ePub 版

But Goldsmith's prose is no less charming than his poetry. There are, in his essays, entitled "The Citizen of the World," an ease and gracefulness of style, a chaste humor, a rich poetical fancy, and a nice obser\*ation of men and manners, that render them truly "a mine of lively and profound thought, happy imagery, and pure English."1


Age, that lessens the enjoyment of life, increases our desire of living. Those dangers which, in the vigor of youth, we had learned to despise, assume new terrors as we grow old. Our caution increasing as our years increase, fear becomes at last the prevailing passion of the mind; and the small remainder of life is taken up in useless efforts to keep off our end, or provide for a continued existence.

Strange contradiction in our nature, and to which even the wise are liable! If I should judge of that part of life which lies before me, by that which I have already seen, the prospect is hideous. Experience tells me that my past enjoyments have brought no real felicity, and sensation assures me that those I have felt are stronger than those which are yet to come. Yet experience and sensation in vain persuade; hope, more powerful than either, dresses out the distant prospect in fancied beauty; some happiness, in long perspective, still beckons me to pursue, and, like a losing gamester, every new disappointment increases my ardor to continue the game.

Whence, my friend, this increased love of life, which grows upon us with our years? whence comes it, that we thus make greater efforts to preserve our existence at a period when it becomes scarcely worth the keeping? Is it that nature, attentive to the preservation of mankind, increases our wishes to live, while she lessens our enjoyments; and, as she robs the senses of every pleasure, equips imagination in the spoil? Life would be insupportable to an old man who, loaded with infirmities, feared death no more than when in the vigor of manhood; the numberless calamities of decaying nature, and the consciousness of surviving every pleasure, would at once induce him, with his own hand, to terminate the scene of misery; but happily the contempt of derth forsakes him at a time when it could be only prejudicial, and hie acquires an imaginary value in proportion as its reat value is no more.

Our attachment to every object around us increases, in general.

I At a dinner at Sir Joshua Reynolds'*, when some unkind remark was made of Goldsmith, Johnson broke out warmly In his defence, and In the course of a spirited culoglum, said, "IsUwre a man, sir, now, who can pen an essay with such ease and elegance as Dr. OoldsiniUi r» '"The prose of Ooldsmlth Is the model of perfccUon, and the standard of our language; to cqua. which the effort* of most would be vain, mid to exceed it, every -xpectatlon folly."- UtnlUy.

from the length of our acquaintance with it. "I would not choose," says a French philosopher, "to see an old post pulled up with which I had been long acquainted." A mind long habituated to a certain set of objects insensibly becomes fond of seeing them; visits them from habit, and parts from them with reluctance. Hence proceeds the avarice of the old in every kind of possession; they love the world and all that it produces; they love life and all its advantages, not because it gives them pleasure, but because they have known it long.

Chinvang the Chaste, ascending the throne of China, commanded that all who were unjustly detained in prison during the preceding reigns should be set free. Among the number who came to thank their deliverer on this occasion, there appeared a majestic old man, who, falling at the emperor's feet, addressed him as follows: "Great father of China, behold a wretch, now eighty-five years old, who was shut up in a dungeon at the age of twenty-two. I was imprisoned, though a stranger to crime, or without being even confronted by my accusers. I have now lived in solitude and in darkness for more than fifty years, and am grown familiar with distress. As yet, dazzled with the splendor of that sun to which you have restored me, I have been wandering the streets to find some friend that would assist, or relieve, or remember me; but my friends, my family, and relations are all dead, and I am forgotten. Permit me, then, O Chinvang, to wear out the wretched remains of life in my former prison; the walls of my dungeon arc to me more pleasing than the most splendid palace; I have not long to live, and shall be unhappy except I spend the rest of my days where my youth was passed—in that prison from which you were pleased to release me."

The old man's passion for confinement is similar to that we all have for life. We are habituated to the prison, we look round with discontent, are displeased with the abode, and yet the length of our captivity only increases our fondness for the cell. The trees we have planted, the houses we have built, or the posterity we have begotten, all serve to bind us closer to earth, and imbittei our parting. Life sues the young like a new acquaintance; the companion, as yet unexhausted, is at once instructive and amusing; its company pleases, yet for all this it is but little regarded. To us, who are declined in years, life appears like an old friend; its jests have been anticipated in former conversation; it has nc new story to make us smile, no new improvement with which tc surprise, yet still we love it; destitute of every enjoyment, stil. we love it; husband the wasting treasure with increased frugality, and feel all the poignancy of anguish in the fatal separation.

Sir Philip Mordaunt was young, beautiful, sincere, brave,—an Knprlishman. He had a complete fortune of his own, and the love of the king, his master, which was equivalent to riches. Life opened all her treasures before him, and promised a long succession of future happiness. He came, tasted of the entertainment, but was disgusted even in the beginning. He professed an aversion to living, was tired of walking round the same circle; had tried every enjoyment, and found them all grow weaker at every repetition. "If life be in youth so displeasing," cried he to himself, "what will it appear when age comes on? if it be at present indifferent, sure it will then be execrable." This thought imbittered every reflection; till at last, with all the serenity of perverted reason, he ended the debate with a pistol! Had this selfdeluded man been apprized that existence grows more desirable to us the longer we exist, he would then have faced old age without shrinking; he would have boldly dared to live, and served that society by his future assiduity which he basely injured by his desertion. aizen ^I4t „,orUt LXxm.


The clock has just struck two; the expiring taper rises and sinks in the socket; the watchman forgets the hour in slumber; ihe laborious and the happy are at rest; and nothing wakes but meditation, guilt, revelry, and despair. The drunkard once more fills the destroying bowl; the robber walks his midnight round; •jnd the suicide lifts his guilty arm against his own sacred person.

Let me no longer waste the night over the page of antiquity, or xhe sallies of contemporary genius, but pursue the solitary walk, »vhere vanity, ever-changing, but a few hours past, walked before me—where she kept up the pageant, and now, like a froward child, seems hushed with her own importunities.

What a gloom hangs all around! The dying lamp feebly emits a yellow gleam: no sound is heard but of the chiming clock or the distant watch-dog: all the bustle of human pride is forgotten. An hour like this may well display the emptiness of human vanity.

There will come a time when this temporary solitude may bu made continual, and the city itself, like its inhabitants, fade away, and leave a desert in its room.

What cities, as great as this, have once triumphed in existence, had their victories as great, joy as just and as unbounded, and, with short-sighted presumption, promised themselves immortality! Posterity can hardly trace the situation of some; the sorrowful traveller wanders over the awful ruins of others; and, as he beholds, he learns wisdom, and feels the transience of every sublunary possession.

Here, he cries, stood their citadel, now grown over with weeds; there their senate-house, but now the haunt of every noxious reptile. Temples and theatres stood here, now only an undistinguished heap of ruin. They are fallen, for luxury and avarice first made them feeble. The rewards of state were conferred on amusing, and not on useful members of society. Their riches and opulence invited the invaders, who, though at first repulsed, returned again, conquered by perseverance, and at last swept the defendants into undistinguished destruction.

How few appear in those streets, which, but some few hours ago, were crowded! And those who appear now no longer wear their daily mask, nor attempt to hide their lewdness or their misery.

But who are those who make the streets their couch, and find a short repose from wretchedness at the doors of the opulent? These are strangers, wanderers, and orphans, whose circumstances are too humble to expect redress, and whose distresses are too great even for pity. Their wretchedness excites rather horror than pity. Some are without the covering even of rags, and others emaciated with disease. The world has disclaimed them: society turns its back upon their distress, and has given them up to nakedness and hunger. These poor shivering females have once seen happier days, and been flattered into beauty.1

Why, why was I born a man, and yet see the sufferings of wretches I cannot relieve? Poor houseless creatures! the world will give you reproaches, but will not give you relief. The slightest misfortunes of the great, the most imaginary uneasiness of the rich, are aggravated with all the power of eloquence, and held up to engage our attention and sympathetic sorrow. The poor weep unheeded, persecuted by every subordinate species of tyranny; and every law which gives others security becomes an enemy to them.

Why was this heart of mine formed with so much sensibility? or why was not my fortune adapted to its impulse? Tenderness without a capacity of relieving, only makes the man who feels it more wretched than the object which sues for assistance.

(Mi-va of IU Wory, Letter I'X »II

t This Idea is repeated In the " Deserted Village :"—

"Ah! turn thine eye*,
Where the poor, houseless, shivering female lies.
She once, perhaps, In village plenty blest,
Has wept at talcs of Innocence dlstrest;
Her modest look* the cottage might adorn;
Sweet as the primrose peeps beneath the thorn.
Now lost to all; her friends, her virtue fled,
Near her betrayer's door ^e lays her htv.d."


Nothing can be finer or more exact than Mr. Pope's description of a traveller straining up the Alps. Every mountain he comes to he thinks will be the last: he finds, however, an unexpected hill rise before him; and that being scaled, he finds the highest summit almost at as great a distance as before. Upon quitting the plain, he might have left a green and fertile soil, and a climate warm and pleasing. As he ascends, the ground assumes a more russet color, the grass becomes more mossy, and the weather more moderate. When he is still higher, the weather becomes more cold, and the earth more barren. In this dreary passage he is often entertained with a little valley of surprising verdure, caused by the reflected heat of the sun collected into a narrow spot on the surrounding heights. But it much more frequently happens that he sees only frightful precipices beneath, and lakes of amazing depth, from whence rivers are formed, and fountains derive their original. On those places next the highest summits, vegetation is scarcely carried on: here and there a few plants of the most hardy kind appear. The air is intolerably cold —either continually refrigerated with frosts, or disturbed with tempests. All the ground here wears an eternal covering of ice and snow, that seem continually accumulating. Upon emerging from this war of the elements, he ascends into a purer and serener region, where vegetation is entirely ceased—where the precipices, composed entirely of rocks, rises perpendicularly above him; while he views beneath him all the combat of the elements, clouds at his feet, and thunders darting upwards, from their bosoms below. A thousand meteors, which are never seen on the plain, present themselves; circular rainbows, mock suns, the shadow of the mountain projected upon the body of the air, and the traveller's own image reflected as in a looking-glass upon the opposite cloud.

ISilory of the Earth and Atbnalti KOUK.

Of all men who form gay illusions of distant happiness, per haps a poet is the most sanguine. Such is the ardor of his hopes, that they often are equal to actual enjoyment; and he feels more in expectance than actual fruition. I have often regarded a character of this kind with some degree of envy. A man possessed of such warm imagination commands all nature, and arrogates possessions of which the owner has a blunter relish. While life continues, the alluring prospect lies before him; he travels in tb> pursuit with confidence, and resigns it only with his last brentli.

« 上一頁繼續 »