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"Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Or flattery soothe the dull, cold ear of death?"
He does not, however, intend to reprove the desire of the living to do honor to the dead. It is a wish natural to all men to pay some kind tribute to the memory of those whom they have loved and respected in life. When a friend or benefactor dies, all the affection that he has shown, all the good that he has done for us, and all our unkindness and ingratitude to him, come rushing back upon the soul; and since we cannot now go to the departed spirit, and tell it of our deep, heart-felt repentance for what we have done or left undone, we would put some inscription upon his tombstone, or plant some flower or shrub upon his grave, to show to the world our regret for the past, unavailing as it is, or delude ourselves for awhile with the pleasing fancy, that we are conferring a benefit upon the cold sleeper beneath.
So when a patriot dies, the nation for which he has lived and for which perhaps he has died, would make a semblance of atonement for the calumnies and slanders which too often she has allowed to be heaped upon him, or the undeserved neglect with which she has treated him while living, by the pompous procession, the solemn dirge, and lofty eulogy at his funeral, or by the marble carved in his likeness, or the majestic column raised above his tomb.
It is not this feeling which the poet rebukes. It is the pride of rank and station, contemptible as it is at any time, carried out where we should most expect that the realization of great and solemn truths would expel such vanities from the mind. He tells those who move in the higher walks of society not to ridicule the efforts of the poor and uneducated to give expression to feelings common to all humanity. "Even these bones," he says, as he pictures to himself the cheap, unpolished grave-stones, with the misproportioned images and unmusical poetry carved upon them
"Yet even these bones from insult protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
"Their name, their years, spelt by the unlettered muse,
And many a holy text around she strews,
To teach the rustic moralist to die."
Yes, to stand by such a grave, to lean upon the stone and weep, to read over and over again the inscription which in an unconcerned and better taught spectator might excite only a smile by its inelegance, often affords a purer consolation to the afflicted heart, than where the professed gardener, and architect, and poet have exhausted their skill. The tears that are shed may fall as lightly upon the unornamented turf, as upon a bed of roses. The sighs that are breathed may be
wafted as gently through the unpruned trees of the forest, as through. well-trimmed evergreens and willows. And the prayers that arise for strength to bear the bereavement, may ascend as acceptably to heaven from under a coarse, ill-cut garment, as from beneath the more fashionable garb of woe.
But I have passed by a part of the poem, which, from its beauty as well as the frequency with which we hear it quoted, demands certainly as much of our attention as any other. I allude to that in which he refers to the fact that men of great natural endowments are often placed in circumstances which give them little opportunity to exhibit them. And there is certainly no truth which we see more frequently exemplified than this. The works of nature, unlike those of man, are frequently done without any apparent object. No man ever builds a house, unless he thinks that it will be inhabited, or sows a field without the intention of reaping it, or makes a tool without the expectation that it will be used, or constructs a road or a bridge, unless he supposes that some one will travel over it. But nature apparently lavishes her gifts equally, whether they administer to the wants of any one or not. The sun shines as brightly and the rains fall as plentifully upon the uninhabited wilderness as upon the garden and fruitful field. The soil over which not a plough ever passes, is as fertile as that which is taxed to its utmost to contribute to the support of a crowded population. And the rivers upon which not even the canoe of the savage has ever been launched, are as broad and deep as those which bear upon their bosom the commerce of the world. So in her more beautiful and perfect works,
"Full many a gem, of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
So also has she acted with regard to man, in creating and assigning him his station in the world. To prove this, we have only to take the history of distinguished men, and show what they might have been, had their circumstances been often only in a very slight degree different from what they were. Take, for instance, such men as Alexander, and Cæsar, and Napoleon Buonaparte; and can we not easily imagine them placed where their names would never have been heard, or their influence felt, out of the circle of their own personal acquaintance? And if we say this of men of undoubtedly great natural endowments like these, how much more shall we say it of the majority of the kings and potentates of the earth, of the children, and idiots, and madmen, who simply on account of their parentage frequently wield the sceptre over millions of the race!
Nay, even in a country like ours, where we should expect that intrinsic worth would be of most avail, how often do we see men raised almost by chance to the most honorable and responsible stations! as, for instance, a man without any effort of his own, or any qualifications, real or pretended, for the office, placed upon the floor of congress; or a plain western lawyer, without any particular talents or popularity,
suddenly elevated by the force of circumstances to the chief magistracy of the nation.
But to return. We had arrived at the point where the stranger is represented as speaking of the inextinguishable dread of death-of the strong desire to remain a little longer on the earth, which is never entirely obliterated from the human soul.
"For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing, anxious being e'er resigned,
There is no part of the poem which has more claim to originality, and at the same time which is more true to nature, than this. The last lingering look! We have all of us read of the last look of the exile, as he is forced from his native land, from wife and children and the comforts of home, perhaps to dwell in a cold and cheerless clime, amongst strangers, where he shall never again see the faces or even hear the names of the companions of his better days. Oh, how much is there in that look, that lingering look! How much of affection, how much of anguish, as the tender recollections of childhood and youth and riper years flit across his memory, and the bitter thought comes home to him, that there are no more such scenes reserved for him in the dark and cloudy future!
We have seen too the last look of the emigrant described, as he leans over the side of the outward-bound vessel, and strains his eyes to catch one more glimpse at the group of friends, amongst whom, perhaps, are his aged father and mother, or his brothers and sisters, upon the shore; and when he can no longer distinguish their forms, he gazes at the beloved land that he is leaving; and when that too disappears in the distance, his attention is caught by some fog or mist upon the horizon, that he supposes is a part of the shore, and he keeps his eyes fixed upon that, till he finds that it is an illusion, and then turns away sad and disconsolate. He is going, it is true, willingly; it is true that he has anticipations of comforts and prosperity in the land to which he is bound, that he never knew at home. But he feels that he is leaving his parents and his people behind him, and he knows that it will be a great while, may be not at all, that he will see them again. And there is a sadness in the reflection, which even the prospect of greater ease and abundance away from them cannot dissipate.
But the last lingering look of the departing spirit! Who can describe its emotions as it takes its journey to
"The undiscovered country from whose bourne
What affecting remembrances must crowd upon it, even when, like the emigrant, it goes from the abode of want and strife and misery, to a land of peace and plenty, perhaps to the bosom of some dear friend who has gone there before it! Though gentle breezes waft it over an
untroubled ocean, and the star of hope beams bright upon its course, still, prompted by some inborn feeling which it cannot repress, it would cast one longing, lingering look behind it, as it glides away. But, oh, when, like the exile, it starts upon a rough and dreary road to a dark and uncomfortable land; when the sun of prosperity, in whose rays it once basked, has set for ever, and hope has disappeared behind the thick, murky clouds of despair; with what eager longing, as it is dragged from the bounds of earth, must it look behind it at the happiness it once enjoyed! With what agonizing emotion must it leave all that is pleasurable to it in existence!
From contemplations like these, the mind of the young stranger turns not unnaturally to the prospect of his own dissolution. He pictures it to himself as occurring soon. Not because he really supposes that it will be so, but from a certain liking which we all have for allowing our fancy to dwell upon scenes which happen to coincide with our feelings at the time-a fondness for building castles in the air. He imagines himself borne,
"With dirges due in sad array, Slow through the churchway path."
And he wonders what the villagers will say of him, and where they will put his body; and he picks out an unoccupied spot, beneath an aged tree, where he supposes they may lay him, and he fancies a great while hence, some stranger like himself passing by and inquiring after him, and some hoary-headed yeoman telling what he knew of him, and pointing to his grave; and he composes an epitaph for himself. Not such an one as he really expects, and possibly not even such an one as in a less melancholy mood he might desire; but it is one that harmonizes with the feelings inspired by the place in which he is. This epitaph, which is one of singular simplicity and beauty, closes the poem:
"Here rests his head upon the lap of earth,
A youth to fortune and to fame unknown,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send,
He gained from heaven, 'twas all he wished, a friend.
"No further seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode; (There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God."
"There is something in the misfortunes of our best friends that pleases us."
SOME years have passed since first I trode, in all the pride and dignity of new-fledged manhood, the halls of old YALE; and yet, despite the injuries which memory has suffered from the "rubbings of Time's iron tooth," there are some incidents, some "Hora Collegianæ," which occasionally recur to me as vividly as though it were but yesterday they happened. Sometimes a careless word will sink deep into my mind, and bring from out its recesses forms and faces which have long lain there undisturbed, waiting as it were the slightest incentive, and then springing up before the mind's eye in such a guise as to leave little "bodying forth" for the imagination to do. Glancing over the columns of a newspaper the other day, the words "Put me out," forming the caption of a paragraph, caught my eye, and forthwith wars and rumors of war, Mexico, Buenos Ayres, Bennett's Express, and the "Sun's" news collector, nay, even the very journal lying before me, were, for the time being, as completely forgotten as though the waters of Lethe had rolled over them for ages. But how was this? say you. Why, it was just thus. Those three little words at once annihilated some dozen or less of years, and I was again a merry, mad-cap, rollicking Sophomore, a modern night-errant, with little Latin and less Greek, but au fait in comic sections from an ellipse (ev siw, a sin of omission) to a diabolic curvature, or bender, as the initiated call it, (a sin of commission.) In a word, that " Put me out" of the paragraph, transferred me from my little parlor, (I say my," for, laus Deo, "I'm single yet,") and the truly bachelor's déjeuné I was enjoying, to my friend Frank Carson's apartment that was, a snug room au quatrième in 'old South Middle,' and to a scene in which the aforesaid Frank made what the reader may call, if he choose, a somewhat ludicrous appearance.