Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

but tottering edifice of spurious imaginative virtue. Let but the irresistible process go on a little further, and it will become as impracticable to uphold in credit the still extant opinion which admits of honour without justice or purity, and of magnanimity without benevolence, and of that thirst of glory which is sheer selfishness, as it would be now, after the mechanic arts have reached an unthought-of perfection, to keep in use the cumbrous hand-machines of the last century.

Much of the conventional law, and many of the usages of private life, and especially the unwritten code of international policy, have yet to undergo a revolution as great perhaps as that which makes the difference between the twelfth and the eighteenth centuries. All the vices, and all the talents, and all the institutions interested in the preservation of corrupt practices may oppose the advance of this renovation; but nothing short of the overthrow of Christianity and of civilization can arrest its progress. Nature (we use the word in a religious sense) NATURE is here at work with her noiseless mighty hand:-whatever is spurious is marked already for oblivion, and moves on to its home.

oves

SECTION IV.

FANATICISM THE OFFSPRING OF ENTHUSIASM ; OR

COMBINATION OF THE MALIGN EMOTIONS WITH SPURIOUS RELIGIOUS SENTIMENTS.

The Imagination, when inflamed by anger, or envenomed by hatred, exerts a much more decisive influence over the active principles and the character of men than otherwise ever belongs to it. Or we might rather say, that, by the aid of those strenuous elements of our nature, imaginative sentiments extend their empire, and bring under their sway minds of a robust order which would never have yielded to any softer impulses. A thousand fanatics have run their course of mischief who would have spurned religious motives altogether in the simple form of enthusiasm. Rancour has been the true reason of their religion, and its rule and end.

And as the empire of spurious religious sentiments is greatly extended by their alliance with the malignant passions, so do they acquire, from the same quarter, far more energy than they could boast in their simple state. A malign Enthusiasm carries human nature to the very extreme boundaries of emotion possible to man: nothing which the heart may know lies beyond the circle occupied by fanatical extravagance; and this circle of vehement sentiments includes many enormities of feeling or of conduct of which scarcely a sample is to be found in a country and in an age like our own.

In truth, little more than the trite surface of human nature meets the eye among a people like ourselves. Our theories and systems of morals hardly take account of upper and lower instances, while they are busied with what may be found in the mid region of mixed and moderate passions. Living as we do under the meridian of caution and mediocrity, history, when most faithful, often sounds like romance ; or even if we give credit to its narrations, we regard its lessons as of little practical significance now, inasmuch as whatever is virulent or terrible has fallen, we think, from the usage of mankind.

It has become somewhat difficult even to place ourselves so far in sympathy with extreme emotions as is necessary for understanding them. In all things what is profound has given way to what is familiar; or what once was fact is now thought of only as fit subject for fiction. Men of the present age are care-worn much oftener than melancholy; merry or jovial, rather than joyous; sagacious or ingenious, more than meditative; and so keenly attached to the passing moment, as to throw up their interest as well in the past as in the future. Order, custom, and utility, set bounds-and very narrow bounds, to all modes of conduct: the spirit of raillery quenches, or imposes a disguise upon whatever emotions are not trivial. It is not indeed to be regretted that the firm constitutions of society, in modern times, and its established notions, repress or confine so much as they do the profounder and more virulent impulses of the soul. But the fact of this change and improvement should always be kept in mind when the power of such emotions is to be calculated, or when conjecture is employed upon the possible events of another age. A free and equal government (and this is its praise) supersedes, nay almost extinguishes, the stronger passions. Private life, happily, is too secure, and public affairs are too well settled, to afford those sudden and extraordinary excitements which awaken the latent energies of men. It is despotism, plunging a ruthless hand into the bosom of domestic peaceit is ambition, immolating a thousand victims in an hour—it is popular fury, led on or repulsed by a single arm, that display the expansive force of the human mind when urged to the utmost excess of feeling.

Even those visible and natural excitements of the imagination, whence the deeper passions are wont to draw much of their vigour, are denied to us. England has all the beauties of picture; but they are beauties in miniature. What we look upon around us is the scenery of poetry, rather than of tragedy. And it is a fact, if not constant, yet ordinary, that those portentous corruscations of the passions which ally themselves readily with the imagination, have burst out from the thick gloom of a frowning Nature. Such excesses have chiefly appeared where awful scenery, or extreme violences of climate have seemed well to comport with egregious sentiments and frenzied actions. Man (that is to say when once effectively roused to action) acts quite another part than we think of, if his lot be to roam through howling solitudes - to traverse boundless and burning sands--to hide himself among cloud-covered precipices--to gaze upon the unalterable and intolerable splendour of the sky;—if often he stand aghast amid the carthquake or the hurricane, or be overtaken by sutry tempests, fraught with suffocation. It is in the heart of forests that are the ancient domain of enormous reptiles, or of savage beasts -it is where horror and death luk in the way, that the darker passions reach their fullest growth, and are to be seen in their proper force. All the principal or most characteristic forms of fanaticism have had their birth beneath sultry skies, and have thence spread into temperate climates by transportation, or infection.

No such rule must be assumed as absolute ..

« AnteriorContinuar »