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a pass that men cannot alone generally repeat Gloucester's words to Henry VI., and say,
"Ah, gracious lord, these days are dangerous!
And charity chas'd hence by rancour's hand;"
but, to cite the words of a modern writer, when religion itself, by a too cruel spite, will seem as if made to turn against them, when they see it interpreted, as it has often been for the last three hundred years, so that the whole order of nature appears reversed for them, in obedience to its supposed prescription; when they see the poetry, or what may be termed, without implying any fault, the romance of their life, needlessly, systematically brought to an end; when they see what Johnson hints at with such feeling, and many authentic biographies, including those of royal personages, describe in great detail, namely, virtues tending to extremes, and thereby causing variance, piety itself assuming an ungentle part, to make manners quite unnatural and repulsive, men or women that were trained up in a religious school, where divine maxims, scorning comparison with moral precepts, combine so poorly with unkindness and perverse replies, so taught afresh that they must cease to look manly or womanly; when they see them, as our modern literature sometimes represents them, giving up, in consequence of a most abundant soberness, with daily hue and cries upon those who cannot go the whole length of this way with them, man's affections or woman's affections to become, as our Elizabethan authors would say, starcht pieces of austerity, having such a spiced consideration, such qualms upon the conscience, such chilblains in the blood, that all things pinch them which nature and common sense make custom, becoming, like a sullen set of sentences, severe, suspicious, imbued with a fanaticism, which may be truly qualified as benumbing and yet fantastical, since it has left not in them, as the old fabulist observes, “a spark of man or woman ;' so that these good persons, unearthly in one sense as the deep sunless source, succumbing to this influence, becoming sacred, sacerdotal, or vestal-hearted, however habited, shadowy, cold, abandoners of recreation, strict, contemplative, sad, solitary, white, as chaste and pure as wind-fanned snow, who to no one near them will allow so much blood as is required to raise a blush, " can wound mortally without drawing from the veins a single drop, or receiving on their own crystal conscience the faintest stain of crime;" for this kind of religion, as witnessed in history, and as many persons following every banner know, prompts and requires such behaviour as would make Wisdom herself run frantic through the streets, and Patience quarrel with her shadow; when they see, as the same observers and
painters of the world remark, men in conformity to such lessons becoming like old wives through blind prophesying, and what is as lamentable, women whose mission is to inspirit and beautify existence, to reclaim from vice by gaiety, as Goldsmith says, doing just the contrary of all this, laying aside womanhood, like her that would go to Jerusalem with an escort of angels, and condemning all the recreations and amenities of the common world, as if none should enjoy this life but the worst ; when life's mixed drama begins to assume this perverse and surprising form, they take the hint as significative of a state of things that is without remedy, as far as they are concerned.
An earnest desire to please, a sweet community of enjoyment, brave and romantic love, that would have defied time and fortune, all the manly and womanly graces that they used to hear praised and magnified, pass for nothing, or for worse than nothing, in the balance of those melancholy pedants who sanction and suggest the unyielding oppositions, as Johnson stylesthem, of disagreeable virtues; and then "baffled sympathy, the secret spring of most sadness, is what remains of the taste of life." They are thenceforth disenchanted, and ready to recognize the wisdom of Catholicity in providing consolations of a supernatural order, and ready also, when the appointed hour comes, cheerfully to take their leave to travel to their dust. Even without experience of this kind, which can belong but to very few, the natural course of events around the old prepares them sometimes for welcoming all things that relate to the passage. Admirable are the secrets of Providence for equalizing the happiness of all classes, and enabling men that seem prosperous to meet death with pleasure. Never do these subtle artifices appear more exquisite than in regard to the latter object. That Providence does not want great catastrophes or maladies for effecting this purpose, a look or a tone of voice, implying the absence of love and all kind feeling, suffices. We know from history, that without employing physical causes, nature, by the most simple and trifling means, has the art of creating in men a willingness to think about another life. It is quite wonderful, for instance, how completely, in many historical instances that we read of, she separated and isolated persons who felt most need of it from all human sympathy, letting them see proof that it might have been had close at hand, but all the while resolutely withholding it. Persons, again, according to the difference of their tastes, habits, and constitutions, are attached with more or less affection to certain localities, whether in towns or country, to scenery of some particular kind, or to some one city or neighbourhood, associated in their memory with what is especially dear, and fraught with cheerful images. Well, it happens often in the decline of life that they are so circumstanced as to be cut off for
ever from the hope of being, as far as relates to these conditions of earthly happiness, in their place. Their lot resembles that of Ovid, and, in what is to them like the desolation of Scythia, must they continue until they die. Envying their own letters, they can address them in the words which he used to his book, and say,
ibis in urbem,
Hei mihi quo domino non licet ire tuo.
It is then that they learn to sing, with a sense of its sweetness, the Vitam venturi sæculi of the Credo; for it is precisely because these sources of distress seem trivial, that they admit of no other consolation. Again, the human offspring does not always, like the vegetable, show the same qualities as the parent stock. Have you not seen a great oak cleft asunder with a small wedge cut from the very heart of the same tree? It is an emblem of the aged sire exposed to some proficient in all the illiberal sciences. There are men in every age of the world who see verified the proverb of the Greeks-Ανδρῶν ἡρώων τέκνα Thμara, and who have to console themselves by the pleasant conceit of him who said that this happens by a wise provision of nature, -Ne malum hoc sapientiæ inter mortales latius serpat. If they have not to mourn for the death of a promising son like him, giving tears, as he says, viti μ wкvμóp, they may have, perhaps, to mark the contrast between those who were once "their children" and those who are now men; and that may possibly be something beyond melancholy, the killing grief which dares not speak; or which, if it does gain utterance, replies with Flamineo, when asked what he thought on,
"Nothing, of nothing: leave thy idle questions.
I am i' th' way to study a long silence;
True, the thoughts of the old are sometimes unjust, and most perverse. An aged parent will wish his son to be like himself, to have the same tastes, the same occupations, when perhaps Divine Providence, and not Folly, as Erasmus playfully says, mercifully provides that the youth should be unlike him in every respect; for why should the character of the sire be revived thus, when often, without what seems estimable in him, whether it be diplomatic capacity, military talents, learning, or any peculiar tastes or acquirements, the son may be a thousand times a better and happier man, precisely for the very reason that he adopts, by a necessity of his nature, a wholly different type from the paternal one. God ordains that the soil shall not pro
duce continuously the same trees and fruits, and why should a family be exempt from a similar law, seeing the infinite variety of excellence which exists in the moral world? But, on the other hand, it is clear from history and continued experience, that frequently old age may feel itself detached from this life by observing the character of those who are to be its heirs. “If one could ever die of shame and grief," says Michael Agnolo, "in his old age, I should not be living now." His were only the vexations of genius. But in every generation there are parents who must even woo those who deserve worst of them; and after all their labours, who can say, like Hieronimo, in the Spanish tragedy,
"What is there yet in a son,
To make a father doat?
The more he grows in stature and in years,
Methinks a marble lies quieter upon an old man's head than such knowledge obtained by personal sufferings; yet are they not uncommon. Is there a reluctance to die, then, think you, or a backwardness to make provision for dying? The words murmured in such cases are like those of Aëcius
"Oh, death, thou'rt more than beauty, and thy pleasure
Even where a happier experience belongs to old age, stil! it may very possibly have to observe a painful alteration in things about it. The father may look back to hours when his son was his own companion, before the lad was in reach of these insatiate humours. He will look back, above all, to days of flaxen curls and of arch smiles, and ask the still beloved but altered one, What wert thou then ?-A child of innocence, a bright emanation of love and beauty, an airy creature of grace and gentleness, never saying an unkind word, or doing an unkind thing, but scattering happiness and joy with looks. Yes, truly, he will continue,
'twas a dream divine;
Even to remember how it fled, how swift,
How utterly, might make the heart repine,-
But it is the course of nature for nothing to endure. change; every thing changes; and then if some changes still bring beauty and happiness along with them, there are other
changes of a different kind, which seem to dictate words like those of the poet singing The Days gone by,”
"The days gone by,-'tis sad, yet sweet,
Ere yet our hearts had learned to sigh-
In days gone by-in days gone by."
To see in such cases how altered in more than years are those who never again may play as boys and little maidens in the woods, pursuing those sweet fancies which once made the flowers fairer, and the fount more clear, is found to be a great specific against such an inordinate attachment to the present life as would reject all central attractions as interfering with the full sense of its felicity.
"The unfeeling may think I on trifles do dwell,
But many there are who will echo my strain,
Hath promised, one bright day, to wipe away all *."
But there is other experience still more general, which must force a wider passage for those whose old age is not made exceptional by a sacred mission, imparting resources beyond what this life yields. He who feels no desires of pleasures," say the vainly wise Brahmins, "he who is free from love, fear, and wrath, possesses a firm mind, and is called Mouni. When one renounces all the desires which enter into the heart, and when one is content in one's self with one's self, then one is confirmed in wisdom. After repressing the senses, man should remain seated, having for the end of all his meditations nothing but the me alone." It is to be hoped that here is enough to satisfy our extreme spiritualists, who perhaps would fain be in love; but having no other object, are enforced to love their own humour; but there is no taste in this philosophy; it is like a potion that a man is told to drink, but turns his stomach with the sight of it; for the truth is, so little wise is egotism, however spiritual, that there is no true life on earth, as our old poet says, but being in love. There are no studies, no delights, no business, no intercourse, or trade of sense or soul, but what is love.
*L. M. Thornton.