« 上一頁繼續 »
Generosity, however was a part of his character, which he never forfeited. Beside lending money genteelly to many worthless companions, and becoming surety for every man who asked him, he did some truly charitable actions to very deserving objects. These were told to his honour; and people who had met with refusals from more considerate men, spoke of such actions as the genuine test of feeling and hu. manity. They misinterpreted scripture for indulgence to his errors on account of his charity, and extolled the goodness of his heart in every company where he was mentioned. Even while his mother, during her last illness, was obliged to accept of money from her physician, because she could not obtain payment of her jointure, and while, after her decease, his two sisters were dunning him every day, without effect, for the small annuity left them by their father, he was called a good-hearted man by three-fourths of his aquaintance ; and when, after having pawned their clothes, rather than distress him, those sisters commenced a law-suit to force him to do them justice, the same impartial judges pronounced them hard-hearted and unnatural : nay, the story is still told to their prejudice, though they now prevent their brother from starving, out of the profits of a a little shop which they were then obliged to set up for their support.
The abuse of the terms used by my friend, in regard to the character of this unfortunate man, would be sufficiently striking from the relation I have given, without the necessity of my offering any comment on it. Yet the misapplication of them is a thousand times repeated by people who have known and felt instances, equally glaring, of such injustice. It may seem invidious to lessen the praises of any praiseworthy quality; but it is essential to the interests of virtue, that insensibility should not be allowed to as.
sume the title of good-nature, nor profusion to usurp the honours of generosity.
The effect of such misplaced and ill-founded in, dulgence is hurtful in a double degree. It encourages the evil which it forbears to censure, and dis, courages the good qualities which are found in men of decent and sober characters. If we look into the private histories of unfortunate families, we shall find most of their calamities to have proceeded from a neglect of the useful duties of sobriety, economy, and attention to domestic concerns, which, though they shine not in the eye of the world, nay, are often subject to its obloquy, are yet the surest guardiang of virtue, of honour, and of independence.
Be just before you are generous, is a good old proverb, which the profligate hero of a much-admired comedy is made to ridicule, in a well-turned, and even a sentimental period. But what right have those squanderers of their own and other men's fortunes to assume the merit of generosity ? Is parting with that money, which they value so little, generosity ? Let them restrain their dissipation, their riot, their debauchery, when they are told that these bring ruin on the persons and families of the honest and the industrious; let them sacrifice one pleasure to humanity, and then tell us of their generosity and their feeling. A transient instance, in which the prodigal relieved want with his purse, or the thoughtless de. bauchee promoted merit by his interest, no more deserves the appellation of generosity, than the rashness of a drunkard is entitled to the praises of valour, or the freaks of a madman to the laurels of genius.
In the character of a man, considered as a being of any respect at all, we immediately see a relation to his friends, his neighbours, and his country. His duties only confer real dignity, and, what may not be so easily allowed, but is equally true, can bestow
real pleasure. I know not an animal more insignificant, or less happy, than a man without any ties of affection, or any exercise of duty. He must be very forlorn, or very despicable, indeed, to whom it is possible to apply the phrase used by my friend, in characterizing the person whose story I have related above, and to say, that he is no one's enemy but his own.
N° 24. SATURDAY, APRIL 17, 1779.
Non satis est pulcbra esse poëmata ; dulcia sunto.
Nature is for ever before us. We can, as often as we please, contemplate the variety of her productions, and feel the power of her beauty. We may feast our imaginations with the verdure of waving groves, the diversified colours of an evening sky, or the windings of a limpid river. We may dwell with rapture on those more sublime exhibitions of nature, the raging tempest, the billowy deep, or the stupendous precipice, that lift the soul with delightful amazement, and seem almost to suspend her exertions. These beautiful and vast appearances are so capable of affording pleasure, that they become favourite subjects with the poet and the painter ; they charm us in description, or they glow upon canvass. Indeed, the imitations of eminent artists have been held on an equal footing, in regard to the pleasure they yield, with the works of Nature herself, and have sometimes been deemed superior. This subject de. serves attention ; how it happens, that the descriptions of the poet, and the imitations of the painter, seem to communicate more delight than the things they describe or imitate.
In estimating the respective merits of nature and of art, it will readily be admitted, that the preference, in every single object, is due to the former. Take the simplest blossom that blows, observe its tints or its structure, and you will own them unrivalled. What pencil, how animated soever, can equal the glories of the sky at sun-set? or can the representations of moon-light, even by Homer, Milton, and Shakespeare, be more exquisitely finished than the real scenery of a moon-light night?
If the poet and painter are capable of yielding superior pleasure, in their exhibitions, to what we receive from the works of their great original, it is in the manner of grouping their objects, and by their skill in arrangement. In particular, they give una common delight, by attending not merely to unity of design, but to unity, if I may be allowed the expression, in the feelings they would excite. In the works of Nature, unless she has been ornamented and reformed by the taste of an ingenious improver, intentions of this sort are very seldom apparent. Objects that are gay, melancholy, solemn, tranquil, impetuous, and fantastic, are thrown together, with. out any regard to the influences of arrangement, or to the consistency of their effects on the mind. The elegant artist, on the contrary, though his works be adorned with unbounded variety, suggests only those objects that excite similar or kindred emotions, and excludes every thing of an opposite, or even of a different tendency. If the scene he describes be solemn, no lively nor fantastic image can have admission : but if, in a sprightly mood, he displays
scenes of festivity, every pensive and gloomy thought is debarred. Thus the figures he delineates have one undivided direction ; they make one great and entire impression.
To illustrate this remark, let us observe the conduct of Milton in his two celebrated poems, Allegro, and Il Penseroso.
In the Allegro, meaning to excite a cheerful mood, he suggests a variety of objects; for variety, by giving considerable exercise to the mind, and by not suffering it to rest long on the same appearance, occasions brisk and exhilarating emotions. Accordingly, the poet shews us, at one glance, and, as it were, with a single dash of his pen,
Russet lawns, and fallows grey,
The objects themselves are cheerful; for, besides having brooks, meadows, and flowers, we have the whistling plowman, the singing milk-maid, the mower whetting his scythe, and the shepherd piping beneath a shade. These images, so numerous, so va. rious, and so cheerful, are animated by lively contrasts : we have the mountains opposed to the mea. dows, Shallow brooks and rivers wide.' Add to this, that the charms of the landscape are lightened by the bloom of a smiling season; and that the light poured upon the whole is the delightful radiance of a summer morning :
Right against the eastern gate,