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WHAT shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue! This reflection of an elder statesman and a greater, was often in the mind of the late Sir James Graham, and, towards the close of his life, not unfrequently on his lips.
Ορῶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὀυδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο, πλὴν
Ειδωλ ̓, ὅσοιπερ ζῶμεν, ἤ κούφην ΣΚΙΑΝ.
O curas hominum! o quantum est in rebus inane! Men were ever of old, and they are found to be now, the willing victims of illusion in all stages of life: children, youths, adults, and old men, all, as Emerson puts it, are led by one bauble or another: Yoganidra, the goddess of illusion, Proteus, or Momus, or Gylfi's Mockingfor the Power has many names-is stronger than the Titans, stronger than Apollo. "There are as many pillows of illusion as flakes in a snow storm. We wake from one dream into another dream. The toys, to be sure, are various, and are graduated in refinement to the quality of the dupe." For instance, the intellectual man requires a fine bait, while the sots are easily amused. "But everybody is drugged with his own frenzy, and the pageant marches at all hours, with music and banner and badge." False glozing pleasures, to adopt George Herbert's diction,
-casks of happiness,
Foolish night-fires, women's and children's wishes,
Shadows well mounted, dreams in a career,
Marcus Antoninus, in his Meditations, harps on the note of Shadow-hunting or Shadow-hunted Shadows. You will soon be reduced to ashes and skeleton, he keeps telling himself; and even if you leave a name, what is a name? vox et præterea nihil. The shadows you, a shade, pursue, are miserably shadowy. The prizes of life are so mean, he says, that to scuffle for them is ridiculous, and puts him in mind of a parcel of puppies snarling for a bone, or of the contests of children for a toy. Wherever he looks, the wide world over, and in whatever age of its history, he sees abundance of people very busy, and big with their projects, who drop off presently, and moulder to dust and ashes. The freshest laurels wither apace, and the echoes of Fame are soon silenced. The "insect youth" that people the air and make it murmurous with busy life, is not their close resemblance to the children of men one of poetry's commonplaces?
To Contemplation's sober eye
And they that creep, and they that fly,
But flutter through life's little day
In fortune's varying colours drest;
Brush'd by the hand of rough Mischance
They leave, in dust to rest.
Having asked to be told her fortune by the Wise Wight of Mucklestane Moor, Miss Ilderton, in Scott's story, is told by the cynical Recluse that it is a simple one; an endless chase through life after follies not worth catching, and when caught, successively thrown away-a chase, pursued from the days of tottering infancy to those of old age upon his crutches. "Toys and merry-makings in childhood-love and its absurdities in youth-spadille and basto in age, shall succeed each other as objects of pursuitflowers and butterflies in spring-butterflies and thistledown in summer-withered leaves in autumn and winter-all pursued, all caught, all flung aside." Que vont-elles faire de si grand matin? Cléofas asks his demon-guide, concerning ces personnes whose early rising and eager bustle have caught and fixed his attention. "Ce que vous souhaitez de savoir, reprit le Démon, est une chose digne d'être observée. Vous allez voir un tableau des soins, des mouvements, des peines que les pauvres mortels se donnent pendant cette vie, pour remplir, le plus agréablement qu'il leur est possible, ce petit éspace qui est entre leur naissance et leur mort." Battle's philosophy of life, as expounded in her opinions on whist, is at one with that of graver and greater authorities. She regards man as a gaming animal, who must be always trying to get the better in something or other a passion that can scarcely, she contends, be more safely expounded than in a game at cards— cards being a temporary illusion; in truth, a mere drama; "for we do but play at being mightily concerned, where a few idle shillings are at stake, yet, during the illusion, we are as mightily concerned as those whose stake is crowns and kingdoms." They are a sort of dream-fighting, she argues; much ado, great battling, and little bloodshed; mighty means for disproportioned ends; quite as diverting, and a great deal more innoxious, than many of those more serious games of life, which men play, without esteeming them to be such. Telle est la vie, as most of us live it.
Dream after dream ensues,
And still they dream that they shall still succeed,
And still are disappointed,
writes William Cowper. Not at all in the same measure or
manner, but pretty much to the same effect, writes the picturesque poet of Bells and Pomegranates:
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
No sooner the old hope drops to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
Side by side with the massiveness of the Roman Past, muses Mr. Hawthorne, all matters that we handle or dream of now-adays look evanescent and visionary alike; and he pictures accordingly his four chief figures in "Transformation" as persons conscious of this dreamy character of the present, as compared with the square blocks of granite wherewith the Romans built their lives. "Perhaps it even contributed to the fanciful merriment which was just now their mood. When we feel ourselves fading into shadows and unrealities, it seems hardly worth while to be sad, but rather to laugh as gaily as we can, and ask little reason wherefore."
There is a deal that is suggestive in the Abbé Gerbet's discoursings in the Catacombs at Rome. "Ce dernier calque de l'homme," he says, in what has been called a commentary on Bossuet's mot, that the corpse of a man becomes a je ne sais quoi, for which there is no name in any language-" cette forme si vague, si effacée, à peine empreinte sur une poussière à peu près impalpable, volatile, presque transparente, d'un blanc mat et incertain, est ce qui donne le mieux quelque idée de ce que les anciens appelaient une ombre. Cette forme est plus frêle que l'aile d'un papillon, plus prompte à s'evanouir que la goutte de rosée suspendue à un brin d'herbe au soleil; un peu d'air agité par votre main, un souffle, un son deviennent ici des agents puissants qui peuvent anéantir en une seconde ce que dix-sept siècles, peutêtre, de destruction ont épargné. Voyez, vous venez de respirer, et la forme a disparu. Voilà la fin de l'histoire de l'homme en ce monde." What shadows we are! Ashes to ashes ends, even in Westminster Abbey, man's noblest story; and dust to dust concludes his noblest song.
O death all-eloquent! you only prove
What dust we doat on, when 'tis man we love.
Hawthorne's Gervayse Hastings is a type and symbol, when he describes himself as depressed by a haunting perception of un
reality; as one to whom all things, all persons, are like shadows flickering on the wall. "Neither have I myself any real existence," he says, "but am a shadow like the rest." And the end
not to say the moral-of his story may serve to remind us of the Abbé Gerbet's words. Gervayse Hastings is seated with other guests at a feast-of very odd fellows-over whom is suspended the skeleton of the oddest of all, the founder of the feast. As the speaker ceased his confession of shadowy experiences, "it so chanced that at this juncture the decayed ligaments of the skeleton gave way, and the dry bones fell together in a heap.
The attention of the company being thus diverted, for a single instant, from Gervayse Hastings, they perceived, on turning again towards him, that the old man had undergone a change. His shadow had ceased to flicker on the wall." The woe of this old man was, that to him the world to come was all shadow too.
Mrs. Schimmelpenninck expresses her belief that in youth and middle age there is often a real conviction of the transitory nature of the most established temporal things, but that in old age it is not merely a conviction, but a vivid palpable reality, and that the eternal mountains do then indeed appear near at hand, while all the campaign around seems faded into shadowy distance; and she inclines to say, like the monk, who for forty years had exhibited the picture of the Last Supper, that he had seen so many pass away, that himself and those he spoke to seemed a shadow, while the blessed institution of the Holy Supper stood before him alone a reality. But many is the young heart that feels as Margaret Hale felt, in Mrs. Gaskell's story, when to her life seemed a vain show, so unsubstantial, and flickering, and fleeting, and when "it was as if from some aërial belfry, high up above the stir and jar of the earth, there was a bell continually tolling, 'All are shadows! -all are passing!-all is past!'"
Le tems même sera detruit, as La Bruyère says: "ce n'est qu'un point dans les espaces immenses de l'éternité, et il sera effacé. Il y a de légères et frivoles circonstances du tems, qui ne sont pas stables, qui passent, et que j'appelle des modes, la grandeur, la faveur, les richesses, la puissance, l'autorité, l'indépendance, le plaisir, les joies, la superfluité. Que deviendront ces modes, quand le tems même aura disparu? La vertu seule, si peu à la mode, va au-delà des tems."
Between two worlds life hovers like a star
"Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon's verge:
So writes Byron in the poem that contains perhaps his grandest and most powerful strains, interspersed among his wittiest and most wicked ones. If ever man was haunted by the conviction that we are shadows all, and that shadows are our pursuit, it was he. But with him there was nothing of a "saving faith" in this. As Shakspeare's Prince of Arragon reads on the scroll at Belmont,
Some there be that shadows kiss;
and of such was Byron. And he knew it. Not more alive to this philosophy was Cowper himself, when he pictured men
For threescore years employed with ceaseless care
In catching smoke and feeding upon air ;
or when he pointed with this moral his lines on the felled poplars that once lent him a shade, beneath which he had so often been charmed by the blackbird's sweet flowing ditty:
'Tis a sight to engage me, if anything can,
To muse on the perishing pleasures of man;
Have a being less durable even than he.
One great amusement of the household in the Castle of Indolence, on the testimony of its poet-laureate, was,
In a huge crystal magic globe to spy,
Still as you turned it, all things that do pass
Of idly busy men the restless fry
Run bustling to and fro with foolish haste,
If, with Churchill, we stand as
Spectators only on this bustling stage,
In other verses, and another measure, the same poet justifies his
For our pursuits, be what they will,
Of world-wide application is what Bernardin de Saint-Pierre said