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“I am ill-satisfied,” said he, “with the newspaper, business style of an epistle, with which an hour or two snatched from my studies would furnish me ; but rather delight to sit down and gradually estrange myself awhile from books and mathematical lore till bygone days come clustering freshly on my memory, and I can leave the painful straining of the mind at what it with difficulty comprehends, to enjoy the unrestrained intercourse which long associations teach it at once to understand and feel. Then I can write to you as I would; nor at such times am I apt to believe that the highest flights of science in the firmament or elsewhere, can inspire thoughts worth the simple, kind word, with which one fellow mortal can cheer another on, in their common pilgrimage.”
His correspondence is throughout a realization of this, his ideal of letter-writing—and the benefit he derived to himself, could not have been less than the happiness he conferred. Under the impulse imparted in writing one of these letters, at a time of severe trial, he says, “I will fill all my future with hope, with bright undimmed hope.” The constant habit of communion with faithful and judicious friends, did much to afford that stimulus so needful to nerve him to the endurance of many trials and much physical suffering.
He was fortunate above most young persons, in early obtaining a clear idea of the worth of a liberal education, and the distinct advantages to be secured by it. He was fortunate in being always under the influence of urgent and healthful incentives to gain what he sought. But his path was obstructed with unusual difficulties. From the time of entering college, his family friends could afford him but little pecuniary aid, though their sympathy might animate him to the noblest undertakings. Yet he aimed to secure all the advantages of the ordinary course of studies, while making at the same time most of his acquisitions in astronomy. To accomplish this, there was need often of great self-denial and fortitude in his constant struggle with penury. She
invaded the solitude of his study with her unwelcome presence, to perplex a mind devoted to the noblest intellectual toil, to disturb his repose after long wakefulness and weariness, to dampen the joy of new born discoveries, and darken the prospects of better days, to threaten him even with banishment from the university, and shut the doors against his return. Yet by no means did “Chill penury repress his noble rage,”
or corrode his fine sensibilities, or blight his gentle affections. Mason was blessed not only with a happy disposition and superior natural abilities, but he was fortunate in having received a home education fitted to his temperament and talents. His own relations were, some of them, judicious and accomplished teachers. Consequently his childhood must have been a period of uniform sunshine. His love for books was cherished, and his ambition was excited by proper motives. Hence in after life he was not disturbed by the meaner passions. He was an enthusiast in his pursuits, open and artless in unfolding his projects, but never ostentatious. He was doubtless anxious for fame, and desired that his name might not be forgotten in the grave, but he wished to be remembered only for wise and worthy deeds. “If vanity ever formed an ingredient in his character,” says one who knew him long and well, “he must have very early banished it. Nothing could displease him more than flattery: for he had studied himself with too close a scrutiny to be turned aside by the hasty remarks of others from the station his better judgment had awarded to him. It was an incense, too mean to find favor in the sight of one, who had weighed all his powers in the balance of sober reason. Like every man of lofty aim, he was never able to rest satisfied with past attainments, but kept his eye always turned towards the future, too little satisfied with the present growth and station of his faculties, to cast a self-complacent stare in the mirror of the passing scene.” The writer of this beautiful tribute, was a native of the town where Mason was born, and had been the companion of his childhood. After a long separation, they were brought together again on college ground, where their former intimacy was renewed, during the latter part of Mason's Senior year. The earliest as well as the latest recollections of this friend, are published in the volume of memoirs, forming one of its most interesting portions. We shall give his description of Mason's visit to his birth-place, Washington, Ct., and to the grave of his mother, who died when he was three years old. His father, the Rev. Stephen Mason, had been the pastor of the parish, formerly the residence of the late Dr. Porter, president of the Theological Seminary, at Andover, after whom his son was named. He removed from Washington, while his son was yet a child, but not before his memory had received deep impressions of the scenery and many of the inhabitants of his native place. During his absence, he had resided in different places, remote from each other, having found successively a home in the city of Richmond, at the island of Nantucket, then at Ellington, and finally at New Haven, where he had nearly completed his college course and won much notice as an astronomer. In the full flush of honors and hope, he left Yale at the finest season of the year, to spend his last college vacation in the rural village where he was born, and to which he was returning, af. ter years of absence. But we must let the companion of this journey describe some of the impressions and incidents of this romantic visit.
“The first opportunity that preVol. III. 41
sented itself to me of renewing my acquaintance with Mason, was in the spring vacation of 1839, when he visited Washington to see again faces once familiar to him, and renew those associations which formed some of the brightest links in the chain of his existence. I have never been more happily disappointed, than in discovering and ...; the mistaken opinion I had forme of his character. I had looked for the philosopher—the man of theories and calculation, and found only the child of nature, with an intellect clear and strong enough to pry into her deepest works, and a soul to feel their beauty. He showed a taste of the most refined order, and feelings of the most exquisite texture, while his simplicity, and I may say meekness of heart, lent a peculiar charm to his whole conversation.” “He delighted to linger about the house where he was born, and to stroll through the garden and orchard ; and he pointed out to me, with much emotion, the very room where his own mother first told him of the way to heaven. “Almost the first thing I can remember,’ he observed, “is the smile with which she swung me backward and forward upon her foot, and the kiss with which she bade me good night !” The love that he cherished for this amiable parent was one of the strongest ties that bound him to the past. His native village needed no other hold upon his affections, while it contained the ashes of one so dear to his remembrance. He was often heard to say that if he cherished any one feeling more than another, it was that her spirit still hovered around him to keep him from temptation by day, and to watch over his pillow by night.” “I remember well his first visit to her grave. It was almost evening, and the sun was just disappearing from the hill-tops. He stood a moment by the monument, and then reclining against the mound that was heaped above her, he dropped his head upon his breast and wept with the sorrow and simplicity of a child. It was the grave of his mother: of that mother who first soothed his rest, from whose lips he had learned to lisp the first accents of an infant's prayer. How little did we think, as he bent over her tomb, that he too in the short space of a year and a half, was to sleep with slumbers as unbroken as hers ''' A record of his own feelings during this visit was made in the following lines: on Revisiting the scenes of MY chi LD. hood.
At last I tread once more the wonted haunts
On each remembered spot the dizzy slight
Is life no more ?–Oh! never yet where dwelt The image of the Almighty hath the breath Of Time's defied and fruitless power been
All else shall quail before the blast of death: The sun ol be as blood; the earth shall But *ional soul shall tread beneath Her disembodied might, the chain of Time That dare not so near God's own glory climb.”
The temperament of Mason was naturally cheerful, and yet he had most serious and truthful views of life. His seriousness was not that of a morbid misanthropy, or of blighted hope, or of mere sentimentalism, for Providence had given him success in his projects, and no one ever sought more anxiously than he for what is real in life, and its relations, or was less disturbed by imaginary evils. The vanity of human life was deeply impressed on his mind at a time when he was in the midst of pressing engage
ments and full of plans for the future. But this impression served not to dampen in the least his zeal in his undertakings, while it produced its proper effect in unfolding the importance of religious truth, and turning his mind often and earnestly to a future life.
The following extracts from his correspondence during the last year of his life, will furnish favorable specimens of his talent in this species of composition, while they disclose his moral views of life and the state of his religious impressions during that period.
In February, 1840, he writes as follows to his aunt, Mrs. Turner of Richmond.
“I have not found my fellow beings more selfish or faithless or flinty than I expected to find them,-and I have found some warm hearts; and I am accustomed to believe that friendship, in many cases at least, is something inore than a name. I have found no promises fail me, and as I rely somewhat more upon my own resources than upon the promises of others, I am not likely to die of disappointed hope, if they should in future prove worthless and faithless.”
“Whatever slight misanthropic symptoms may have appeared in my case, they have been engendered within myself, and have not arisen from any coldness or neglect on the part of others. I have no where placed confidence and been betrayed, no where cherished anticipations that were delusive. My weakness has rather arisen from a dissatisfaction with the wise order of things: a wish for existence in a world where the objects of human toil may be somewhat nobler than they are here; where custom does not impede the affections of the heart and throw a cold formality over the intercourse of society. Yet this was not it; these were but foolish day-dreams. I have prospects of same and distinction as fair as I can wish or expect. But they please me less than they did six months ago. It seems to me a poor recompense for the strife, the tossing to and fro, the harassing of life with objects of ambition and fame, to be rewarded after death with the empty coldness with which men are wont to pronounce the names of their predecessors who have made some little figure in the world, if indeed they ever happen luckily to have a name and being in the memory of the future.
“I doubt whether I have been wise to meditate so soon on the text, “all is vanity,” and whether it were not better to find it out by successive experiences later in life. Perhaps this moody season of self-contemplation has bestowed on me two advantages—an early conviction that the motives which generally actuate men are scarcely worth much consideration or esteem, and that the only sure anchor of the spirit is religious principle; and further, a belief that with this stay for my foot, I should care as little for the troubles which untoward circumstances, baffled hopes, homeless love, or a world's coldness might bring upon me, as a man possessed of an ordinary stock of sensibility can care. At least at present I fancy I could school myself to a hearty contempt of them generally, however they ... immoderately affect me with a passin pang. But the world is before me, must be up and doing while the day lasts. I have thought much and am more deepl read in the philosophy of life than } should have been had I not struggled with its adversities. I rise from my dreams with the vigor of the morning, yet with the soberness of one that has seen the evening.”
In another letter written at a still later period he says:—
“I have spent some three or four weeks lately in New York, employed in the process of becoming an author: an experiment usually, whether with or without reason, marvelously fostering to the pride of intellect; though the time has passed when such a circumstance would have foolishly moved me. For I look upon ambition as a motive very little worthy of an immortal soul; and indeed, many of the other motives to which mankind in general, and with them doubtless myself, bow down. I do not now and really never did ask shelter of any vain philosophy; nor do I care very much for or appreciate highly any other stimulus of thought or action, than that which considers a longer period than the swift frail moment for which our earthly existence lasts.”
These quotations show that he was not only learned in the wisdom of the schools, but that he had deeply reflected upon the great moral lessons of life. They account for his deep yet rational seriousness at this period, though at the same time he was constantly tranquil and even cheerful.
He evidently understood the admonition given him by the frequent attacks of that disease which at last
proved fatal—though it would seem that few persons afflicted with his flattering though fatal malady, were ever more sanguine in hoping for a recovery from each successive attack. Still there is nothing more affecting in the story of Mason, than his devotion to his earnest purposes, if so be he might accomplish them before his race should be run. To meet the pecuniary liabilities incurred for his education, and at the same time to do something which should live after him and be of permanent value, and deserve the remembrance of the wise and good, were objects he quickened his pace to gain, even when the wing of the death-angel was casting its dark, chilling shadows on his path. His intense labors doubtless shortened his days; though, with the utmost care, it is not probable that so frail a constitution could have endured a long life. Still, his exposure of health and life was doubtless great, and his biographer has taken no pains to conceal this great fault. The only poor apology for his habitual neglect of health, is, that physical weakness, and even alarming symptoms, were overlooked, under the strong impulses of savorite and multiplied engagements, and when the danger became immediate, it was too late to obtain relief. There is no doubt that Mason's intense zeal in his exciting and pressing occupation, also prevented that development of a religious character which was so peculiarly congenial to a mind like his. In the quotations from his letters, we have given his intellectual convictions, and on all points of practical doctrine and duty, they were, so far as we know, correct. But his personal feelings and hopes were referred to by himself but seldom, and with extreme reserve. To the world he was not known as a religious man, by a public profession of his faith. Yet his conduct was uniformly exemplary, however much his too earnest devotion to objects of worldly ambition might lead him to neglect his spiritual interests. During the last few months of his life, he sincerely regretted this neglect, and gave the whole weight of his testimony in opposition to his own course of life in this respect. “I have been wrong,” he exclaimed, with earnestness; “I should have met the subject before, but I am determined to seek till I find.” To a few confidential friends, his hope of heaven was revealed with many fears, with deep self-distrust, perhaps with more confidence, on the bed of death. The friend who had accoupanied him to his birth-place and his mother's grave, seems to have been made a confident of his religious feelings. He has informed us, that Mason “sought, with a care and diligence truly surprising, not only the Scriptures, but the works of some of the most eminent theological writers, among which, Butler's Analogy was his favorite. This book he read again and again, and wished, in our morning walks, to be constantly conversing upon the sublime topics of which it treats. The wonderful disposition of Providence in causing us to pass through a state of trial, in order to purify and exalt us for a better sphere, and the goodness of God manifested in the care he bestows on his children, exerted upon his mind a powerful influence. To die without a name, with all the schemes of life hidden in the grave, was a bitter cup for a soul like his to drink; but he at last seemed to be reconciled to the order of Providence, and said, more than once, that if it was the will of Heaven, he could give up all his fond anticipations of knowledge and fame, and consent to be forgotten.” A public commemoration is not called for, to ensure, on the part of
the acquaintances of Mason, a recollection of his talents or his virtues, and to such as were admitted to his intimate confidence, public praise would be but a poor consolation for the loss of so dear a friendship. They already understand, better than can be described to them, the moral beauty of that life which has passed away. They only can adequately estimate the loss, to the cause of learning, of so much genius, so passionately wedded to the noblest of the sciences. But the duty of public remem. brance rests on other and higher grounds. Though Mason perished in the morning of his ascendant course, his bright example may remain a fixed and guiding star to many who never heard of his name while he lived. The influence of distinguished excellence can be made immortal among men. The names of such as have left behind them enduring memorials of their wisdom and virtue, their nobleness of heart and devotion to truth, are always well employed, when they can be made to allure others by the rewards of well-doing, and nerve them with fortitude in times of trial. On this ground, the brilliant though brief career of Mason should be held in everlasting remembrance by his countrymen. The story of his life will inspire in the young a high ap: preciation of the value of liberal studies. It will quicken the members of our high schools and col. leges with generous impulses and noble aims. It will promote, wherever it is known, a zeal among the friends of our universities for their increased prosperity. It will ever be an honor to the most popular, and one of the oldest American universities, that the genius of Mason, under her educational and moral influences, early became so efficient, and awakened so much promise.