bears in importance to all that has happened to us since. To him who has thought, or done, or suffered much, the level days of his childhood seem at an immeasurable distance, far off as the age of chivalry, or as the line of Sesostris. There are some recollections of such overpowering vastness, that their objects seem ever near; their size reduces all intermediate events to nothing; and they peer upon us like "a forked mountain, or blue promontory," which, being far off, is yet nigh. How different from these appears some inconsiderable occurrence of more recent date, which a flash of thought redeems for a moment from long oblivion;—which is seen amidst the dim confusion of half-forgotten things, like a little rock lighted up by a chance gleam of sunshine afar in the mighty waters!
What immense difference is there, then, in the real duration of men's lives! He lives longest of all who looks back oftenest, whose life is most populous of thought or action, and on every retrospect makes the vastest picture. The man who does not meditate has no real consciousness of being. Such an one goes to death as to a drunken sleep; he parts with existence wantonly, because he knows nothing of its value. Mere men of pleasure are, therefore, the most careless of duellists, the gayest of soldiers. To know the true value of being, yet to lay it down for a great cause, is a pitch of heroism which has rarely been attained by man. That mastery of the fear of death, which is so common among men of spirit, is nothing but a conquest over the apprehension of dying. It is a mere victory of nerve and muscle. Those whose days have no principle of continuity--who never feel time but in the shape of ennui—may quit the world for sport or for honour. But he who truly lives, who feels the past and future in the instant, whose days are to him a possession of majestic remembrances and golden hopes, ought not to fancy himself bound by such an example. He may be inspired to lay down his life, where truth or virtue demands so great a sacrifice; but he will be influenced by mere weakness of resolution, not by courage, if he suffer himself to be shamed, or laughed, or worried out of it!
Besides those who have no proper consciousness of being, there are others even perhaps more pitiable, who are constantly irritated by the knowledge that their life is cut up into melancholy fragments. This is the case of all the pretending and the vain; those who are ever attempting to seem what they are not, or to do what they cannot; who live in the lying breath of contemporary report, and bask out a sort of occasional holiday in the glimmers of public favour. They are always in a feverish struggle, yet they make no progress. There is no dramatic coherence, no unity of action, in the tragi-comedy of their lives. They have hits and brilliant passages perhaps, which may come on review before them in straggling succession ; but nothing dignified or massive, tending to one end of good or evil. Such are self-fancied poets and panting essayists, who live on from volume to volume, or from magazine to magazine, who tremble with nervous delight at a favourable mention, are cast down by a sly alliteration or satirical play on their names, and die of an elaborate eulogy “in aromatic pain.” They begin life once a quarter, or once a month, according to the will of their publishers. They dedicate nothing to posterity; but toil on for applause till praise sickens, and their "life's idle business” grows too heavy to be borne. They feel their best days passing away without even the effort to build up an enduring fame; and they write an elegy on their own weaknesses! They give their thoughts immaturely to the world, and thus spoil them for themselves for ever. earliest, and deepest, and most sacred feelings become at last dull common-places, which they have talked of and written about till they are glad to escape from the theme. Their days are not “ linked each to each by natural piety,” but at best bound together in forgotten volumes. Better, far better than this, is the lot of those whose characters and pretensions have little “mark or likelihood;"—whose days are filled up by the exercise of honest industry, and who, on looking back, recognize their lives only by the turns of their fortune, or the events which have called forth their affections. Their first parting from home is indelibly impressed on their minds—their school-days seem to them like one sweet April day of shower and sunshine—their apprenticeship is a long week of toil ;--but then their first love is fresh to them as yesterday, and their marriage, the births of their children, and of their grand-children, are events which mark their course even to old age. They reach their infancy in thought by an easy process, through a range of remembrances few and simple, but pure, and even holy. Yet happier is the lot of those who have one great aim; who devote their undivided energy to a single pursuit; who have one idea of practical or visionary good, to which they are wedded. There is a harmony, a proportion, in their lives. The alchemist of old, labouring with undiminished hope, cheering his solitude with dreams of boundless wealth, and yet working on, could not be said to live in vain. His life was continuous—one
unbroken struggle—one ardent sigh. There is the same unity of interest in the life of a great verbal scholar, or of a true miser; the same singleness of purpose, which gives solidity to floating minutes, hours,
A great lawyer deserves an eminent rank among true livers. We do not mean a political adventurer, who breathes feverishly amidst the contests, and intrigues, and petty triumphs of party; nor a dabbler in criticism, poetry, or the drama; nor even a popular nisi-prius advocate, who passes through a succession of hasty toils and violent excitements to fortune and to oblivion. But we have respect to the real dull plodder-to him who has bidden an early “farewell to his Muse," if he ever had one; who counts on years of solitary study, and shrinks not back; who proceeds, step by step, through the mighty màze with a cheerful heart, and counts on his distant success with mathematical precision. His industry and self-denial are powers as true as fancy or eloquence, and he soon learns to take as hearty a pleasure in their exercise. His retrospect is vast and single-of doubts solved, stoutest books mastered, nicest webs disentangled, and all from one intelligible motive which grows old with him, and, though it “ strengthened with his strength," will not diminish with his decline. It is better in the end to have had the pathway of life circumscribed and railed in by forms and narrow observances, than to have strayed at will about the vast field open to human enterprise, in the freest and most graceful wanderings; because in the latter case we cannot trace our road again, or call it over; while in the first, we see it distinctly to the last, and can linger in thought over all the spots where our feet have trodden, The "old names " bring back the “old instincts” to our hearts. Instead of faint sympathies with a multitude of things, a kind of small partnership with thousands in certain general dogmas and speculations, we have all our own past individual being as a solid and abiding possession.
A metaphysician who thinks earnestly and intensely for himself, may truly be said to live long. He has this great advantage over the most felicitous inventor of machinery, or the most acute of scientific inquirers, that all his discoveries have a personal interest ; he has his existence for his living study ; his own heart is the mighty problem on which he meditates, and the “ exceeding great reward” of his victories. In a moment of happy thought he may attain conquests, “ compared to which the laurels which a Cæsar reaps are weeds.” Years of anxious thought are rewarded by the attainment of one triumphant certainty, which immediately gives a key to the solution of a thousand pregnant doubts and mysteries, and enables him almost to “ curdle a long life into an hour.” When he has, after long pursued and baffled endeavours, rolled aside some huge difficulty which lay in his path, he will find beneath it a passage to the bright subtleties of his nature, through which he may range at will, and gather immortal fruits, like Aladdin in the subterranean gardens. He counts his life thus not only by the steps which he has taken, but by the vast prospects which, at every turn of his journey, have recompensed his toils, over which he has diffused his spirit as he went on his way rejoicing. We will conclude this article
with the estimate made of life from his own experience by one of the most profound and original of thinkers.
“ It is little, it is short, it is not worth having—if we take the last hour, and leave out all that has gone before, which has been one way of looking at the subject. Such calculators seem to say that life is nothing when it is over; and that may, in their sense, be true. If the old rule— Respice finem-were to be made absolute, and no one could be pronounced fortunate till the day of his death, there are few among us whose existence would, upon such conditions, be much to be envied. But this is not a fair view of the case. A man's life is his whole life, not the last glimmering snuff of the candle ; and this I say is considerable, and not a litole matter, whether we regard its pleasures or its pains. To draw a peevish conclusion to the contrary, from our own superannuated desires or forgetful indifference, is about as reasonable as to say, a man never was young because he is grown old, or never lived because he is now dead. The length or agreeableness of a journey does not depend on the few last steps
of it, nor is the size of a building to be judged of from the last stone that is added to it. It is neither the first nor the last hour of our existence, but the space that parts these two—not our exit, nor our entrance upon the stage, but what we do, feel, and think while there—that we are to attend to in pronouncing sentence upon it. Indeed, it would be easy to shew that it is the very extent of human life, the infinite number of things contained in it, its contradictory and fluctuating interests, the transition from one situation to another, the hours, months, years, spent in one fond pursuit after another; that it is, in a word, the length of our common journey, and the quantity of events crowded into it, that, baffling the grasp of our actual perception, make it slide from our memory, and dwindle into nothing in its own perspective. It is too mighty for us, and we say it is nothing! It is a speck in our fancy, and yet what canvass would be big enough to hold its striking groups, its endless objects! It is light as vanity; and yet, if all its weary moments, if all its head and heart-aches were compressed into one, what fortitude would not be overwhelmed with the blow! What a huge heap, a “ huge, dumb heap,' of wishes, thoughts, feelings, anxious cares, soothing hopes, loves, joys, friendships, it is composed of! How many ideas and trains of sentiment, long, deep, and intense, often pass through the mind in one day's thinking or reading for instance! How many such days are there in a year, how many years in a long life, still occupied with something interesting-still recalling some old impression--still recurring to some difficult question, and making progress in it, every step accompanied with a sense of power, and every moment conscious of the high endeavour or the glad success ;' for the mind seizes only on that which keeps it employed, and is wound up to a certain pitch of pleasurable excitement by the necessity of its own nature."-Hazlitt's Table Talk, Essay 6.
T, N, T.
STANZAS ON SOME SKULLS IN
In silent barren synod met
Cling to the ruin,
Their Creed's undoing.
To speak by proxy.
That scrawl'd black letter;
He tried escaping;
To live on gaping
Come to confession,
o'er fresh transgression.
Or feel but faintly,
Men so unsaintly.
But thought no evil
All to the Devil.
'Mid bead and spangle, While others pass'd their idler days
In coil and wrangle.