« السابقةمتابعة »
Nevertheless, after all that may be said about old-fashioned notions, obstinate prejudices, a brutish indifference to improvement, or a provoking unbelief in it, there is no less of clearheadedness, and quite as much of true-heartedness in this clinging to things as they were, as will be found at work in our eagerness after so-called improvements, in other words, change.
Through a long acquaintance with any thing, no matter how insignificant in itself, it becomes imperceptibly inwrought with our accustomed associations of feelings and thoughts, and, thus, partakes of their common life, and by sharing in it, adds to it. How much is there in the term, “wonted' to a thing! We cannot utter it without being conscious of a gentle stirring among the affections. It is something that took life early in our hearts, and grew up, unobserved, it may be, branching in among our gentler feelings and quieter meditations, till the whole shoots up into a beautiful tree-top; and when the air of some outward circumstance comes upon it, how easily it moves back and forth, altogether ? and what a melody there is in its low murmur? Look at it! Listen to it; for I know you are not so lost in the present, as to be no longer able to see it, to hear it, ay, to feel it.
Having thus grown up in and with us, it is become a part of ourselves, or rather, may it not be said ? is become very self; not the whole self, but so in and of self as to take away the thought of parts or portions, and thus has acted in the way of increment, without breaking up the integrity of the man. Nay, the unity of the character is the more perfect for it, for where unity does exist, its perfectness will be according to its intensity, and its intensity will be according to that which goes to make up its one simple element of living consciousness :the more life, the more perfect oneness.
So it is, that the past, resolved within us into the principle of self, and thence, taking form early in us, becomes a constituent of our inward growth; and our enlargement has an all-pervading unity, and our variety is harmony. There is consistency in the man; and there has so long been a blending of thoughts and feelings, that they are, as it were, elemented of one, and the result is a whole man.
Hence comes strong individuality; for the growth being mainly from within, it partakes of the character of that from which it springs, and all the nourishment it absorbs from without, is transformed into this individuality, and then trans
fused through it, to invigorate and expand it, but not to change it. The branches of this spiritual tree may grow broader and stronger, but will keep their old shapes; its leaves may be fresher, but you will not be shocked by an unnatural putting forth of various sorts upon the same boughs. With variety there will be a singleness of kind; for they are of one family, the children of their common parent trunk-not adopted ones; and thus all will be beautiful congruity.
As this spirit of the past gives congruity and oneness to the character, all that share in this oneness must, as I have said, in partaking of it, add so much to its life, and not lie like detached masses upon the mind to be moved by it, but, on the contrary, be converted into the living energy of the mind itself, and so, be an increase of that mind's moving power.
The past gives intensity to the living principle in still another way. One, who is not dead to old associations, never has his thoughts go back to the past, without a softening emotion of the soul. There is something in the past (I will not stop here to inquire what it is) which moves our better affections and makes us thoughtful, in a manner that neither the present nor the future ever does. Nor are these thoughts and affections confined to that which once had life. The commonest material object to which we had once been used, has this same moving power over us. Even Pope, whose nature seems to have had less of this character than almost any other poet of high rank, said, with great simplicity of sadness, That he did not care to see an old post dug up. Now, just in proportion to our interest in the past and what is old, will be this life of the mind. And it has this characteristic; the intellect is vivified and kept alive by the suffused, mild warmth of the affections, and is all over tinted by them. Here, the principle of love is the spring of the mind's action. But we cannot have our affections drawn out towards a material object, in its mere material character. To have our affections excited towards it, to have our thoughts gather about it, we must impart to it affection and thought, and thus bring it into sympathy with ourselves : We must quicken its insensibility, and infuse into it consciousness and life.
Even where a material object is not endeared to us from a long acquaintance with it; for instance, where we take it up for the first time, and find it to be some little relique of one whom we loved, and a thousand emotions towards the departed are immediately awakened in us; even here, with all this power of association and remembrance upon us, which one would think enough to draw us off from the thing itself that put them in motion, even here, that trifle which has called up this train of recollections, is not a mere thing to us; but becomes instinct with life from our feelings, and the soul converses with it, as with a being conscious of what had once passed between us and the departed object of our regard. Here, again, we see the soul, as if surcharged with life, giving out life to the commonest material objects around it. A cross-beam in an old ceiling, a decayed post, an old walking-stick, are endowed by us with feeling, and sentiment, and power of converse, and every thing around us becomes life, life: we move amid nothing but living things. As in Ezekiel's vision, “When the living creatures went, the wheels went with them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up-for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheel.”
If it be the nature of this spirit of the past, moving within us, to give out life to material things, we must remember, that the very act whereby the mind imparts life and consciousness, is an increase of the intensity of that mind's own life-that the emanations from this spiritual sun do but raise in it a light still brighter, and a more cheering warmth ; and that it is also the blessed constitution of our spiritual natures, that to whatsoever we give, from the same we shall receive seven fold, and that the poorest thing on earth towards which our hearts go out, shall make us rich returns.
That this spiritualizing power belongs in a peculiar manner to “the retrospective virtues," as Wordsworth calls them, no one doubts, who has read his own heart, and along with it, the hearts of others. And we may, with Godwin, say of the man who is so endowed, “ The world is a thousand times more populous, than to the man to whom every thing that is not flesh and blood, is nothing."
Beside the intensity thus given to the life of the mind, beside this power by which, when it looks out upon the world, inert, material things, start up into consciousness and life, endowed with associations and affections like the mind's self; this state of affectionate thoughtfulness multiplies the mind's inward enjoyments from itself, and there is born a countless progeny, beautiful and like the first parent emotion of the soul. For, as Butler profoundly remarks, “ Human nature is so constituted, that every good affection implies a
at no tartles
secret thof the
love of itself; i.e. becomes an object of a new affection in the same person.” Thus the birth of emotion upon emotion is begun in the soul, of which, though it has a beginning, no one can so much as imagine to himself an end : a creation is commenced which shall go on through eternity.
Not only has the past this life-giving power, by which, through the according action of heart and mind, the being grows up and expands with a just congruity throughout; it also imparts stability to the character; for the past is fixedto that is neither change, nor the shadow of turning. We may look back along the shores of that sea, and behold every cliff standing in its original, dark strength; we may hear the solemn moving of its waves, but no plunge of a heavy promontory, tumbling from its base, startles us : what hath been in the soul, cannot cease to be. Every secret thought of all the races of men who have been, all forms of the creative mind, put forth in act, still live. Every emotion of the heart that beat away back into time, may sleep, but is not dead : it shall wake again. The hands that moulded the images first embodied in the mind, may be dust now; the material forms of art may have fallen back into shapeless earth again; castle and fane, pyramid and column, may have come down; but the forms in the mind, of which these were but the outward show, still stand there perfect. True, the veil of that temple may hang before them for a while; but when the angel, that standeth upon the sea and upon the earth, shall utter the voice, Time shall be no longer-that veil shall be rent from the top to the bottom. O, it seems to me that I can look in even now, and behold these spirits of the past, in all their aspects of thoughts of mystery, subduing love, passionate endeavor and lofty aim, and forms beautiful as the angels, and noble as gods. How populous is the past! Yes, not a passion, not a thought, not an image of the minds that have been, has perished : the spiritual cannot die. What mean we by that we call death? It is but the seal of eternity.
If the past, in its spiritual constitution, has this character of durability ; if it comes before us having put on the form of eternity, its influence upon us must be, to impart the permanent to our own characters. For between us and whatsoever we love, a secret, confluent process of assimilation is going on, till the two become, as it were, homogeneous. That which we much dwell upon, through a mys
out from voice, and this before te perlewhich
tical intercommunion, we, in time, resemble : the aspect of our soul becomes like that spiritual countenance on which the mind's eye most rests itself. When Moses descended from Sinai, “and when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.” Moses had come from standing before the brightness of the Most High God!
Another effect of the past upon us, and a much needed and elevating one, is to beget in us the spirit of reverence. As it is unnatural for the mind to think of what has once lived, as now utterly extinct; as even material shapes, the representatives of the mind's forms, still live in their spiritual shapes, in the mysterious world of forms, the past comes shadowing over us with the calm awe of eternity in it, and man beholds and reveres. Eternity is present with him, not as an intellectual abstraction, but in the images of whatever has once been : it spreads out visibly before the mind's eye; and as in the clouds of evening twilight, with the bodily eye we see figured,
A tower'd citadel, a pendant rock,
With trees upon't, that nod unto the world, in a higher and truer sense, rises upon the mind's eye, the vast, the crowded, the eternally living world of the past. The spirit is filled with it. Eternity has now a meaning, a feeling in it, and the soul awakened by its all surrounding presence, stands awed at its own conscious immortality :With what solemn grandeur comes up before it the spirit of the past!
It is not in connection with the eternal, alone, that the past awakens reverence in us. So long as we suffer our minds to have their natural play, that which existed long before we came into being will call out something of filial respect; the past will be reverenced as our great ancestor. Nor is this an unmeaning emotion. For whatever has been, touches on whatever is : the present would not be as it is, had the past been different from what it was. As the peculiar gestures of the father are acted over again in the child, and as on the lip of the little one, is still playing the mother's own smile, though she herself be gone ; so the past, by wonderful communication, infuses something of its own character into whatever follows it. He who has no reverence for the past, is an unnatural son, mocking at age, and foreswearing his own