Imágenes de páginas

chance returned, at any rate there is chapter without feeling that he wiro the favourite, safe and sound, and, in wrote it must have felt it also. Much a moment,

as he may have elsewhere said in jest,

he is here, at any rate, in earnest ;“ Forth to the gentle ass he springs,

we feel that he could never have writAnd up about his neck he climbs ;

ten it, had he not either witnessed, or In loving words he talks to him,

been himself an actor in, some such He kisses, kisses face and limb,

incident as that which he describes ; He kisses him a thousand times ?"

and when we come to the oath at the There !- We used to think Titania end, sorry as we may be to find it there, was reasonably enamoured of Bottom, we can hardly help thinking that, as he when she “ kissed his fair large ears," himself beautifully expresses it in anand called him “ her gentle joy," and other place, “ the accusing spirit, as rounded his hairy temples " with coro- he flew up to Heaven's Chancery with net of fresh and fragrant flowers.”. the oath, blushed as he gave it in, and We once were wont to look upon the recording angel, as he wrote it Sancho's recovery of his purloined down, dropped a tear upon the word, Dapple-his affectionate greeting of, and blotted it out for ever!" " How hast thou done, my dearest How much longer could we gossip donkey! delight of my eyes! my sweet on upon asses? A great deal longer companion !" and the ass, holding than we intend to do; for, so invetehis peace, and suffering himself to be rate is prejudice, that we doubt if we kissed and caressed by Sancho, without should ever convince the multitude of answering one word,” as something their merits, or save them so much as inimitably tender.- We did think that a single “ walloping” by our interces. the love of donkeys could no farther sion. No, they are a doomed and go, but we were wrong, and we are not devoted race: a mark " for scorn to ashamed to own it; it is but confess- point his slow unmoving finger at." ing, as somebody says, that we are Go The ass,” said the prophet of old, wiser to-day than we were yesterday. “knoweth his master's crib,'- but the

Language asinine appears to be as donkey of our own times is not so forfamiliar to Wordsworth as it was to tunate; he is utterly unacquainted Sterne before him—the mantle of Tris- with the nature of a rack, and knoweth tram Shandy has fallen upon Peter not even of the existence of a manger. Bell; but the elder wearer was, to our He is a houseless vagrant, over comthinking, the better interpreter. Some- mons and along lane sides ; he is a body has said, severely enough, of beast among gypsies, and a gypsy Sterne, alluding to a passage in the among beasts; apgrowe, adéulotios avérties. Sentimental Journey, that he preferred He is unfed, untended, unpitied ;- he whining over a dead ass to relieving the is rated, kicked, spurred, thumped, wants of a living mother. We will lashed, tormented, troubled, and thrashinot believe it. If ever a kind heart ed in every possible and devisable shone out in a man's writings, it does fashion--and for why ?-Your “ most in those of Sterne.

We never read exquisite reason,” good public ? --- Alas! that two hundred and thirty-third he is an ass!



[merged small][ocr errors]


We would here premise a few gone. Historý never exhibited any two cases ral observations upon history-1st, as exactly alike--never any two that had to the claim it puts forth of teaching not in fact material differences.

It is, the future by the past, whether for therefore, at the utmost hazard that the guidance of the practical states- we make this use of its examples. But man, or for the enlightenment of those what at once decides against this manspeculations upon human society that ner of judging by a historical preceregard distant generations, for which dent is, that the precedent itself, if we can only speculate; and 2d, as to really applicable to the problem to be the proper method and spirit of study- resolved—to the dispute in hand—is ing its annals, considered merely as a invariably found to lie open to a diverrecord of the past, and with the desire sity of interpretation exactly correonly of obtaining an intelligible retro- sponding to that diversity of opinion spect. The subject is surely not und it was introduced to overrule-to lie inviting. It is allied on every side open, in fact, to the very same conflict to great topics of reflection; and of argument it was brought forward to though it will not engage us in any determine. To understand the prekeen controversy, for there is no grave cedent becomes just as difficult a task difference of opinion to combat, yet as to pronounce judgment at once there is sufficient shade of obscurity upon those circumstances it was aphanging over it, we suspect, in the plied to decipher. The discussion is minds of most men, to rouse atten- only transferred from the present to tion, and to justify this recurrence to the past. Both parties in the dispute the theme.

invariably read the historical preceI. It is a notorious evil attendant dent after their own interpretation, and upon mistaken and extravagant enco- find in the same example a confirmamium, that it calls forth, as if by a law tion of the most opposite views. of reaction, a depreciation equally un- Does history, then, afford no help to just; and if the subservience of history the statesman-none in framing mea. to political wisdom, its ability to guide sures, or pronouncing on forms of and direct us in measures of govern- government ? Most assuredly it does: ment, has ever been seriously disputed, but not by furnishing individual prethe scepticism, we apprehend, has cedents, to be applied as occasion rearisen from a reaction of this kind. A quires-a perilous mode of decision, if misplaced reverence, a hasty, injudi. indeed it can do no more than add fuel cious application of the authority of to the controversy. History is subhistory, seem to have tempted some servient-is indispensable to political minds to a rejection altogether of that knowledge ; inasmuch as it affords the authority, or at least to a great dispa- very field of observation where human ragement of it. To prove the politi- nature is to be studied as it unfolds cal value of history, it is only necessary itself, not in the solitary bosom, but in to place its claims in this respect on the actions of congregated numberstheir right grounds.

of citizens and of nations. Here We not unfrequently hear the ato alone can the social body be watched, tempt made, and with the utmost con. and scanned, and criticised; here fidence, to solve the political problem alone can the wants, and passions, and of the passing day by a simple appeal fevers of great societies be known to a supposed analogous case in the and contemplated. The metaphysic history of past times. With some philosopher who would investigate the politicians, the French Revolution is individual mind, turns his scrutiny ever at hand to explain all, and deter- upon himself; he bears within the mine the character of every event. subject of his fine analysis ; and the Now, nothing can be more weak than observer and his object of observation this method of applying history. are one and the same. But if he NO. CCXCI, VOL. XLVII,


[ocr errors]

would further learn how a multitude of the past, in order to determine of such individual beings as he has what will be the whole tenor of man's 1 been scrutinizing, deport themselves future existence. History is no science when united together as a common. of itself, but is resolved into the science wealth or nation-how they act in war, of man; yet its events are not unfre- 1 or co-operate in commerce, or demean quently treated as if they were of an ! themselves in the civil strife of faction ultimate character; and therefore, beand of party-how they may be driven cause they have been, must necessarily like sheep, terror-stricken, by no very be repeated.

Thus we find some! gentle shepherds ; or how, in their persons pronouncing an opinion that love of independence, they may re- states, like individuals, have a period fuse all law and subordination--how allotted to them in which to flourish they may be banded into sects or pro.. and attain their highest prosperity, pelled against each other, nation after which they are to sink into de. against nation, by hostile religions ; crepitude, or to be cut off by sudden if he would learn these things, he has overthrow-we find such persons, and no longer the subject-matter of obser- they used to be met with more frevation immediately within reach ; he quently than now, who had manifestly must look out for himself-must look been led to this opinion merely by the abroad on his fellow.citizens—must number of instances which history exwatch the community, not the man. hibits of the elevation and downfal of Nor would one example of a state states. But it is not because nations suffice. The spectacle of one govern- have risen and fallen, that they therement, or one people, and that seen but fore will continue invariably to rise for a single age, would not only be and fall. If these prognosticators inadequate for his purpose, but would have discovered the causes of their of a certainty betray him into erro- progress and decay, and have satisfied neous conclusions. In the page of themselves that these causes are perhistory alone can be find his materials, manent and universal, then, and then his facts, his scope of observation. It only are they justified in their concluis here only that, by carrying forward sion. But if all communities of men his knowledge of individual man into had hitherto been known to suffer in the transactions of states and com- their turn decline or overthrow, and munities, he becomes acquainted with there were yet one community in human nature in its social and politi- existence not exposed to the destruccal capacity. Here is the great reper- tive influences hitherto in operation, tory of events, by the study of which or where these were counteracted by he may arrive at certain general con- other and better tendencies, no conclusions on the lives and fortunes of clusion derivable from the fate of all nations and communities. The know- the rest could, of course, be applicable ledge of the past will teach him the to this one. future, because it will teach him the Nor is the logical blunder confined knowledge of mankind.

to one only, of those parties which But general conclusions, it may be divide this shadowy region of specusaid, are uncertain and disputable. Be lative politics. Those who reason it so. We cannot mend the matter by from history in a more sanguine seizing upon some one historical pre- spirit, and dwell with ardour on the cedent, and so judging, as some might unlimited progress of human affairs, express it, by experience. If the prin. lapse frequently into an error of the ciple, as extracted from, and modified same description. Because, accordby, a review of all the cases, still re- ing to their observation, society has quires to be applied with much care hitherto, through all obstacles, and in and discrimination, shall we think to spite of some retrograde movements, snatch at certainty by laying hold of continued on the whole to advance, any one of those cases, and making they conclude that it will therefore that the sole authority for our judg. still persist in an onward career, Now, ment?

the mere fact that society has im. Not only is the separate example of proved, is in itself no argument whathistory employed and appealed to in ever that it will still further improve. this empirical manner, but a similar These consolers of the race of man error is sometimes committed by those must show what have been the causes who take a survey of the whole tenor of this improvement, and then proceed



to point out the continued operation of tested; how high he is capable of these beneficent influences. When rising—how truly social a being he this is done, some foundation may be may become-how far, under propi. laid in history for their pleasant hope. tious circumstances, reason, and the

History may be regarded as the good of all, may indeed give laws to record of a series of experiments elicit- society, may hitherto be unresolved. ing the social nature of man.

Who History, then, reveals the future by can venture to say that these experi- the past, inasmuch, and to the same ments have been so numerous and extent, as it reveals the knowledge of complete as to have exhausted their It supplies us with that reper: subject, and displayed the utmost ca- tory of facts, without which we should pabilities of the human being? Who, have very faint and most imperfect on the other hand, can rely with con- ideas of human beings as they exist in fidence on the untried capacities of national and political combinations. our nature ? The light of history is But we must add, that if the ardour of as a lamp to our feet ; but the light our historical reading were to be reshines steadily only for a little way on gulated by this its practical utility, we the path before us. It is enough for should find it signally abate. An conduct, not for speculation. Those enlightened curiosity meets its liberal who will discuss, not what is likely to gratification in perusing the transachappen in the next generation, or the tions of the past; it is the charm of next to that, but what are to be the the retrospect which gives this endless ultimate destinies of man as an inha- interest we feel in history. Were it bitant of this globe, proceed beyond read only for the sake of those general where the light of history can pene. truths which are to be extracted from, trate. They must build their hope or confirmed by it; we should not find on new inventions in the arts, or new it necessary to peruse so many vodiscoveries in science; or, after having lumes, and we should close our books gathered all they can from the annals when we had settled our principles, of states and empires, they may, if It happens, however, that our love of they will, revert to the study of the history increases the more we read, individual man, and, pondering on the and that we often take especial interest human heart, may consider what revo. in those very times, which, being most lution of circumstances, or remodel. remote and dissimilar to our own, af. ling of society, will bring to it a con- ford us the fewest lessons of political tinuous happiness. The truth is, they wisdom. Nor is this surprising ; for, agitate a topic beyond the rigid test laying aside all thought of governing of experience. We are apt to smile or divining the future by the past, at men of Utopian complexion, who what a thing it is merely to look backí in that distant futurity, which is The recorded transactions of the hualmost as much open to imagination man race viewed simply for them. as our mode of existence in another selves—with a wish only to compreworld, see before them a golden age, hend them— with a mere curiosity to when wars shall cease, and the suffer. know through what straits, and diffiings of poverty be heard no more, and culties, and strange predicaments, huthe plague of ignorance be banished manity has proceeded—are equalled from the earth. We do not share their in interest by no department of science, faith, or rather their hope ; but the by no province of nature.

How cusame caution that leads us to refuse rious and complicated has been the the golden anticipation of these hap- progress of human affairs ! how tor. pier reasoners, should prevent us from tuous, errant, and convulsive, have dogmatically pronouncing with others, been the movements of so grave a that human society has again and thing as society ! how grotesque has again attained substantially its perfect been the grandeur of our world! how form, and that in no age, and under wild and improbable its history, had it no circumstances whatever, could not been real! Who could have exa happier, or altogether different pected to find in war the principle of scheme be possibly devised than such union within a society, and the means as the world has already exemplified. of extending its civilisation outwardly What man is capable of for evil- to others ? Who would have dreamed how low he may sink in ignorance that absurd, and fearful, and cruel and brute passion-has certainly been superstitions would have acted as a salutary discipline to enforce peaceful which, when learned, appears so simconduct, and induce amenity of man- ple. Centuries are the hours of a ners ?

Yet so it is. At one time we nation's life. Strange life! so busy see men so savage that their most in- and so slow! timate bond of union is that of war- It must be owned that the spectacle war which combines them, indeed, for presented by our nature in this its pubenterprises of violence, bloodshed, lic career, is not such as always to pillage, and conquest, but still com. fill the mind with very exalted sentibines, in greater number, and in firmer ments towards humanity. Far otherbond of union, than any other known wise: so little dignity, so little reason, cause could have associated them. At so little sense or justice does there another time we may observe this ofttimes appear in the conduct of nathrong of men, thus gathered together tions, and so fantastic, wild, or reckat the voice of battle, and disciplined less is the deportment of those who have for deeds of outrage and enmity, still been most conspicuous on the scene, further tamed and subjugated by the that it is curious to remark how each authority of superstition; and long individual of us, however obscure he before the gross and giddy multitude may be—who lifts his head above that could love peace for its own sake, or stream which is carrying us all forvalue the benefits of civil government, ward, to observe how winding and an Indian or Egyptian priesthood has heady a current it has been-grows compelled them, by the terrors of ig- great in his own estimation, as he looks norance and folly, to the restraint of with pity and derision on the folly of wholesome laws and the preservation the species. Yes, the humblest indi. of civic tranquillity. And thus the vidual who makes but one of the com. nation has proceeded, tortured into mon mass thus wildly conducted—who activity by war, and religion, and fo. is devoid perhaps of the talents necesreign hostility, till it has stood before sary to raise him to those giddy eleus in that singularly complex condi- vations which humanity supports so tion—a termination little less curious ill-even this man feels himself elated, than any stage of the progress—which and rises into a moral dignity, when is expressed in the terms of a civilized he descants on the deeds of commonstate. We may figure to ourselves the wealths, and the character of the great! spirit of humanity set down upon this But if the scene be not always of the earth, full of vital but undirected most exalted description-if the drama energies, to work out its way, as perpetually violate the rules of decoamidst the bewildering scene of exter- rum—if, unlike the spectacle presented nal nature, into systematic knowledge, by the physical world, disorder and so amidst the urgent wants and pas- confusion prevail, and scarce a clue sions of life, into some rational mode can be found by which the maze may of existence. Good and evil, truth be unravelled ; yet, nevertheless, it and falsehood, are thrown before the is our world—it is a creation we may thinking faculty, mixed and involved in in some measure call our own—it is grotesque proportions, and in stubborn the planet such as we have made itcomplication. What is thus, as if in the rude workmanship of human reachance-medley, thrown upon its path, son-of a reason, moreover, which is it takes in the lump, and seeing truth still, at this very day, at work, and or a good purpose somewhere in the cannot therefore fail, through all its mass, stops not to enquire or to sift. faults, and blunders, and enormities, Stops not !-it cannot stop-life has to be invested to us with a perpetual no pause. Humanity must think as interest. it works, must ponder as it suffers, II. But we proposed, in the second must separate the mischief from the place, to make some observations on benefit, and disengage itself from the the method of conducting this retro. former, while it travels on beneath spect, and arranging the materials it the combined influence of both. Thus presents to us. It is worthy of notice, ages may pass over a country before it that the successful prosecution throughis aware that the blessings of govern- out Europe of physical science-whose ment are not necessarily connected brilliant discoveries attract to them with subjection to a despot. The the gaze of all men-has produced an general reason advances slowly, and intellectual habit, a mental discipline, takes long years to learn a lesson, which is brought to all subjects of en,


« AnteriorContinuar »