Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

There are likewise afflictions so overwhelming to humanity, that they leave no relish in the mind for any thing else than to enjoy its own melancholy in silence and solitude; and to a heart torn with remorse, or oppressed with sorrow, the gloomy severities of La Trappe are really a relief. Retirement is also the favourite wish of age. Many a statesman, and many a warrior, sick of the bustle of that world to which they had devoted the prime of their days, have longed for some quiet cell, where, like Cardinal Wolsey, or Charles the Fifth, they might shroud their gray hairs, and lose sight of the follies with which they had been too much tainted:

Though there is, perhaps, less to plead for immuring beauty in a cloister, and confining that part of the species who are formed to shine in families and sweeten society, to the barren duties and austere discipline of a monastic life, yet circumstances might occur, in which they would, even to a woman, be a welcome refuge. A

young female, whom accident or war had deprived of her natural protectors, must, in an age of barbarism, be peculiarly exposed and helpless. A convent offered her an asylum where she might be safe at least, if not happy; and add to the consciousness of unviolated virtue the flattering dreams of angelic purity and perfection. There were orders, as well amongst the women as the

men, instituted for charitable purposes, such as that of the virgins of love, or daughters of mercy, founded in 1660, for the relief of the sick

poor; with others for instructing their children. These must have been peculiarly suited to the softness and compassion of the sex; and to this it is no doubt owing, that still, in catholic countries, ladies of the highest rank often visit the hospitals and houses of the poor; waiting on them with the most tender assiduity, and performing such offices as our protestant ladies would be shocked at the thoughts of. We should also consider, that most of the females who now take the veil are such as have no agreeable prospects in life. Why should not these be allowed to quit a world which will never miss them? It is easier to retire from the public than to support its disregard. The convent is to them a shelter from poverty and neglect. Their little community grows dear to them. The equality which subsists among

these sisters of obscurity, the similarity of their fate, the peace, the leisure they enjoy, give rise to the most endearing friendships. Theirinnocence is shielded by the simplicity of their life from even the idea of ill; and they are flattered by the notion of a voluntary renunciation of pleasures, which, probably, had they continued in the world, they would have had little share in.

After all that can be said, we have reason

enough to rejoice that the superstitions of former times are now fallen into disrepute. What might be a palliative at one time, soon became a crying evil in itself. When the fuller day of science began to dawn, the monkish orders were willing to exclude its brightness, that the dim lamp might still glimmer in their cell. Their growing vices have rendered them justly odious to society, and they seem in a fair way of being for ever abolished. But may we not still hope that the world was better than it would have been without them; and that He, who knows to bring good out of evil, has made them, in their day, subservient to some useful purposes. The corruptions of christianity, which have been accumulating for so many ages, seem to be now gradually clearing away, and some future period may perhaps exhibit our religion in all its native simplicity.

So the pure limpid stream, when foul with stains
Of rushing torrents and descending rains,
Works itself clear, and as it runs refines,
Till by degrees the floating mirror shines;
Reflects each flower that on its borders grows,
And a new heaven in its fair bosom shows.

AN INQUIRY INTO THOSE KINDS OF DISTRESS WHICH EXCITE AGREE

ABLE SENSATIONS:

WITH A TALE.

It is undoubtedly true, thougb a phenomenon of the human mind difficult to account for, that the representation of distress frequently gives pleasure; from which general observation many of our modern writers of tragedy and romance seem to have drawn this inference, -that in order to please, they have nothing more to do than to paint distress in natural and striking colours. With this view, they heap together all the afflicting events and dismal accidents their imagination can furnish; and when they have half broke the reader's heart, they expect he should thank them for his agreeable entertainment. An author of this class sits down, pretty much like an inquisitor, to compute how much suffering he can inflict upon the hero of his tale before he makes an end of him; with this difference, indeed, that the in

quisitor only tortures those who are at least reputed criminals; whereas the writer generally chooses the most excellent character in his piece for the subject of his persecution. The great criterion of excellence is placed in being able to draw tears plentifully; and concluding we shall weep the more, the more the picture is loaded with doleful events, they go on, telling

of sorrows upon sorrows Even to a lamentable length of woe. A monarch once proposed a reward for the discovery of a new pleasure; but if any one could find out a new torture, or nondescript calamity, he would be more entitled to the applause of those who fabricate books of entertainment.

But the springs of pity require to be touched with a more delicate hand; and it is far from being true that we are agreeably affected by every thing that excites our sympathy. It shall therefore be the business of this essay to distinguish those kinds of distress which are pleasing in the representation from those which are really painful and disgusting. -The view or relation of mere misery can never be pleasing. We have, indeed, a strong sympathy with all kinds of misery; but it is a feeling of pure unmixed pain, similar in kind, though not equal in degree, to what we feel for ourselves on

« AnteriorContinuar »