Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

harmony, and gave birth to an equal mixture of the gentler and the sublimer virtues. Composed of a variety of small separate states, united by a confederate tie, they felt a generous rivalry to surpass each other in whatever could contribute to enlarge or adorn the human understanding. And hence, while the well-balanced liberty they possessed inspirited them to defend it against every foreign aggression, in philosophy and ethics, in poetry and oratory, in music and painting, in sculpture and architecture, they became models of excellence for all other countries, and for all future ages. They too had their superstitions and their mythology; but the genius that pervaded every thing else pervaded these. A few grossnesses, indeed, which it is wonderful they should ever have allowed, deformed the whole machinery; but every thing besides, though wholly fictitious and ideal, was uniformly elegant, and for the most part instructive. Every grove, and stream, and mountain, was, in their opinion, instinct with some present deity, and under his immediate protection; and while the sacred heights of Olympus, the bright residence of their gods, was peopled, not with savage heroes and bloody banquets, as among the Scandinavians, but with the divinities of wit, and wisdom, and beauty-with the Loves, the Graces, and the laughing Hours, and the sister train of Music and Poetry.

Such was Greece: but what is she now? Her climate and bewitching scenery are the same; but her spirit and constitution are no more.What, then, is she now? or rather what was she till of late? for the spirit of past ages has again in some measure revived in several parts of her. A few of her islands are under British protection; and a few others are struggling to throw off the yoke that has for ages equally subjugated them in body and in mind. But with the exception of these insular and more fortunate spots-NANTES IN GURGITE VASTO-What is she now? The eye sickens at the sight, and the tongue falters while it tells the change. A land of slaves and of barbarous usurpers; where the scourge of the cold Ottoman flays at his will the descendants of those who fell at Thermopylæ, and triumphed at the Granicus-while the tame victims that still submit to it, prove themselves well worthy of the fate that has befallen them :

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

There the blithe bee his fragrant fortress builds,
The free-born wanderer of thy mountain air:
Apollo still thy long, long summer gilds;
Still in his beam Mendeli's marbles glare;
Art, Glory, Freedom, fails, but Nature still is fair.*

A thousand other examples, of like effect, from like causes, might easily be adduced. Insomuch, that it has become a general maxim among political writers, that nations, like individuals, have a natural youth, perfection, and dissolution. It is a maxim, however, that must be received with some degree of caution. The experiment, notwithstanding that the world has now continued for nearly six thousand years, has never been tried in its hardier and colder regions; and we have already seen, that in the warmer climates, there is a cause operating towards the production of national decay, peculiar to itself, and distinct, therefore, from the law of general necessity. Yet, even in the warmer regions of the earth, the fact does not hold universally; for the Chinese have historic documents of the continuance of their empire for nearly four thousand years: one of the chief of which is, the famous record of an eclipse of the sun, in the reign of Ching-Kang, 2155 years before the commencement of the Christian era: while Persia, though conquered by the Romans, and shorn of more than half its extent in elder times, has still, under some form or another, descended to the present day, through a period of nearly three thousand years. And, wild and wandering as is the life of the Arab tribes, they may at least make a boast of having uniformly retained their customs, their liberty, and their language, for a longer period than any other people, and amidst all the changes that have befallen the most splendid empires around them; and are at this day, in habits, government, and national tongue, nearly the same as they were in the time of the patriarch Job; and probably as they were long before the earliest epoch to which the Chinese can make any pretensions.

There can be no doubt, however, that the very perfection of a people, in the arts of civilization and refinement, has a natural tendency to produce the seeds of future decay and dissolution; and although the Chinese and Arabians have not hitherto given proofs of any such change, it is only, perhaps, because they have for ages continued stationary, and have never reached the absolute perfection we are speaking of. I shall close the present lecture, therefore, with pointing out a few of those passions and other affections which immediately spring from what may be called the manhood, or summit of civilization, and chiefly distinctive of it, and pave the way for its downfal.

[ocr errors]

In order, however, to give strength and bearing to the picture, let us first glance at the passions and emotions of mankind in a simpler state; in that middle condition of moral cultivation usually to be met with in the villages and smaller towns of a highly-civilized people, where the moral affections have sweetened the heart, but refinement has not yet sweetened the manners. Let us transport ourselves for a few minutes to Wales, the Highlands of Scotland, or the banks of the Garonne. In any of these regions we shall be received upon a proper introduction, and often without any introduction whatever, with an honest though a homely welcome; the chief virtues of the heart we shall find to be chastity, sincerity, frugality,

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, cant. ii.

See, for a correct description of the amusements, superstitions, and manners of the Scottish peasantry, Burns's Halloween, and his Cottar's Saturday Night.

and industry; its chief feelings, cheerfulness, content, and good-will: if they know little of the sublimer, they know nothing of the turbulent passions :-

Far from the maddening crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life

They keep the noiseless tenour of their way.

At the same time, we shall find an evident distinction of national character; the first of these tribes evincing an enthusiastic fondness for the shadowy traditions and the antiquated, perhaps the fabulous heroes of their country, from some of whom every one believes himself to be lineally descended; the second, an ardent attachment to their respective lairds, and the hardy individuals that compose their respective clans; and the third, an elastic and ebullient vivacity, that seems to fit them for happiness in any country, and almost under any circumstances.

:

If from these scenes of simple life and ingenuous manners, we pass to the crowded capital of refinement and luxury, we shall see more, perhaps, to admire, but certainly more to disrelish and weep over; a strange intermixture of the noblest virtues and the foulest vices; the mind in some instances drawn forth to its utmost stretch of elevation and genius, and in others sunk into infamy and ruin; a courtesy of attention that enters into all our feelings, and anticipates all our wants; delicacy of taste; punctilious honour; sprightly gallantry; splendour and magnificence; wit, mirth, gayety, and pleasure of every kind. Of national character, however, we find little or nothing like the pebbles in a river, all roughnesses are smoothed away by mutual friction into one common polish. It is easy, indeed, to perceive that every thing tends to an extreme; the jaded taste becomes fastidious, and is perpetually hunting for something new; gallantry degenerates into seduction; fine, trembling honour, into an irritable thirst to avenge trifles; the heart is full of restlessness and fever. In the general pursuit of happiness, contentment is altogether unknown; no one is satisfied with his actual rank and condition, and is perpetually striving to surpass or supplant his neighbour; and striving, too, by all the machinery he can bring into play. Hence, in the more refined ranks, all is flattery, servility, and corruption; in the busy walks of traffic and commerce, all is wild venture, speculation, and hazard; the bosom is distracted with the civil warfare of avarice, ambition, pride, envy, and sullen rancour; the whole surface is at length hollow and showy, and the face becomes no index to the feelings. There is no necessity for dwelling on those open and atrocious villains, that, like vermin on a putrid carcass, such a state of things must indispensably generate and fatten ;-the haggard tribe of anxiety, vexation, and disappointment-the downfal of splendour-the mortification of pride--the failure of friendship-the sting of ingratitude-the violation of sacred trusts-blasted expectations and disconcerted projects-the cup of joy dashed from the lips that are sipping it hope shipwrecked on the verge of possession-the agony of the mighty adventurer, who for months beforehand sees the tempest of his ruin rolling towards him; sees it, but dares not meet it; sees it, but perhaps cannot avert it-harrowed through every nerve by the gaunt spectres of approaching shame, by the lamentations of his own family reduced to beggary, and the cutting rebukes of other families whom a misplaced confidence has involyed in one common destruction-the demon train of

distraction, madness, suicide :-these, and a thousand miseries such as these, that naturally flow from, and are naturally dependent upon, a state of superabundant and diseased refinement, without taking into the account the flagrant and atrocious villanies which fall within the cognizance of the criminal judge, are sufficient to prove, that the nation which has reached the utmost pitch of civil perfection, is in danger of degeneracy and decay; and justify the doubt I ventured to suggest, at the opening of the present lecture, as to which of the two extremes of society is pregnant with the greatest share of moral evils-that of gross barbarism, or that of an exuberant and vitiated polish.

LECTURE XI.

ON TEMPERAMENTS, OR CONSTITUTIONAL PROPENSITIES.

THE social principle-that horror of solitude and inextinguishable desire of consorting with our own kind, which every man feels in his bosom, and which impels him to prefer misery with fellowship, to ease and indulgence without it-laid the first foundation for cities and states; and the nature of the social compact, peculiarity of climate, and community of habits and manners, unite in producing that general tissue of feelings and propensities, which constitutes, and is denominated, national character; which gives vivacity to the French, a refined taste to the Italians, phlegmatic industry to the Dutch, a free and enterprising spirit to the English, and a military genius to the Germans.

But independently of these national tendencies, that run through the general mass of a people, it is impossible for us to open our eyes without perceiving some peculiar propensity or prominent moral feature, in every individual of every nation whatever; and which, if strictly analyzed, will be found as much to distinguish him from all other individuals as the features of his face. This is sometimes the effect of habit, or of education, which is early and systematic habit, and which every one knows is capable of changing the original bent of the mind, and of introducing a new direction; but it is far more generally an indigenous growth, implanted by the hand of nature herself; or, in other words, dependent on the original organization, admitting of infinite varities, and produced by the ever-shifting proportions which the mental faculties and the corporeal organs bear to themselves, or to each other, and which it is impossible in every instance to catch hold of and classify.

The Greek physiologists, however, attempted the outlines of a classification; for they began by studying the individual varieties, which they ascribed to the cause just adverted to, and hence denominated them idiosyncrasies, or peculiarities of constitution.

They beheld, as every one must behold in the present day, for nature is ever the same, one man so irascible, that you cannot accidentally tread on his toe, or even touch his elbow, without putting him into a rage; another so full of wit and humour, that he would rather lose his friend than repress his joke; a third, on the contrary, so dull and heavy, that you might as well

attempt to move a mile-stone: and possessing withal, so little imagination, that the delirium of a fever would never raise him to the regions of a brilliant fancy. They beheld one man for ever courting enterprise and danger; another distinguished for comprehensive judgment and sagacity of intellect one peculiarly addicted to wine; a second to gallantry, and a third to both one generous to profligacy; another frugal to meanness ; and a few, amidst the diversified crowd, with a mind so happily attempered and balanced by nature, that education has little to correct, and is almost limited to the act of expanding and strengthening the budding faculties as they show themselves.

'The physiologists of Greece, and especially the medical physiologists, did not rest here. They attempted to cluster the different species of idiosyncrasies, or particular constitutions that had any resemblance to each other, and to arrange them into genera, which were denominated crases (gas) or temperaments. We have the express testimony of Galen,* that Hippocrates was the founder of this system. He conceived the state or condition of the animal frame to be chiefly influenced by the nature and proportion of its radical fluids, at least, far more so than by those of its solids. The radical fluids he supposed to be four, the elementary materials of which were furnished by the stomach, as the common receptacle of the food; but cach of which is dependent upon a peculiar organ for its specific production or secretion. Thus the blood he asserted to be furnished by the heart; the phlegm, lymph, or finer watery fluid, by the head; the yellow bile by the gall-duct; and the black bile by the spleen. The perfection of health, or hygeia, as the Greeks denominated it, he conceived to result from a due proportion of these fluids to each other; and the different temperaments or predispositions of the body, to peculiar constitutions or idiosyncrasies, from a disturbance of the balance, and a preponderating secretion or influence of any one of them over the rest.

Hence Hippocrates established four genera of temperaments, which he denominated from the respective fluids whose superabundance he apprehended to be the cause of them, the BILIOUS OF CHOLERIC, produced by a surplus of yellow bile, and dependent on the action of the gall-duct or liver; the ATRABILIARY OF MELANCHOLIC, produced by a surplus of black bile, and dependent upon the action of the spleen; the SANGUINEOUS, produced by a surplus of blood, and dependent upon the action of the heart; and the PHLEGMATIC, produced by a surplus of phlegm, lymph, or fine watery fluid, dependent upon the action of the brain.

This arrangement of Hippocrates continued in great favour with physiologists, and with very little variation, till the beginning of the last century, at which time it was warmly supported in all its bearings by the quaint but solid learning of Sir John Floyer. And even to the present hour, notwithstanding all the changes that have taken place in the science of physiology, anatomy, and medicine, and the detection of some erroneous reasonings and opinions in the writings of Hippocrates upon this subject, intermixed with much that is admirable and excellent,-it has laid a foundation for all the systems of temperaments, constitutions, or natural characters, that have more lately been offered to the world. Most of these, however, have been distinguished by an introduction of five other genera, denominated a WARM, a COLD, a DRY, a MOIST, and a NERVOUS or irritable tem

* De Temperament. ii. p. 60. § b.

See, his Physician's Pulse-Watch; or an Essay to explain the Old Art of Feeling the Pulse, and to improve it by the Help of the pulse-watch. 2 vols. 8vo. Lond. 1707.

« AnteriorContinuar »