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TABLE TALK.

No. XII.

ON CONSISTENCY OF OPINION.

Servetur ad imum Qualis ab inceptu processerit, et sibi constet. Many people boast of being mas- incorrigible to proof as need be. I am ters in their own house. I pretend attached to them in consequence of to be master of my own mind. I the pains, the anxiety, and the waste should be sorry to have an ejectment of time they have cost me. In fact, served upon me for any notions I may I should not well know what to do chuse to entertain there. Within that without them at this time of days little circle I would fain be an abso- nor how to get others to supply their lute monarch. I do not profess the place. I would quarrel with the best spirit of martyrdom ; I have no am- friend I have sooner than acknow. bition to march to the stake or up to ledge the right of the Bourbons. I a masked battery, in defence of an

see Mr.

seldomer than I hypothesis: I do not court the rack: did, because I cannot agree with him I do not wish to be flayed alive for about the Catalogue Raisonnée. I affirming that two and two make remember once saying to this gentlefour, or any other intricate propo- man, a great while ago, that I did not sition: I am shy of bodily pains and seem to have altered any of my ideas penalties, which some are fond of, since I was sixteen years old. “Why imprisonment, fine, banishment, con- then,” said he, “ you are no wiser fiscation of goods : but if I do not now than you were then !” I might prefer the independence of my mind make the same confession, and the to that of my body, I at least prefer same retort would apply still. Cole it to every thing else. I would avoid ridge used to tell me, that this pertithe arm of power, as I would escape nacity was owing to a want of symfrom the fangs of a wild beast: but pathy with others. What he calls symas to the opinion of the world, I see pathizing with others is their admiring nothing formidable in it. " It is the him, and it must be admitted that eye of childhood that fears a painted he varies his battery pretty often, in devil.” I am not to be brow-beat or order to accommodate himself to this wheedled out of any of my settled sort of mutual understanding. But convictions. Opinion to opinion, I I do not agree in what he says of me. will face any man. Prejudice, fashion, On the other hand, I think that it is the cant of the moment, go for no- my sympathizing beforehand with the thing; and as for the reason of the different views and feelings that may thing, it can only be supposed to rest be entertained on a subject, that prewith me or another, in proportion to vents my retracting my judgment, the pains we have taken to ascertain and flinging myself into the contrary it. Where the pursuit of truth has extreme afterwards. If you proscribe been the habitual study of any man's all opinions opposite to your own, life, the love of truth will be his rul- and impertinently exclude all the eviing passion. “Where the treasure is, dence that does not make for you, it there the heart is also.” Every one stares you in the face with double is most tenacious of that to which he force when it breaks in unexpectedly owes his distinction from others. upon you, or if at any subsequent Kings love power, misers gold, wo, period it happens to suit your intemen flattery, poets reputation-and rest or convenience to listen to objecphilosophers truth, when they can tions which vanity or prejudice had find it. They are right in cherishing hitherto overlooked. But if you are the only privilege they inherit. If aware from the first suggestion of a “to be wise were to be obstinate,” I subject, either by subtlety of tact or might set up for as great a philoso- close attention, of the full force of pher as the best of them; for some of what others possibly feel and think of my conclusions are as fixed and as it, you are not exposed to the same Vol. IV.

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vacillation of opinion. The number story somewhere in Don Quixote, of of grains and scruples, of doubts and two champions coming to a shield difficulties thrown into the scale hung up against a tree with an inwhile the balance is yet undecid- scription written on each side of it. ed, add to the weight and steadi- Each of them maintained, that the ness of the determination. He who words were what was written on the anticipates his opponent's arguments, side next him, and never dreamt, till confirms while he corrects his own the fray was over, that they might be reasonings. When a question has different on the opposite side of the been carefully examined in all its shield. It would have been a little bearings, and a principle is once es- more extraordinary if the combatants tablished, it is not liable to be over- had changed sides in the heat of the thrown by any new facts which have scuffle, and stoutly denied that there been arbitrarily and petulantly set were any such words on the opposite aside, nor by every wind of idle doc- side as they had before been bent on trine rushing into the interstices of a sacrificing their lives to prove were hollow speculation, shattering it in the only ones it contained." Yet such pieces, and leaving it a mockery and is the very situation of some of our a bye-word; like those tall, gawky, modern polemics. They have been staring, pyramidal erections which of all sides of the question, and yet are seen scattered over different parts they cannot conceive how an honest of the country, and are called the man can be of any but one-that Follies of different gentlemen! A which they hold at present. It seems man may be confident in maintain- that they are afraid to look their old ing a side, as he has been cautious in opinions in the face, lest they should chusing it. If after making up his be fascinated by them once more. mind strongly in one way, to the best They banish all doubts of their own of his capacity and judgment, he feels sincerity by, inveighing against the himself inclined to a very violent re- motives of their antagonists. There vulsion of sentiment, he may general- is no salvation out of the pale of their ly rest assured that the change is in strange inconsistency. They reduce himself and his motives, not in the common sense and probity to the reason of things.

straitest possible limits—the breasts I cannot say that, from my own ex. of themselves and their patrons. perience, I have found that the per. They are like people out at sea on a sons most remarkable for sudden and very narrow plank, who try to push violent changes of principle have every body else off. Is it that they been cast in the softest or most sus- have so little faith in the cause to ceptible mould. All their notions which they have become such staunch have been exclusive, bigoted, and converts, as to suppose that, should intolerant. Their want of consist- they allow a grain of sense to their ency and moderation has been in ex- old allies and new antagonists, they act proportion to their want of can- will have more than they? Is it that dour and comprehensiveness of mind. they have so little consciousness of Instead of being the creatures of sym- their own disinterestedness, that they pathy, open to conviction, unwilling feel if they allow a particle of honesto give offence by the smallest differ- ty to those who now differ with them, ence of sentiment, they have (for the they will have more than they? Those most part) been made up of mere an- opinions must needs be of a very fratipathiesma very repulsive sort of gile texture which will not stand the personages—at odds with themselves, shock of the least acknowledged opand with every body else. The position, and which lay claim to reslenderness of their pretensions to spectability by stigmatizing all who philosophical inquiry has been ac- do not hold them for “ sots, and companied with the most presump- knaves, and cowards.” There is a tuous dogmatism. They have been want of well-balanced feeling in every persons of that narrowness of view such instance of extravagant versatiand headstrong self-sufficiency of lity; a something crude, unripe, and purpose, that they could see only one harsh, that does not hit a judicious side of a question at a time, and palate, but sets the teeth on edge to whichever they pleased. There is a think of. “ I had rather hear my

mother's cat "mew, or a wheel grate hear that he has given up his theory on the axle-tree, than one of these that poetry should be written in the same metre-ballad-mongers" chaunt language of prose, or applied for an his incondite retrograde lays without injunction against the Lyrical Balrhyme and without reason.

lads. I will wager a trifle, that our The principles and professions ingenious poet will not concede to: change: the man remains the same. any patron, (how noble or munificent There is the same spirit at the bota soever) that the Leech Gatherer is tom of all this pragmatical fickleness not a fit subject of the Muse, and and virulence, whether it runs into would sooner resign the stamp-disone extreme or another :- to wit, a tributorship of two counties, than confinement of view, a jealousy of burn that portion of the Recluse, a others, an impatience of contradic- Poem, which has been given to the tion, a want of liberality in constru- world under the title of the Excursion. ing the motives of others either from The tone, however, of Mr. Wordsmonkish pedantry, or a conceited worth's poetical effusions requires a overweening reference of every thing little revision to adapt it to the proto our own fancies and feelings. gressive improvement in his political There is something to be said, in- sentiments: for, as far as I underdeed, for the nature of the political stand the Poems themselves or the machinery, for the whirling motion Preface, his whole system turns upon of the revolutionary wheel which this, that the thoughts, the feelings, has of late wrenched men's under- the expressions of the common people standings almost asunder, and “a- in country places are the most refine' mazed the very faculties of eyes and ed of all others; at once the most ears;" but still this is hardly a suffi- pure, the most simple, and the most cient reason, why the adept in the sublime:-yet, with one stroke of his old as well as the new school should prose-pen, he disfranchises the whole take such a prodigious latitude him- rustic population of Westmoreland self, while at the same time he makes and Cumberland from voting at elecso little allowance for others. His tions, and says there is not a man whole creed need not be turned topsy- among them that is not a knave in turvy, from the top to the bottom, grain. In return, he lets them still even in times like these. He need retain the privilege of expressing not, in the rage of party-spirit, dis- their sentiments in select and natural card the proper attributes of huma- language in the Lyrical Ballads. So nity, the common dictates of reason. much for poetical justice and politiHe need not outrage every former cal severity! An author's political feeling, nor trample on every custo- theories sit loose upon him, and may mary decency, in his zeal for reform, be changed like his clothes. His liteor in his greater zeal against it. If rary vanity, alas! sticks to him like his mind, like his body, has under- his skin, and survives in its first gloss gone a total change of essence, and and sleekness, amidst purged off the taint of all its early The wreck of matter, and the crush of opinions, he need not carry about worlds. with him, or be haunted in the per- - Mr. Southey still makes experisons of others with, the phantoms of ments on metre, not on governments, his altered principles to loath and and seems to think the last resort of execrate them. He need not (as it English liberty is in court-iambics. were) pass an act of attainder on all Still the same upstart self-sufficiency, his thoughts, hopes, wishes, from still the same itch of newfangled inyouth upwards, to offer them at the novation directed into a new channel, shrine of matured servility: he need still the same principle of favournot become one vile antithesis, a liv- itism, still the same overcharged and ing and ignominious satire on him- splenetic hostility-all is right that self. Mr. Wordsworth has hardly, I he approves, all is wrong that opshould think, so much as a single par- poses his views in the smallest particle of feeling left in his whole com- ticular. There is no inconsistency position, the same that he had twen- in all these anomalies. Absurdity is ty years ago; not “ so small a drop uniform; egotism is the same thing ; of pity,” for what he then was, “as a limited range of comprehension is a wren's eye,”-except that I do not a habit of mind that a man seldom gets the better of, and may distin- what did it all end in, but their bee guish equally the Pantisocratist or ing made Lords ?” It is better to Constitutional Association-monger. be a lord than a lacquey to a lord.

To quit this, which is rather a So we see that the swelling pride and stale topic, as well as a hopeless one, preposterous self-opinion which exand give some instances of a change alts itself above the mightiest, lookof sentiment in individuals, which ing down upon, and braving the may serve for materials of a history of boasted pretensions of the highest opinion in the beginning of the 19th rank and the most brilliant talents century :-A gentleman went to live, as nothing, compared with its own some years ago, in a remote part of conscious powers and silent unthe country, and as he did not wish moved self-respect, grovels and licks to affect singularity he used to have the dust before titled wealth, like a two candles on his table of an even- lacquered slave, the moment it can ing. A romantic acquaintance of his get wages and a livery! Would in the neighbourhood, smit with the Milton or Marvel have done thus ? love of simplicity and equality, used Mr. Coleridge, indeed, sets down to come in, and without ceremony this outrageous want of keeping to snuff one of them out, saying, it was an excess of sympathy, and there is, a shame to indulge in such extra- after all, some truth in his suggesvagance, while many a poor cot- tion. There is a craving after the tager had not even a rush-light to approbation and concurrence of see to do their evening's work by. Others natural to the mind of man. This might be about the year 1802, It is difficult to sustain the weight and was passed over as among the of an opinion singly for any length of ordinary occurrences of the day. In way. The intellect languishes with1816 (oh! fearful lapse of time, preg- out cordial encouragement and supnant with strange mutability), the port. It exhausts both strength and same enthusiastic lover of econo- patience to be always striving against my, and hater of luxury, asked his the stream. Contra audentior ito thoughtless friend to dine with him is the motto but of few. Public in company with a certain lord, and opinion is always pressing upon the to lend him his man servant to wait mind, and, like the air we breathe, at table; and just before they were acts unseen, unfelt. It supplies the sitting down to dinner, he heard him living current of our thoughts, and say to the servant in a sonorous infects without our knowledge. It whisper – “and be sure you don't taints the blood, and is taken into forget to have six candles on the the smallest pores. The most santable!” Extremes meet. The event guine constitutions are, perhaps, the here was as true to itself as the oscil. most exposed to its influence. But lation of the pendulum. My inform- public opinion has it source in power, ant, who understands moral equa- in popular prejudice, and is not altions, had looked for this reaction, ways in accord with right reason, or and noted it down as characters a high and abstracted imagination. istic. The impertinence in the first Which path to follow. where the two: instance was the cue to the ostenta- roads part? The heroic and romantious servility in the second. The tic resolution prevails at first in high one was the fulfilment of the other, and heroic teinpers. They think to like the type and anti-type of a pro- scale the heights of truth and virtue phecy. Nomthe keeping of the cha- at once with him “ whose genius racter at the end of fourteen years had angelic wings, and fed on manwas as unique as the keeping of the na,”-but after a time find themthought to the end of the fourteen selves baffled, toiling on in an uphill lines of a Sonnet !- Would it sound road, without friends, in a cold strange if I were to whisper it in the neighbourhood, without aid or proreader's ear, that it was the same spect of success. The poet person who was thus anxious to see

Like a worm goes by the way. six candles on the table to receive a lord, who once (in ages past) said He hears murmurs loud or supto me, that " he saw nothing to pressed, meets blank looks or scowladmire in the eloquence of such men ing faces, is exposed to the pelting as Mansfield and Chatham ; and of the pitiless press, and is stunned

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A man,

by the shout of the mob, that gather guidance of this demon, if every round him to see what sort of a whimsy or occult discovery of his creature a poet and a philosopher is. own is not received with acclamaWhat is there to make him proof tion by one party, will wreak his against all this? A strength of under- spite by deserting to the other, and standing steeled against temptation, carry all his talent for disputation and a dear love of truth that smiles with him, sharpened by rage and opinion to scorn? These he per- disappointment.

to be haps has not. A lord passes in his steady in a cause, should be more coach. Might he not get up, and attached to the truth than to the acride out of the reach of the rabble- quiescence of his fellow-citizens. A rout? He is invited to stop dinner. young student, who came up to town If he stays he may insinuate some a few years since with some hyperwholesome truths. He drinks in critical refinements on the modern rank poison-flattery ! He recites philosophy to introduce him to the some verses to the ladies who smile Gamaliels of the age, but who would delicious praise, and thank him allow no one else to have a right through their tears. The master of view of the common doctrines of the the house suggests a happy allu« school, or to be able to assign a reasion in the turn of an expression. son for the faith that was in him, was “ There's sympathy.” This is bet- sent to Coventry by the true adepts, ter than the company he lately left. who were many of them as wise and Pictures, statues meet his raptured as fastidious as himself. He thereeye. Our Ulysses finds himself in fore turned round upon the whole the gardens of Alcinous : our truant set for this indignity, and has been is fairly caught. He wanders through playing off the heavy artillery of his enchanted ground. Groves, classic scurrilous abuse, his verbal logic, groves nod unto him, and he hears and the powerful distinctions of the “ ancestral voices” hailing him as civil and canon law upon the debrother-hard! He sleeps, dreams, voted heads of his tasteless associates; and wakes, cured of his thriftless perpetual volley, arrowy sleet," prejudices and morose philanthropy. ever since! It is needless to menHe likes this courtly and popular tion names. The learned gentleman sympathy better. “ He looks up having left his ungrateful party and with awe to kings; with honour to unprofitable principles in dudgeon, nobility; with reverence to magis- has gone into the opposite extreme trates," &c. He no longer breathes like mad, sticks at nothing, is calthe air of heaven and his own lous to public opinion, so that he thoughts, but is steeped in that of pleases his employers, and can bepalaces and courts, and finds it agree come “a thorn in the side of freebetter with his constitutional tem dom;” and fairly takes the bridle in perament. Oh! how sympathy al- his teeth, stop him who can. A more ters a man from what he was ! obstinate being never took pen in I've heard of hearts unkind,

hand. Yet, by agreeing to his conKind deeds with coldness still returning; ments (such as they are) it would

clusions, and subscribing to his arguAlas! the gratitude of man Has oftener set me mourning.

be still possible to make him give

up every one of his absurdities in A spirit of contradiction, a wish succession, and to drive him to set to monopolize all wisdom, will not up another New Daily Paper against account for uniform consistency, for himself! it is sure to defeat and turn against I can hardly consider Mr. Coleitself. It is "every thing by turns, ridge as a deserter from the cause and nothing long.' It is warped he first espoused, unless one could and crooked. It cannot bear the tell what cause he ever heartily esleast opposition, and sooner than ac- poused, or what party he ever bequiesce in what others approve it longed to, in downright earnest. He will change sides in a day. It is has not been inconsistent with himoffended at every resistance to its self at different times, but at all captious, domineering humour, and times. He is a sophist, a casuist, will quarrel for straws with its a rhetorician, what you please; and best friends. A person under the might have argued or declaimed to

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