Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the sum of perfection in the world, at its profoundly on the true relation of means very sources. We understand this when to ends in life, and on the distinction beit is a question of mean, or of intensely tween what is desirable in itself and 800 selfish ends of Grandet, or Javert. We what is desirable only as machinery, that think it bad morality to say that the end when the battle which he and his friends justifies the means, and we know how false were waging had been won, the world to all higher conceptions of the reli- (750 would need more than ever those qualities gious life is the type of one who is ready which Wordsworth was keeping alive and to do evil that good may come. We nourishing. contrast with such dark, mistaken eager- That the end of life is not action but ness, a type like that of Saint Catherine contemplation-being as distinct from doof Siena, who made the means to her ing—a certain disposition of the mind: is, ends so attractive, that she has won for in some shape or other, the principle (810 herself an undying place in the House of all the higher morality. In poetry, in Beautiful, not by her rectitude of soul art, if you enter into their true spirit at only, but by its "fairness"-by those all, you touch this principle, in a measquite different qualities which com- (760 ure: these, by their very sterility, are a mend themselves to the poet and the artist. type of beholding for the mere joy of

Yet, for most of us, the conception of beholding. To treat life in the spirit of means and ends covers the whole of life, art, is to make life a thing in which means and is the exclusive type or figure under and ends are identified: to encourage which we represent our lives to ourselves. such treatment, the true moral significance Such a figure, reducing all things to of art and poetry.

Wordsworth, 1820 machinery, though it has on its side the and other poets who have been like him authority of that old Greek moralist who in ancient or more recent times, are the has fixed for succeeding generations the masters, the experts, in this art of impasoutline of the theory of right living, (770 sioned contemplation. Their work is, not is too like a mere picture or description to teach lessons, or enforce rules, or even of men's lives as we actually find them, to stimulate us to noble ends; but to to be the basis of the higher ethics. It withdraw the thoughts for a little while covers the meanness of men's daily lives, from the mere machinery of life, to and much of the dexterity and the vigor fix them, with appropriate emotions, on with which they pursue what may seem | the spectacle of those great facts in (830 to them the good of themselves or of man's existence which no machinery others; but not the intangible perfection affects, “on the great and universal pasof those whose ideal is rather in being than sions of men, the most general and inin doing—not those manners which (780 teresting of their occupations, and the are, in the deepest as in the simplest entire world of nature,"-on “the operasense, morals, and without which one tions of the elements and the appearances cannot so much as offer a cup of water to of the visible universe, on storm and suna poor man without offence—not the part shine, on the revolutions of the seasons, of "antique Rachel," sitting in the com- on cold and heat, on loss of friends and pany of Beatrice; and even the moralist | kindred, on injuries and resentments, [840 might well endeavor rather to withdraw on gratitude and hope, on fear and sormen from the too exclusive consideration row.” To witness this spectacle with of means and ends, in life.

appropriate emotions is the aim of all Against this predominance of ma- [790 culture; and of these emotions poetry chinery in our existence, Wordsworth's like Wordsworth's is a great nourisher poetry, like all great art and poetry, is a and stimulant. He sees nature full of continual protest. Justify rather the end sentiment and excitement; he sees men by the means, it seems to say: whatever and women as parts of nature, passionmay become of the fruit, make sure of the ate, excited, in strange grouping and conflowers and the leaves. It was justly said, nection with the grandeur and beauty (850 therefore, by one who had meditated very 1 of the natural world:-images, in his own words, "of man suffering, amid awful be hurriedly concealed. Hence a whole forms and powers."

chapter of sights and customs striking to

the mind, from the pyramids of Egypt Such is the figure of the more powerful to the gibbets and dule trees of mediæval and original poet, hidden away, in part, Europe. The poorest persons have a bit

, under those weaker elements in Words- of pageant going towards the tomb; worth's poetry, which for some minds de- memorial stones are set up over the least termine their entire character; a poet memorable; and, in order to preserve some somewhat bolder and more passionate show of respect for what remains of our than might at first sight be supposed, [860 old loves and friendships, we must (30

( but not too bold for true poetical taste; accompany it with much grimly ludicrous an unimpassioned writer, you might ceremonial, and the hired undertaker sometimes fancy, yet thinking the chief parades before the door. All this, and aim, in life and art alike, to be a certain much more of the same sort, accomdeep emotion; seeking most often the panied by the eloquence of poets, has gre elementary passions in lowly places; gone

gone a great way to put humanity in having at least this condition of all im- error; nay, in many philosophies the error passioned work, that he aims always has been embodied and laid down with at an absolute sincerity of feeling and every circumstance of logic; although in diction, so that he is the true fore- (870 real life the bustle and swiftness, in (40 runner of the deepest and most passionate leaving people little time to think, have poetry of our own day; yet going back not left them time enough to go dangeralso, with something of a protest against ously wrong in practice. the conventional fervor of much of the As a matter of fact, although few things poetry popular in his own time, to those are spoken of with more fearful whisperolder English poets, whose unconscious ings than this prospect of death, few have likeness often comes out in him.

less influence on conduct under healthy circumstances. We have all heard of

cities in South America built upon the ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON side of fiery mountains, and how, even 150 (1860-1894)

in this tremendous neighborhood, the

inhabitants are not a jot more impressed ÆS TRIPLEX

by the solemnity of mortal conditions

than if they were delving gardens in the The changes wrought by death are in greenest corner of England. There are themselves so sharp and final, and so serenades and suppers and much gallantry terrible and melancholy in their conse- among the myrtles overhead; and meanquences, that the thing stands alone in while the foundation shudders underfoot, man's experience, and has no parallel the bowels of the mountain growl, and upon earth. It outdoes all other acci- at any moment living ruin may leap (60 dents because it is the last of them. Some- sky-high into the moonlight, and tumble times it leaps suddenly upon its victims, man and his merry-making in the dust. like a thug; sometimes it lays a regular in the eyes of very young people, and very

In siege and creeps upon their citadel (10 dull old ones, there is something indeduring a score of years. And when the scribably reckless and desperate in such business is done, there is sore havoc made a picture. It seems not credible that in other people's lives, and a pin knocked respectable married people, with umout by which many subsidiary friendships brellas, should find appetite for a bit of hung together. There are empty chairs, supper within quite a long distance of a solitary walks, and single beds at night. fiery mountain; ordinary life begins (70 Again, in taking away our friends, death to smell of high-handed debauch when does not take them away utterly, but it is carried on so close to a catastrophe; leaves behind a mocking, tragical, and and even cheese and salad, it seems, could soon intolerable residue, which must (20 hardly be relished in such circumstances

[ocr errors]

without something like a defiance of the their grog at night, and tell the raciest Creator. It should be a place for nobody stories; they hear of the death of (130 but hermits dwelling in prayer and people about their own age, or even maceration, or mere born-devils drowning younger, not as if it was a grisly warning, care in a perpetual carouse.

but with a simple childlike pleasure at And yet, when one comes to think (80 having outlived some one else; and when upon it calmly, the situation of these a draught might puff them out like a South American citizens forms only a guttering candle, or a bit of a stumble very pale figure for the state of ordinary shatter them like so much glass, their old mankind. This world itself, travelling hearts keep sound and unaffrighted, and blindly and swiftly in over-crowded space, they go on, bubbling with laughter, among a million other worlds travelling through years of man's age compared (140 blindly and swiftly in contrary directions, to which the valley at Balaclava was as may very well come by a knock that safe and peaceful as a village cricket-green would set it into explosion like a penny on Sunday. It may fairly be questioned squib. And what, pathologically 190 (if we look to the peril only) whether looked at, is the human body with all it was a much more daring feat for Curtius its organs, but a mere bagful of petards? to plunge into the gulf, than for any old The least of these is as dangerous to the gentleman of ninety to doff his clothes whole economy as the ship's powder- and clamber into bed. magazine to the ship; and with every Indeed, it is a memorable subject for breath we breathe, and every meal we consideration, with what unconcern (150 eat, we are putting one or more of them and gaiety mankind pricks on along the in peril. If we clung as devotedly as some Valley of the Shadow of Death. The philosophers pretend we do to the abstract whole way is one wilderness of snares, , idea of life, or were half as frightened (100 and the end of it, for those who fear the as they make out we are, for the subver- last pinch, is irrevocable ruin. And sive accident that ends it all, the trumpets yet we go spinning through it all, like a might sound by the hour and no one party for the Derby. Perhaps the reader would follow them into battle the blue- remembers one of the humorous devices peter might fly at the truck, but who of the deified Caligula: how he encourwould climb into a sea-going ship? Think aged a vast concourse of holiday- (160 (if these philosophers were right) with makers on to his bridge over Baiæ bay; what a preparation of spirit we should and when they were in the height of their affront the daily peril of the dinner-table; enjoyment, turned loose the Prætorian a deadlier spot than any battle-field (110 guards among the company, and had in history, where the far greater propor- them tossed into the sea. This is no bad tion of our ancestors have miserably left miniature of the dealings of nature with their bones! What woman would ever the transitory race of man. Only, what be lured into marriage, so much more a chequered picnic we have of it, even dangerous than the wildest sea? And while it lasts! and into what great waters, what would it be to grow old? For, not to be crossed by any swimmer, (170 after a certain distance, every step we God's pale Prætorian throws us over in take in life we find the ice growing thinner the end! below our feet, and all around us and We live the time that a match flickers; behind us we see our contemporaries (120 we pop the cork of a ginger-beer bottle, going through. By the time a man gets and the earthquake swallows us on the well into the seventies, his continued instant. Is it not odd, is it not inconexistence is a mere miracle; and when he gruous, is it not, in the highest sense of lays his old bones in bed for the night, human speech, incredible, that we should there is an overwhelming probability that think so highly of the ginger-beer, and

he will never see the day. Do the old regard so little the devouring earth- (180 men mind it, as a matter of fact? Why, quake? The love of Life and the fear of no. They were never merrier; they have Death are two famous phrases that grow harder to understand the more we think do not love life, in the sense that we are about them. It is a well-known fact greatly preoccupied about its conservathat an immense proportion of boat tion; that we do not, properly speaking, accidents would never happen if people love life at all, but living. Into the (240 held the sheet in their hands instead of views of the least careful there will enter making it fast; and yet, unless it be some some degree of providence; no man's eyes martinet of a professional mariner or are fixed entirely on the passing hour; some landsman with shattered nerves, (190 but although we have some anticipation every one of God's creatures makes it of good health, good weather, wine, acfast. A strange instance of man's un- tive employment, love, and self-approval, concern and brazen boldness in the face the sum of these anticipations does not of death!

amount to anything like a general view We confound ourselves with metaphys- of life's possibilities and issues; nor are ical phrases, which we import into daily those who cherish them most vividly (250 talk with noble inappropriateness. We at all the most scrupulous of their perhave no idea of what death is, apart from sonal safety. To be deeply interested in its circumstances and some of its conse- the accidents of our existence, to enjoy quences to others; and although we (200 keenly the mixed texture of human exhave some experience of living there is perience, rather leads a man to disregard not a man on earth who has flown so precautions, and risk his neck against a

, high into abstraction as to have any straw. For surely the love of living is practical guess at the meaning of the stronger in an Alpine climber roping over word lise. All literature, from Job and a peril, or a hunter riding merrily at Omar Khayyam to Thomas Carlyle or a stiff fence, than in a creature who (260 Walt Whitman, is but an attempt to look lives upon a diet and walks a measured upon the human state with such large- distance in the interest of his constitu

rise from tion.

the consideration of living to the Def - foto "There is a great deal of very vile

inition of Life. And our sages give us nonsense talked upon both sides of the about the best satisfaction in their power matter: tearing divines reducing life to when they say that it is a vapor, or a the dimensions of a mere funeral processhow, or made out of the same stuff with sion, so short as to be hardly decent, dreams. Philosophy, in its more rigid and melancholy unbelievers yearning for sense, hạs been at the same work for the tomb as if it were a world too (270 ages; and after a myriad bald heads far away. Both sides must feel a little have wagged over the problem, and piles ashamed of their performances now and of words have been heaped one upon again when they draw in their chairs to another into dry and cloudy volumes (220 dinner. Indeed, a good meal and a bottle without end, philosophy has the honor of wine is an answer to most standard of laying before us, with modest pride, works upon the question. When a man's her contribution towards the subject: heart warms to his viands, he forgets a that life is a Permanent Possibility of great deal of sophistry, and soars into a Sensation. Truly a fine result!

A man

rosy zone of contemplation. Death may may very well love beef, or hunting, or a be knocking at the door, like the (280 woman; but surely, surely, not a Perma- Commander's statue; we have something nent Possibility of Sensation! He may be else in hand, thank God, and let him afraid of a precipice, or a dentist, or a knock. Passing bells are ringing all the large enemy with a club, or even an [230 world over. All the world over, and undertaker's man; but not certainly of every hour, some one is parting company abstract death. We may trick with the with all his aches and ecstasies. For us word life in its dozen senses until we are also the trap is laid. But we are so fond weary of tricking; we may argue in terms of life that we have no leisure to entertain of all the philosophies on earth, but one the terror of death. It is a honeymoon fact remains true throughout-that we with us all through, and none of the (290

longest. Small blame to us if we give his own carcass, has most time to conour whole hearts to this glowing bride of sider others. That eminent chemist who curs, to the appetites, to honor, to the took his walks abroad in tin shoes, and hungry curiosity of the mind, to the subsisted wholly upon tepid milk, had pleasure of the eyes in nature, and the all his work cut out for him in considerate pride of our own nimble bodies.

dealings with his own digestion. So (350 We all of us appreciate the sensations; soon as prudence has begun to grow up in but as for caring about the Permanence the brain, like a dismal fungus, it finds of the Possibility, a man's head is gener- its first expression in a paralysis of generally very bald, and his senses very dull, [300 ous acts. The victim begins to shrink before he comes to that. Whether we

Whether we spiritually; he develops a fancy for parregard life as a lane leading to a dead lors with a regulated temperature, and wall-a mere bag's end, as the French takes his morality on the principle of say—or whether we think of it as a vesti- tin shoes and tepid milk. The care of bule or gymnasium, where we wait our one important body or soul becomes so turn and prepare our faculties for some engrossing, that all the noises of the (360 more noble destiny; whether we thunder outer world begin to come thin and faint in a pulpit, or pule in little atheistic into the parlor with the regulated tempoetry-books, about its vanity and brev- perature; and the tin shoes go equably ity; whether we look justly for years (310 forward over blood and rain. To be otherof health and vigor, or are about to mount wise is to ossify; and the scruple-monger into a Bath-chair, as a step towards the ends by standing stockstill. Now the hearse; in each and all of these views and man who has his heart on his sleeve, and situations there is but one conclusion a good whirling weathercock of a brain, possible: that a man should stop his ears who reckons his life as a thing to be against paralysing terror, and run the dashingly used and cheerfully haz- 1370 race that is set before him with a single arded, makes a very different acquaintmind. No one surely could have recoiled ance of the world, keeps all his pulses with more heartache and terror from going true and fast, and gathers impetus the thought of death than our re- [320 as he runs, until, if he be running towards spected lexicographer; and yet we know anything better than wildfire, he may how little it affected his conduct, how shoot

up and become a constellation in the wisely and boldly he walked, and in end.

end. Lord, look after his health, Lord, what a fresh and lively vein he spoke of have a care of his soul, says he; and he life. Already an old man, he ventured | has at the key of the position, and smashes on his Highland tour; and his heart, through incongruity and peril towards (380 bound with triple brass, did not recoil his aim. Death is on all sides of him with before twenty-seven individual cups of pointed batteries, as he is on all sides of tea. As courage and intelligence are the all of us; unfortunate surprises gird him two qualities best worth a good [330 round; mim-mouthed friends and relaman's cultivation, so it is the first part of tions hold up their hands in quite a little intelligence to recognize our precarious elegiacal synod about his path: and what estate in life, and the first part of courage cares he for all this? Being a true lover to be not at all abashed before the fact. of living, a fellow with something pushing A frank and somewhat headlong carriage, and spontaneous in his inside, he must,

, not looking too anxiously before, not like any other soldier, in any other (390 dallying in maudlin regret over the past, stirring, deadly warfare, push on at his stamps the man who is well armored for best pace until he touch the goal.

A this world.

peerage or Westminster Abbey!” cried And not only well armored for him- 1340 Nelson in his bright, boyish, heroic self, but a good friend and a good citizen manner. These are great incentives; not to boot. We do not go to cowards for for any of these, but for the plain satistender dealing; there is nothing so cruel as faction of living, of being about their panic; the man who has least fear for business in some sort or other, do the

« AnteriorContinuar »