Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

It is now morning. Still and glassy lies the lake, within its green and dew-sprent shores. Light mist hangs around, like a skiey veil, and only reveals the uncertain outlines of woods and hills The warm vernal air is just stirring in the valleys, but has not yet ruffled the water's mirror. Turns the eye upward, the misty vault opens into the calm, clear heavens, over which there seems suffused a genial spirit's breath. Far distant on the horizon flash out the gilded and reddening peaks, and from yonder crown of snow, a sudden radiance announces the risen sun. Now in the east stream the golden rays through the soft blue vapor. The breeze freshens, and comes loaded with fragrance from the woods. A faint, dark curl sweeps over the water; the mist rolls up, lifts itself above meadow and hill, and in gathered folds hangs light around the mountains. Away on the level lake, till it meets the sky, silvery gleams the sheeted wave, sprinkled with changeful stars, as the ever-rising breeze breaks it in ripples. Now the pennon, that hung loose around the mast, rises and fitfully floats. We spread the sail, and casting off from the shore, glide out with cheerful hearts on our voyage. Before us widens the lake; rock after rock receding back on either hand, and opening between, still bays, hung round with sparkling woods, or leading through green meadow vistas to blue sunny hills.

It is now noon. In the middle lake speeds the bark over light glancing waves. Dark opens down the clear depth. White toss the crests of foam, and as the sail stoops to the steady wind, swift flies the parted water round the prow, and rushing pours behind the stern. The distant shores glow bright in the sun, that alone in the heaven looks unveiled with vivifying goodness over the earth. How high and broad swells the sky! The agitated lake tosses like a wide field of snowy blossoms. Sweep aftersweep of the long-retiring shores; hill gleaming over hill, up to the shadowy mountains; and over these, Alpine needles, shooting pearly white into the boundless azure—all lie still and happy under the ever-smiling sun.

And now it is evening. The sun is sinking behind the dark mountains, and clouds scattered far in the east, float soft in rosy light. The sun is now hidden, and strong and wide sweeps up its golden flame, like the holy blaze of a funeral pile. The breeze slackens, the waves subside in slumber, and slowly the bark steers into its sheltering bay. Long shadows stretch from hill to valley, fall like dark curtains on the lake, and a solemn, subdued serenity broods, like a protecting spirit, over the hushed and quiet earth. Only the far summits yet retain their brightness Faint blushes stain the eternal snows, recalling the first dawning roses, like the memory of early joys in the tranquil moments of departing age. These, too, fade; but the evening star looks bright from the blue infinite, and like the herald of a better world, leads us softly to our haven.

A MOONLIGHT SCENE AT SEA.

No Dimple on the wave! — the queenly moon,
Throned in yon sapphire depths, beholds her face
Without a wrinkle in its mirror glassed.
Lo! rosy Twilight, quivering in the East,
Buries her blushes in the deepening gloom:
The stars blaze forth, and ocean is begemmed
Thick with the miinic'd jewelry of Heaven 1

The sails are stirless; not a ripple breaks
Beneath our vessel's prow; but heavily
And unsustained, the graceful fabric reels,
In impotent gyrations, while her helm
Swings useless, nor avails the steersman's skill.
Close to the gaff the heavy ensign clings,
And the light stteamer that o'ertops the mast,
Unfluttering droops in the suspended air.
The idle crew, in many a listening group,
Throng round some toil-worn veteran of the sea,
Who improvises wonders. While their chief,
With stride impatient, traverses the deck,
And whistles a rude prayer to Boreas I
Of the Azores, September 2, 1835.

THE PROSPECTS OP THE AGE.

One of the most striking things in the menial history of modern times, is the interest which thinking men, of whatever class or pursuit, have taken in the political condition and prospects of the world. Even those whose lives have been the most retired, and whose habits the most studious, — even those who have sat on the top of Parnassus, — have shared in the agitations of the world around and beneath them. Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey, have each of them been politicians. Political Economy itself is a modern science: and modern Philosophy, in every form, has showed a marked interest in the vast questions that now agitate mankind.

But although this is striking, it is not strange. Strange would it Tather have been, if thinking men could have turned a cold and indifferent eye upon the stupendous questions which modern history is pressing upon their attention. For although these questions, in their broadest character, do not appeal directly to any selfish feeling, they do appeal to a powerful interest — the interest we feel in our kind. They bring home the subject to us, by the most intimate ties of sympathy. The welfare of the world presents to us, indeed, a vast, but not a vague or abstract theme. Its past history, its struggles and its failures, its risings and its fallings — are they not like the steps of our own experience? Its fortunes — are they not those of millions of beings, in whose hearts hope and fear, joy and sorrow, have throbbed, as in our own? The human condition — what is it but the extension of our own private history ? — what is it, but a mighty medium, through which our sympathies most naturally diffuse themselves? The man of Europe—whether the barbarian of the North, the effeminate slave of the South, or the more intelligent dweller in her middle regions— the inhabitant of populous Asia, and he who builds his lowly hut or his mud-wallcd city on

Vol. Yii. 7

the scorched plains of Africa — does he not feel — want — suffer — sorrow — as I do? Then is he part of myself: more than kindred, more than brotherhood, does he claim with me; the tie of humanity is the tie of absolute identity!

And then when we consider more particularly the fortunes of this great, widely-extended, and all-embracing humanity — when we behold the heavy clouds of error that have settled down upon this mighty mass of living beings — the clouds and the waves through which human reason has been 'sounding on its dim and perilous way' — when we behold, beneath this broad and gloomy veil of human delusions, the thousands of instruments whetted for slaughter, and engaged in the work of destruction, and the many engines which human ingenuity has devised, of grinding oppression and cruel torture; when we see how many great experiments in human happiness have failed,—the Assyrian, the Jewish, the Grecian, the Roman, the Feudal of the Middle Ages; when we contemplate all this, I say, can we look upon it as a tale of historic fiction, and pass it by as if it were but a vision of material clouds and storms, or of physical struggles and vicissitudes? No, it is reality; it is the real experience of human hearts: that world which has so long sighed for happiness, which has desired but never seen, and sought but never found — that world is still engaged in the battle-strife for liberty, for truth, and for happiness — still engaged, but with a better hope.

The validity of this better hope, however, is often called in question. There is an impression prevailing, to a considerable extent, I suspect, that there are insuperable barriers fixed in the circumstances of men, or in their very constitution, to any high state of improvement. It is imagined, by not a few, that the very elements of human nature are such as cannot, in its earthly condition, be wrought up into the elements of happiness. 'Do what you will with human nature,' they say, or they vaguely think, 'give it freedom, or bind it in the chains of despotism; enlighten it, or leave it in ignorance; refine it, or bow it down to vulgar degradation; do what you will with it, yet its exposures, its enemies, its temptations, will prove too strong for it: in freedom, it will become licentious; in bondage, base; enlightened, it will be crafty; and ignorant, it will be dull, not innocent; refined, it will be artificial and corrupt, and will be urged to evil by its miseries; degraded and vulgarized, it will only rush into still wilder excess.'

Now to this broad and fatal proscription, I cannot for one moment assent. I believe that men have failed, not because they could not, but because they would not, work out their own welfare. There is moral power enough in the world, and always has been, if it were only exerted, to control and to conquer any circumstances — to correct, not instantly, indeed, but gradually to correct, any evils — to modify governments, laws, institutions — to obtain knowledge and virtue — and, in one word, to rise to a point of elevation which the world has never yet seen, nor even conceived of. This power lies in individuals, and it lies in that aggregate of individuals, the world. The primary difficulty has not been the want of good governments, happy institutions, fair opportunities, abundant means, or all-sufficient powers. But the difficulty has been, that men have not been alive to their interests, that they have not intelligently pursued them, and that they have not had the moral will to pursue them, as they ought to have done.

There are, however, in regard to these very particulars, indications now appearing in the world, which are signs of better things to come; and I propose to enter into some brief consideration of them.

I observe, then, that the intelligent portions of mankind are alive to their real interests, as they never have been at any former period. This is the first sign of promise which I shall present as worthy of attention. This is a necessary step in the advancement of the world; it is, indeed, the first step; and it is a step which I trust the world is taking, with a decision and general agreement that promise great results. There can be no doubt, that if the communities of the civilized world would direct their attention to this point, and faithfully unite their efforts to remove existing evils, and to promote the common welfare, they would succeed.

It may appear to be a singular statement, but I believe it is perfectly true, that the world, as a mass, that communities as such, have had very little regard to their common and real interests. There has been an amazing insensibility, not to say fatuity, with regard to the great and paramount claims of real utility. In the formation of governments, in the prosecution of great national measures, and in many of the interior regulations of civil polity, the question of utility has certainly not had the place which reasonable beings might have been expected to give it What utility has there been in supporting expensive,and at the same time, despotic governments? What utility in the whole system of governmentsinecures, and pensions 1 What utility has there been in bloody and devastating wars — where the many, in thousands and millions, have been slain, to gratify the ambition, anger, or caprice of the few? The very basis of most of the political institutions that have had sway in the world, has been laid in the sacrifice of the interests of the many to the interests of the few. And that strange and insane passion, which the mass of mankind have cherished for doing homage tohereditary monarchs and nobles, is in direct contravention of the general claims, rights, and interests of the whole body of the people. It is only one step of advance beyond that vassalage and subserviency of the many to the one, which built the Egyptian pyramids.

But the world is awaking to this monstrous folly. Our own institutions are founded on the basis of the general good. The struggle now in England is to gain the same object. France is following the example. In spite of the factitious claims of a superannuated and despotic line of princes, she has chosen for herself a citizen king. Indeed, nothing could furnish a stronger evidence of the progress of just sentiments in the world, than a comparison of the last revolution in France with that of '92. And what is the language of that people, in the extraordinary and lofty position which it has taken? It is this: 'We have interests, and no claims of legitimacy shall be put in competition with them. We have interests, and we will cause them to be respected. We have interests,' they say, again, 'and we are ourselves competent to the management of them.' This is the stand taken in the heart of Europe, that has shaken half of the thrones in Christendom with astonishment and terror.

The age in which we live is often called a practical age. And although there is not a little, doubtless, that is shallow and superficial, which passes for practical, yet it marks a character of the times, in which it is equally certain that there is much of promise, and much of promise that no former age has afforded. The great age of utility has come. and our hope is that it can never be turned back. Institutions and establishments are beginning to be searched to their foundations, that it may be seen whether the principle of utility is there; and if it is not found, those institutions and establishments, whether secular, charitable, or ecclesiastical, cannot long stand. Yes, the strange inquiry is beginning to be made, whether this and that part of the great machinery of society does any good; and human reason will doubtless be found incorrigible, when fairly set at work in that direction. It is a singular fact, that four thousand persons, of the humblest class of operatives, in one of the manufacturing towns in England, (Manchester, I believe,) should have held a festival in celebration of the late revolution in France; and it is a still more striking and monitory fact, that these persons, with others of the same class, should, by a subscription of one penny per week, have raised a fund of several hundred pounds, to be applied by a committee of their own choosing, to the investigation of existing evils in England; loan inquiry, in other words, for the principle of utility in their laws and institutions. Let pensioners, and place-men, and privileged classes look to it, for this spirit will not rest till it is satisfied; and it will not be satisfied, until it has worked reform.

The advancement, also, that is making in the practical and useful arts, the prodigious improvements in machinery, the wonder-working power of steam, though on the first application they may produce derangement and distress in some portions of society, cannot fail, eventually, to raise the mass. There will be more comfort and more leisure, in proportion as machinery does the work of human hands ; and with leisure, it may be hoped, intelligence will advance; with comfort, independence. And with the enterprise of more intelligent and independent minds, wealth will be more generally gained, and more equally diffused. Suppose, for illustration, that in an agricultural district, mechanical improvements could be introduced, which would save half of the labour of tillage and of harvest. The condition of the community then would be — without undertaking to state the comparison with arithmetical exactness — that far more leisure would be enjoyed, and that many more comforts might be obtained with a given capital, and that men of humble means might rise to greater ease and independence. And if these advantages were not abused, it is obvious that there might be more happiness and more intelligence in such a community. Society has never yet, indeed, been in a condition to bear so much leisure; but intellectual improvement and moral culture, it may be hoped, are advancing to sustain the world in the new position it seems likely to occupy.

That the effects to be experienced from the invention of the steam- engine, and the modern improvements in machinery, must be the opportunity, at least, for leisure, and an increase of the comforts of life, cannot be doubted. Indeed, the temporary results in England have gone so far in one of these directions, as with many to bring entirely into question the utility of these mechanical improvements. The starving operatives of England, it may be said, know too well what leisure is. And in some sections, both in England and in France, they have madly risen against a power that seemed to them to be their enemy. But society will soon adjust itself to the new situation upon which it is entering, and if faithful to itself, it will advance with accelerated movement toward a happier condition,

« AnteriorContinuar »