« AnteriorContinuar »
"stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumults of the people." The joining together two such grand objects, as the raging of the waters, and the tumults of the people, between which there is such resemblance as to form a very natural association in the fancy, and the representing them both as subject, at one moment, to the command of God, produces a noble effect.
Homer is a poet, who, in all ages, and by all critics, has been greatly admired for sublimity; and he owes much of his grandeur to that native and unaffected simplicity, which characterises his manner. His description of hosts engaging; the animation, the fire, the rapidity, which he throws into his battles, present to every reader of the Iliad frequent instances of sublime writing. His introduction of the gods tends often to heighten, in a high degree, the majesty of his warlike scenes. Longinus bestows such high and just commendations on that passage, in the XVth Book of the Iliad, where Neptune, when preparing to issue forth into the engagement, is described as shaking the mountains with his steps, and driving his chariot along the ocean. Minerva arming herself for fight in the Vth Book; and Apollo, in the XVth, leading on the Trojans, and flashing terror with his Ægis on the face of the Greeks, are similar instances of great sublimity added to the description of battles, by the appearance of those celestial beings. In the XXth Book, where all the gods take part in the engagement, according as they severally favour either the Grecians or the Trojans, the poet's genius is signally displayed, and the description rises into the most awful magnificence. All nature is represented as in commotion. Jupiter thunders in the heavens; Neptune strikes the earth with his trident; the ships, the city, and the mountains shake; the earth trembles to its centre; Pluto starts from his throne, in dread, lest the secrets of the infernal regions should be laid open to the view of mortals.
The works of Ossian abound with examples of the sublime. The subjects of which that author treats, and the manner in which he writes, are particularly favourable to it. He possesses all the plain and venerable manner of the ancient times. He deals in no superfluous
or gaudy ornaments; but throws forth his images with a rapid conciseness, which enables them to strike the mind with the greatest force. Among poets of more polished times, we are to look for the graces of correct writing, for just proportion of parts, and skilfully connected narration. In the midst of smiling scenery and pleasurable themes, the gay and beautiful will appear, undoubtedly, to more advantage. But amidst the rude scenes of nature and of society, such as Ossian describes ; amidst rocks, and torrents, and whirlwinds, and battles, dwells the sublime; and naturally associates itself with the grave and solemn spirit, which distinguishes the author of Fingal. "As autumn's dark storms pour from two echoing hills, so towards each other approached the heroes. As two dark streams from high rocks meet, and mix, and roar on the plain; loud, rough, and dark, in battle, met Lochlin and Innis-fail; chief mixed his strokes with chief, and man with man. Steel clanging sounded on steel. Helmets are cleft on high; blood bursts, and smokes around. As the troubled noise of the ocean when roll the waves on high; as the last peal of the thunder of heaven; such is the noise of battle. As roll a thousand waves to the rock, so Swaran's host came on; as meets a rock a thousand waves, so Innis-fail met Swaran. Death raises all his voices around, and mixes with the sound of shields. The field echoes from wing to wing, as a hundred hammers that fall by turns on the red son of the furnace. As a hundred winds on Morven; as the streams of a hundred hills; as clouds. fly successive over the heavens; or, as the dark ocean assaults the shore of the desert; so roaring, so vast, so terrible, the armies mixed on Lena's echoing heath. The groan of the people spread over the hills. It was like the thunder of night, when the clouds burst on Cona, and a thousand ghosts shriek at once on the hollow wind.” Never were images of more awful sublimity employed to heighten the terror of battle. Blair.
1.-Our natural Fondness for History, and its true Use.
THE love of history seems inseparable from human nature, because it seems inseparable from self-love. The same principle in this instance carries us forward and backward, to future and to past ages. We imagine that the things which affect us, must affect posterity: this sentiment runs through mankind, from Cæsar down to the parish-clerk in Pope's Miscellany. We are fond of preserving, as far as it is in our frail power, the memory of our own adventures, of those of our own time, and of those that preceded it. Rude heaps of stones have been raised, and ruder hymns have been composed, for this purpose, by nations who had not yet the use of arts and letters. To go no further back, the triumphs of Odin were celebrated in Runic songs, and the feats of our British ancestors were recorded in those of their bards. The savages of America have the same custom at this day: and long historical ballads of their hunting and wars are sung at all their funerals. There is no need of saying how this passion grows among all civilized nations, in proportion to the means of gratifying it: but let us observe, that the same principle of nature directs us as strongly, and more generally, as well as more early, to indulge our own curiosity, instead of preparing to gratify that of others. The child hearkens with delight to the tales of his nurse; he learns to read, and he devours with eagerness fabulous legends and novels. In riper years he applies to history, or to that which he takes for history, to authorised romance: and
even in age, the desire of knowing what has happened to other men, yields to the desire alone of relating what has happened to ourselves. Thus history, true or false, speaks to our passions always. What pity is it, that even the best should speak to our understandings so seldom? That it does so, we have none to blame but ourselves. Nature has done her part. She has opened this study to every man who can read and think: and what she has made the most agreeable, reason can make the most useful application of our minds.
Nature gave us curiosity to excite the industry of our minds; but she never intended it to be made the principal, much less the sole object of their application. The true and proper object of this application, is a constant improvement in private and in public virtue. application to any study, that tends neither directly nor indirectly to make us better men, and better citizens, is at best but a specious and ingenious sort of idleness, to use an expression of Tillotson; and the knowledge we acquire is a creditable kind of ignorance, nothing more. This creditable kind of ignorance is, in my opinion, the whole benefit which the generality of men, even of the most learned, reap from the study of history: and yet the study of history seems to me, of all other, the most proper to train us up to private and public virtue. Bolingbroke.
Ir is one great advantage of classical studies to those who are fortunate enough to enjoy them, that in acquiring the languages of Greece and Rome, we insensibly contract an acquaintance with some of the most illustrious characters of antiquity, and are partially admitted into their venerable society. We learn to accompany a Solon and a Lycurgus in their legislative labours; we hear a Plato and a Socrates philosophize, a Homer and a Virgil sing. From a Tully we are early warmed by the glow of eloquence with the love of our country; from a Pliny we imbibe sentiments that heighten the social and domestic affections, and endear
man to man. At the contemplation of such monsters as the classic page sometimes portrays, the ingenuous mind revolts: a Tiberius, a Nero, or a Sejanus, rouses the indignant feelings of the soul; and we learn to appreciate and execrate the sanguinary tyrant and the worthless minion, amidst the splendour of usurped power, and the flattery of grovelling sycophants.
To a certain degree the virtues of the ancients ought to inspire emulation, and are worthy of being precedents to all posterity; but that soft charm which a pure religion and more liberal notions diffuse over Christian manners, that animating prospect which is now held out to encourage laudable endeavours, and those terrors which are denounced against nefarious actions, could not operate on classical ages, because they were unknown.
Biography is not only valuable as an example to imitate, but as a beacon to warn. The impartial distribution of posthumous fame or censure must have some effect on the most callous and unprincipled. The thought of being handed down to posterity in colours of infamy, must frequently repress the vicious machination, and forbid the atrocious deed. The love of reputation was implanted in our natures for the wisest and noblest ends. Few possess that unenviable magnanimity which can render them indifferent to public opinion; or are so sunk in the apathy of vice, as to feel no melody in the sound of deserved applause.
To praise desert can scarcely fail to be a stimulus to virtuous actions. Those who have benefited or enlightened mankind, should receive commendation with no niggardly hand. The flowers strewed on the grave of merit is the most grateful incense to living worth. How often has the sight of the monuments in Westminster Abbey inspired the martial enthusiasm, the flame of patriotism, or the emulation of genius in the youthful breast! There are generous passions in the soul of man, which frequently lie dormant till some exciting cause serves to wake their susceptibilities, and give impulse to their native direction. Even a well-written amiable life has tempted many to live well.