« AnteriorContinua »
gratification of the yearnings of an immortal soul. Let him be told that this world is the arena for the exercise of virtue, not the goal for receiving its reward ; and that if we aim at terrestrial felicity, we shall be alike disappointed, by whatever means we seek to compass our desire. Remind him that this is but the beginning of our course, and that after a few years of pain, an eternity of joy will await us. Let him not grovel in the mire which men mistake for glory; but teach him to soar towards that fame which, though small on earth, is great in heaven. Tell him not to be down-hearted, for he has the approval of One who cannot judge mistakingly; and, above all, show him what pitiful cowardice is betrayed when a man deserts from the ranks of right, because he is fearful of the strength of wrong.
Thus, tragic examples of virtue, unfortunate as uncommon, have wrought more effectual improvement than all others. The virtues of a Cato, and of a Brutus, have not been less proposed as proper models of imitation, for having proved so signally ruinous to their possessors: on the contrary, they would have lost half their potency, had they not been sealed in blood. We are fired with enthusiasm at beholding the dauntless courage of men, whose virtue neither expediency could conciliate, nor the whirlwinds of deadly hatred subdue; and all fear of sharing their fate is swallowed up in the glorious emulation of equalling their greatness of soul. All fear of sharing their fate, said I ?-nay, how often do we envy their doom?
“ Who sees them act, but envies every deed ?
Who hears them groan, and does not wish to bleed ?" Shakspere was too well acquainted with life, to fall into the error of paying much regard to poetical justice. He frequently loves to involve his good and bad characters in one undistinguished ruin. Her innocence and filial love could not preserve scatheless the poor Cordelia ; and the grey hairs of Lear-a monarch whose only apparent fault was that he loved his daughters, “not wisely, but too well" could not save him from a sorrowful grave. And wherefore is the “sweet Ophelia” drowned ?-And what has Hamlet, “the noble youth," done deserving of death? So strongly was all this once felt, that the wiseacres of the last generation reconstructed Shakspere's plot, in order that King Lear might live, and Cordelia be made happy, after the approved stage fashion of making young ladies happy
--by being married. Romeo, for the same reason, was by Otway metamorphosed into one Caius Marius, and his adventures accommodated so that the audience should not be shocked by the death of two faithful lovers. But Shakspere was right, and his would-be correctors only profaned what they could not improve.
And what is the procedure observed by the inspired volume, from which no appeal is allowed? Does it veil the misfortunes of virtue, or the successes of vice? Far from it; since we there read the history of Hazael the Syrian; a man who,-notwithstanding the murder of his master, the usurpation of a throne, and the most execrable cruelty,
for all we can see recorded on the pages of the sacred chronicle, lived in prosperity and died in peace. Whenever necessary to historical truth, the Bible hesitates not to picture the most atrocious crimes, as well as the most exemplary righteousness; yet who would dare to condemn its perusal on this score? People have got a “Family Shakspere," in which all“ offensive phrases and indelicate scenes” are omitted ; but hitherto the Bible has been held too sacred to be subjected to the merciless mangling of prudery and ill-taste,
I should, however, be found wanting, if I neglected to caution the reader against an abuse of this argument. None can abominate more than myself those fictions which make vice graceful, and crime heroic—which teach us to sin, and avoid the shame. As no man was ever fortunate merely because of his vice, so no man was ever ruined merely because of his virtue. Inasmuch as the whole world agrees in considering him odious, whom they confess to be vicious, and him commendable, whom they own to be virtuous, vice is to all a positive disadvantage. But since a man's heart cannot be known to his fellows, and his conduct is open to such endless misapprehension, it is to be expected that our estimate of character should err widely from the truth. We are not for one instant to suppose that a man is less loved or less respected, the more he entitles himself to both; but that being destitute of any criterion to guide its decision, the world is at times unintentionally unjust. To conceal this unavoidable calamity beneath a flimsy web of empty generalities is useless; for we may be assured that truth can never be preserved by falsehood, or virtue benefited by lies.
No. II. "God will help them who first help themselves." -OLD PROVERB. A Turk, when he perceived an Englishmen supply himself with a bottle of water to obviate the danger of drought during a journey through the desert, could not refrain from giving utterance to this indignant reproof: “ You Christian dog! Can you not trust in God's care for a single day?" Although I have often heard this outbreak applauded, I shall ever think it to be most fallacious doctrine; for we cannot suppose that God would work a miracle in order to save a man the trouble of carrying a bottle of water. When we wilfully neglect the adoption of an easy expedient which we are aware will probably preserve us from a grievous calamity, we surely cannot reasonably expect any extraordinary interposition of Divine Providence, to avert the consequences of our own preposterous imprudence.
Of all doctrines, that of a dependence on Divine Providence is the most misunderstood. Ignorantly made a plea to favour indolence, or flatter timidity-at one time urged as an excuse for carelessness, and at another, as a sufficient reason for rashness—we need not wonder that the cool-headed class of men who boast their rationality, should deem it a sublime transcendental abstraction, fit to amuse the vacant hours of philosophy, but capable of asserting no beneficial influence over the actions of the more busy portion of mankind. I may, therefore, not be vainly employed, if I make a slight and cursory attempt to expose the mistaken view of Divine Providence, which would lead us presumptuously to anticipate that a faith in its intervention justifies either the laziness of the apathetic, or the folly of the headlong.
God has given us certain faculties which, within their just limits, we are bound to exercise. Although it be true that He alone can crown our efforts with success, we are not therefore to conclude that He will relieve us from the necessity of labour, or do that for us which we are quite competent to do for ourselves. The wise man toils, not because he places confidence in his own strength, but because he knows that unless he toils, the aid without which all his endeavours are confessedly impotent will be withheld. We have reason to admonish us, and judgement to guide us; and if we silence the one and neglect the other, is our conduct irreproachable? If a man walk blindfold, Providence will not prevent him from stumbling; and if he refuse to avoid the quicksand, Providence will leave him to his fate.
Cleanthes was a man possessed with such a strange infatuation, that he considered all care of his fortune or his health to be absolute impiety. Had it not been his good fortune to be born 10 a small competency, what would have become of him I cannot tell. He often exerted all his rhetoric to persuade bis landlady of the absurdity of sanding the stone steps in frosty weather, “ Because," said he, “Providence must be a better preservative against broken limbs than sand." He had an extreme aversion to bolts and bars; and when at length tired out with his landlady's obstinate distrust, took an opportunity of abstracting her street door key, and selling it to a “ marine store shop" as old iron. It was always a point with him never to possess an umbrella or great coat; and to abuse the invisible respirators. He fell in love with a fair girl, and would have carried off the prize, had not a small mischance occurred. Cleanthes and the young lady were riding together in an open landau, enjoying a comfortable téte-à-tête, in the course of which a heavy shower of rain came on. The young lady very naturally wished the vehicle to be closed; but Cleanthes advanced so many arguments to prove the impropriety of compliance, that they were both tolerably soaked. The next time he called the young lady was not at home, and a month afterwards she married his rival. His landlady once awoke him out of a sound morning's sleep with the information that the kitchen chimney was on fire;-“ Never mind !" rejoined Cleanthes, “ Providence will preserve us !” and pulling his night-cap over his eyes, he once more addressed himself to slumber." As he lived, so he died; for taking it into his head to travel, an innkeeper showed him to a bed which had been completely saturated by the water that found its way through a leak in the ceiling. Any body else would have rung the bell, and demanded better accommodation, but Cleanthes trusted that Providence would shield him from harm. However, he was mistaken, caught cold, and died.
One of the many scraps of Holy Writ adduced by Cleanthes in justification of his peculiar notions, was that which exhorts us to take no care for the morrow. This, indeed, he carried to such an excess as not only to neglect the morrow, but to reck very little of to-day. He would argue that as God was all-powerful, the attempt to assist him was vain, and to prevent him impious. Out of this position no force of reasoning could beat Cleanthes ; he would wind up all disputes by telling you that you were a fool, and an infidel, and did not understand what you were talking about. If, after this warning, you persisted in your contumacy, ten to one if he spoke to you again for å month; and even then he would chuckle over his superior enlightenment, and seem to thank Heaven that he was not like some publicans and sinners. A very sure way, however, to his favour was to agree with his absurdity: and he left all he possessed in the world to a sly rogue of a nephew, who, to humour his vagaries, threw a span-bran new cloak into the Thames.
This folly owed its rise in Cleanthes to indolence; and was indebted for its continuance to the convenient reconciliation it effected between his laziness and his religion. Yet was Cleanthes a man of no mean abilities, for dullards seldom think enough to fall into these mistakes; had he not been afflicted with this one idea'd madness, he might have passed through the world with respectability, if not with renown. But this one failing blighted his talents and his virtues, and made his life useless to himself and to mankind. Although his qualities could have demanded love, he died without a single sincere friend; and at last left his property to one who despised his eccentricities as the drivellings of premature dotage.
An idle disposition is indeed the prolific generator of errors, mischievous as numberless ; and when the folly on which I have aniinadverted is derived from such a source, seldom is it eradicated. There is an instinct in human nature which warns the reckless not to tempt too far the forbearance of Heaven—which demonstrates the uselessness of rushing into danger for the mere sake of displaying the triumphant superiority of Providence; but when a man argues himself into the notion that his part is only to receive, not to earn, I must consider his case as almost hopeless. To the former I might prove with success, that as our duty will not allow us to shrink from danger when it is unavoidable, so our duty cannot permit us knowingly to provoke it.I might urge that we may with justice be called upon to bear the consequences of our own acts, and to suffer the pains which we have wilfully incurred; but what arguments can suffice to battle down the intrenchments raised around the latter by the lethargy of a religious sleep? Yet, however thankless the task may seem, I will, in conclusion, suggest some of the more obvious considerations which should deter us from relaxing our own vigilance, because that of Providence never surceases its care.
Providence, if the protector, is not the servant, of man. We are not to suppose that its office is to be obedient to ous every wish—to clear away all obstructions from our path, that we may be enabled to walk without pain. We are not to consider that all goodness consists in not doing evil; nor believe that our fear of going wrong, justifies our not moving at all. If it had been our part only to refrain from crime, and then to receive the blessings which a grateful Providence was to shower on our heads, the world would have been very differently constituted, and Religion, Natural and Revealed, have been wholly dissimilar from what it now is. In fact, such a state cool reason can bardly conceive possible, for it is neither consistent with man's innocence, nor with man's guilt. But when we are expressly told that we X. S.- VOL. VI.
are placed here to work out our own salvation-to gain a crown of glory-how can we think an apathetic passivity to be a commendable dependence on Divine Providence, or reconcile our conduct with the Gospel ?
We must not forget the purpose for which we are placed in our present habitation. Far other and higher duties have we to perform than merely to eat, drink, and propagate. Not only our temporal, but our eternal welfare in this life is at stake - we must prove ourselves worthy of a better sphere. And how is this to be done? By activity, rightly directed. We must gird up our loins and work; and not, by meditative listlessness and religious torpor, prostrate those energies which were given us to be employed; for although, as I said before, Heaven alone can give success, the part of man is undoubtedly, by honest exertion, to prove that he deserves it.
I am aware that these observations are few, rambling, and superficial; they, however, comprehend the premises of the argument. In some future paper of this series, I may perhaps resume the subject.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF FITZROY PIKE.
CHAPTER VI. Contains, among other Matter, a few Practical Illustrations of the “ Animal Pro
pensities.” Two Appointments are made; one of which involves returning
Peace and a splendid Party, the other War and an Exchange of Wadding. My respected aunt having performed on me, entirely to her own satisfaction, if not to mine, the disinterested and affectionate operation of a kiss, ushered the visiters into the parlour-a little dismal closet looking through a window in front into the shop, and by another at the back into a dirty court-yard. This back parlour, although, without doubt, a “ shady retreat," was very far from being a quiet one. Ladies whose warm affections have been turned by map from that natural course which causes them to flow towards him, pour the diverted stream in a fearful cataract upon the brute creation. For the recipients of their favour they usually select such beings as most nearly represent the scorning creature; thus my Aunt Tabitha adored the image of Walter Pump in a huge baboon, while Aunt Dorothea worshipped his literary acquirements in the sage oratory of a loquacious parrot. The resemblance in the latter case may appear somewhat-obscure, and yet I myself can count on my fingers, within my own experience, full fifteen literary parrots, who gain applause, and win attention by retailing secondhand, without an atom of understanding, the thoughts and words of others. The two little puppies, Fido and Flo, the daily remembrancers of quondam fashionable sports, have already been mentioned; but I should think the two yelping animals, that on our arrival now pawed their welcome on my father's white ducks, to the utter destruction of uniformity of colour, could not be the same that distinguished themselves so greatly at my birth, and won immortality by rescuing me from the dire effects of a system of heterogeneous nomenclature.