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hopes must perish in the one way or the other ; if the child of our love may not grow up to a worthy and honored manhood, let us have at least what comfort there may be in the choice of burial. It is better to lay those hopes in a little child's grave, than to see them sepulchered in a wicked man. We have read the sad story of a mother, who, when her child was sick and thought to be dying, called, in agony, upon her minister to pray for its recovery. He did so. But when, in the course of his petition, he went on to pray that, if God in his infinite wisdom, forecasting the future, saw that death would be better for the child than life, and had decided it so, the mother might acquiesce in his will, she would not suffer him to proceed. “No, no,” she said, “not that, not that, I can not give up my child on any terms ! Pray only that it may live.” The child did live, but to become a hardened criminal and murderer, whom the mother followed broken-hearted to the scaffold. In this instance death had been a blessed angel compared with life; and the mother's fond importunity that it might live was unconscious cruelty to her child. That angel would have transplanted it like a bud, to blossom in heaven and bloom there forever ; but she drove him away, to see its beauty and glory turn to corruption, to exhale à poison that should torture her soul and embitter her life.
If such mournful reflections occur to one when considering the changes for the worse which time has wrought in others, much more sad are they if he is conscious of having experienced them in himself. Alas! what depredations may be committed in the moral character in the course of a few years. What a heartless, wicked robber, this life would be proved, if all these losses could be laid to his charge. Who that has ever read it, has not been touched by a passage in Charles Lamb's Essay upon New Year's Eve? Its tone is half sportive, but you feel from the way it takes hold of the heart, that the writer was more than half in earnest.
“Do I advance a paradox, when I say, that, skipping over the intervention of forty years, a man may have leave to love himself without the imputation of self-love. If I know aught of myself, no one whose mind is introspective, and mine is painfully so, can have a less respect for his present identity than I for
the man Elia. I know him to be light, and vain, and humorsome; a notorious ; addicted to ; averse from counsel, neither taking it nor offering it ;- ... besides, a stammering buffoon; what you will ; lay on and spare not; I subscribe to it all, and much more than thou canst be willing to lay at his door-but for the child Elia, that “other me,' there, in the back ground, I must take leave to cherish the remembrance of that young master, with as little reference, I protest, to this stupid changeling of five and forty, as if it had been the child of some other house, and not of my parents.
I know how it shrank from any, the least color of falsehood. God help thee, Elia, how art thou changed! Thou art sophisticated. I know how honest, how courageous (for a weakling) it was, how religious, how imaginative, how hopeful. From what have I not fallen, if the child I remember was indeed myself, and not some dissembling guardian, presenting a false identity, to give a rule to my unpractised steps, and regulate the tone of my moral being.”
There can be nothing more pathetic than such a retrospect, when it really has nothing but a downward course of demoralization to rest upon.
An old man's reverie over the waste which death has created in the circle of his friends is, in no respect, to be compared with it. For his sorrow is tempered by many sweet recollections of those friends, in which they still live to him; and by the thought of those blessings enjoyed from their affection and intercourse, which death could not take away from him. The influence for good which they had over him, the pure thoughts and noble aspirations, and better purposes inspired by them, are safely garnered up in the heart and character, out of the reach of the spoiler. And, besides, there is the dear hope of going to them, if they can not return to him. But what comfort can he have who mourns for deau and buried virtues? Their memory can bring only remorse and the despair of feeling that they can never be restored. Our Whittier has touchingly portrayed the feelings of one around whom death has created a solitude, in the cry:
“How strange it seems with so much gone
Of life and love, to still live on." But where shall we find words sufficiently expressive of the surprise and grief of him whose heart has become gradually vacated of the good and noble qualities that may once have occupied it. “Who can see worse days," asks Lord Bacon, “than he that yet living doth follow at the funerals of his own reputation.
But, happily, all changes are not thus for the worse. Normally and properly they are for the better. Transition from one stage to another properly brings increase of wisdom, virtue and strength. Change is growth, and growth is rightly only ascending to a greater height of excellence; such as the chrysalis acquires when it changes into a butterfly. We lose, to be sure, as in the passage from childhood to the stage above it, some charming traits that we often deplore; yet their loss is more than made up in what we gain. We should not be willing to remain always children, for all their attractive qualities. It is nobler to have a man's strength and reach of thought and power of high achievement, than to remain forever sporting in the sunshine of childhood. We love to look into its eager eyes, and contemplate its faith, its hope and its buoyancy; we wish that we might recover and always retain its freshness of feeling, when all experience was like a gushing fountain, and the water of life had not yet grown flat and insipid. But though these things are gone, never to return, we have had faculties and qualities developed, which, while grave in character, are far more valuable. The waters have broadened and deepened, if they have lost their sparkling freshness and iridescence. The spiritual beauty of a saint, though tinged with sadness, is of a more exalted kind than that of a laughing faun. So is manhood superior to any of the gayer periods that precede it. Each new stage, into which the soul enters in its transmigrations, is better, in some respects, than the last. We think this may be said of the very last of all, which is old age, notwithstanding its infirmities. Its calm wisdom, its chastened patience, and its ripened trust form the cap-sheaf of human acquirements.
The history of a soul in conjunction with these changes of life, whereby it is continually advancing from one set of qualities and condition to another, is beautifully imaged in the life of the chambered nautilus. Thus has a poet described it :
“Year after year beheld the silent toil,
That spread its lustrous coil;
Stretched in his last found home and knew the old no more." Seeing in every natural object a lesson for man, this is the lesson which the poet gathers from it:
“ Build thee more stately mansions, oh, my soul.
As the swift seasons roll,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea.” Let us now consider the principle of coherency, which binds together all these diverse stages and makes of them one life. We call it personal identity. It is what the string is in a coil of beads; it connects the first with the last, and all between. Though men exist in fragments, between these fragments there is a vital union.
One grows naturally, in the course of development, out of the other, as the full grown plant, crowned with its consummate flower, is a growth through intermediate stages, from the first tender germ. As the experiences of life are strung upon the memory, so are all its stages upon our personal identity. It may be hard to recognize the child in the man, yet the same personality is in both. “The child is father to the man,” in the sense, that the man has sprung from the child.
It is now a proper question to consider, whether the real identity which exists, can not, and should not, be kept more apparent than it is.
Whether the loss which the soul encounters in its progress, though compensated by a greater gain, can not be avoided? Whether, in short, the old man may not retain and exhibit all the charming traits of every antecedent stage, even to that of childhood; and so life be grandly cumulative, and the character made to conserve everything valuable in the course of it? Commonly, men traverse it as a reaper might walk through a field gathering grain, who should let fall, as he advanced, some part of what he has before secured, instead of holding all fast and safe in his bosom.
It was a saying of Coleridge, that a man should grow up like a tree. That is, no matter what the present stage of life is, or however far advanced, it should include in itself all that has gone before, as a tree enfolds under the last year's growth the growths of all the years of its existence. “So Dr. Chalmers,” says the author of Spare Hours, “bore along with him his childhood, his youth, his early and full manhood into his mature old age. This gave him infinite delight, multiplied his joys, strengthened and sweetened his own nature, and kept his heart young and tender. It enabled him to sympathize, to have a fellow feeling, with all of whatever age.” No doubt we all have met, and can recall some one or more of such rare persons. How rich a nature is it, which has thus gathered into itself, and holds in store all that is sweet and beautiful in life—the delightful traits of all its different bygone periods ? It is like some rare nosegay, supplied by the gardener's art from greenhouse plants, in which the flowers that adorn the several months of the year should be gathered, to mingle their fragrance. It has the joyousness of childhood, the genial sense of youth, and the ripe results of age. It makes its
It makes its possessor the easy companion of all classes. The young, instead of shunning him, as querulous, morose and uninteresting, will crowd into his presence and delight in his converse. A beautiful identity will be manifest throughout.
The stream can be traced through all its course, and all its stages will be mirrored in the last.
Such a power of self-conservation, if we may so term it, may be in part a natural gift. In the most striking instances of its existence, it always is so, probably. Yet can not all men acquire something of it? We think so. We should be slow to believe that age ever necessarily freezes the genial current of the soul, or strips it of any of its grace. In the natural course of things, it should become more and more enriched with the progress of time, and not grow sterile. Every lovely trait which nature gives us, she gives to be ours forever, and not merely for a season, to be then taken back. She would have them all stored in the character, as a wife keeps, in