Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

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.

Me mare, me venti, me fera jactat hiems." 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-Ανδρών ηρώων τέκνα añuara, 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, visi šuý úrvuopų, 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 ;
To prate were idle ; I remember nothing ;
There's nothing of so infinite vexation

As man's own thoughts.” 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

not uncommon.

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,
The more unsquar'd, unlevell’d he appears ;
Reckons his parents among the rank of fools,
Strikes cares upon their heads with his mad riots,

Makes them look old before they meet with age.' Methinks a marble lies quieter upon an old man's head than such knowledge obtained by personal sufferings; yet are they

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

Beyond posterity!" Even where a happier experience belongs to old age, still 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,

Tho''twas a dream." But it is the course of nature for nothing to endure. We all 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,

To list the strain of parted hours ;
To think of those we loved to meet,

When children, ʼmid a thousand flowers ;
The scenes we roved, romantic, lone,

Ere yet our hearts had learned to sigh-
The dreams of rapture once our own,.

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,

Because of the innocent hours I tell ;
But many there are who will echo my strain,
And wish with their bard they were children again,
Sigh their parents to see, and their dear little friends,
And weep when they think how soon happiness ends.
But One who beholdeth our tears as they fall,

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 bis 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.

Old age in common secular life, though solitary, and liable perhaps sometimes to selfish concentration of thoughts, will hardly feel itself so drawn to the wisdom which professes to ignore this truth, as to become unwilling to lose its strains, and exchange them for what is found in Catholic churches-sacred offices, vigils, festivals, conferences for visiting the poor, and those in. numerable other provisions which she offers with a view to preparation for a happier existence. Life can hardly become dearer to the possessor of such theology as is contained in the Mahâbhârata, or sacred books of Brahmins, in which it is taught that perfection in wisdom consists in the absence of love. An old man no doubt is changed from what he once was ; but can the very life be gone out of his heart? Can he desire to be the unprofitable sign of nothing, the veriest drone, and sleep away the remainder of his days, causing thought to cancel pleasure, making a dark forehead, bent upon truth, the rock on which all affection is to split, wasting life in one long sigh, and never beholding a gentle face turned gently upon his ?" No, no! when it comes to this pass, though you promise days happy as the gold coin can invent without such aid, he can never be again in love with a wish ; when all trace of the summer of his years is gone, and earth for him has buried every flower, he is ready to shake hands with Time, and consult about what is beyond it. It must be a new world that can attract bim, and something different from all that is left to him in the old one, though it were philosophy itself in person, with its abominable beard. In such considerations, one excepts, of course, those who, by a celestial vocation, have been all through life directed, animated, and consoled otherwise than ordinary mortals ; and that there are such men every where is, as we found upon another road, an acknowledged fact, and an experimental certainty. One excepts, also, those, forming, perhaps, no inconsiderable class of mankind, to whom there is allusion in a quarter too high to be named here, as being, by natural inclination and habits, invulnerable to the spell of which one speaks, and averse to the whole character which it forms: one speaks only of ordinary mortals, the “ laity of noble love,” as our ancient poets call them. These, too, indeed, happily have also a supernatural object proposed to them, and may have supernatural consolations to sustain them ; but by the very fact of its origin, the supernatural cannot bind them to this earth, or counteract the natural tendency of years. The chill air of isolation, therefore, with the common mortal must do its work. Is there no one left here below to love him as he used to be loved once, when he could outwake the nightingale, outwatch an usurer, and outwalk him, too, stalk like a ghost that haunted about a treasure, and all that fancied treasure it was love? Then most undoubtedly this change in bis relation to

ܪ

others, were not his thoughts called elsewhere, would smite his lonesome heart more than all misery ; and then it would not be the hearing such sentences of Brahmins, or as Plato proposes with more reason, some rhapsody recited from the Iliad or the Odyssey, that could rivet his wishes to the limits of this world *, or cause him to turn with aversion from every consideration that relates to another. He will say with Calis, in our old play,

Alas ! I must love nothing ;
Nothing that loves again must I be bless'd with !
The gentle vine climbs up the oak, and clips him,
And when the stroke comes, yet they fall together.

Death, Death must I enjoy, and love him !”
His song will be,

“ Spring it is cheery,

Winter is dreary,
Green leaves hang, but the brown must fly;

When he's forsaken,

Wither'd and shaken,
What can an old man do but die ?

June it was jolly,

O for its folly !
A dancing step and a laughing eye ;

Youth may be silly

Wisdom is chilly, What can an old man do but die ?" “We are all,” says Frederic, in “The Chances,' “ like sea cards ; all our endeavours and our motions (as they do to the north still point at beauty.” But it has been said, that the root of al) that inspires us with a sense of beauty and of happiness onl earth lies in our desire of love ; that the mind makes a secret reference to it even in contemplating a beautiful edifice, or landscape, or sky, and that it is only when they affect us as love does, that we consider them beautiful. Therefore if love be altogether past away, there is nothing left on earth to point or direct our movements. When years heap their withered hours like leaves on our decay; when no association of ideas can exist between the present world and that which the heart yearns for, —that which was pronounced by the Creator as necessary for the work of his hands in Paradise ; when man, in short, is left alone, without sympathy, without love, without a visible companion that cares for him otherwise than for the soul of a stranger, he becomes sensible that his happiness cannot be interested in his dismissing all thoughts about first principles, and protracting his

* De Legibus, lib. ii.

« VorigeDoorgaan »