« AnteriorContinuar »
to it, with some sort of imperfect, unconscious bias. This is the reason, besides the ends of secresy, of the invention of slang terms for different acts of profligacy committed by thieves, pickpockets, &c. The common names suggest associations of disgust in the minds of others, which those who live by them do not willingly recognise, and which they wish to sink in a technical phraseology. So there is a story of a fellow who, as he was writing down his confession of a murder, stopped to ask how the word murder was spelt; this, if true, was partly because his imagination was staggered by the recollection of the thing, and partly because he shrunk from the verbal admission of it. “ Amen stuck in his throat !” The defence made by Eugene Aram of himself against a charge of murder, some years before, shows that he in imagination completely flung from himself the nominal crime imputed to him: he might, indeed, have staggered an old man with a blow, and buried his body in a cave, and lived ever since upon the money he found upon him, but there was “ no malice in the case, none at all,” as Peachum says. The very coolness, subtlety, and circum. spection of his defence (as masterly a legal document as there is upon record) prove that he
was guilty of the act, as much as they prove that he was unconscious of the crime*. In the same spirit, and I conceive with great metaphysical truth, Mr. Coleridge, in his tragedy of Remorse, makes Ordonio (his chief character) wave the acknowledgment of his meditated guilt to his own mind, by putting into his mouth that striking soliloquy:
Say, I had lay'd a body in the sun !
I am not sure, indeed, that I have not got this whole train of speculation from him ; but I should not think the worse of it on that account. That gentleman, I recollect, once asked me whether I thought that the different members of a family really liked one another so well, or
* The bones of the murdered man were dug up in an old hermitage. On this, as one instance of the acuteness which he displayed all through the occasion, Aram remarks, “ Where would you expect to find the bones of a man sooner than in a hermit's cell, except you were to look for them in a cemetery?” See NewGATE Calendar for the year 1758 or 9.
had so much attachment as was generally supposed: and I said that I conceived the regard they had towards each other was expressed by the word interest, rather than by any other; which he said was the true answer. I do not know that I could mend it now. Natural af. fection is not pleasure in one another's company, nor admiration of one another's qualities; but it is an intimate and deep knowledge of the things that affect those, to whom we are bound by the nearest ties, with pleasure or pain; it is an anxious, uneasy, fellow-feeling with them, a jealous watchfulness over their good name, a tender and unconquerable yearning for their good. The love, in short, we bear them, is the nearest to that we bear ourselves. Home, according to the old saying, is home, be it never so homely. We love ourselves, not according to our deserts, but our cravings after good : so we love our immediate relations in the next degree (if not, even sometimes a higher one) because we know best what they have suffered and what sits nearest to their hearts. We are implicated, in fact, in their welfare, by habit and sympathy, as we are in our own.
If our devotion to our own interests is much the same as to theirs, we are ignorant of our own characters for the same reason. We are
parties too much concerned to return a fair verdict, and are too much in the secret of our own motives or situation not to be able to give a favourable turn to our actions. We exercise a liberal criticism upon ourselves, and put off the final decision to a late day. The field is large and open. Hamlet exclaims, with a noble magnanimity, “I count myself indifferent honest, and yet I could accuse me of such things !" If you could prove to a man that he is a knave, it would not make much difference in his opinion, his self-love is stronger than his love of virtue, Hypocrisy is generally used as a mask to deceive the world, not to impose on ourselves : for once detect the delinquent in his knavery, and he laughs in your face or glories in his iniquity. This at least happens except where there is a contradiction in the character, and our vices are involuntary, and at variance with our convictions. One great difficulty is to distinguish ostensible motives, or such as we acknowledge to ourselves, from tacit or secret springs of action. A man changes his opinion readily, he thinks it candour: it is levity of mind. For the most part, we are stunned and stupid in judging of ourselves. We are callous by custom to our defects or excellencies, unless where vanity steps in to exaggerate or extenuate them. I cannot conceive
how it is that people are in love with their own persons, or astonished at their own performances, which are but a nine days' wonder to every one else. In general it may be laid down that we are liable to this twofold mistake in judging of our own talents : we, in the first place, nurse the rickety bantling, we think much of that which has cost us much pains and labour, and comes against the grain ; and we also set little store by what we do with most ease to ourselves, and therefore best. The works of the greatest genius are produced almost unconsciously, with an ignorance on the part of the persons themselves that they have done any thing extraordinary. Nature has done it for them. How little Shakespear seems to have thought of himself or of his fame! Yet, if “ to know another well, were to know one's self,” he must have been acquainted with his own pretensions and character, “who knew all qualities with a learned spirit.” His eye seems never to have been bent upon himself, but outwards upon nature. A man, who thinks highly of himself, may almost set it down that it is without reason. Milton, notwithstanding, appears to have had a high opinion of himself, and to have made it good. He was conscious of his powers, and great by design. Perhaps his tenaciousness, on the score