« AnteriorContinua »
Mean-time the expecting nations, circled gay
Importance of Literature.-LORD LYTTLETON.
CADMUS AND HERCULES.
Do you pretend to sit as high on Olympus as Hercules? Did you kill the Nema'an lion, the Erymanthian boar, the Lernean serpent, and Stymphalian birds? Did you destroy tyrants and robbers? You value yourself greatly on subduing one serpent: I did as much as that while I lay in my cradle.
Cadmus. It is not on account of the serpent, that I boast myself a greater benefactor to Greece than you. Actions should be valued by their utility, rather than their splendor. I taught Greece the art of writing, to which laws owe their precision and permanency. You subdued monsters; I civilized men. It is from untamed passions, not from wild beasts, that the greatest evils arise to human society. By wisdom, by art, by the united strength of a civil community, men have been enabled to subdue the whole race of lions, bears, and serpents; and, what is more, to bind by laws and wholesome regulations, the ferocious violence and dangerous treachery of the human disposition. Had lions been destroyed only in single combat,* men had had but a bad time of it; and what, but laws, could awe the men who killed the lions? The genuine glory, the proper distinction of the rational species, arises from the perfection * Pron. kum'-bat.
of the mental powers. Courage is apt to be fierce, and strength is often exerted in acts of oppression: but wisdom is the associate of justice. It assists her to form equal laws, to pursue right measures, to correct power, protect weakness, and to unite individuals in a common interest and general welfare. Heroes may kill tyrants, but it is wisdom and laws that prevent tyranny and oppression. The operations of policy far surpass the labors of Hercules, preventing many evils which valor and might cannot even redress. You heroes regard nothing but glory; and scarcely consider whether the conquests, which raise your fame, are really beneficial to your country. Unhappy are the people who are governed by valor not directed by prudence, and not mitigated by the gentle arts!
Hercules. I do not expect to find an admirer of my strenuous life, in the man who taught his countrymen to sit still and read; and to lose the hours of youth and action in idle speculation and the sport of words.
Cadmus. An ambition to have a place in the registers of fame, is the Eurystheus which imposes heroic labors on mankind. The Muses incite to action, as well as entertain the hours of repose; and I think you should honor them for presenting to heroes so noble a recreation, as may prevent their taking up the distaff, when they lay down the club.
Hercules. Wits as well as heroes can take up the distaff. What think you of their thin-spun systems of philosophy, or lascivious poems, or Milesian fables? Nay, what is still worse, are there not panegyrics* on tyrants, and books that blaspheme the gods, and perplex the natural sense of right and wrong? I believe if Eurystheus were to set me to work again, he would find me a worse task than any he imposed; he would make me read over a great library; and I would serve it as I did the Hydra, I would burn as I went on, that one chimera might not rise from another, to plague mankind. I should have valued myself more on clearing the library, than on cleansing the Augean stables.
Cadmus. It is in those libraries only that the memory of your labor exists. The heroes of Marathon, the patriots of Thermopyla, owe their fame to me. All the wise institutions of lawgivers, and all the doctrines of sages, had perished in the ear, like a dream related, if letters had not preserved them. O Hercules! it is not for the man who preferred Virtue to Pleasure, to be an enemy to the Muses.
* Pron. păn-nē-jĕr ́-riks.
Let Sardanapalus and the silken sons of luxury, who have wasted life in inglorious ease, despise the records of action, which bear no honorable testimony to their lives: but true merit, heroic virtue, should respect the sacred source of lasting honor.
Hercules. Indeed, if writers employed themselves only in recording the acts of great men, much might be said in their favor. But why do they trouble people with their meditations? Can it be of any consequence to the world what an idle man has been thinking?
Cadmus. Yes it may. The most important and extensive advantages mankind enjoy, are greatly owing to men who have never quitted their closets. To them mankind are obliged for the facility and security of navigation. The invention of the compass has opened to them new worlds. The knowledge of the mechanical powers has enabled them to construct such wonderful machines, as perform what the united labor of millions, by the severest drudgery, could not accomplish. Agriculture too, the most useful of arts, has received its share of improvement from the same source. Poetry, likewise, is of excellent use, to enable the memory to retain with more ease, and to imprint with more energy upon the heart, precepts and examples of virtue. From the little root of a few letters, science has spread its branches over all nature, and raised its head to the heavens. Some philosophers have entered so far into the counsels of Divine Wisdom, as to explain much of the great operations of nature. The dimensions and distances of the planets, the causes of their revolutions, the path of comets, and the ebbing and flowing of tides, are understood and explained. Can any thing raise the glory of the human species more, than to see a little creature, inhabiting a small spot, amidst innumerable worlds, taking a survey of the universe, comprehending its arrangement, and entering into the scheme of that wonderful connexion and correspondence of things so remote, and which it seems a great exertion of Omnipotence to have established? What a volume of wisdom, what a noble theology, do these discoveries open to us! While some superior geniuses have soared to these sublime subjects, other sagacious and diligent minds have been inquiring into the most minute works of the Infinite Artificer: the same care, the same providence, is exerted through the whole; and we should learn from it, that, to true wisdom, utility and fitness appear perfection, and whatever is beneficial is noble.
Hercules. I approve of science as far as it is assistant to action. I like the improvement of navigation, and the discovery of the greater part of the globe, because it opens a wider field for the master spirits of the world to bustle in.
Cadmus. There spoke the soul of Hercules. But if learned men are to be esteemed for the assistance they give to active minds in their schemes, they are not less to be valued for their endeavors to give them a right direction, and moderate their too great ardor. The study of history will teach the legislator by what means states have become powerful; and in the private citizen, they will inculcate the love of liberty and order. The writings of sages point out a private path of virtue; and show that the best empire is self-government, and that subduing our passions is the noblest of conquests.
Hercules. The true spirit of heroism acts by a generous impulse, and wants neither the experience of history, nor the doctrines of philosophers to direct it. But do not arts and science render men effeminate, luxurious, and inactive? and can you deny that wit and learning are often made subservient to very bad purposes ?
Cadmus. I will own that there are some natures so happily formed, they scarcely want the assistance of a master, and the rules of art, to give them force or grace in every thing they do. But these favored geniuses are few. As learning flourishes only where ease, plenty, and mild government subsists; in so rich a soil, and under so soft a climate, the weeds of luxury will spring up among the flowers of art: but the spontaneous weeds would grow more rank, if they were allowed the undisturbed possession of the field. Letters keep a frugal, temperate nation from growing ferocious, a rich one from becoming entirely sensual and debauched. Every gift of Heaven is sometimes abused; but good sense and fine talents, by a natural law, gravitate towards virtue. Accidents may drive them out of their proper direction; but such accidents are an alarming omen, and of dire portent to the times. For if virtue cannot keep to her allegiance those men, who in their hearts confess her divine right, and know the value of her laws, on whose fidelity and obedience can she depend? May such geniuses never descend to flatter vice, encourage folly, or propagate irreligion; but exert all their powers in the service of Virtue, and celebrate the noble choice of those, who, like Hercules, preferred her to Pleasure!
On the pleasure of acquiring knowledge.—ALISON.
In every period of life, the acquisition of knowledge is one of the most pleasing employments of the human mind. But in youth, there are circumstances which make it productive of higher enjoyment. It is then that every thing has the charm of novelty; that curiosity and fancy are awake; and that the heart swells with the anticipations of future eminence and utility. Even in those lower branches of instruction which we call mere accomplishments, there is something always pleasing to the young in their acquisition. They seem to become every well-educated person; they adorn, if they do not dignify humanity; and, what is far more, while they give an elegant employment to the hours of leisure* and relaxation, they afford a means of contributing to the purity and innocence of domestic life.
But in the acquisition of knowledge of the higher kind,in the hours when the young gradually begin the study of the laws of nature, and of the faculties of the human mind, or of the magnificent revelations of the Gospel,-there is a pleasure of a sublimer nature. The cloud, which, in their infant years, seemed to cover nature from their view, begins gradually to resolve. The world in which they are placed opens with all its wonders upon their eye; their powers of attention and observation seem to expand with the scene before them; and, while they see, for the first time, the immensity of the universe of God, and mark the majestic simplicity of those laws by which its operations are conducted, they feel as if they were awakened to a higher species of being, and admitted into nearer intercourse with the Author of Nature.
It is this period, accordingly, more than all others, that determines our hopes or fears of the future fate of the young. To feel no joy in such pursuits;-to listen carelessly to the voice which brings such magnificent instruction;-to see the veil raised which conceals the counsels of the Deity, and to show no emotion at the discovery, are symptoms of a weak and torpid spirit,-of a mind unworthy of the advantages it possesses, and fitted only for the humility of sensual and ignoble pleasure. Of those, on the contrary, who distinguish themselves by the love of knowledge, who follow with ardor the career that is open to them, we are apt to form the most honorable prěs'ages. It is the char