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As I was looking upon the various fate of the multitude about
me, I was suddenly alarmed with an admonition from some unknown Power: “Gaze not idly upon others when thou thyself art sinking. Whence is this thoughtless tranquillity, when thou and they are equally endangered ?" I looked, and, seeing the Gulf of Intemperance before me, started and awaked.
THE RIGHT IMPROVEMENT OF TIME.
It is usual for those who are advised to the attainment of any new qualification to look upon themselves as required to change the general course of their conduct, to dismiss business and exclude pleasure, and to devote their days and nights to a particular attention. But all common degrees of excellence are attainable at a lower price. He that should steadily and resolutely assign to any science or language those interstitial vacancies which intervene in the most crowded variety of diversion or employment would find every day new irradiations of knowledge, and discover how much more is to be hoped from frequency and perseverance than from violent efforts and sudden desires, efforts which are
soon remitted when they encounter difficulty, and desires, which, if they are indulged tno often, will shake off the authority of reason, and range capriciously from one object to another.
The disposition to defer every important design to a time of leisure and a state of settled uniformity, proceeds, generally, from a false estimate of the human power. If we except those gigantic and stupendous intelligences who are said to grasp a system by intuition, and bound forward from one series of conclusions to another, without regular steps through intermediate propositions, the most successful students make their advances in knowledge by short flights, between each of which the mind may lie at rest. For every single act of progression, a short time is sufficient; and it is only necessary, that, whenever that time is afforded, it be well employed.
Few minds will be long confined to severe and laborious meditation ; and, when a successful attack on knowledge has been made, the student recreates himself with the contemplation of his conquest, and forbears another incursion till the new-acquired truth has become familiar, and his curiosity calls upon him for fresh gratifications. Whether the time of intermission is spent in company or in solitude, in necessary business or in voluntary levities, the understanding is equally abstracted from the object of inquiry; but perhaps, if it be detained by occupations less pleasing, it returns again to study with greater alacrity than when it is glutted with ideal pleasures and surfeited with intemperance of application. He that will not suffer himself to be discouraged by fancied impossibilities may sometimes find his abilities invigorated by the necessity of exerting them in short intervals, as the force of a current is increased by the contraction of its channel.
From some cause like this, it has probably proceeded, that, among those who have contributed to the advancement of learning, many have risen to eminence in opposition to all the obstacles which external circumstances could place in their way, - amidst the tumult of business, the distresses of poverty, or the dissipations of a wandering and unsettled state. A great part of the life of Erasmus was one continual peregrination : ill supplied with the gifts of fortune, and led from city to city, and from kingdom to kingdom, by the hopes of patrons and preferment, — hopes which always flattered and always deceived him, — he yet found means, by unshaken constancy, and a vigilant improvement of those hours, which, in the midst of the most restless activity, will remain unengaged, to write more than another in the same condition would have hoped to read. Compelled by want to attendance and solicitation, and so much versed in common life that he has transmitted to us the most perfect delineation of the manners of his age, he joined to his knowledge of the world such application to books, that he will stand for ever in the first rank of literary heroes. How this proficiency was obtained, he sufficiently discovers by informing us that “ The Praise of Folly," one of his most celebrated performances, was composed by him on the road to Italy, lest the hours which he was obliged to spend on horseback should be tāttled away without regard to literature.
An Italian philosopher expressed in his motto, that TIME WAS HIS ESTATE, an estate, indeed, which will produce nothing without cultivation, but will always abundantly repay the labors of industry, and satisfy the most extensive desires, if no part of it be suffered to lie waste by negligence, to be overrun with noxious plants, or laid out for show rather than for use.
TAE DUTY OF FORGIVENESS. A WISE man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain. He that willingly suffers the corrosions of inveterate hatred, and gives up his days and nights to the gloom of malice and perturbations of stratagem, can not surely be said to consult his
ease. Resentment is a union of sorrow with malignity, bination of a passion which all endeavor to avoid with a passion which all concur to detest. The man who retires to meditate mischief, and to exasperate his own rage; whose thoughts are employed only on means of distress, and contrivances of ruin; whose mind never pauses from the remembrance of his own sufferings but to indulge some hope of enjoying the calamities of another, may justly be numbered among the most miserable of human beings; among those who are guilty without reward, who have neither the gladness of prosperity nor the calm of innocence.
Whoever considers the weakness both of himself and others will not long want persuasives to forgiveness. We know not to what degree of malignity any injury is to be imputed; or how much its guilt, if we were to inspect the mind of him that committed it, would be extenuated by mistake, precipitanee, or negligence: we can not be certain how much more we feel than was intended to be inflicted, or how much we increase the mischief to ourselves by voluntary aggravations. We may charge to design the effects of accident; we may think the blow violent only because we have made ourselves delicate and tender: we are on every side in danger of error and of guilt, which we are certain to avoid only by speedy forgiveness.
From this pacific and harmless temper, thus propitious to others and ourselves, to domestic tranquillity and to social happiness, no man is withheld but by pride, — by the fear of being insulted by his adversary, or despised by the world.
It may be laid down as an unfailing and universal axiom, that “all pride is abject and mean.” It is always an ignorant, lazy, or cowardly acquiescence in a false appearance of excellence, and proceeds, not from consciousness of our attainments, but insensibility of our wants.
Nothing can be great which is not right. Nothing which reason condemns can be suitable to the dignity of the human mind. To be driven by external motives from the path which our own heart approves, to give way to any thing but conviction, to suffer the opinion of others to rule our choice or overpower our resolves, is to submit tamely to the lowest and most ignominious slavery, and to resign the right of directing our own lives.
The utmost excellence at which humanity can arrive is a constant and determined pursuit of virtue without regard to present dangers or advantages, a continual reference of every action to the Divine Will, an habitual appeal to everlasting justice, and an unvaried elevation of the intellectual eye to the reward which perseverance only can obtain. But that pride which many who presume to boast of generous sentiments allow to regulate their measures has nothing nobler in view than the approbation of men, - of beings whose superiority we are under no obligation to acknowledge, and who, when we have courted them with the utmost assiduity, can confer no valuable or permanent reward; of beings who ignorantly judge of what they do not understand, or partially determine what they never have examined, and whose sentence is, therefore, of no weight till it has received the ratification of our own conscience.
He that can descend to bribe suffrages like these at the price of his innocence, he that can suffer the delight of such acclamations to withhold his attention from the commands of the universal Sovereign, has little reason to congratulate himself upon the greatness of his mind: whenever he awakes to seriousness and reflection, he must become despicable in his own eyes, and shrink with shame from the remembrance of his cowardice and folly.
Of him that hopes to be forgiven, it is indispensably required that he forgive: it is, therefore, superfluous to urge any other motive. On this great duty, eternity is suspended; and to him that refuses to practice it the throne of mercy is inaccessible, and the Saviour of the world has been born in vain.
PARALLEL BETWEEN DRYDEN AND POPE.
INTEGRITY of understanding, and nicety of discernment, were not allotted in a less proportion to Dryden than to Pope. The rectitude of Dryden's mind was sufficiently shown by the dismission of his poetical prejudices, and the rejection of unnatural thoughts and rugged numbers. But Dryden never desired to apply all the judgment that he had. He wrote, and professed to write, merely for the people; and when he pleased others he contented himself. He spent no time in struggles to rouse latent powers; he never attempted to make that better which was already good, nor often to mend what he must have known to be faulty. He wrote, as he tells us, with very little consideration : when occasion or necessity called upon him, he poured out what the present moment happened to supply, and, when once it had passed the press, ejected it from his mind; for, when he had no pecuniary interest, he had no further solicitude.
Pope was not content to satisfy: he desired to excel, and therefore always endeavored to do his best. He did not court the candor, but dared the judgment, of his reader; and, expecting no indulgence from others, he showed none to himself. He examined lines and words with minute and punctilious observation, and re
touched every part with indefatigable diligence, till he had left nothing to be forgiven.
For this reason, he kept his pieces very long in his hands while he considered and reconsidered them.
The only poems which can be supposed to have been written with such regard to the times as might hasten their publication were the two satires of “Thirty-eight;" of which Dodsley told me, that they were brought to him by the author that they might be fairly copied. “ Almost every line,” he said, “was then written twice over. I gave him a clean transcript, which he sent some time afterwards to me for the press, with almost every line written twice over a second time."
His declaration that his care for his works ceased at their publication was not strictly true. His parental attention never abandoned them: what he found amiss in the first edition, he silently corrected in those that followed. He
appears to have revised « The Iliad," and freed it from some of its imperfections; and “The Essay on Criticism” received many improvements after its first appearance. It will seldom be found that he altered without adding clearness, elegance, or vigor. Pope had, perhaps, the judgment of Dryden; but Dryden certainly wanted the diligence of Pope.
In acquired knowledge, the superiority must be allowed to Dryden, whose education was more scholastic, and who, before he became an author, had been allowed more time for study, with better means of information. His mind has a larger range, and he collects his images and illustrations from a more extensive circumference of science. Dryden knew more of man in his general nature; and Pope, in his local manners. The notions of Dryden were formed by comprehensive speculation, and those of Pope by minute attention. There is more dignity in the knowledge of Dryden, and more certainty in that of Pope.
Poetry was not the sole praise of either; for both excelled likewise in prose: but Pope did not borrow his prose from his predecessor. The style of Dryden is capricious and varied: that of Pope is cautious and uniform. Dryden observes the motions of his own mind : Pope constrains his mind to his own rules of composition. Dryden is sometimes vehement and rapid : Pope is always smooth, uniform, and gentle. Dryden's page is a natural field, rising into inequalities, and diversified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation : Pope's is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and leveled by the roller.
Of genius, – that power which constitutes a poet; that quality without which judginent is cold, and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates, - the superiority must, with some hesitation, be allowed to Dryden.