Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

by a contrary fallacy. It was said of Hannibal that he wanted nothing to the completion of his martial virtues, but that when he had gained a victory he should know how to use it. The folly of desisting too soon from successful labours, and the haste of enjoying advantages before they are secured, are often fatal to men of impetuous desire, to men whose consciousness of uncommon powers fills them with presumption, and who, having borne opposition down. before them, and left emulation panting behind, are early persuaded to imagine that they have reached the heights of perfection, and that now, being no longer in danger from competitors, they may pass the rest of their days in the enjoyment of their acquisitions, in contemplation of their own superiority, and in attention to their own praises, and look unconcerned from their eminence upon the toils and contentions of meaner beings.

It is not sufficiently considered in the hour of exultation, that all human excellence is comparative; that no man performs much but in proportion to what others accomplish, or to the time and opportunities which have been allowed him; and that he who stops at any point of excellence is every day sinking in estimation, because his improvement grows continually more incommensurate to his life. Yet, as no man willingly quits opinions favourable to himself, they who have once been justly celebrated, imagine that they still have the same pretensions to regard, and seldom perceive the diminution of their character while there is time to recover it. Nothing then remains but murmurs and remorse; for if the spendthrift's poverty be embittered by the reflection that he once was rich, how must the idler's obscurity be clouded by remembering that he once had lustre !

L

These errors all arise from an original mistake of the true

motives of action.

He that never extends his view beyond the praises or rewards of men, will be dejected by neglect and envy, or infatuated by honours and applause. But the consideration that life is only deposited in his hands. to be employed in obedience to a Master who will regard his endeavours, not his success, would have preserved him trivial elations and discouragements, and enabled him to proceed with constancy and cheerfulness, neither enervated by commendation, nor intimidated by censure.-Rambler, No. 127.

6. To the Earl of Chesterfield.

MY LORD-I have lately been informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the publick, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour, which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre, that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When once I had addressed your lordship in publick, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.

Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during

which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.

The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached the ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity, not to confess obligations when no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the publick should consider me as owing that to a patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have long been wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation. My lord, your lordship's most humble, most obedient servant,

SAMUEL JOHNSON,

XXXVI.

DAVID HUME.

1711-1776.

DAVID HUME was born at Edinburgh in 1711, and died there in 1776. His father was a small Scottish laird of the great Border clan of Home or Hume. His mother was a daughter of Sir David Falconer, President of the College of Justice. She was a woman of singular merit; and being left a widow with several young children, devoted herself to their education. David, the second son, was left with a very slender inheritance, and it was resolved that he should try his fortunes at the law. But this study was distasteful to him, and for a few months he entered the house of a merchant at Bristol. Trade, however, he disliked even more than law, and at twenty-three he resolved to devote his life to philosophy and literature. For the next three years he lived with great frugality in a French country town, where he wrote his Treatise on Human Nature, and then came to London to publish it. At his brother's house in Scotland he heard that it had fallen 'dead-born from the press.' He continued to reside with his brother for some years, and in 1742 published the first part of his Essays, which were received somewhat more favourably. His studious habits were a few years later interrupted by an engagement to serve as secretary to General Sinclair, during that officer's military embassy to Vienna and Turin. Returning to his brother's hospitable house, he published in 1751 the second part of his Essays, and recast the first part. This first part related to the Principles of Morals, and he considered it his best work; but it failed to achieve so high a place in popular esteem as the political discourses which formed the second part.

He now made Edinburgh his head-quarters, and being appointed Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, obtained what he chiefly valued, a great command of books. This led him to historical studies; and in 1754 he published his History of Charles I. But his first trial in this department met with no encouragement; in twelve months only forty-five copies were sold. Notwithstanding, in two years' time he put out a continuation of the History of the Stuarts, from the Death of Charles I to the Revolution of 1688; and this volume had much greater success. Partly by this history, but still more by the Natural History of Religion, which appeared about the same time, he gained a character for irreligion. In the following year he completed his History of England; the House of Tudor furnishing the subject of his next volumes, and the Early Annals being published last in order.

His name had now become famous; and in 1763, when he visited Paris as attached to Lord Hertford's Embassy, he was received by the literary society of that city with extraordinary enthusiasm. Returning to England in 1766, he was appointed Under-Secretary of State by General Conway, brother of Lord Hertford, and served for two or three years in the Home Office. In 1769 he retired for the last time to Edinburgh, in the possession of a handsome income. But in 1775 he was attacked by a lingering disorder, which he bore with unfailing patience and cheerfulness tlll he died in his sixty-fifth year.

The philosophical opinions of this eminent man, especially in their bearing on theological subjects cannot be discussed in this place. The style in which he wrote reflects his character with great exactness: it is simple and luminous; not calculated to raise high admiration or greatly excite the feelings, but seldom failing to win the reader by its singular grace and unaffected

ease.

1. Eloquence in Ancient and Modern Times.

It is seldom or never found, when a false taste in poetry or eloquence prevails among any people, that it has been

« VorigeDoorgaan »