« AnteriorContinuar »
stands as a middle term halfway between these dark forms and the Greek or Roman. Pluto is the very model of a puny attempt at darkness utterly failing. He looks big; he paints himself histrionically; he soots his face; he has a masterful dog, nothing half so fearful as a wolf-dog or bloodhound; and he raises his own manes, poor, stridulous Struldbrugs.
Vainly did the ancient Pagans fight against this fatal weakness.
They may confer upon their Gods glittering titles of " ambrosial," "immortal ”; but the human mind is careless of positive assertion and of clamorous iteration in however angry a tone, when silently it observes stealing out of facts already conceded some fatal consequence at war with all these empty pretensions—mortal even in the virtual conceptions of the Pagans. If the Pagan Gods were really immortal, if essentially they repelled the touch of mortality; and not through the adulatory homage of their worshippers causing their true aspects to unsettle or altogether to disappear in clouds of incense, then how came whole dynasties of Gods to pass away, and no man could tell whither? If really they defied the grave, then how was it that age and the infirmities of age passed upon them like the shadow of eclipse upon the golden faces of the planets? If Apollo were a beardless young man, his father was not such—he was in the vigour of maturity ; maturity is a flattering term for expressing it, but it means past youth-and his grandfather was superannuated. But even this grandfather, who had been once what Apollo was now, could not pretend to more than a transitory station in the long succession of Gods. Other dynasties, known even to man, there had been before his, and elder dynasties before that, of whom only rumours and suspicions survived. Even this taint, however, this direct access of mortality, was less shocking to my mind in after years than the abominable fact of its reflex or indirect access in the shape of grief for others who had died. I need not multiply instances; they are without end. The reader has but to throw his memory back upon the anguish of Jupiter, in the Iliad, for the approaching death of his son, Sarpedon, and his vain struggles to deliver himself from this ghastly net; or upon Thetis fighting against the vision of her matchless Pelides caught in the same vortex; or upon the Muse in Euripides, hovering in the air
VOL. IV.-No. 20.
and wailing over her young Rhesus, her brave, her beautiful one, of whom she trusted that he had been destined to confound the Grecian host. What! a God, and liable to the pollution of grief! A Goddess, and standing every hour within the peril of that dismal shadow !
Here in one moment mark the recoil, the intolerable recoil, upon the Pagan mind, of that sting which vainly they pretended to have conquered on behalf of their Pantheon. Did the reader fancy that I was fatiguing myself with any task so superfluous as that of proving the Gods of the heathen to be no Gods? In that case he has not understood me. My object is to show that the ancients, that even the Greeks, could not support the idea of immortality. The idea crumbled to pieces under their touch. In realising that idea unconsciously, they suffered elements to slip in which defeated its very essence in the result; and not by accident: other elements they could not have found. Doubtless an insolent Grecian philosopher would say, “Surely, I knew that immortality meant the being liberated from mortality.” Yes, but this is no more than the negative idea, and the demand is to give the affirmative idea. Or perhaps I shall better explain my meaning by substituting other terms with my own illustration of their value. I say, then, that the Greek idea of immortality involves only the nominal idea, not the real idea. Now, the nominal idea (or, which is the same thing, the nominal definition) is that which simply sketches the outline of an object in the shape of a problem ; whereas the real definition fills up that outline and solves that problem. The nominal definition states the conditions under which an object would be realised for the mind; the real definition executes those conditions. The nominal definition, that I may express it most briefly and pointedly, puts a question; the real definition answers that question. Thus, to give our illustration, the insoluble problem of squaring the circle presents us with a good nominal idea. There is no vagueness at all in the idea of such a square; it is that square which, when a given circle is laid before you, would present the same superficial contents in such exquisite truth of repetition that the
eye of God could detect no shadow of more or of less. Nothing can be plainer than the demand—than the question. But as to the answer, as to the real conditions under which this demand can be realised, all the wit of man has not been able to do more than approach it. Or, again, the idea of a perfect commonwealth, clear enough as a nominal idea, is in its infancy as a real idea. Oi, perhaps, a still more lively illustration to some readers may be the idea of perpetual motion. Nominally—that is, as an idea sketched problem-wise—what is plainer ? You are required to assign some principle of motion such that it shall revolve through the parts of a mechanism self-sustained. Suppose those parts to be called by the names of our English alphabet, and to stand in the order of our alphabet, then A is, through B, C, D, &c., to pass down with its total power upon Z, which reciprocally is to come round undiminished upon A, B, C, &c., for ever. Never was a nominal definition of what you want more simple and luminous. But coming to the real definition, and finding that every letter in succession must still give something less than is received—that O, for instance, cannot give to P all which it received from N-then no matter for the triviality of the loss in each separate case, always it is gathering and accumulating ; your hands drop down in despair; you feel that a principle of death pervades the machinery ; retard it you may, but come it will at last. And a proof remains behind, as your only result, that whilst the nominal definition may sometimes run before the real definition for ages, and yet finally be overtaken by it, in other cases the one flies hopelessly before the persuit of the other, defies it, and never will be overtaken to the end of time.
That fate, that necessity, besieged the Grecian idea of immortality. Rise from forgotten dust, my Plato; Stagyrite, stand up from the grave ; Anaxagoras, with thy bright, cloudless intellect that searched the skies; Heraclitus, with thy gloomy, mysterious intellect that fathomed the deeps, come forward and execute for me this demand. How shall that immortality, which you give, which you must give as a trophy of honour to your Pantheon, sustain itself against the blights from those humanities which also, by an equal necessity, starting from your basis, give you must to that Pantheon? How will you prevent the sad reflux of that tide which finally engulfs all things under any attempt to execute the nominal idea of a deity? You cannot do it. Weave your divinities in that Grecian loom of yours, and no skill in the workmanship, nor care that wisdom can devise, will ever cure the fatal flaws in the texture : for the mortal taint lies not so much in your work as in the original errors of your loom.
III.-GREAT FORGERS : CHATTERTON AND WALPOLE, AND
HAVE ever been disposed to regard as the most venial of
deceptions such impositions as Chatterton had practised on the public credulity. Whom did he deceive ? Nobody but those who well deserved to be deceived, viz., shallow antiquaries, who pretended to a sort of knowledge which they had not so much as tasted. And it always struck me as a judicial infatuation in Horace Walpole, that he, who had so brutally pronounced the death of this marvellous boy to be a matter of little consequence, since otherwise he would have come to be hanged for forgery, should himself, not as a boy under eighteen (and I think under seventeen at the first issuing of the Rowley fraud), slaving for a few guineas that he might procure the simplest food for himself, and then buy presents for the dear mother and sister whom he had left in Bristol, but as an elderly man, with a clear six thousand per annum,* commit a far more deliberate and audacious forgery than that imputed (if even accurately imputed) to Chatterton. I know of no published document, or none published under Chatterton's sanction, in which he formally declared the Rowley poems to have been the compositions of a priest living in the days of Henry IV., viz., in or about the year 1400. Undoubtedly he suffered people to understand that he had found MSS. of that period in the tower of St. Mary Redcliff at Bristol, which he really had done ; and whether he simply tolerated them in running off with the idea that these particular poems, written on discoloured parchments by way of colouring the hoax, were amongst the St. Mary treasures, or positively said so, in either view, considering the circumstances of the case, no man of kind feelings will much condemn him.
*“ Six thousand per annum,” viz., on the authority of his own confession to Pinkerton.
But Horace Walpole roundly and audaciously affirmed in the first sentence of his preface to the poor romance of Otranto, that it had been translated from the Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, and that the MS. was still preserved in the library of an English Catholic family; circumstantiating his needless falsehood by other most superfluous details. Needless, I say, because a book with the Walpole name on the title-page was as sure of selling as one with Chatterton's obscure name was at that time sure of not selling. Possibly Horace Walpole did not care about selling, but wished to measure his own intrinsic power as a novelist, for which purpose it was a better course to preserve his incognito. But this he might have preserved without telling a circumstantial falsehood. Whereas Chatterton knew that his only chance of emerging from the obscure station of a grave-digger's son, and carrying into comfort the dear female relatives that had half-starved themselves for him (I speak of things which have since come to my knowledge thirty-five years after Chatterton and his woes had been buried in a pauper's coffin), lay in bribing public attention by some extrinsic attraction. Macpherson had recently engaged the public gaze by his “Ossian ". an abortion fathered upon the fourth century after Christ. What so natural as to attempt other abortions—ideas and refinements of the eighteenth century-referring themselves to the fifteenth ? Had this harmless hoax succeeded, he would have delivered those from poverty who delivered him from ignorance ; he would have raised those from the dust who raised him to an acreal height-yes, to a height from which (but it was after his death), like Ate or Eris, .come to cause another Trojan war, he threw down an apple of discord amongst the leading scholars of England, and seemed to say: “There, Dean of Exeter ! there, Laureate ! there, Tyrwhitt, my man ! Me you have murdered amongst you. Now fight to death for the boy that living you would not have hired as a shoeblack. My blood be upon you !” Rise up, martyred blood! rise to Heaven for a testimony against these men and this generation, or else burrow in the earth, and from that spring up like the stones thrown by Deucalion and Pyrrha into harvests of feud, into