Слике страница
PDF
ePub

This is the bud of being, the dim dawn,
The twilight of our day, the vestibule;
Life's theater as yet is shut, and death,
Strong death, alone can heave the massy bar,
This gross impediment of clay remove,
And make us embryos of existence free.
From real life, but little more remote
Is he, not yet a candidate for light,
The future embryo, slumb'ring in his sire.
Embryos we must be, till we burst the shell,
Yon ambient azure shell, and spring to life,
The life of gods, 0 transport! and of man.

O ye blest scenes of permanent delight!
Full above measure! lasting, beyond bound !
A perpetuity of bliss is bliss.
Could you, so rich in rapture, fear an end,
That ghastly thought would drink up all your joy,
And quite unparadise the realms of light.
Safe are you lodged above these rolling spheres;
The baleful influence of whose giddy dance
Sheds sad vicissitude on all beneath.
Here teems with revolutions every hour;
And rarely for the better; or the best,
More mortal than the common births of fate.
Each moment has its sickle, emulous
Of time's enormous scythe, whose ample sweep
Strikes empires from the root; each moment plays
His little weapon in the narrower sphere
Of sweet domestic comfort, and cuts down
The fairest bloom of sublunary bliss.

Bliss ! sublunary bliss ! - proud words, and vain!
Implicit treason to divine decree!
A bold invasion of the rights of heaven!
I clasped the phantoms, and I found them air.
O had I weighed it ere my fond embrace !
What darts of agony had missed my

heart! Death! great proprietor of all! 'tis thine To tread out empire, and to quench the stars. The sun himself by thy permission shines; And, one day, thou shalt pluck him from his sphere. Amid such mighty plunder, why exhaust Thy partial quiver on a mark so mean? Why thy peculiar rancor wreaked on me? Insatiate archer! could not one suffice ? Thy shaft flew thrice; and thrice my peace was slain;

And thrice, ere thrice yon moon had filled her horn.
O Cynthia! why so pale? Dost thou lament
Thy wretched neighbor ? Grieve to see thy wheel
Of ceaseless change outwhirled in human life?
How wanes my borrowed bliss ! from fortune's smile,
Precarious courtesy ! not virtue's sure,
Self-given, solar ray of sound delight.

In every varied posture, place, and hour,
How widowed every thought of every joy!
Thought, busy thought! too busy for my peace!
Thro' the dark postern of time long elapsed,
Led softly, by the stillness of the night,
Led, like a murderer, (and such it proves!)
Strays (wretched rover !) o'er the pleasing past;
In quest of wretchedness perversely strays;
And finds all desert now; and meets the ghosts
Of my departed joys; a num’rous train !
I rue the riches of my former fate;
Sweet comfort's blasted clusters I lament;
I tremble at the blessings once so dear;
And every pleasure pains me to the heart.

THE SKEPTIC.

BY DAVID HUME.

[David Hume, Scotch philosopher and historian, was born at Edinburgh, April 26, 1711. At first a merchant's clerk, he went to France to write in seclusion his “ Treatise of Human Nature,” which fell flat, but is now a classic. He published Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary," in 1742 and 1752 ; in the latter year also his “ Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals," from 1754 to 1761 “ The History of England,” and in the mean time the “ Natural History of Religion.” In 1763–1766 he was in France ; 1767-1769 an undersecretary of state. He died August 25, 1776.]

I HAVE long entertained a suspicion, with regard to the decisions of philosophers upon all subjects, and found in myself a greater inclination to dispute than assent to their conclusions. There is one mistake, to which they seem liable, almost without exception; they confine too much their principles, and make no account of that vast variety which nature has so much affected in all her operations. When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favorite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural

a

effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phenomenon, though by the most violent and absurd reasoning. Our own mind being narrow and contracted, we cannot extend our conception to the variety and extent of nature ; but imagine that she is as much bounded in

; her operations, as we are in our speculation.

But if ever this infirmity of philosophers is to be suspected on any occasion, it is in their reasonings concerning human life, and the methods of attaining happiness. In that case, they are led astray, not only by the narrowness of their understandings, but by that also of their passions. Almost every one has a predominant inclination, to which his other desires and affections submit, and which governs him, though, perhaps, with some intervals, through the whole course of his life. It is difficult for him to apprehend that anything which appears totally indifferent to him can ever give enjoyment to any person, or can possess charms, which altogether escape his observation. His own pursuits are always, in his account, the most engaging: the objects of his passion, the most valuable : and the road, which he pursues the only one that leads to happiness.

But would these prejudiced reasoners reflect a moment, there are many obvious instances and arguments, sufficient to undeceive them, and make them enlarge their maxims and principles. Do they not see the vast variety of inclinations and pursuits among our species; where each man seems fully satisfied with his own course of life, and would esteem it the greatest unhappiness to be confined to that of his neighbor? Do they not feel in themselves that what pleases at one time, displeases at another, by the change of inclination; and that it is not in their power, by their utmost efforts, to recall that taste or appetite which formerly bestowed charms on what now appears indifferent or disagreeable? What is the meaning therefore of those general preferences of the town or country life, of a life of action or one of pleasure, of retirement or society; when, besides the different inclinations of different men, every one's experience may convince him that each of these kinds of life is agreeable in its turn, and that their variety or their judicious mixture chiefly contributes to the rendering all of them agreeable ?

But shall this business be allowed to go altogether at adventures ? And must a man consult only his humor and inclination, in order to determine his course of life, without employing his reason to inform him what road is preferable, and leads most

a

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

surely to happiness? Is there no difference, then, between one man's conduct and another?

I answer, there is a great difference. One man, following his inclination, in choosing his course of life, may employ much surer means for succeeding than another, who is led by inclination into the same course of life, and pursues the same object. Are riches the chief object of your desires ? Acquire skill in your profession ; be diligent in the exercise of it; enlarge the circle of your friends and acquaintance ; avoid pleasure and expense; and never be generous, but with a view of gaining more than you could save by frugality. Would you acquire the public esteem? Guard equally against the extremes of arrogance and fawning. Let it appear that you set a value upon yourself, but without despising others. If you fall into either of the extremes, you either provoke men's pride by your insolence, or teach them to despise you by your timorous submission, and by the mean opinion which you seem to entertain of yourself.

These, you say, are the maxims of common prudence and discretion ; what every parent inculcates on his child, and what every man of sense pursues in the course of life which he has chosen.

What is it then you desire more? Do you come to a philosopher as to a cunning man, to learn something by magic or witchcraft, beyond what can be known by common prudence and discretion ?-Yes; we come to a philosopher to be instructed, how we shall choose our ends, more than the means for attaining these ends: we want to know what desire we shall gratify, what passion we shall comply with, what appetite we shall indulge. As to the rest, we trust to common sense, and the general maxims of the world, for our instruction.

I am sorry, then, I have pretended to be a philosopher: for I find your questions very perplexing; and am in danger, if my answer be too rigid and severe, of passing for a pedant and scholastic; if it be too easy and free, of being taken for a preacher of vice and immorality. However, to satisfy you, I shall deliver my opinion upon the matter, and shall only desire you to esteem it of as little consequence as I do myself. By that means you will neither think it worthy of your ridicule nor your anger.

If we can depend upon any principle, which we learn from philosophy, this, I think, may be considered as certain and undoubted, that there is nothing, in itself, valuable or despicable, desirable or hateful, beautiful or deformed; but that these

attributes arise from the particular constitution and fabric of human sentiment and affection. What seems the most delicious food to one animal, appears loathsome to another : what affects the feeling of one with delight, produces uneasiness in another. This is confessedly the case with regard to all the bodily senses : but, if we examine the matter more accurately, we shall find that the same observation holds even where the mind concurs with the body, and mingles its sentiment with the exterior appetite.

Desire this passionate lover to give you a character of his mistress : he will tell you that he is at a loss for words to describe her charms, and will ask you very seriously, if ever you were acquainted with a goddess or an angel? If you answer that you never were : he will then say that it is impossible for you to form a conception of such divine beauties as those which his charmer possesses ; so complete a shape ; such well-proportioned features; so engaging an air; such sweetness

' of disposition ; such gayety of humor. You can infer nothing, however, from all this discourse, but that the poor man is in love ; and that the general appetite between the sexes, which nature has infused into all animals, is in him determined to a particular object by some qualities which give him pleasure. The same divine creature, not only to a different animal, but also to a different man, appears a mere mortal being, and is beheld with the utmost indifference.

Nature has given all animals a like prejudice in favor of their offspring. As soon as the helpless infant sees the light, though in every other eye it appears a despicable and a miserable creature, it is regarded by its fond parent with the utmost affection, and is preferred to every other object, however perfect and accomplished. The passion alone, arising from the original structure and formation of human nature, bestows a value on the most insignificant object.

We may push the same observation further, and may conclude that, even when the mind operates alone, and feeling the sentiment of blame or approbation, pronounces one object deformed and odious, another beautiful and amiable; I say that, even in this case, those qualities are not really in the objects, but belong entirely to the sentiment of that mind which blames or praises. I grant, that it will be more difficult to make this proposition evident, and, as it were, palpable, to negligent thinkers; because nature is more uniform in the sentiments

« ПретходнаНастави »