« PrécédentContinuer »
the heathen temples were dark. Even in the barbarous temples of the Americans at this day, they keep their idol in a dark part of the hut, which is consecrated to his worship. For this purpose too the Druids performed all their ceremonies in the bosom of the darkest woods, and the shade of the oldest and most spreading oaks. No person seems better to have understood the secret of heightening or setting terrible things, if I may use the expression, in their strongest light, by the force of a judicious obscurity, than Milton. His description of Death is admirably studied; it is astonishing with what a significant and expressive uncertainty of strokes and colouring, he has finished the portrait of the king of terrors.
The other shape, If shape (it might be called that shape had none) Distinguishable in mcmber, joint, or limb; Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd; For each seem'd either; black it stood as night; Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell ; And shook a dreadful dart. What seem'd his head The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
In this description all is dark, uncertain, confuseil, terrible, and sublime to the last degree.
There are two striking passages in Scripture, which owe their sublinity principally to the terrible uncertainty of the thing described. The first is from the book of Job.
“ In thoughts from the visions of the night, “ when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came
upon me, and trembling, which made all my “ bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my “ face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood “ still, but I could not discern the form thereof,
an image was before mine eyes; there was si“ lence, and I heard a voice, saying: Shall mortal
man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure
than his Maker ?" The second is from the book of Kings *. “ And Elijah came thither unto a cave and lodged there, and behold the word of the Lord
came to him, and he said unto him, What “ dost thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have “ been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts; “ for the children of Israel have forsaken thy co“ venant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy “prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, "iam left, and they seek my life to take it away. “ And he said go forth, and stand upon the mount « before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed
by, and a great and strong wind rent the moun“ tains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the “ Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind : and
* We have added this second quotation as an instance of the sublime derived from obscurity, not inferior to the first.
“after the wind an earthquake, but the “ Lord was not in the earthquake: and after “the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not
in the fire: and after the fire a still small “ voice *.”
In both these sublime descriptions we are first prepared, with the utmost solemnity, for the vision ; we are first terrified before we are let even into the obscure cause of our emotion; but when the grand cause of terror makes its appearance, what is it? Is it not wrapt up in the shades of its own incomprehensible darkness, more awful, more strikingly terrible, than the liveliest description, than the clearest painting could possibly make it.
* Kings, xix. 9-1%.
I AM not of Montaigne's opinion, that the souls of both sexes were cast in the same mould: on the contrary I rather think that they may be wrought off from different models. Yet the casts may be equally perfect, though it should be allowed that they are essentially different. Nature, it is certain, has traced out a separate course of action for the two sexes; and as they are appointed to distinct offices of life, it is not improbable that there inay be something, distinct likewise in the frame of their minds ; that there may be a kind of sex in the very soul.
I cannot, therefore, but wonder, that Plato should have thought it reasonable to admit women into an equal share of the dignities and offices of his imaginary commonwealth; and that the wisdom of the Egyptians should have so strangely inverted the order of Providence, as to contine the men to domestic affairs, whilst the women, it is said, were engaged abroad in the active and laborious scenes of business. History, it must be owned, will supply some few female instances of all the most masculine virtues: but appearances of that extraordinary kind are too uncommon to support the notion of a general equality in the natural powers of their mind.
This much, however, seems evident, that there are certain moral boundaries which nature has drawn between the two sexes; and that neither of them can pass over the limits of the other, without equally deviating from the beauty and decorum of their respective characters. Boadicea in armour is to me, at least, as extravagant a sight as Achilles in petticoats.
In determining, therefore, the comparative merits of the two sexes, it is no derogation from female excellency, that it differs in kind from that which distinguishes the male part of our species. And if in general it shall be found that women fill up their appointed circle of action with greater regularity and dignity than men; the claim of preference cannot be justly decided in our favor. In the prudential and economical parts of life, I think it undeniable that they rise above us. And