« 上一頁繼續 »
rable sage of Pennsylvania, the patriot and patriarch of America, is no more. With the plaudits of the wise and good; with the eulogies of whole* nations and communities, he hath received his dismission, and obtained the award of glory—“ As a citizen, “ whose genius was not more an ornament to human “ nature, than his various exertions of it have been “ precious to science, to freedom, and to his coun" tryf.” • What new occasion, then, (methinks I hear it in. quired) invites the present solemnity, and convenes this illustrious assembly of citizens, philosophers, patriots, and law-givers? Must it be said in answer, “ That, after the name of FRANKLIN hath been consecrated to deathless fame in the most distant coun. tries, the American Philosophical Society are now, for the first time, assembled, to pay the tribute of public homage, so long due to the memory and the manes of their beloved founder and head?
On me! on me, I fear, must the blame of this delay, in some degree, fall! On me, perhaps, a much greater blame will fall, than of a delay, rendered unavoidable, on my part, by some mournful familycircumstancesI mean the blame of having attempted a duty, which might have been better discharged by other members of this society, and at the time first proposed.
• See the Eulogiums of the Abbe Faucbet and M. de la Rochefcucault, before the deputies of the national assembly of France and the municipality of Paris.
† See Mr. Madison's motion, and the act of the representatives of the United States of America in congress, for wearing the customary badge of mourning, for one month, on occasion of his death.
Yet I know not whether this delay is to be ac. counted inauspicious to the subject before us. There are some phænomena so luminous, that they dazzle and dim the sight, at too near an approach; some structures so grand, that they can be beheld with advantage, only at a distance; some characters so interesting, that they can be duly appreciated, only by time.
The truth of this remark hath been feelingly acknowledged, and finely described, by the celebrated Pericles, in his anniversary commemoration of the Athenians slain in battle.
“ It is difficult,” says he, “ to handle a subject judiciously, where even probable truth will hardly gain assent. When the debt of public gratitude is to be paid to the memory of those, in whom whole communities have been interested, their nearest relatives, those who have borne a share in their illustrious actions, enlightened by an intimate acquaintance with their worth, warm in their grief and warm in their affections and praise, may quickly pronounce every eulogium to be unfavourably expressed, in respect to what they wish to be said, and what they know to be the truth; while the stranger pronounceth all to be exaggerated, through envy of those deeds, which, he is conscious, are above his own achievement:” For men endure with patience the praise of those actions only, in their cotemporaries, which their self-love represents as within their own reach. But time mellows a character into true relish, and ripens it into venerable beauty. The public, indeed, may sometimes too hastily bestow, and may likewise too long
withhold, the tribute of applause due to merit; but, in the latter case, will always make full amends, and decide at length with solidity of judgment, assigning to every worthy his true place in the temple of fame.
It seldom happens, however, that they who are first called to give celebrity to the actions of great men, are placed in that exact situation, either in respect to time or point of view, which may enable them to delineate a whole character, in all its proportions and beauty. This is a work, of all others, the most difficult in the performance; nor is the difficulty lessened by the acknowledged lustre and eminence of the character in view. And from hence it hath happened, perhaps, that, in eulogy and penegyric, but few of the moderns, and not many of the ancients, have been successful. While they have been striving to weave the garlands of others, their own laurels have withered and dropt from their brow!
Yet, neither the risque of character, nor the difficulties of the subject, ought to deter us from attempt. ing, at least, to pay the honours due to transcendent merit. The inimitable Longinus furnishes our excuse
“ In great attempts, 'tis glorious even to fail"
The desire of fame and posthumous glory,“ grasping at ages to come," as it bespeaks the native dignity of the soul of man, and anticipates his existence in another world, is also the most powerful incentive to moral excellence in this world. It is for the interest of mankind that so divine a passion should be culti
vated, rewarded, and held up for imitation. The neglect of it would have an unfriendly influence on virtue and public spirit. The wisest and most renowned nations have not only voted thanks and triumphs to their illustrious citizens, while living; but have celebrated them in eulogies, when dead; and have erected altars of virtue and monuments of honour, to perpetuate their names to succeeding ages and generations.
Thus did Greece and Rome, in the best days of their republics; and it was the “manner of the Egyp“ tians, the fathers of arts and sciences, not only to “ celebrate the names and actions of their departed “ worthies, but to embalm their bodies, that they “ might long be kept in public view, as examples of “ virtue, and, although dead, yet speaking.”* It was also an established custom of the Athenians, every winter, to solemnize a public funeral of their heroes who had fallen in battle.
“A day was appointed, and a tabernacle erected “ for the purpose; and for the space of three days " before the celebration of the ceremony, all were at " liberty to deck out the remains of their friends at " their own discretion. The bones of the slain were “ brought to the tabernacle at the day appointed, in " a grand procession. Ten cypress coffins were “ drawn on herses or carriages, duly ornamented, "one for every tribe; in each of which were sepa
• The same sentiments partly occur here as in the former Oration, respecting the use of funeral Eulogies—which could not be avoided as the Orations were of different dates, and, in some degree, before different audiences.
( * rately contained the bones of all that belonged to
“ that tribe. Distinguished above the rest, one “ sumptuous bier was carried along empty; as for “ all those that were missing, whose bodies could “ not be found amongst the slain. All who were o willing, both citizens and strangers, attended the “ solemnity, and the women who were related to the “ deceased took their station near the sepulchre,' * groaning and lamenting, while the remains were " deposited in the public burying-place, which stood “ in the finest suburb of the city; for it had been the “ custom to bury in that place all who fell fighting “ for their country, except those at Marathon, whose s extraordinary valour the Athenians judged proper " to honour with a sepulchre on the field of battle. “ As soon as this public interment was ended, some " orator, selected for the office by the public voice, " and always a person in great esteem for his high “ understanding, and of chief dignity amongst them,
pronounced over them the Euloge or Panegyric" and this done, they departed.”
This" interesting account is given by Thucydi. des*: And circumstanced as the people of these United States now are, and as our posterity, for ages to come, must be, in building up and completing the glorious fabric of American empire and happi. ness, it might be a wise institution, if (in imitation of this Athenian sepulture, or of the Genoese feast of union) we should make, at least, an annual pause; and consecrate a day to the review of past events,
• Book II.