Billeder på siden

monster to conviction. Yet calumny tried her arrows even upon him; enemies found Atheism in a book expressly devoted to its overthrow. A report so grateful to the envious and the ignorant, who comprise no inconsiderable portion of mankind, soon crept into wider circulation; the author felt himself deeply injured; the enthusiasm which had supported him through so much of his painful task rapidly declined, and the world lost the remainder of The Intellectual System of the Universe.

T. M.

Fuller proposed to apportion an hour's meditation to an hour's reading; a practice which he justly thought made a man master of his learning, and dispirited the book into the scholar. Now this habit of reflection is precisely the quality we are most deficient in.

Never was the appetite for knowledge so strong, or so widely diffused, and never did our literature wear a more sickly or famished aspect. The symptoms of a confirmed atrophy are seen in every feature. The mental repose which promotes digestion, in the moral system not less than the physical, and imparts a peculiar efficacy to our nourishment, is enjoyed by few in this feverish day of excitement. In vain we seek to fly from the crowd; in vain, like the wooddove, we sail away upon the wings of contemplation, to a more profound repose in bower or glen. The steam-engine-that mute Intelligence—which man has created for himself, reaches us with its mighty arms, whether we wander with Buckhurst in the glades of Knowle, or dream with Sidney under the oaks of Penshurst. In former times, many circumstances combined to perfect that happy tranquillity which is the atmosphere most congenial to thoughtful and imaginative studies. The land, to employ a phrase of Sir Philip Sidney, was strewed with a faint quietness for poets. The population, divided into a multitude of separate families, was united by the bonds of mutual necessities. The politics of a village were bounded by its hedges. Ministers fell, favourites dropped off, parliaments were dissolved, without creating so much sensation as a dance round the May-pole. I mention the fact as propitious to meditation, without asserting its advantage in a general sense.

How then would you distinguish the century in which our lot has fallen, or has it no particular physiognomy?


Oh, yes! Every age has its own characteristics. In the sixteenth century, imagination ; under James, eloquence and learning; at the Restoration, wit, festivity, and fancy; during the reign of Anne, polished and didactic harmony. Ours is smartness. I am laying out of the argument all individual exceptions, of which there are many. We are overrun by cleverness; that ingenious faculty which performs every little exploit easily. We are inimitable in dandling the kid; nothing can exceed our carvings upon cherry-stones-for their size! One shower of frivolous works follows another; it is the only Series to which there is no Finis. But whether it be that the soil is exhausted by its early harvest, or that the ardent draughts of excitement, frequently swallowed, stop our growth, I know not ; but it is too evident that, like some of our literary ancestors, as described by Ben Jonson, we make a Wit-Stand at twenty. Many of us never rise another inch. Something of this may be owing to our education. Lord Herbert, of Cherbury, when only twelve years old, challenged the students of Oxford to a logical disputation; and Sir Thomas More, hardly past his youth, lectured a numerous audience upon Augustine's celebrated treatise De Civitate Dei. To be acquainted with the names of such compositions is now a very scholarlike accomplishment.

But I weary you.

T. M.

Far from it. I was only thinking of that delicious quiet of which we have been talking. From how many lips has a prayer gone up for this delightful peacefulness, and never more sincerely than from Cowley's. It makes me melancholy to reflect upon so many of the best days of his too brief life consumed in business, so touchingly called by himself, the contradiction of his fate,—in decyphering correspondence, and in political negotiations. We should execrate Cromwell for driving him from Trinity, but for those charming Essays which his contempt of the world drew from him at Chertsey. After being caressed by the learned, trusted by the powerful, beloved by the virtuous,-on looking back, in the autumn of his days, over all the various scenes through which he had passed, what was his opinion of man? Take it warm from his own heart* ; “ Man is to man all kinds of beasts,-a fawning dog, a roaring lion, a thieving fox, a robbing wolf, a dissembling crocodile, a treacherous, decoy, and a rapacious vulture. The civilist, methinks, of all nations, are those whom we account the most barbarous, there is some moderation and good-nature in the Toupinambaltians, who eat no men but their enemies, whilst we learned and polite Christian Europeans, like so many pikes and sharks, prey upon every thing we can swallow.” He concludes his attack with an exhortation. If by any

The Dangers of an honest Man in much Company.

lawful vocation, or just necessity, men happen to be married to the world, he whispers in their ear the advice of St. Paul,—Brethren, the time is short; it remains that they that have wives, be as though they had none. In all cases they must be sure to retain the headship and authority over it. He does not forbid us to salute the world, if she happen to come in our way,—he only warns us from courting her as a mistress. I think it may justly be objected to Cowley, that he looked upon man only with the eyes of the moralist, not of the Christian ; that he forgot the probationary character of our sojourn. Individual advantage can rarely be consulted without endangering some higher claims. Nor let me be thought to speak with a sectarian narrowness of sentiment, for

True religion sprung from God above
Is, like her fountain, full of charity,
Embracing all things with a tender love,
Full of good-will and meek expectancy,
Full of true justice, and sure verity,
In heart and voice; free, large, even infinite,
Not wedgʻd in strait particularity,

But grasping all in her vast active spright, Bright lamp of God! that men would joy in thy pure light.


« ForrigeFortsæt »