« AnteriorContinuar »
of himself, by way of private interpretation: "Toutes mes idées ne sont que des ombres de la nature, recueillies par une autre ombre." Goldsmith was not altogether in sport when he made Croaker in the comedy pronounce life to be, at the greatest and best, but a froward child, that must be humoured and coaxed a little till it falls asleep, and then all the care is over; while Honeywood assents-Good-natured Man that he is-with a ready "Very true, sir; nothing can exceed the vanity of our existence, but the folly of our pursuits.' For Goldsmith was in sad earnest when he wrote of himself as one
Impelled with steps unceasing to pursue
Some fleeting good that mocks me with the view;
Shadow-hunted shadows is the very text for Mr. Carlyle. World's memory is very whimsical now and then, he says, in recording the forgotten exploits of Johann, King of Bohemia, "all which have proved voiceless in the World's memory; while the casual Shadow of a Feather he once wore has proved vocal there." And a whole chapter is devoted to, and entitled, a Kaiser hunting Shadows,-Kaiser Karl with his Pragmatic Sanction to wit, and similar projects, aims, or hobbies, more or less shadowy and unsubstantial, all. "There was another vast Shadow, or confused high-piled continent of shadows, to which our poor Kaiser held with his customary tenacity. To procure adherences and assurances to this dear Pragmatic Sanction, was, even more than the shadow of the Spanish crown," the one grand business of his life henceforth. "Shadow of Pragmatic Sanction, shadow of the Spanish Crown,-it was such shadow-huntings of the Kaiser in Vienna" that thwarted the Prussian Double-Marriage. Another object which Kaiser Karl pursued with some diligence, and which "likewise proved a shadow," was his Ostend East India Company, which gave much disturbance to mankind. "This was the third grand shadow which the Kaiser chased, shaking all the world, poor crank world, as he strode after it." Foiled in this, as in another and another chase, no wonder he grew more and more saturnine, and "addicted to solid taciturn field-sports. His Political 'Perforce Hunt (Parforce Jagd)', with so many two-footed terriers, and legationary beagles, distressing all the world by their baying and their burrowing, had proved to be of Shadows; and melted into thin air, to a very singular degree!" Many chapters later Mr. Carlyle recurs to his picture of the "Kaiser in his Shadow-hunt, coursing the Pragmatic Sanction chiefly, as he has done these twenty years past"—and so begins a chapter entitled, by a mixed metaphor, "Kaiser's Shadow-hunt has caught Fire"— by contact, namely, with inflammable Poland. And a subsequent
chapter details the damages the poor Kaiser had to pay for meddling in Polish elections,-" for galloping thither in chase of Shadows ... This may be considered as the consummation of the Kaiser's Shadow-hunt; or at least its igniting and exploding point. . . Shadow-hunt is now all gone to Pragmatic Sanction, as it were: that is now the one thing left in Nature for a Kaiser; and that he will love, and chase, as the summary of all things." From this point we see him go steadily down, and at a rapid rate,—getting into disastrous Turkish wars, "with as little preparation for War or Fact as a life-long Hunt of Shadows presupposes."
Or let us take our stand, with the same philosopher, in that Eil-de-Bœuf, in the Versailles Palace Gallery-through which what Figures have passed, and vanished! "Figures? Men? They are fast-fleeting Shadows; fast chasing each other: it is not a Palace, but a Caravansery."
Macaulay has his Sermon in a Churchyard. To that spot the homilist invites all and sundry, and he takes his standpoint for his text. Come to this school of his, he bids us, with the promise that there we shall learn, "in one short hour of placid thought, a stoicism more deep, more stern, than ever Zeno's porch hath taught:"
The plots and feats of those that press
We check and take, exult, and fret;
Our plans extend, our passions rise,
Till in our ardour we forget
How worthless is the victor's prize.
This may remind us of Mrs. Battle's apology for whist, or of the concluding sentence in a characteristic confession by Benjamin Constant-who, by the way, had said of himself in a previous letter, Je passerai comme une OMBRE sur la terre entre le malheur et l'ennui-he records his sentiment profond et (like his name) constant of the shortness of life-a sentiment, he says, so deep and so constant that it makes the pen or the book drop from his hand whenever he takes to study: "Nous n'avons pas plus de motifs pour acquérir de la gloire, pour conquérir un empire, ou pour faire un bon livre, que nous n'en avons pour faire une promenade ou une partie de whist." Even so utterly different a man in creed
and character as Joseph de Maistre could exclaim, "Ah! le vilain monde! j'ai toujours dit qu'il ne pourrait aller si nous avions le sens commun... C'est notre folie qui fait tout aller." Else when we see especially when death brings home to us, strikes home to us-what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue, "en vérité chacun se coucherait et daignerait à peine s'habiller." N'importe! tout marche et c'est assez. And readers of M. de Tocqueville's letters will remember how often that philosophic writer confides to his correspondents his conviction that there is no one thing in the world capable of fixing and satisfying him. He had attained a success unhoped for at the beginning of his career, but was far from happy. Often, in imagination, he would fancy himself at the summit of human greatness; and when there, the conviction would force itself irrepressibly upon him, that the same painful sensations would follow him to that sublime altitude.
Succeeding? What is the great use of succeeding? muses the master showman of Vanity Fair. Failing? Where is the great harm? "Psha! These things appear as nought, when Time passes-Time the consoler-Time the anodyne-Time the grey calm satirist, whose sad smile seems to say, Look, O man, at the vanity of the objects you pursue, and of yourself who them!"
Looks only for a moment whole and sound;
Like that long-buried body of the king,
Found lying with his urns and ornaments,
Slipt into ashes and was found no more.
The professed cynic, remarks an essayist on the theme of Occasional Cynicism, has reached the delightful conclusion that "the whole thing," by which he means life and all its interests, is a sheer mistake and piece of confusion. And as it presents itself to the grander and loftier type of mind, this difficulty is held by the same writer to be the "starting-point of all systems of religion and philosophy, of which it is the object to show either that aims exist before men's eyes that are solid realities worth pursuing, and not mere shadows, or else that even shadows are better worth pursuing in some one way than in all others.”
Jeffrey's earlier letters abound in almost cynical reflections on the folly of ambition and the "ridiculous self-importance" implied in "heroic toils." The whole game of life seemed to him a little childish, "and the puppets that strut and look lofty very nearly as ridiculous as those that value themselves on their airs and graces— poor little bits of rattling timber-to be jostled in a bag as soon as the curtain drops." "God help us, it is a foolish little thing this human life at the best; and it is half ridiculous and half pitiful to
see what importance we ascribe to it, and to its little ornaments and distinctions," &c. We are, as a modern poet of name and promise puts it, for ever at hide-and-seek with our souls:
Not in Hades alone
Doth Sisyphus roll, ever frustrate, the stone,
When we reflect on the shortness and uncertainty of life, how despicable, exclaims David Hume, seem all our pursuits of happiness! And even if we would extend our concern beyond our own life, he goes on to say, how frivolous appear our most enlarged and most generous projects, when we consider the incessant changes and revolutions of human affairs, by which laws and learning, books and governments, are hurried away by time, as by a rapid stream, and are lost in the immense ocean of matter. If such a reflection certainly tends to mortify all our passions, does it not, asks the essayist, thereby counterwork the artifice of nature, by which we are "happily deceived into an opinion that human life is of some importance? And may not such a reflection be employed with success by voluptuous reasoners, in order to lead us from the paths of action and virtue into the flowery fields of indolence and pleasure?" The Chinese have been pointed to, by a moral philosopher, to point his moral, which is, the desolating tendency of Secularism -they having learnt practically, as well as theoretically, to think of themselves as mere transitory beings, who have no future life to expect, and no present Providence to reverence cr fear; and the result he takes to be, that they are the meanest, the most deceitful, and one of the most vicious nations in the world—a people who literally sit in darkness, and whose lives are passed in the shadow of death. "In all the world there is no more terrible or instructive example of the practical results of looking upon men as mere passing shadows, who have no superior and no hereafter." succeed, this writer argues, in persuading men that they are mere passing phenomena, possessing no more distinctive qualities than the successive waves of the sea, and the consequence is inevitable. "They will cease-gradually, imperceptibly, and with all sorts of moral, and perhaps religious, reflections on their lips-to care for what is great, permanent, and noble, and they will become, in the fullest sense of the words, beasts that perish."
Many men, says Archdeacon Hare, spend their lives in gazing at their own shadows, and so dwindle away into shadows thereof. And one of his companion guessers at truth remarks, that instead of watching the bird as it flies above our heads, we chase his shadow along the ground; and, finding we cannot grasp it, we conclude it to be nothing.
If man be a reality, says John Sterling, no empty vision in the
dreaming soul of nature, but inwardly substantial and personal, that which he most earnestly desires, which best satisfies his whole being, must be real too. And here is a parallel passage from a later author:
Yes, this life is the war of the False and the True.
Ay, the world but a frivolous phantasm seems,
And mankind in the mass but as motes in sunbeams;
And dare we be indifferent? Hence, and be mute,
Light scoffer, vain trifler! Through all thou discernest
A RAMBLE IN OUR GREAT METROPOLIS.
BY NICHOLAS MICHELL.
CROWDS, crowds, where'er I turn; I cannot flee
Crowds, crowds; did heaven mean man to turn away
To gather in close masses, making here