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whose labours the human mind is elevated and refined, and opened to pleasures beyond the conception of vulgar sounds, will acknowledge that the elegant deities who preside over simple and natural beauty have inspired them with their charming and instructive ideas. The sweetest and most majestic bard that ever sung has taken a pride in owning his affection for woods and streams; and while the stupendous monuments of Roman grandeur, the columns which pierced the skies, and the aqueducts which poured their waves over mountains and valleys, are sunk in oblivion, the gently-winding Mincius still retains his tranquil honours. And when thy glories, proud Genius, are lost and forgotten,—when the flood of commerce which now supplies thy urn is turned into another course, and has left thy channel dry and desolate, the softly-flowing Avon shall still murmur in song, and his banks receive the homage of all who are beloved by Phæbus and the Muses.”—Aitkin.
THE CHOICE OF HERCULES.
You have oftentimes, I dare say, heard and read of the many brave exploits of the great and noble Hercules; and how that men of old held him in high regard, because his feeling heart prompted him to succour the distressed, and his mighty arm ever defended the weak and feeble. I am now going to relate something which a wise man hath handed down concerning him, and from which you may learn a good and useful lesson.
Whilst he was yet a very little boy, Hercules had frequently heard the wise men of his day talking about the pleasures of virtue and honour, and the miseries of wickedness and vice. When he grew up, and began to think, his thoughts were much occupied by what he had heard ; but the more he pondered the sayings of the wise, the more he was perplexed, and could not tell what course of life it would be most prudent for him to follow. In order, therefore, to make up his mind, he one day retired from the busy haunts of men, and sought a quiet, secluded spot, where he could, without interruption, meditate upon so important a matter. He had not sat there long, before his attention was drawn to two objects which his eyes dimly saw in the distance. As they came near, he per. ceived they were two tall and lovely women. The one was fair and beautiful to look upon, and of noble bearing. Her body was adorned with purity; her eyes with modesty; her whole demeanour was such as befitted a wise and prudent woman; and her dress was of pure and spotless white. The other was somewhat stouter than her companion. Her lovely complexion appeared whiter and ruddier than it really was; and she seemed to be taller of stature than a mortal. Her large, glaring eyes were cast wildly around her; and the dress which she wore was one of matchless beauty and elegance.
As they drew nearer to the place where Hercules was sitting, the former advanced with the same steady pace as she had hitherto done; but the latter, desirous of obtaining the first hearing, quickened her steps, and running up to the youth, said, “I see, O Hercules, that thou art in a great strait, being troubled by contending thoughts, and not knowing what course of life to follow for the future. If, therefore, thou wilt only give ear unto my words, and choose me for thy friend, I will lead thee by a most pleasant and easy way, and thou shalt have abundance of all that can cheer and delight thee, and not a pang of sorrow shall rend thy heart. For never shalt thou be harassed by thoughts of war, or worn down by the cares and anxieties of business. Thy only thoughts shall be of what it will most delight thee to eat and drink; what it will give thee the greatest joy to see and hear; in the society of what boon companions thou wilt most agreeably spend thy time; how thou mayest sleep most sweetly and softly, and how thou mayest be able to obtain all this and more without the slightest care or labour. And think not for a moment that there shall, at any time, be a lack of any of these things. Thou shalt drink deep of pleasures ever new and varying, so that they shall not pall for their sameness. Whatever can delight the mind, charm the eye, and gratify the taste, it shall be an easy matter for thee to have. Others shall toil for thee, and thou shalt reap the rich fruit of their labours. For thou shalt take whatsoever it pleaseth thee; inasmuch as it is my prerogative (of which I justly boast) to give unto my willing followers facilities for enjoyment and profit from every quarter,"
Thus she spake, and the sweet siren voice in which she uttered her words made no little impression upon the youthful Hercules, who looked up to her as if doubtfully and inquiringly, and said, “ Thy words are as fair as thy form, and thy promises as winning as is thy beauty. But tell me, I pray, before I hear any more, by what name I shall call thee."
“My friends,” rejoined she, “call me Happiness, but my enemies, and those who hate me, have spitefully vilified me, and miscalled me Evil.”
After this, the other woman quietly approached, and said, “I, too, am come to thee, Hercules, in order to enlist thee on my side, and to entreat thee to take me as thy protectress. Well do I know thy good and virtuous parents. Over thee have I fondly and tenderly watched since the day when first thou camest to these realms of light, and thou hast been my care during thy childhood. Thus have I learnt somewhat of thy disposition, and, from what I have discovered, I fain would hope that thou wilt nobly perform many a good and virtuous deed, if thou wilt only take the way which I will mark out. Yes, methinks, thou wilt even deck me with greater honours than now I have, and make me shine forth still more illustrious for glorious deeds. Ponder carefully my words; for I will not cheat thee with fair promises of sunny pleasures, which flatter and deceive, but will faithfully and truly tell thee how the gods have ordained. Know, then, that they give nothing good and honourable to men without unceasing toil and unwearied industry. If, therefore, thou wouldst have the gods propitious unto thee, so as to hear thy prayers, thou must be ever careful to pay unto them due respect and worship, and to do all things in such a way as to win their approval. If thou wouldst gather round thee a happy company of faithful friends, knit them to thee by the good offices thou doest unto them. If thou wouldst be honoured by thy city, win distinction and gain a noble name by conferring benefits upon it. If thou wouldst have the fair land of Greece ring with thy praises, do good service unto it. If thou wouldst have the thankful earth yield her fruits in rich abundance, spend not thy time in slothful ease, but till the soil most carefully. If, finally, thou wouldst gain wealth by war, and deliver thy friends, and enslave thy enemies, learn warlike tactics from masters of
the art; and labour unceasingly in all things to make the body subject unto the soul. Thus thou seest that care, labour, and diligence are, beyond question, necessary for those who would stand well with the gods and
Ere Virtue had finished speaking, Vice interrupted her words, and with an air of triumphant joy, exclaimed, “ Thou seest, O Hercules, what a long, and tedious, and difficult way to joy it is which this woman pointeth out to thee; but I will lead thee unto happiness by a short and easy path."
But Virtue was determined to save Hercules from the danger that threatened him, and to use all her energies to win him from the seducing wiles of Vice. So she turned quickly round upon her rival, and said, “ What good, most hapless one, hast thou ? or what pleasure dost thou experience, since thou labourest not to ensure it ? For thou art filled with all things before thou hast desired them, eating before thou art hungry, and drinking before thou art thirsty; and that thou mayest receive pleasure from eating, thou must needs have various cooks to dress the choicest meats; and thou canst take no delight in drinking, unless thou art supplied with the richest wines, cooled in summer by snow, for which thou seekest everywhere. That thy sleep may be pleasant unto thee, thou must have soft mattresses, and couches, and cushions, whereon to repose. For thou sleepest not because thou art wearied with the labours of the day, but because thou hast nothing to do. Thou sayest thou art immortal; and so, in truth, thou art, but an immortal discarded by the gods, and dishonoured by men. Words of self-praise, to which it is ever sweet to listen, are never heard by thee; nor canst thou feast thine eyes with the most cheering sight which one can see, for thou canst never look upon any good deed which thou hast done. None ever place any reliance in thy words; none will lend their assistance when thou art in need ; and none of the good and wise will enlist themselves on thy side. Thy votaries, too, may pass their early days in pleasures, but they lay up sorrow, and distress, and anguish of mind, for their old age. Now I, on the con. trary, am ever with gods and men. No good or honourable deed, whether human or divine, is performed without my aid. The gods love me, and the good and virtuous among men hold me in honour, and obey my counsels. In me the toiling artificers find a true and faithful helpmate; masters a trusty guardian of their houses and goods; and servants a kind and gentle patroness. By my assistance the works of peace flourish and succeed; in war I am a most faithful ally; and on all occasions the truest partner of firm and lasting friendship. Besides, those who hear my words, and follow my precepts, enjoy their meat and drink, because they touch them not but when they stand in need of them. Sweeter is their sleep than that of the slothful, because their consciences are pure, and they seek not repose when their duties demand attention.
“ The young men are delighted when their elders are praised; and the elders rejoice in the bright honours and deathless glories to which the young men attain. Taught by me, all love ever to keep in mind the memory of the noble deeds of the olden times, and giving themselves up to imitate them, and to follow the actions of the just, they become most dear unto the gods, loved by their friends, and honoured by their native lands. Amongst my laborious but happy band, envy and malice find no place; but all are closely knit together by one fair chain of brotherly love, sorrowing and rejoicing with each other. Thus it is that their life passes happily and joyously away. And when death comes (as .come it will to all), they are not handed over to dark oblivion, unhonoured and unknown; but they pass sweetly to the islands of the blest; whilst the memory of them and their good deeds flourishes bright and green for ever. If, then, Hercules, son of good and virtuous parents, thou wilt only labour continually to ensure these things, thou shalt possess happiness which shall never fade away, and true, solid joy, which shall never deceive."
Awhile the youth sat in silent thought, as if duly weighing what he had just heard. And when he had thus reflected, he raised his eyes, and said, “ My choice is made ; may the gods approve and aid me in my good resolves. For I choose the steep and rugged path of virtue, with its future joys, in preference to the fair and easy one of vice, with its present pleasures, and its future destruction of all that good men hold as dear,"—W. B. Flower,