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[THE writings of OLIVER GOLDSMITH range over almost every department of literature; and in almost everything which he undertook, he excelled. The Vicar of Wakefield is an exquisite novel, The Deserted Village and The Traveller are ranked among our classical poetry. She Stoops to Conquer marks its author a dramatist of high order, while at the same time he is favourably known as the Historian of Greece and of England, the entertaining Naturalist, the amiable and accomplished Citizen of the World. The extract which follows is from his volume of Essays.]
Increased Love of Life with Age. Age, that lessens the enjoyment of life, increases our desire of living. Those dangers which, in the vigour 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 ardour to continue the game.
Whence, then, is 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 scarce 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 vigour 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 death forsakes him at a time when it could only be prejudicial, and life acquires an imaginary value in proportion as its real value is no more.
Our attachment to every object around us increases in general 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. From 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 ad
vantages, not because it gives them pleasure, but because they have known it long.
Chinyang 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 darkness for more than fifty years, and am grown familiar with distress. As yet, dazzled with the splendour of that sun to which you have restored me, I have been wandering the streets to find out 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 Chinyang, to wear out the wretched remains of life in my former prison; the walls of my dungeon are 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 whence 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 10 earth, and imbitter 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 no new story to make us smile, no new improvement with which to surprise, yet still we love it; destitute of every enjoyment, still we love it; husband the wasting treasure with increasing frugality, and feel all the poignancy of anguish in the fatal separation.
Sir Philip Mordaunt was young, beautiful, sincere, brave, an Englishman. 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 at 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 self-deluded man been apprised that existence grows more desirable to us the longer we exist, he would have then 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.
[DAVID HUME is extensively known both as a metaphysician and a historian. His History of Great Britain, though not a work of the highest authority, is yet one of the most easy, elegant, and interesting historical narratives in the language. The extract which follows is from this very popular book.]
Death and Character of Queen Elizabeth. Some incidents happened which revived her tenderness for Essex, and filled her with the deepest sorrow for the consent which she had unwarily given to his execution.
The Earl of Essex, after his return from the fortu-. nate expedition against Cadiz, observing the increase of the queen's fond attachment towards him, took occasion to regret that the necessity of her service required him often to be absent from her person, and exposed him to all those ill offices which his enemies, more assiduous in their attendance, could employ against him. She was moved with this tender jealousy ; and making him the present of a ring, desired him to keep that pledge of her affection, and assured him that into whatever disgrace he should fall, whatever prejudices she might be induced to entertain against him, yet if he sent her that ring, she would immediately, upon the sight of it, recall her former tenderness, would afford him a patient hearing, and would lend a favourable ear to his apology.