網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

rissa. In his delineation of female delicacy, of highsouled and generous sentiments, of the subtlest feelings and even niental aberrations of virtuous distress strained beyond the power of human endurance, nothing ever equalled this author. But he could not shape out the image of a perfect gentleman, or of that winning gaiety of soul, which may indeed be exemplified, but can never be defined, and never be resisted. His profligate is a man without taste ; and his coquettes are insolent and profoundly revolting. He has no resemblance of the art, so conspicuous in Fletcher and Farquhar, of presenting to the reader or spectator an bilarity, bubbling and spreading forth from a perennial spring, which we love as surely as we feel, which communicates its own tone to the bystander, and makes our very hearts dance within us with a responsive sportiveness. We are astonished however that the formal pedant has acquitted himself of his uncongenial task with so great a display of intellectual wealth; and, though he has not presented to us the genuine picture of an intellectual profligate, or of that lovely gaiety of the female spirit which we have all of us seen, but which it is scarcely possible to fix and to copy, we almost admire the more the astonishing talent, that, having undertaken a task for which it was so eminently unfit, yet has been able to substitute for the substance so amazing a mockery, and has treated with so much copiousness and power what it was unfit ever to have attempted.

ESSAY IV.

OF THE DURABILITY OF HUMAN ACHIEVEMENTS

AND PRODUCTIONS.

There is a view of the character of man, calculated more perhaps than any other to impress us with reverence and awe.

Man is the only creature we know, that, when the term of his natural life is ended, leaves the memory of himself behind him.

All other animals have but one object in view in their more considerable actions, the supply of the humbler accommodations of their nature. Man has a power sufficient for the accomplishment of this object, and a residue of power beyond, which he is able, and which he not unfrequently feels himself prompted, to employ in consecutive efforts, and thus, first by the application and arrangement of material substances, and afterward by the faculty he is found to possess of giving a permanent record to his thoughts, to realise the archetypes and conceptions which previously existed only in his mind.

One method, calculated to place this fact strongly before us, is, to suppose ourselves elevated, in a balloon or otherwise, so as to enable us to take an extensive prospect of the earth on which we dwell. We shall then see the plains and the everlasting

hills, the forests and the rivers, and all the exuberance of production which nature brings forth for the supply of her living progeny. We shall see multitudes of animals, herds of cattle and of beasts of prey, and all the varieties of the winged tenants of the air. But we shall also behold, in a manner almost equally calculated to arrest our attention, the traces and the monuments of human industry. We shall see castles and churches, and hamlets and mighty cities. We shall see this strange creature, man, subjecting all nature to his will. He builds bridges, and he constructs aqueducts. He o

goes down to the sea in ships,” and variegates the ocean with his squadrons and his fleets. To the person thus mounted in the air to take a wide and magnificent prospect, there seems to be a sort of contest between the face of the earth, as it may be supposed to have been at first, and the ingenuity of man, which shall

occupy

and

possess itself of the greatest number of acres. immense regions of the globe with the tokens of human cultivation.

Thus the matter stands as to the exertions of the power of man in the application and arrangement of material substances.

But there is something to a profound and contemplative mind much more extraordinary, in the effects produced by the faculty we possess of giving a permanent record to our thoughts.

From the development of this faculty all human

We cover

science and literature take their commencement. Here it is that we most distinctly, and with the greatest astonishment, perceive that man is a miracle. Declaimers are perpetually expatiating to us upon the shortness of human life. And yet all this is performed by us, when the wants of our nature have already by our industry been supplied. We manufacture these sublimities and everlasting monuments out of the bare remnants and shreds of our time.

The labour of the intellect of man is endless. How copious is the volume, and how extraordinary the variety, of our sciences and our arts! The number of men is exceedingly great in every civilised state of society, that make these the sole object of their occupation. And this has been more or less the condition of our species in all ages, ever since we left the savage and the pastoral modes of existence.

From this view of the history of man we are led by an easy transition to the consideration of the nature and influence of the love of fame in modifying the actions of the human mind. We have already stated it to be one of the characteristic distinctions of our species to erect monuments which outlast the existence of the persons that produced them. This at first was accidental, and did not enter the design of the operator. The man who built himself a shed to protect him froin the

inclemency of the seasons, and afterwards exchanged that shed for a somewhat more commodious dwelling, did not at first advert to the circumstance that the accommodation might last, when he was no longer capable to partake of it.

In this way perhaps the wish to extend the memory of ourselves beyond the term of our mortal existence, and the idea of its being practicable to gratify that wish, descended upon us together. In contemplating the brief duration and the uncertainty of human life, the idea must necessarily have occurred, that we might survive those we loved, or that they might survive us. In the first case we inevitably wish more or less to cherish the memory of the being who once was an object of affection to us, but of whose society death has deprived us. In the second case it can scarcely happen but that we desire ourselves to be kindly recollected by those we leave behind us. So simple is the first

germ

of that longing after posthumous honour, which presents us with so memorable effects in the

page

of history.

But, previously to the further consideration of posthumous fame, let us turn our attention for a moment to the fame, or, as in that sense it is more usually styled, popularity, which is the lot of a few favoured individuals while they live. The attending to the subject in this point of view, will be found to throw light upon the more extensive prospect of

« 上一頁繼續 »