صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

6

6

6

6

and intellect, when he too-- and yet Pascal, if any, was surely conversant with the raptures of devoted faith looked up and said · Le silence éternel de ces espaces

infinis m'effraie'. The book whence I quote these words has in truth been beyond most a spiritual influence over men: beyond most Pascal's • Thoughts' justify Milton's description the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, em

balmed and treasured up to a life beyond life'. Deeply therefore was my awakening conviction of the world's mystery, nourished even by the general studies just hinted at, strengthened by pages in which the conflict of faith and of perplexity is clothed in language of immortal eloquence. When I first read the “Chaque chose est ici vraie en partie, fausse en partie . . . Tous leurs principes sont vrais : des pyrrhoniens, des stoïques, des athées : Mais leurs conclusions sont fausses, parce que les principes opposés sont

vrais aussi', -the famous profession of belief in the perpetual flux of human nature ;-or that short sentence, simple and deep as childhood, · Les raisons qui étant vues de loin • semblent borner notre vue, quand on y est arrivé ne la

bornent plus : on commence à voir au delà',-—I cannot express without words apparently overstrained the sense of moral catastrophe, almost physical in its far-extending intensity, with which such confessions from such a thinker affected me.

• C'est une chose horrible, de sentir écouler tout ce qu'on possède'. Pascal appeared to stamp with the irresistible might of genius and proclaim as it were on the housetops, a thousand feelings dormant hitherto and diffident within the heart's secret chambers. A Christian, a mathematician, a man of the world,—if in last result this gifted spirit could say only, he saw trop pour nier et trop peu pour s'assurer', had I any right to disappoint

6

6

6

6

[ocr errors]

ment or to alarm should I rediscover at the goal that ignorance I had once too proudly believed left for ever as I started on the pursuit of knowledge ? C'est une ignorance savante qui se connaît': but was this, indeed, the be all and end all', the final word of Wisdom ?

XXV Two of our own writers, fundamentally contrasted in the results and in the form of their teaching, combined next to confirm these convictions. One, a seer if not a poet, armed like Thor his hero with crushing power rather to destroy the false shows and hypocrisies of daily life, than to replace them by fresh forms of light and truth: one of the elder Gods with large bold utterance : a Titan dethroned, half blind to the glow and beauty in the eyes of Hyperion, groaning over the lost early world, mistaking often retrospect for prophecy, his own restrictedness in practical action for national impotence, conscious beyond most of the strength and health and nobleness of former ages, yet eager to recognize what is excellent and harmonious in the present, rugged yet tender-hearted, genuine Man: in this age the most lofty-minded and impetuous of Truth's unsuccessful suitors. . . . Who has succeeded ? Not the other, although his also was a truly inspired soul, a spirit so aethereally winged, that one would have thought the loftiest star of heaven within his visitation, yet moved by sympathy more than common for man, frequent in ministrations to the poor and suffering, loving his fellow-creatures with womanly tenderness, but, like Dante, uniting that love to scorn of wickedness, hatred of tyranny, and sorrow almost beyond even his command of words over • the world's wrong'— adding the tears of the defenceless' to the anger of the just'. He, to sum up in a word, (and that his own), if any of the sons of men was himself what he described :

6

[ocr errors]

6

- A Poet hidden

In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,

Till the world was brought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not.

Like a high-born maiden

In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden

Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower.

Deep indeed is the thankfulness, devout the reverence due from those, and the young especially, whose hearts men like Carlyle and Shelley (to borrow the sublime imagery of the Hebrew prophet) have touched with coals of fire. Yet it is an equal duty to love and to revere with discrimination. I shall not repeat the charge, common and exaggerated, that Shelley's poetry is deficient in human grasp and interest : believing that this criticism arises partly from secret unwillingness to admit the many sad conclusions of his thought, partly from a careless confusion of his youthful imperfect works with the later, in part from the subtleness and intensity of his genius and the fact that (in his own noble phrase), he has not sufficiently 'tem

pered this planetary music for mortal ears'. But it is impossible not to feel with pain the crude violent precipitance, for which the courageous sincerity of his theological convictions can hardly atone, and that over-estimate of his own insight into metaphysical and moral truth which led Shelley to deface so many splendid stanzas by the interfusion of a Platonism falsely so esteemed. At the crisis however in my own life, of which I am speaking with an egotism, inexcusable without the strong sense that what I felt was a most frequent (and hence representative) struggle, common-place to a degree which divests it almost of per

6

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

sonality—the poet's fluctuating scepticism hardly touched my own religious convictions. These, considered as transcendental faith, appeared to lie within a sphere beyond or beside the perplexities of life and speculation ; and years passed before full perception of their interdependence. Nor, on the other hand, however anxious for entire adherence to so powerful a thinker, could I give assent to many, perhaps to what may be justly reckoned the cardinal points of Carlyle's teaching. Of the secret sophistry in his doc

trine of sorrow and renunciation',—the simple untruth of his announcement that for suffering and enduring there

is no remedy but striving and doing '; that 'manhood "begins only when we have reconciled ourselves to necessity, and thus in reality triumphed over it'; lastly, of the superficial tirade against happiness, the supposed discovery that, by substitution of the syllables blessedness', a glimpse of light, an everlasting yea', dawns upon the soul,- I shall in a more appropriate place attempt some criticism. Such thoughts were far then from a reader to whom the lifelong love of Désirée here, and the hope of her love hereafter, composed the better part of all that by human ingenuity, could be conceived as blessedness. But even then, Want of Belief, the prophet's reiterated complaint, I could not conscientiously hold the sin of these ages : I wondered at the weight, “heavy as frost ', of men's customary faith ; far more at what they believed, than at what they doubted. True guidance in return for loving

* obedience, properly, if he knew it, the prime want of man', the eloquent sentence which sums up this chapter of Carlyle's philosophy, when interpreted by his own · Hero Worship’, appears a pitiful and one-sided cry, an idolization of simple success, of that kingdom of force which may in truth be flattered safely, as, in Pascal's phrase, it is never sub

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"verted.' Interpreted indeed by that most forcible of all commentators, the recent course of event and opinion in Europe, I would not hesitate to term these words the voice of a philosophical slave crying for a phantom Utopia, the expression of a Dulolatry which has done service to Rome, and would almost satisfy Vienna.

XXVI Were this a criticism, I might dwell on other master-works which in several ways, but all tending to one result, left another reader than had opened them. Careless Youth wanders into a magic circle unawares, laughs with friends, takes his pleasure in racing-boats or across country, attends hall and chapel, and meanwhile the sky grows dark at mid-day, and stars come out and dance above him, and spirits gather round, and the Magician is behind as he turns:—and as we read of the Adept who returned with Agrippa from his incantation within the Coliseum, although after awhile the vision closes, he sees spectres in common daylight moving over the housetops in the Corso. Or (as I attempted to describe the first influences of imaginative poetry over youth by a parable borrowed from Simonides),

we might speak of early study under the figure of Eleusinic initiation, perhaps more worthily. We have gone out from Athens in festival dress on a harvest night, the Academy is on the left, the torch-bearers escort us in safety by the rock where Oedipus sat once, and its mysterious inhabitants, Earth and Darkness ; the white cliff of Colonus seems to carry down a glimmer of moonbeams above the Furies' grove and Dionysos, it may be (for the nightingale is silent) shouting to his Nymphs :— Olivesandalled' Aegaleos now glooms larger on the right, and the waves run softly to our feet over the sands of Sciros :it has been a delightful expedition :- but the guides press

onward, the torches sparkle, we are before the shrine of

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »