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34

Ennui.

[March,

theory they leave to others. Now next to the Turks, the English suffer most from ennui. Do but hear the account which their finest poetical genius of the present century gives of himself, when he was hardly of age.

“ With pleasure drugged he almost longed for wo,

And e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below." The complaints of a young man in the bloom of life and the vigour of early hope, cannot excite much sympathy. But he interests all our feelings, when in the fullest maturity to which Lord Byron was permitted to attain, he still draws from his own bosom the appalling picture of unalleviated feelings, and describes the horrors of permanent ennui, in language that was doubtless but the mournful echo of an unhappy mind.

" 'Tis time this heart should be unmoved,

Since others it has ceased to move;
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,

Still let me love.
My days are in the yellow leaf ;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone :
The worm, the canker, and the grief,

Are mine alone.
The fire that in my bosom preys
Is like to some volcanic isle ;
No torch is kindled at his blaze-

A funeral pile.
The hope, the fears, the jealous care,
'The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love I cannot share,

But wear the chain.' Such was the harassed state of Lord Byron's mind, at the epoch of his life which seemed to promise a crowded abundance of exciting sensations. He had hastened to the consecrated haunts of classic associations; he was struggling for honour on the parent soil of glory; he was surrounded by the stir and tumult of barbarous warfare ; he had the consciousness, that the eyes of the civilized world were fixed upon his actions ; he professed to feel the impulse of enthusiasm in behalf of liberty, and yet there was not irritation enough in the new and busy life of a soldier, to overcome his apathy, and restore him to happy activity. He only sought to give away his breath on the field, and to take his rest in a soldier's grave.

The literature of the day is essentially transient The ranid

the newest strains; and now the lessons of former ages, though they have a persuasive eloquence for the tranquil listener, are as blank and as silent as the grave to the general ear. The voice of the past, all musical as it is with the finest harmonies of human intelligence, is lost in the jangling din of temporary discussions. Philosophy steals from the crowd, and hides herself in retirement, awaiting a better day; true learning is undervalued, and almost disappears from among men. It would seem, as though the wise men of old frowned in anger on the turbulence of the petty passions, and withdrew from the noisy and contentious haunts, where wisdom has no votaries, and tranquillity no followers. In the days of ancient liberty, the public places rung with the nervous eloquence of sublime philosophy; and the streets of Athens offered nothing more attractive than the keen discussions, the piercing satire, and the calm philanthropy of Socrates. But now it is politics which rules the city and the country; the times of deep reflection, of slowly maturing thought, are past ; and now that erudition is a jest, ancient learning an exploded chimera, and elaborated eloquence known chiefly by recollection, the ample gazette runs its daily career, and heralds, in ephemeral language, the deeds of the passing hours. The age of accumulated learning is past, and every thing is carried along the rushing current of public economy, or of private business. -Life is divided between excited passions and morbid apathy.

And is this current so strong, that it cannot be resisted ? Are we borne without hope of rest upon the ebbing tide? Can we never separate ourselves from the theory, and with the coolness of an observer, watch the various emotions, motives, and passions by which the human world is moulded and swayed? Can we not trace the influence of the changes and chances of this mortal state on the character and minds of mortal men?

Life is a pursuit. The moralists, who utter their heathenish oracles in the commonplace complaints of a heathenish discontent, tell us, that we are born but to pursue, and

pursue

but to be deceived. They say, that man in his career after earthly honours, is like the child that chases the gaudy insect; the pursuit idle; the object worthless. They tell us, that it is but a deceitful though a deceptive star, which beams from the summit of the distant hill; advance, and its light recedes ; ascend, and a higher hill is seen beyond, and a wider space is yet to be traversed. And they tell us, that this is vanity; this the worthlessness of human desire; this the misery and desolation of the human heart. But how little do they know of the throbbings of that heart ! How poorly have they studied the secrets of the human breast ! How imperfectly do they understand the feebleness and the strength of man's fortitude and will! If the bright object still gleams in the horizon, if the brilliancy of glory is

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still spread on the remotest hill, if the distant sky is still invested with the delicate hues of promise, and the gentle radiance of hope, pursuit remains a pleasure; and the pilgrim, ever lighthearted, passes heedlessly over the barren wastes, and climbs with cheerful ardour each rugged mountain. But suppose that brilliant star to be blotted out of the sky; suppose the lustre of the horizon to have faded into the dank and gloomy shades of a cloudy evening ; suppose the pursuit to be now without an object, and the blood which hope had sent merrily through the veins, to gather and curdle round the desponding heart. Then it is, that life is abandoned to persecuting fiends, and the springs of joy are poisoned by the demons of listlessness.

The scholar and the Christian have theirs guarantied against despair. The desire for intelligence is never satisfied but with the attainment of that wisdom which passes all understanding; and the eye discerning the bright lineaments of its perfect exemplar, can set no limits to the sacred passion, which recognises the connexion of the human mind with the divine, and places before itself a career of advancement, to which time itself can never prescribe bounds. But it is not with these high questions that we are at present engaged. We have thrown open the book of human life; we are to read there of this world and its littleness, of the springs of present action, of the relief of present restlessness.

We have said, that the pursuit of a noble object is in itself a pleasure. It is to the mind which holds up no definite object to its wishes, that the universe seems deficient in the means of happiness, and joy becomes a prey to the fiend of ennui.

Let us develop this principle more accurately. Let us examine into the nature of ennui, and fix with exactness its true signification. Let us see if it be a principle of action widely diffused. Let us ascertain the limits of its power; let us trace its influences on individual character. Perhaps the investigation may lead us to a more intimate acquaintance with our nature.

Ennui is the desire of activity without the fit means of gratifying the desire. It presupposes an acknowledgment of exertion as a duty, and a consciousness of the possession of powers suited to making an exertion. It is itself a state of iddleness, yet of disquiet. It is inert, yet discontented.

Such is ennui in itself. In its effects, it embraces a large class of human actions, and its influences are widel, on and throne

But when the primary motives of human conduct have failed of their effect, and the mind has become a prey to listlessness, the career, then pursued, let it be what it may, is to be ascribed to the pain of ennui. When the mind gnaws upon itself, we have ennui; the course which is pursued to call the mind from this self-destructive

process,

is to be ascribed to the influence of that passion.

Are our definitions indistinct? Let us attempt illustration. When the several powers and affections of man are, in the usual course of existence, called into healthy exercise, on objects suffcient to interest and satisfy them; this is happiness. When those powers and affections are exercised by objects sufficient to excite them in their highest degree, but where, being thus excited, there exists no harmony between the mind and its pursuits, where the affections are aroused without being soothed, where the chime is rung, but rung discordantly, there is misery. Where the powers of the mind are vigorous but unoccupied; where there exist a restless craving, an inquiet mobility, yet without any definite purpose or commensurate object, there is ennui.

The state of mind is strongly delineated in the language of the sacred writer.-

“I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do ; and behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun. And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly; for what can the man do that cometh after the king ? Even that which hath already been done. Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness; and I perceived also, that one event happeneth to them all. Then I said in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is, in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool. Therefore, I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me; for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

Or, to take an example from the earliest monument of Grecian genius. Achilles, in the pride of youth, engaged in his favourite profession of arms, making his way to an immortality secured to him by the voice of his goddess mother, sure to gain the victory in any contest, and selecting for his reward the richest spoils and the fairest maid, Achilles, the heroic heathen, was then fully and satisfactorily employed, and according to his semi-barbarous notions of joy and right, was happy within his own breast, and was happy in the world around him. When the same youthful warrior was insulted by the leader under whose banners he had rallied, when the private recesses of his tent were invaded, and his domestic peace disturbed, his mind was strongly agitated by love, anger, hatred, the passion for strife, and the intense effort at forbearance ; and though there was here room

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sorrow, full of thought and full of longing, feeling the sentiment of rapture yield to the faintness of uncertain hope, is half his time a true personification of ennui.

That ennui is a principle of action widely diffused, will hardly be denied by any careful observer of human nature. No individual can conscientiously claim to have been always and wholly free from its influences, except where there has been a life springing from the purest sources, sanctified by the early influence of religious motives, and protected from erroneous judgments by the constant exercise of a healthful understanding. For the rest, though few are constantly afflicted with it as an incurable evil, there are still fewer who are not at times made to suffer from its influence. It stretches its heavy hand on the man of business and the recluse; it makes its favourite haunts in the city, but it chases the aspirant after rural felicity, into the scenes of his rural listlessness; it makes the young melancholy, and the aged garrulous; it haunts the sailor and the merchant; it appears to the warrior and to the statesman; it takes its place in the curule chair, and sits also at the frugal board of old fashioned simplicity. You cannot flee from it; you cannot hide from it; it is swister than the birds of passage, and swifter than the breezes that scatter clouds. It climbs the ship of the restless who long for the suns of Europe; it jumps up behind the horseman who scours the woods of Michigan ; it throws its scowling glances on the attempt at present enjoyment; it scares the epicurean from his voluptuousness, and when the ascetic has finished his vow, it compels him once more to repeat the tale of his beads.

To the influence of ennui must be traced the passion for strong excitement. When life has become almost stagnant, when the ordinary course of events has been unable to excite any strong interest, ennui assumes a terrific power over the mind, and clamours for emotion, though that emotion is to be purchased by scenes of horror and of crime. “What a magnificent spectacle, said the Parisian mob, “how interesting a spectacle to see a woman of the wit and courage of Madame Roland on the scaffold !” And it is precisely the same power, which excites the sensitive admirer of works of fiction to ransack the shelves of a library for works of thrilling and painful” interest.

To the same kind of restless curiosity we have to ascribe the passionate declamations of the tragic actor, and the splendid mu

of the onera : the cunning feats of the village coniuror, and

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