« AnteriorContinuar »
paroxysms; but, on the other hand, they never verge upon the ridi. culous. Mrs. Henry Tighe's poem of " Psyche” is elegant and tender-languidly poetical like the mind of its author, which pined under the wasting disease of a slow consumption. There was not vigour enough in that delicate frame for a continued poem; but in her minor effusions, the momentary sparks of inspiration, we see the pathetic and spirited muse, that sickness undermined and at length destroyed. Its tone, as well as fate, reminds one of that of Henry Kirke White, save that in hers, who in birth and life was of the first rank in society, that refinement and elegance was natural, which in his was acquired. His, too, was the earlier fate; the flower of female genius and beauty was not cut off till it had lived its short but fragrant suminer.
We would not seem to jest, in remarking that consumption is a poetical malady; besides the interesting appearance it gives the frame and countenance, it is consonant with our physical ideas, that genius should waste the body it inhabits,
“ And o'erinform its tenement of clay." Besides, the plaintive thoughts and prayers to which it gives birth, are generally of that mild, resigned, and angelic character, which the heart must be worse than dull if it can resist. The victims do not lament imaginary woes, nor gather interminable grief from their own querulous fantasies. It is the slow and awful hand of death they feel approaching, which is mingled with every sensation, and called up by every object;—it is a gloom we must all appreciate, because we must all feel it.
Such are the associations that shed an interest over the vale of Rossanna. The house, though extensive, is not elegant; it is shaded, and almost concealed by clumps of luxuriant chesnut-trees, whose extended branches are reflected in the river that flows beneath them. A sonnet of Mrs. Tighe's, by no means the best of her productions, alludes to them;
“Dear chesnut bower! I haibthy secret shade,
Image of tranquil life! escaped yon throng,
Who weave the dance and swell the choral song,
What though no prospects gay to thee belong,
Yet here I heed nor showers, nor sunbeams strong," &c. The fair poet has informed us, that her sorrows were alleviated by the visitings of the Muse—she has rendered it the means of alleviating the sorrows of others. By her will the produce of the publication of her poems was directed to be applied to the establishment of an additional ward in Wicklow Hospital. It has been carried into effect, and her bequest goes by the name of the Psyche Ward.
It is to Mrs. Tighe that Moore is supposed to allude in the following beautiful lines:
“I saw thy form in youthful prime,
Nor thought that pale decay
And waste its bloom away, Mary!
Yet still thy features wore that light
Which fleets not with the breath;
Than in thy smile of death, Mary!
With modest murmur glide,
Within their gentle tide, Mary!
Thy radiant genius shone,
Seem'd worthless in thy own, Mary!
Thou ne'er hadst left thy sphere;
We ne'er had lost thee here, Mary!
Though fairest forms we see,
Than to remember thee, Mary!*
BEING AN ATTEMPT TO THROW NEW LIGHT ON AN OLD SUBJECT.
“We know what we are,” said poor Ophelia, “but we know not what we may be." Perhaps she would have spoken with a nicer accuracy had she said, “ we know what we have been.” Of our present state we can, strictly speaking, know nothing. The act of meditation on ourselves, however quick and subtle, must refer to the past, in which alone we can truly be said to live. Even in the moments of intensest enjoyment, our pleasures are multiplied by the quick-revolving images of thought; we feel the past and future in each fragment of the instant, as the flavour of every drop of some delicious líquid is heightened and prolonged on the lips. 'It is the past only which we really enjoy as soon as we become sensible of duration. Each by-gone instant of delight becomes rapidly present to us, and “bears a glass which shows us many more. This is the great privilege of a meditative being-never properly to have any sense of the present, but to feel the great realities as they pass away, casting their delicate shadows on the future.
Time, then, is only a notion-unfelt in its passage--a mere measure given by the mind to its own past emotions. Is there, then,
• The elegant poet here quoted has perhaps unconsciously translated one of
meminisse! Vol. III. No. 1.-1822.
any abstract common measure by which the infinite variety of intellectual acts can be meted—any real passage of years which is the same to all-any periodical revolution, in which all who have lived have live, out equal hours ? Is chronology any other than a fable, a “tale wat is told ?" Certain outward visible actions have passed, and certain seasons have rolled over them; but has the common idea of Time, as applicable to these, any truth higher or surer than those infinite varieties of duration which have been felt by each single heart? Who shall truly count the measure of his own days, much more scan the real life of thousands ?
The ordinary language of moralists respecting Time shows that we really know nothing respecting it. They say that life is fleeting and short; why, humanly speaking, may they not as well affirm that it is extended and lasting ? The words short” and “long” have only meaning when used comparatively; and to what can we compare or liken this our human existence ? The images of fragility -thin vapours, delicate flowers, and shadows cast from the most fleeting things—which we employ as emblems of its transitoriness, really serve to exhibit its durability as great in comparison with their own. If life be short, compared with the age of some few animals, how much longer is it than that of many, some of whom pass through all the varieties of youth, maturity, and age, during a few hours, according to man's reckoning, and, if they are endowed with memory, look back on their early minutes through the long vista of a summer's day! An antediluvian shepherd might complain with as much apparent reason of the brevity of his nine hundred years, as we of our threescore and ten. He would find as little to confute or to establish his theory. There is nothing visible by which we can fairly reckon the measure of our lives. It is not just-to compare them with the duration of rocks and hills, which have held out a a thousand storms, a thousand thunders;" because where there is no consciousness, there is really no time. The power of imagination supplies to us the place of ages. We have thoughts which "date beyond the pyramids." Antiquity spreads around us her mighty wings. We live centuries in contemplation, and have all the sentiment of six thousand years in our memories :
“ The wars we too remember of King Nine,
And old Assaracus and Ibycus divine.”
Whence then the prevalent feeling of the brevity of our life? Not, assuredly, from its comparison with any thing which is presented to our senses. It is only because the mind is formed for eternity that it feels the shortness of its earthly sojourn. Seventy years, or seventy thousand, or seven, shared as the common lot of a species, would seem alike sufficient to those who had no sense within them of a being which should have no end. When this sense has been weakened, as it was amidst all the exquisite forms of Grecian mythology, the brevity of life has been forgotten. There is scarcely an allusion to this general sentiment, so deep a spring of the pathetic, throughout all the Greek tragedies. It will be found also to prevail in individuals as they meditate on themselves, or as they nurse up in solitude and silence the instinct of the eternal.
The doctrine that time exists only in remembrance, may serve to explain some apparent inconsistencies in the language which we use respecting our sense of its passage. We hear persons complaining of the slow passage of time, when they have spent a single night of unbroken wearisomeness, and wondering how speec 'y hours, filled with pleasure or engrossing occupations, have flown; and yet we all know how long any period seems which has been crowded with events or feelings leaving a strong impression behind them. In thinking on seasons of ennui we have nothing but a sense of length-we merely remember that we felt the tedium of existence; but there is really no space in the imagination filled up by the period. Mere time, unpeopled with diversified emotions or circumstances, is but one idea, and that idea is nothing more than the remembrance of a listless sensation. A night of dull pain and months of lingering weakness are, in the retrospect, nearly the same thing. When our hands or our hearts are busy, we know nothing of timeit does not exist for us; but as soon as we pause to meditate on that which is gone, we seem to have lived 'long, because we look
through a long series of events, or feel them at once peering one above the other like ranges of distant hills. Actions or feelings, not hours, mark all the backward course of our being. Our sense of the nearness to us of any circumstance in our life is determined on the same principles—not by the revolution of the seasons, but by the relation which the event bears in importance to all that has happened to us since. To him who has thought, or done, or suffered much, the level days of his childhood seem at an immeasurable distance, far off as the age of chivalry, or as the line of Sesostris. There are some recollections of such overpowering vastness, that their objects seem ever near ; their size reduces all intermediate events to nothing; and they peer upon us like “a forked mountain, or blue promontory,” which, being far off, is yet nigh. How different from these appears some inconsiderable occurrence of more recent date, which a flash of thought redeems for a moment from long oblivion which is seen amidst the dim confusion of half-forgotten things, like a little rock lighted up by a chance gleam of sunshine afar in the mighty waters!
What immense difference is there, then, in the real duration of men's lives! He lives longest of all who looks back oftenest, whose Kfe is most populous of thought or action, and on every retrospect makes the vastest picture. The man who does not meditate has no real consciousness of being. Such an one goes to death as to a drunken sleep; he parts with existence wantonly, because he knows nothing of its value. Mere men of pleasure are, therefore, the most careless of duellists, the gayest of soldiers. To know the true value of being, yet to lay it down for a great cause, is a pitch of heroism which has rarely been attained by man. That mastery of the fear of death, which is so common among men of spirit, is nothing but a conquest over the apprehension of dying. It is a mere victory of nerve and muscle. Those whose days have no principle of continuity—who never feel time but in the shape of ennui-may quit the world for sport or for honour. But he who truly lives, who feels the past and future in the instant, whose days are to him a possession of majestic remembrances and golden hopes, ought not to fancy himself bound by such an example. He may be inspired to lay down his life, where truth or virtue demands so great a sacrifice ; but he will be influenced by mere weakness of resolution, not by courage, if he suffer himself to be shamed, or laughed, or worried out of it!
Besides those who have no proper consciousness of being, there are others even perhaps more pitiable, who are constantly irritated by the knowledge that their life is cut up into melancholy fragments. This is the case of all the pretending and the vain; those who are ever attempting to seem what they are not, or to do what they cannot; who live in the lying breath of contemporary report, and bask out a sort of occasional holiday in the glimmers of public favour. They are always in a feverish struggle, yet they make no progress. There is no dramatic coherence, no unity of action, in the tragi-comedy of their lives. They have hits and brilliant passages perhaps, which may come on review before them in straggling succession ; but nothing dignified or massive, tending to one end of good or evil. Such are self-fancied poets and panting essayists, who live on from volume to volume, or from magazine to magazine, who tremble with nervous delight at a favourable mention, are cast down by a sly alliteration or satirical play on their names, and die of an elaborate eulogy“ in aromatic pain.” They begin life once a quarter, or once a month, according to the will of their publishers. They dedicate nothing to posterity ; but toil on for applause till praise sickens, and their “ lífe's idle business” grows too heavy to be borne. They feel their best days passing away without even the effort to build up an enduring fame; and they write an elegy on their own weaknesses! They give their thoughts immaturely to the world, and thus spoil them for themselves for ever. Their own earliest, and deepest, and most sacred feelings become at last dull common-places, which they have talked of and written about till they are glad to escape from the theme. Their days are not “linked each to each by natural piety,” but at best bound together in forgotten volumes. Better, far better than this, is the lot of those whose characters and pretensions have little“ mark or likelihood;"whose days are filled up by the exercise of honest industry, and who, on looking back, recognise their lives only by the turns of their fortune, or the events which have called forth their affections. Their first parting from home is indelibly impressed on their minds -their school-days seem to them like one sweet April day of shower and sunshine-their apprenticeship is a long week of toil ;-but then their first love is fresh to them as yesterday, and their marriage, the births of their children, and of their grand-children, are events which mark their course even to old age. They reach their infancy in thought by an easy process, through a range of remembrances few and simple, but pure, and even holy. Yet happier is the lot of those who have one great aim; who devote their undivided energy to a single pursuit; who have one idea of practical or visionary good, to which they are wedded. There is a harmony, a proportion, in their lives. The alchemist of old, labouring with undiminished hope, cheering his solitude with creams of boundless