图书图片
PDF
ePub

siege every building and garden, which the faithful governor must destroy, as impeding the defensive means of the garrison, or furnishing means of offence to the besieger, occasions a wound in feelings which virtue herself has fostered : and virtue, because it is virtue, loses perforce part of her energy in the reluctance with which she proceeds to a business so repugnant to her wishes, as a choice of evils. But he, who has once said with his whole heart, Evil, be thou my good! has removed a world of obstacles by the very decision, that he will have no obstacles but those of force and brute matter. The road of justice

Curves round the corn-field and the hill of vines,
Honoring the holy bounds of property ;-*

but the path of the lightning is straight; and straight the fearful path

Of the cannon-ball. Direct it flies and rapid,
Shatt'ring that it may reach, and shatt'ring what it reaches.

our late

Happily for mankind, however, the obstacles which a consistently evil mind no longer finds in itself, it finds in its own unsuitableness to human nature. A limit is fixed to its power : but within that limit, both as to the extent and duration of its influence, there is little hope of checking its career, if giant and united vices are opposed only by mixed and scattered virtues; and those too, probably, from the want of some combining principle, which assigns to each its due place and rank, at civil war with themselves, or at best perplexing and counteracting each other. In

agony of glory and of peril, did we not too often hear even good men declaiming on the horrors and crimes of war, and softening or staggering the minds of their brethren by details of individual wretchedness? Thus under pretence of avoiding blood, they were withdrawing the will from the defence of the very source of those blessings without which the blood would flow idly in our veins! Thus lest a few should fall on the bulwarks in glory, they were preparing us to give up the whole state to baseness, and the children of free ancestors to become slaves, and the fathers of slaves !

Machiavelli has well observed, Sono di tre generazioni cervelli : l'uno intende per se ; l'altro intende quanto da altri gli è * Poetical Works, VII. p. 480.-Ed.

+ Ibid. p. 480.-Ed.

mostro ; e il terzo non intende per se stesso, per

dimostrazione di altri.* “ There are brains of three races.

The one understands of itself; the second understands as much as is shown it by others; the third neither understands of itself nor what is shown it by others.”+ I should have no hesitation in placing that man in the third class of brains, for whom the history of the last twenty years has not supplied a copious comment on the preceding text. The widest maxims of prudence are like arms without hearts, disjoined from those feelings which flow forth from principle as from a fountain. So - little are even the genuine maxims of expedience likely to be perceived or acted upon by those who have been habituated to admit nothing higher than expedience, that I dare hazard the assertion, that in the whole chapter of contents of European ruin, every article might be unanswerably deduced from the neglect of some maxim which has been repeatedly laid down, demonstrated, and enforced with a host of illustrations, in some one or other of the works of Machiavelli, Bacon, or Harrington. Indeed I can remember no one event of importance which was not distinctly foretold, and this not by a lucky prize drawn among a thousand blanks out of the lottery wheel of conjecture, but legitimately deduced as certain consequences from established premises. It would be a melancholy, but a very profitable employment, for some vigorous mind, intimately acquainted with the recent history of Europe, to collect the weightiest aphorisms of Machiavelli alone, and illustrating by appropriate facts the breach or observation of each, to render less mysterious the present triumph of lawless violence. The apt motto to su cha work would be — The children of darkness are wiser in their generation than the children of light.

- So grievously, indeed, have men been deceived by the showy theories of unlearned mock thinkers, that there seems a tendency in the public mind to shun all thought, and to expect help from any quarter rather than from seriousness and reflection; as if some invisible power would think for us, when we gave up the pretence of thinking for ourselves. But in the first place, did those, who opposed the theories of innovators, conduct their untheoretic opposition with more wisdom, or to a happier result ? And secondly, are societies now constructed on principles so few and so simple, that we could, if even we wished it, act as it were by instinct, like our distant forefathers in the infancy of states ? Doubtless, to act is nobler than to think : but as the old man doth not become a child by means of his second childishness, as little can a nation exempt itself from the necessity of thinking which has once learnt to think. Miserable was the delusion of the late mad realizer of mad dreams, in his belief that he should ultimately succeed in transforming the nations of Europe into the unreasoning hordes of a Babylonian or Tartar empire, or even in reducing the age to the simplicity—so desirable for tyrantsof those times, when the sword and the plough were the sole implements of human skill. Those are epochs in the history of a people, which, having been, can never more recur. Extirpate all civilization and all its arts by the sword, trample down all ancient institutions, rights, distinctions, and privileges, drag us backward to our old barbarism, as beasts to the den of Cacusdeem you that thus you could recreate the unexamining and boisterous youth of the world, when the sole questions were“What is to be conquered ? and who is the most famous leader?"

* Il Principe, c. xxii.-Ed.
+ Ούτος μεν πανάριστος, δς αυτό πάντα νοήση,

Φρασσάμενος τα κ' έπειτα και ές τέλος ήσιν αμείνω"
'Εσθλός δ' αυ κάκείνος, ός ευ ειπόντι πίθηται.
"Ος δέ κε μήτ' αυτός νοέη, μήτ' άλλου ακούων
Εν θυμώ βάλληται, ο δ' αύτ' αχρήϊος ανήρ.

Op. et Dies. 293, &c. Cic, p. Cluent. c. 31. Liv. xxii. 29. Diog. Laer. vii. 1. 21.-Ed.

In an age in which artificial knowledge is received almost at the birth, intellect and thought alone can be our upholder and judge. Let the importance of this truth procure pardon for its repetition. Only by means of seriousness, and meditation, and the free infliction of censure in the spirit of love, can the true philanthropist of the present time, curb-in himself and his contemporaries; only by these can he aid in preventing the evils which threaten us, not from the terrors of an enemy so much as from our own fear of, and aversion to, the toils of reflection. For all must now be taught in sport-science, morality, yea, religion itself. And yet few now sport from the actual impulse of a believing fancy and in a happy delusion. Of the most influential class, at least, of our literary guides—the anonymous authors of our periodical publications—the most part assume this character from cowardice or malice, till having begun with studied ignorance and a premeditated levity, they at length realize the lie, and end indeed in a pitiable destitution of all intellectual power.

To many I shall appear to speak insolently, because the public,—(for that is the phrase which has succeeded to The Town, of the wits of the reign of Charles II.)—the public is at present accustomed to find itself appealed to as the infallible judge, and each reader complimented with excellencies, which, if he really possessed, to what purpose is he a reader, unless, perhaps, to remind himself of his own superiority! I confess that I think very differently. I have not a deeper conviction on earth, than that the principles of taste, morals, and religion, which are taught in the commonest books of recent composition, are false, injurious, and debasing. If these sentiments should be just, the consequences must be so important, that every well-educated man, who professes them in sincerity, deserves a patient hearing. He may fairly appeal even to those whose persuasions are most opposed to his own, in the words of the philosopher of Nola :Ad isthæc quæso vos, qualiacunque primo videantur aspectu, adtendite, ut qui vobis forsan insanire videar, saltem quibus insaniam rationibus cognoscatis. What I feel deeply, freely will I utter. Truth is not detraction ; and assuredly we do not hate him to whom we tell the truth. But with whomsoever we play the deceiver and flatterer, him at the bottom we despise. We are, indeed, under a necessity to conceive a vileness in him, in order to diminish the sense of the wrong we have committed, by the worthlessness of the object.

Through no excess of confidence in the strength of my talents, but with the deepest assurance of the justice of my cause, I bid defiance to all the flatterers of the folly, and foolish self-opinion of the half-instructed many ;-to all who fill the air with festal explosions and false fires sent up against the lightnings of heaven, in order that the people may neither distinguish the warning flash nor hear the threatening thunder! How recently did we stand alone in the world? And though the one storm has blown over, another may even now be gathering : or haply the hollow murmur of the earthquake within the bowels of our own commonweal

may strike a direr terror than ever did the tempest of foreign warfare. Therefore, though the first quatrain is no longer applicable, yet the moral truth and the sublime exhortation of the following sonnet can never be superannuated. With it I conclude this essay, thanking God that I have communed with, honored, and loved its wise and high-minded author. To know that such men are among us, is of itself an antidote against despondence :

[graphic]

Another year !-another deadly blow!
Another mighty empire overthrown!
And we are left, or shall be left, alone ;
The last that dares to struggle with the foe.
'Tis well! from this day forward we shall know
That in ourselves our safety must be sought;
That by our own right hands it must be wrought;
That we must stand unpropt or be laid low.
O dastard! whom such foretaste doth not cheer!
We shall exult, if they, who rule the land,
Be men who hold its many blessings dear,
Wise, upright, valiant; not a venal band,
Who are to judge of danger which they fear,
And honor, which they do not understand. WORDSWORTH.

« 上一页继续 »