« VorigeDoorgaan »
to have these highest hopes confirmed, and to hear such words as
fruentur Æthereæ sedes, coelumque erit exitus illi.” Besides, a sense of the brevity of all that is left of the road before them, must be favourable to those fruitful thoughts on which Catholicism so often and so securely reckons for the recovery of its children. That moral courage which is so needful sometimes for the accomplishment of its law is a natural attendant upon years. Castricius, resisting the consul Cn. Carbo to his face, when the latter urged his own power, saying that he had many swords, the other calmly replied, -et ego annos *. The Roman author calls Cæsellius periculose contumax ; for when bis friends reminded him of his danger from the triumvirs, he replied, Two things which seem most bitter to men give me great liberty, namely, senectutem et orbitatem. “ This life grows shorter with its increase,” says St. Isidore, “and it is truly short.” With the aged all continuance here of course is doubly uncertain ; as Sophocles says,
σμικρά παλαιά σώματ’ ευνάζει ροπή. “Old men of your age,” says Antonio de Guevara, writing to Dom Loys Bravo in his usual playful style, “ought to have a warm room and a warm house ; for as there is always some screw loose in an old man, a little cold or wind entering by a chink will do more harm than passing the whole night under the canopy of heaven in youth.” Moreover, the aged must generally be aware that the departure of the old is often without previous warning, and of this circumstance they have a symbol in the forest; for the foliage of the wych-elm fails suddenly. Its leaves curl up, become brown, and Autter from their spray. It seems as if it heard the stealing by of frost before any intimation of its approach is given. Such is the case frequently with old men, and they are conscious that it is. “ As for me," says Chateaubriand, “I have hitherto always enjoyed robust health, but it is precisely constitutions of this sort which are the most liable to a sudden ruin. They resemble the ground on the river's bank, under. mined by the fugitive wave; covered with herbs and Aowers, nothing distinguishes it from other ground, when all of a sudden a sound is heard, it crumbles and falls." A sense of this vncertainty, without interfering with the calm enjoyment of life's remaining pleasures, will therefore generally familiarize the mind with those grave and effective thoughts which move men to look about for that stability in matters of religion, and for that ground of solid reasonable hope for the futurity which approaches, that the central principles of the Catholic religion yield. • Val. Max, vi.
+ Ed. Tyr.
In fine, there is, in spite of all the calm delights of its declining day, a certain weariness of the present life, more or less at times incident to old age, that can easily lead men to prepare anxiously and cheerfully for entering upon another existence, by taking those precautions which calm and deliberate reason, ever conscious of its own limits, suggests and requires. The ancient poet anticipates a period when he will be resigned and willing to die.
“ Elysios olim liceat cognoscere campos,
Lethæamque ratem, Cimmeriosque lacus,
Et referam pueris tempora prisca senex *." There are some thoughts incident to the experience of old age that stick upon its memory, and that it would fain discharge by dying. There is, moreover, continually a fresh recurrence of what in all ages had reconciled the old to the thought of death. On the shore opposite to Troy, near the Hellespont, at the sepulchre of Protesilaus, are elm trees said to have been planted by nymphs around his grave, which, according to Pliny, every hundred years, when they grow sufficiently high to behold Troy, wither away to death, and then again send forth fresh shoots to keep up the succession t. There are periods occurring thus in the life of man, when, on attaining to a certain elevation, and arriving within view of certain realities, he contracts secretly a distaste, or at least an inaptitude, for the present scene on which he has so long walked hand in hand with time, and withers away visibly, for all the desires of this world. When he has lived long enough to see certain vicissitudes which are of common, not to say constant, recurrence ; then, like Æson,
“ Jam propior leto, fessusque senilibus annis,” he desires to behold no more until a different order of phenomena shall dawn for him.
6 How long my life will last (he says) I know not ;
This know, how soon soever I depart,
My wishes will before me have arrived." Misery in an aged person's years gives every thing a tongue to question it. We need not cite for the reply commonplace instances produced by the ordinary calamities of the . world; but there is a subtle and most efficacious source of detachment from life, which has played too great part in history to be passed over in silence. There is a life beautiful and free, that was known in Paradise, and yet that so readily enters into
+ Nat. Hist. lib. xvi. 88.
combination with the peculiar forms and colour of every successive generation, that in each age it appears to have only risen up with it for the first time, and to be the product of its particular stage of civilization ; a life which, with all its charms, is nothing more or less than the simple and logical result of the very constitution of our nature, not more subject to the infuence of the fall than any other, or, in fact, than reason itself, and for the continuance of which, notwithstanding the complaints of some, speaking often, without any authority, in the name of heaven, the Creator, by his universal laws, seems to have effectually made provision; there is, I say, a life, graceful and loving, in harmony with the fairest, and not the less the most rational ideal that we can form of such an existence as ours, and of such creatures as ourselves ; a life, notwithstanding its equal adaptation to all classes,-for it requires no balance at a banker's,poetical, musical, and picturesque, represented in its defects and surface by those merry writers and humorous artists who paint the passing topics of the day, and the result of whose works is after all, perhaps, to teach the best wisdom, by conveying a smiling and charitable view of humanity in its minutest details ; a life by no means at variance, as some would pretend, with a sense of man's noblest prerogative, the spirituality which distinguishes him from other animals, or inconsistent with any principle essential to the central wisdom, while it seems to present itself recommended by the strongest arguments from analogy, since we see that God, by his natural light, the sun, adds beauty and rich and varied colouring to the world, subject to our senses, from which fact one may fairly conclude that it must be a gratuitous piece of severity to suppose that his supernatural light is to add gloom and pale insipidity to the social and moral world, subjected to the eye of imagination and intelligence. At all events, to whatever extent, or in whatever manner it may be susceptible of explanation, definition, or indulgence, when, from a habit of rejecting every thing that does not assume a kind of formal, theological dress, answering to what is alone admitted by the præ-Raphaelite school of painters, this life is inexorably cried down, and from inability to reduce it to scientific formulas, intended for another purpose, a melancholy, stiff, disproportioned, and unnatural kind of existence, in accordance with certain conventional and inapplicable phrases, is substituted for it, the condition and mind of many persons are embittered, and the atmosphere that surrounds the old is rendered too cold and unwholesome to be long endurable. Since the epoch of the false reform, with its action and its reaction, history and biography unfold a melancholy page to convince us that what is intended for the consolation becomes, by an abuse, not unfrequently conducive to the wretchedness of man; for when it has come to such
a pass that men cannot alone generally repeat Gloucester's words to Henry VI., and say,
“ Ah, gracious lord, these days are dangerous !
Virtue is chok'd with foul ambition,
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 de sire to please, a sweet community of enjoynient, 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 trifing means, has the art of creating in men a willingness to think about another life. It is quite wonderful, for instance, bow 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