Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

name of Argeians), perhaps the diligent or plodding ox, and its unwearying strenuous feet. Again, the strenuous or staunch dog Argos. This is certainly a more telling or complete epithet for dogs, and the feet of dogs, than mere swiftness. It does not, however, exclude swiftness, but rather includes it; presenting to us this link between staunch and swift, that every true worker excels according to his natural capacity: so, as the dog is well built for swiftness, the staunch or strenuous dog is swift. That there is in argos some derivation of meanings, appears to be admitted on all hands. The derivation I suggest is this: first, strenuous, as expressing the idea of ergon. Secondly, because strenuous, swift, where adapted for swiftness. Thirdly, white, because swift, in respect of the tendency of rapid movement to produce the effect of whiteness.

Thus viewed, the word argos acquires its office as a word of motion from a mental quality, and loses it again when passing into a visual phenomenon. While discharging that office, it has a differentia quite easy to discern. It signifies a motion associated with a mental quality of diligence and earnestness as its mainspring: a strenuous motion.

8

This paper does not aim at supplying an exhaustive catalogue of the Homeric epithets of movement. But the following ten epithets, which, with their compounds, nearly complete the Poet's vocabulary under this head, will be found to present its principal forms, as he, with a singular fineness and precision, appears to have comprehended and expressed them. The English renderings are suggested as imperfect, but as perhaps the best which the tongue affords. As a whole, the inquiry has, I hope, its own utility in the great business of understanding the Poet; but it acquires, I conceive, an additional interest from the light which it casts on the delicate, exact, and subtle organisation of his mental faculties.

A. In the Quantitative Scale repre

sented by MaQV.

1. ὠκύς, fleet.

2. Ooós, vehement or sweeping. 3. Ooûpos, impetuous.

4. öẞpios, forceful or violent. 5. βραδύς, slow.

B. Motion in other Forms.

6. ταχύς, nimble.

7. κрavós, eager or sharp, in motion.

8. Máßpos, copious, in motion.

9. αἰόλος, shifting.

10. ἀργός, strenuous.

W. E. GLADSTONE.

• The adverb rhimpha (píμpa), derived from píπTw, has no corresponding Homeric adjective; and, though mostly associated with swift motion, it is not always so. Used for ships and for horses, even sometimes at full speed, and for the movement of divinities, and for the rapid or brisk despatch of a meal (Il. viii. 54), it is likewise applied in Il. xxiv. 799 to the raising of Hector's mound (¿íμpa dè oñμ' ĕxeav), and in xx. 497 to the oxen treading out the corn (§íμpa te λént' èyévovтo). To meet the whole of the passages where it is employed, we must treat it as having to do more with proceeding to act than with rate of performance: and as emphatically a word of action rather than of motion proper. It may perhaps be rendered 'promptly' ' at once,' or 'forthwith.'

THE MEANINng of life.

LIFE in all its forms, however definable by its phenomena, is confessedly a mystery. It is so, as seen in the irrational worlds of animal and vegetable existence, from the rock-encrusting lichen up to the well-trained companions of our sports. There, as quite beyond the experience of our consciousness, it is especially mysterious. In the earliest stages of our being, and in certain conditions of maturity, our life is like that of the senseless plant, or like that of the thoughtless animal. In all our conscious states, however, the active intellect enters and transforms what but for it would be merely vegetative or sensitive activities. Thus, from lack of experience, we cannot imagine, however we may come to understand, what such lower forms of life in themselves may be.

The object of this paper is not so much to direct attention to the meaning of life in this most general sense, as to that of human life in the individual, the nation, and the race. Yet the meaning of life in its more general sense may by this inquiry have some light thrown upon it. Although human life (as most intimately known to every one of us) is in one way less mysterious than the life of lower organisms, still the problems of human life, as they are of course the most interesting to us, so they are the most profound. The animal thinks nothing of its destiny; it may suffer, it may desire, but, devoid of reflective self-consciousness, its desires and sufferings pass without note; strictly speaking, it knows neither that it suffers nor that it desires. But man has been in all ages occupied not only with the phenomena of his own being, but also with speculations as to his origin and destiny-as to the meaning of his life-and successive ages and successive phases of thought and waves of feeling have given rise to various more or less discordant solutions.

The question as to the real meaning, and therefore the true end, of life, is one form of the old question as to the summum bonum— a question to which a curt answer will suggest itself to the majority of Englishmen, though not perhaps to most readers of the Nineteenth Century. For to very many persons that answer will probably suggest itself which they may well have gathered alike from their religious and anti-religious teachers. They will say the true aim of life is happiness' in this world or the next, and that this aim is

6

unconsciously pursued by all those who do not consciously and deliberately set it before them as their end.

6

But if happiness' is that which we should make the true end and aim of our activity, any inquiry as to the real 'meaning' of life may be at once abandoned as fruitless. For that which really gives meaning to life must be that which it is at least in the power of every one to attain. Not only, however, is happiness anything but universally diffused, it is too often unattainable, and is even strangely missed by some who seem specially qualified to attain it, and never perhaps was this more evident than at present.

How painfully the enigma of life now presses upon many generous minds, he who runs may read. And it is not merely the questions as to origin, destiny, and fate-the lament:

No whence no why-no whither, but that we are,
And nought besides.

Even the very value of life itself as it passes is again and again questioned and more and more denied as pessimism gains upon us.

It has lately been expressly asked, 'Is life worth living?'—a question which, though to the many mere foolishness, and to some a perversely set stumbling-block, is yet to others a real problem of sad and deep significance.

While the body is healthy and appetites and passions are keen, life to most men is, of course, worth living. To the ambitious, to the enthusiastic pursuers of an ideal, to the votaries of sense, life, while full and vigorous, is manifestly a gain. It is perhaps emphatically felt so to be by those who, free from material cares and avoiding strong emotional excitements (with their inevitable reactions), peacefully enjoy those calm perennial pleasures yielded by any branch of literature or science to its faithful followers.

On the other hand we all know what a gloomy view of things may be occasioned by even some slight constitutional disturbance. How sadly often real calamity causes life to seem no blessing, but a curse, is made only too evident by the many poor souls who rush to seek they know not what, rather than bear the ills they have and feel so vividly.

Now, however, it is by no means only the unhealthy, the bereaved, the forsaken, or the ruined, who feel keenly the sadness of human life, and who, impressed with the dreary spectacle of wide-spread sin and suffering, of the apparently fruitless toil and aimless misery of so many of their brethren, question life's absolute worth. Young men whose steady pulse and clear eye show the regular and harmonious activity of heart and brain, who are beloved by their fellows, and whose means of enjoyment are ample, suffer from this sadness. Such sadness may indeed be merely ungrateful and morbid, but it may be also occasioned by an exceptional nobility of character and gene

rosity of sentiment existing under certain adverse intellectual conditions.

A melancholy and morbid estimate of life may, and probably often is, due to an ungrateful neglect to note the many pleasures of ordinary existence. In health, even each act of respiration and many another mere organic function is accompanied by real, if unobtrusive, pleasurableness. The support of the body in its various postures of repose, the movements of the limbs in unimpeded locomotion, are all pleasurable. And if even these lowest pleasures merit grateful advertence, how much more the countless higher ones which accompany the majority of most men's intellectual acts and emotional feelings! Nevertheless there are higher natures who, while admitting fully the existence and more or less general diffusion of all our physical and intellectual pleasures, are, through certain intellectual errors, tortured by an ungratified longing after a lofty moral ideal apparently unattainable, and who restlessly cry out, Who will show us any good?' Unable to satisfy themselves with mere pleasure, however intellectual, unable to satisfy themselves with any end which their reason and higher emotions tell them is inadequate, they are yet bound hand and foot in the chains of a philosophy which forbids them to raise their eyes above phenomena, which teaches determinism, and which tests the morality of actions only by their utilitarian results. They may well exclaim:

6

[ocr errors]

My will is bondsman to the dark-
I sit within a helmless bark!

Their lament is honourable. Their dissatisfaction is reasonable. Their sadness merits the deepest respect, the tenderest sympathy. Their painful unrest calls for zealous aid. It is nothing less than the struggle of the rational conscience garrotted by Agnosticism.

No express controversy with that system can be here undertaken, but its rejection is in fact already implied by any serious endeavour to answer such questions as are here, with much diffidence, tentatively considered, and the importance of which many persons now so deeply feel-namely, the questions: What is the good of life? Why are we here? What shall we do?'-in short, the great question as to "the meaning of life.'

6

[ocr errors]

Upon the answers to be given to these questions hang most practical results concerning not only the aims and actions of men as individuals, but also in their corporate capacity as bodies politic, i.e. practical results concerning nations and their government. But every art must follow the science which supplies it with its principles. The art of conduct for individuals and communities must depend upon the real significance of life, its end and aim. The consideration of the government of life must follow the inquiry as to its meaning.

It would, at first sight, seem a hopeless task to say anything whatever new upon questions which, in one form or another, are perhaps as old as is the human race itself. The writer, at least, would feel himself guilty of absurd presumption if he thought that he could bring forward from his own mind any real novelty of value on so well-worn a theme. But though creative novelty may be hopeless, yet any one may again interweave the well-used threads of older intellectual fabrics into new combinations. These old questions are ever again and again repeated in new forms under the influence of the ideas and emotional tendencies of successive periods, and they therefore continually need corresponding answers. Now there is one most important matter in which modern thought differs both from the cultivated thought of the ancient classical days of Greek and Roman intellectual activity, and from the wonderful scientific activity and accuracy of the middle ages. This matter is the way in which we regard Will.'

6

Both those who deny and those who assert the freedom of the will regard it as a purely determinative faculty altogether sui generis. The progress of science, and especially the great discovery of the quantitative equivalence between the different successive activities of the same or of different bodies (commonly called the transformation of energy'), has brought out, with a sharpness and distinctness never before seen, the wonderful nature of this power-a nature so wonderful that on this very account its existence is again and again denied, in spite of the combined voices of conscience and of consciousness.

In the middle ages, though the freedom of the will was fully asserted, yet the phrase applied to denote it—appetitus rationalis— was one open to serious misconstruction, and which was, in fact, seriously misconstrued. We had to wait till a later day for clearer views and expressions. The Jesuits, to whom all Churchmen, and indeed all Theists, are on so many accounts indebted, have a strong claim to gratitude also in this matter. The Jesuits may be said to be the Church's 'Rationalists;' they are the men who have especially made a free use of their reason, and it is they who have excogitated and put forward the only truly rational theory of the will, vindicating its freedom against the more confused utterances of their predecessors. Of the moderns, Kant stands preeminent for the vigour with which he asserted the dignity and the freedom of the will, and the importance of ethics. In our own country we may boast of a noble series of writers who have helped to bring prominently forward the full significance of volition, and in our own day we have especially to thank the authors who wrote in that epoch-marking periodical, the British Critic. But, as has just been said, modern science has served to bring out more emphatically than ever the marvellous and isolated character of this power of choice by showing how rigid

« AnteriorContinua »