페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

leave him most open to suspicion. If any thing more than the rest could disgust the reader, it is his affectation of originality. He tricks up common-places as perfect discoveries. Forsooth, he will “have no regard to the methods prescribed by others.”

And yet is it no very notable novelty, that “ history is conversant about the past, and that by knowing the things that have been, we become better able to judge of the things that are.” His invective grows quite termagant on certain topics, and he avows “ a thorough contempt for the whole business of certain learned lives : for all the researches into antiquity, for all the systems of chronology and history, that we owe to the immense labours of a Scaliger, a Bochart, a Petavius, an Usher, and even a Marsham.” This is strange return from one devoted to history! Surely he must have known his obligations ! Surely it is too much to throw contempt upon enquiries which Sir Isaac Newton pursued! But I have particularly introduced this charlatan to combat the moral which he would connect with History. He would inculcate that it is a rule. “ By this map of the country,” he says, “we who are only passengers in this world, which history spreads before us, may learn, if we please, to guide ourselves.” Now nothing worse can be conceived than this abandonment of moral principle. According to it, the first of our race had no guide at all. Virtue and vice are made results of experience, and are founded upon no law. Essential differences between them are exploded. Man has nothing at hand,-fixed, imperative, to regulate him. If he can catch his shadow in history, it is well : if there be none, he must shift for himself. This is far vainer, and more pernicious, than any doctrine expediency ever broached. It is most intangible, most unsusceptible of application. He it was, too, who gave birth to the well-known aphorism : “ History is philosophy teaching by example.” Were the meaning all, that history should be so written, that it might be philosophy teaching by example, we could have no quarrel with the assertion. But it is far more bald and unqualified. It is designed to convert history into the only code, and only test of right and wrong. It is from history we must deduce our philosophy, Philosophy will be its student, that it may be a learner from it. She is disciple rather than teacher. And the very materials of history are scarcely fitted for general instruction. It is not man who is so much exhibited there, as a particular class of men. It is not modest virtue which there finds its shaded niche, ambition there erects its flaunting stage. It is the men of courts and camps, the muster roll of fiercer spirits, who engross it. Instruction cannot respect events, but actions. How generally are these actions,--the sinuous intrigue of ambassadors, the cruel dint of warriors,--but calculated to blunt the moral sense, and sear each generous feeling! It is not a general school for

man.

The mass of our race love quiet and calm. Only a few seek an element of turbulence. Thus the most convulsing events of history leave the many unaffected, as the earthquake which rends the solid architecture of the city scarcely causes the pilgrim's tent to flap. And if it be the incentive rather than the school, it will follow, that all who seek its fame must stir themselves into notoriety, must conquer renown, must seize the means of aggrandisement, must make it an end, must, as the actors in the ancient theatres, overstrain their parts, must therefore emulate that which, whether good or evil, history most commonly and lavishly applauds. Hapless the lesson, undeserved the honour, of such historic instruction, of such historic award ! Far happier are they, and only virtuous, who act on immediate precept; far more dignified they, who treat any history insignificant but the testimony of a good conscience. Our remembrance by posterity is but a chance,—brave men lived before Agamemnon,-and there is no certain verdict in its applause. Let our appeal be to something more authoritative, let our rule be in something more inflexible, let our reward be in something more direct, than the caprice of the historic dicer, or the hazard of the historic die. It is with events, and public interests, that this department of letters has to do,—with political causes and combinations of causes,—that province it well fulfils, - but there must be a revolution in morals ere it may be the exponent of moral rule, or the sanction of moral obligation.

we

History has too little sympathy with the people. It pauses not to observe their wants. It enters not into their distresses, nor into their wrongs. Yet surely it may be expected to furnish purer scrolls. Its pages shall not be always stained with blood. Violence shall cease to be its chosen and reiterated theme. It shall not march with the car of victory, it shall follow the train and triumph of peace. Virtue shall be the brow for its chaplet, and truth the might it shall rehearse. Nor can doubt the swelling tendency which all things impel. Disappointment may yet be felt. Retrograde may still be seen. Augury, once and again, may be mistaken. A boastful empiricism may turn many to jealousy, and bring much into suspicion. But another kind of History shall be written. It shall yield to new tastes and to new standards. There is,-however mimicked by the air of pedantry, and the stumble of ignorance, —a stately march of the human mind. Its tread was never more firm, and never so swift. Knowledge rapidly diffuses itself, from individual to individual, from rank to rank, like the gathering illumination of the Torch-Race in the Ancient Games. Rather is it day-break, and darkness flies away! Faithful, unerringly faithful, without a flattering bias, shall the history be, which is yet to be composed,—but bright and holy shall be its records. Honoured shall He be for whom its consummation is reserved, Whose hand shall transcribe the final scene, and Who shall conclude the eventful, bitter, solemn, though not unrelieved, tale of our earth and of our species, with an epilogue of enduring concord and true glory!

•* 0, δ' αν ανευ μαιάς Μουσών επι ποιητικές θυρας αφικηται πεισθεις ως αρα εκ τεχνης ικανώς ποιητης εσομενος, ατελης αυτος τε και η ποιησις υπο της των μαινομενων ή τα σωφρονούντος ηφαισθη.

Plaro.-Phædrus.

6. Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem,

Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus, et quæ
Ipse sibi tradit spectator."

HORACE.

“Our Shakspeare is a stumbling-block to the whole tribe of rigid critics. Who would not rather read one of his plays where there is not a single rule of the stage observed, than any production of a modern critic, where there is not one of them violated! Shakspeare was indeed born with all the seeds of poetry, and may be compared to the stone in Pyrrhus' ring, which, as Pliny tells us, had the figure of Apollo and the Nine Muses in the veins of it, produced by the spontaneous hand of nature, without any help from art.

ADDISON.

ON THE TRAGIC GENIUS OF SHAKSPEARE.

IF arbitrary Characters in writing be not the abbreviation and disguise of ruder but more natural signs constituting a Picturelanguage,—if they be a sudden and perfect invention, like the full-armed Minerva bursting from the brain of Jove,-if Cadmus could rule off his Alphabet at once,—we are, of necessity, carried back to a far earlier age in which substances and events were denoted by graphic resemblances and representations. Such drawings might be more or less skilfully executed,—their usefulness, in the first employment made of them, depended upon the accuracy of the impression they conveyed. As the daub, when a likeness, is preferred to the masterpiece if a distortion of those we love, and would recall, -so the primitive symbol was best valued that was most clearly self-interpretative, and that scribe wrote the best hand which had the least contraction and circumflex to be decyphered. It was thus, very probably, that transactions were traced on more durable tablets than sand and wax ; their outline would be attempted in plaster and even stone. Their religious buildings would be regarded as the safest depositories of these memorials. The sacred marbles were thus uncouthly sculptured, and the idea was doubtless borrowed from them which expanded and refined itself in many a classic composition of architecture and statuary in a future æra,—the storied column, pediment, and frieze.

But in addition to these Symbols, counters and marks for things,--a species of instruction arose commonly denominated Symbolic Action. This was accomplished through significant courses of gesture by living individuals or groups. In such personifications the national chronicles were told, narrative was pourtrayed, history was embodied.

Man was called by the Greeks Minimoy (wow. The more oriental the people, the more

« 이전계속 »