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no reason why he should not do as well, and immediately felt disposed to essay his
If he heard an accomplished musician, he undertook to enter the lists with him. His conduct was of a piece with that of the countryman, who, cheapening spectacles, and making experiment of them for ever in vain upon the book before him, was at length asked, “ Could you ever read without
spectacles ?" to which he was obliged to answer, “I do not know; I never tried.” The vanity of Goldsmith was infinite ; and his failure in such attempts must necessarily have been ludicrous.
The splendour of the thing presented to our observation, awakens the spirit within us. plause and admiration excited by certain achievements and accomplishments infects us with desire. We are like the youthful Themistocles, who complained that the trophies of Miltiades would not let him sleep. We are like the novice Guido, who, while looking on the paintings of Michael Angelo, exclaimed, “I also am a painter.” Themistocles and Guido were right, for they were of kindred spirit to the great men they admired. But the applause bestowed on others will often generate uneasiness and a sigh, in men least of all qualified by nature to acquire similar applause. We are not contented to proceed in the path of obscure usefulness and worth. We are eager to be admired, and thus often engage in pursuits for which perhaps we are of all men least adapted. Each one would be
the man above him. And this is the cause why we see so many individuals, who might have passed their lives with honour, devote themselves to incredible efforts, only that they may be made supremely ridiculous.
To this let it be added, that the wisest man that ever existed, never yet knew himself, especially in the morning of life. The person, who ultimately stamped his history with the most heroic achievements, was far perhaps even from suspecting, in the dawn of his existence, that he should realise the miracles that mark its maturity. He might be ready to exclaim, with Hazael in the Scriptures, “Is thy servant more than man, that he should do this great thing?” The sublimest poet that ever sung, was peradventure, while a stripling, unconscious of the treasures which formed a part of the fabric of his mind, and unsuspicious of the high destiny that in the sequel awaited him. What wonder then, that, awaking from the insensibility and torpor which precede the activity of the soul, some men should believe in a fortune that shall never be theirs, and anticipate a glory they are fated never to sustain ! And for the same reason, when unanticipated failure becomes their lot, they are unwilling at first to be discouraged, and find a certain gallantry in persevering, and “ against hope believing in hope."
This is the explanation of a countless multitude of failures that occur in the career of literature.
Nor is this phenomenon confined to literature. In all the various paths of human existence, that appear to have something in them splendid and alluring, there are perpetual instances of daring adventures, unattended with the smallest rational hope of success. Optat ephippia bos piger.
All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies.
But, beside these instances of perfect and glaring miscarriage, there are examples worthy of a deeper regret, where the juvenile candidate sets out in the morning of life with the highest promise, with colours flying, and the spirit-stirring note of gallant preparation, when yet his voyage of life is destined to terminate in total discomfiture. I have seen such an one, whose early instructors regarded him with the most sanguine expectation, and his elders 'admired him, while his youthful competitors unreluctantly confessed his superiority, and gave way on either side to his triumphant career; and all this has terminated in nothing.
In reality the splendid march of genius is beset with a thousand difficulties. “ The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” A multitude of unthought-of qualifications are required; and it depends at least as much upon the nicely maintained balance of these, as upon the copiousness and brilliancy of each, whether the result shall be auspicious. The progress of genius is like the flight of an arrow; a breath may turn it
out of its course, and cause that course to terminate many a degree wide of its purposed mark. It is therefore scarcely possible that any sharpness of foresight can pronounce of the noblest beginnings whether they shall reach to an adequate conclusion.
I have seen such a man, with the most fervent imagination, with the most diligent study, with the happiest powers of memory, and with an understanding that apparently took in every thing, and arranged every thing, at the same time that by its acuteness it seemed able to add to the accumulated stores of foregone wisdom and learning new treasures of its own; and yet this man shall pass through the successive stages of human life, in appearance for ever active, for ever at work, and leave nothing behind that shall embalm his name to posterity, certainly nothing in any degree adequately representing those excellencies, which a chosen few, admitted to his retired and his serenest hours, knew to reside in him.
There are conceptions of the mind, that come forth like the coruscations of lightning. If you could fix that flash, it would seem as if it would give new brightness to the sons of men, and almost extinguish the luminary of day. But, ere you can say it is here, it is gone. It appears to reveal to us the secrets of the world unknown ; but the clouds congregate again, and shut in upon us, before we had time to apprehend its full radiance and splendour..
To give solidity and permanence to the inspirations of genius two things are especially necessary. First, that the idea to be communicated should be powerfully apprehended by the speaker or writer; and next, that he should employ words and phrases which might convey it in all its truth to the mind of another. The man who entertains such conceptions, will not unfrequently want the steadiness of nerve which is required for their adequate transmission. Suitable words will not always wait upon his thoughts. Language is in reality a vast labyrinth, a scene like the Hercinian Forest of old, which, we are told, could not be traversed in less than sixty days. If we do not possess the clue, we shall infallibly perish in the attempt, and our thoughts and our memory will expire with us.
The sentences of this man, when he speaks, or when he writes, will be full of perplexity and confusion. They will be endless, and never arrive at their proper termination. They will include parenthesis on parenthesis. We perceive the person who delivers them, to be perpetually labouring after a meaning, but never reaching it. He is like one flung over into the sea, unprovided with the skill that should enable him to contend with the tumultuous element. He flounders about in pitiable helplessness, without the chance of extricating himself by all his efforts. He is lost in unintelligible embarrassment. It is a delightful and a ravishing sight, to observe another man come after him, and