« 上一頁繼續 »
and, “if there is any thing lovely and of good report, if there is any virtue and any praise,” he may well claim our applauses and our thankfulness for what he has effected.
There is a still further advantage that belongs to the poet and the votarist of polite literature, which ought to be mentioned, as strongly calculated to repress the arrogance of the men of science, and the supercilious contempt they are apt to express for those who are engrossed by the pursuits of imagination and taste. They are for ever talking of the reality and progressiveness of their pursuits, and telling us that every step they take is a point gained, and gained for the latest posterity, while the poet merely suits himself to the taste of the men among whom he lives, writes up to the fashion of the day, and, as our manners turn, is sure to be swept away to the gulph of oblivion. But how does the matter really stand ? It is to a great degree the very reverse of this.
The natural and experimental philosopher has nothing sacred and indestructible in the language and form in which he delivers truths. New discoveries and experiments come, and his individual terms and phrases and theories perish. One race of natural philosophers does but
way for another race, which is to succeed. They “blow the trumpet, and give out the play.” And they must be contented to perish before the brighter knowledge, of which their efforts were but the bar
bingers. The Ptolemaic system gave way to Tycho Brahe, and his to that of Copernicus. The vortices of Descartes perished before the discoveries of Newton; and the philosophy of Newton already begins to grow old, and is found to have weak and decaying parts mixed with those which are immortal and divine. In the science of mind Aristotle and Plato are set aside ; the depth of Malebranche, and the patient investigation of Locke have had their day; more penetrating, and concise, and lynxeyed reasoners of our own country have succeeded ; the German metaphysicians seem to have thrust these aside ; and it perhaps needs no great degree of sagacity to foresee, that Kant and Fichté will at last fare no better than those that went before them.
But the poet is immortal. The verses of Homer are of workmanship no less divine, than the armour of his own Achilles. His poems are as fresh and consummate to us now, as they were to the Greeks, when the old man of Chios wandered in person through the different cities, rehearsing his rhapsodies to the accompaniment of his lute. The language and the thoughts of the poet are inextricably woven together; and the first is no more exposed to decay and to perish than the last. Presumptuous innovators have attempted to modernise Chaucer, and Spenser, and other authors, whose style was supposed to have grown obsolete. But true taste cannot endure the impious mockery. The very
words that occurred to these men, when the God descended, and a fire from heaven tingled in all their veins, are sacred, are part of themselves ; and you may as well attempt to preserve the man when
you have deprived him of all his members, as think to preserve the poet when you have taken away the words that he spoke. No part of his glorious effusions must perish ; and “the hairs of his head are all numbered."
OF SELF-LOVE AND BENEVOLENCE.
No question has more memorably exercised the ingenuity of men who have speculated upon the structure of the human mind, than that of the motives by which we are actuated in our intercourse with our fellow-creatures. The dictates of a plain and unsophisticated understanding on the subject are manifest; and they have been asserted in the broadest way by the authors of religion, the reformers of mankind, and all persons who have been penetrated with zeal and enthusiasm for the true interests of the race to which they belong.
“The end of the commandment,” say the authors of the New Testament, “is love.” “This is the great commandment of the law, Thou shalt love thy maker with all thy heart ; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." "For none of us liveth to himself; and no man dieth to himself.”
The sentiments of the ancient Greeks and Romans, for so many centuries as their institutions retained their original purity, were cast in a mould of a similar nature. A Spartan' was seldom alone ;
they were always in society with each other. The love of their country and of the public good was their predominant passion ; they did not imagine that they belonged to themselves, but to the state. After the battle of Leuctra, in which the Spartans were defeated by the Thebans, the mothers of those who were slain congratulated one another, and went to the temples to thank the Gods, that their children had done their duty ; while the relations of those who survived the defeat were inconsolable.
The Romans were not less distinguished by their self-denying patriotism. It was in this spirit that Brutus put his two sons to death for conspiring against their country. It was in this spirit that the Fabii perished at their fort on the Cremera, and the Decii devoted themselves for the public. The rigour of self-denial in a true Roman approached to a temper which moderns are inclined to denominate savage.
In the times of the ancient republics the impulse of the citizens was to merge their own individuality in the interests of the state. They held it their duty to live but for their country. In this spirit they were educated; and the lessons of their early youth regulated the conduct of their riper years.
In a more recent period we have learned to model our characters by a different standard. We seldom recollect the society of which we are politically members, as a whole, but are broken into detached parties, thinking only for the most part of