Images de page

works of genius which fix our maturer admiration. But as this part of my subject is again to come before us, I shall not dwell on it any longer at present.

It is not in particular details, however, like those which have been now submitted to you, that the influence of association on the intellectual character is best displayed. It is in taking the aggregate of all the circumstances, physical and moral, in the climate, and manners, and institutions of a people.

“ There lodustry and Gain their vigils keep,
Command the winds, aod tame the unwilling deep ;
Here Force, and hardy deeds of blood prevail ;
There languid Pleasure sighs in every gale."'*


The character and turn of thought, which we attach, in imagination, to the satrap of a Persian court, to a citizen of Athens, and to a rude inhabitant of ancient Sarmatia, are as distinct as the names which we affix to their countries. I need not enter into the detail of circumstances which may be supposed to have concurred in the production of each of these distinct characters. It will be sufficient to take the Athenian for an example, and to think of the circumstances in which he was placed. I borrow a description of these from an eloquent French writer,

Among the Greeks, wherever the eyes were cast, there monuments of glory were to be found. The streets, the temples, the galleries, the porticos, all gave lessons to the citizens. Every where the people recognized the images of its great men; and, beneath the purest sky, in the most beautiful fields, amid groves and sacred forests, and the most brilliant festivals of a splendid religion--surrounded with a crowd of artists, and orators, and poets, who all painted, or moddled, or celebrated, or sung their compatriot heroes,-marching as it were to the enchanting sounds of poetry and music, that were animated with the same spirit,--the Greeks, victorious and free, saw, and felt, and breathed nothing but the intoxication of glory and immortality.”

“ Hence flourish'd Greece, and hence a race of men,
As Gods by conscious future times adored ;

• Gray on the Alliance of Education and Government, v. 42–45.

lo whom each virtue wore a smiling air,
Each science shed o'er life a friendly light,

Each art was nature." How admirably does the elegant writer, from whom I have just quoted, express the peculiar effect of a popular constitution, in giving animation to the efforts of the orator;-and if oratory were all, which rendered a people happy, and not rather those equal laws, and that calm security, which render oratory almost useless, how enviable would be that state of manners which he pictures !

“In the ancient republics,” he observes, “ eloquence made a part of the constitution. It was it which enacted and abolished laws, which ordered war, which caused armies to march, which led on the citizens to fields of battle, and consecrated their ashes, when they perished in the combat. It was it which from the tribune kept watch against tyrants, and brought from afar to the ears of the citizens the sound of the chains which were menacing them. In republics, eloquence was a sort of spectacle. Whole days were spent by the people, in listening to their orators,-as if the necessity of feeling some emotion were an appetite of their very nature. The republican orator, therefore, was not a mere measurer of words, for the amusement of a circle, or a small society. He was a man, to whom Nature had given an inevitable empire. He was the defender of a nation,-its sovereign,—its master. It was he, who made the enemies of his country tremble. Philip, who could not subdue Greece as long as Deinosthenes breathed,—Philip, who at Cheronea had conquered an army of Athenians, but who had not conquered Athens, while Demosthenes was one of its citizens-that this Demosthenes, so terrible to him, might be given up, offered a city in exchange. He gave twenty thousand of his subjects, to purchase such an enemy.”

“Oratori clamore plausuque opus est, et velut quodam theatro; qualia quotidie antiquis oratoribus contingebant; cùm tot pariter ac tam nobiliter forum coartarint; cum clientelæ quoque, et tribus, et municipiorum legationes, ac partes Italiæ, periclitantibus assisterent; cum, in plerisque judiciis crederet populus Romanus, sua interesse, quod judicaretur.” In situations like these, who can doubt of the powerful influ

* Thomson's Liberty, Part II. v. 175–179. VOL. II.



ence, which the concurrence of so many vivid perceptions and emotions, must have had, in directing the associations, and in a great measure, the whole intellectual and moral character of the young minds that witnessed and partook of this general enthusi. asm ?-an enthusiasm that never can be felt in those happier constitutions, in which the fortunes of individuals, and the tranquillity and the very existence of a state, are not left to the caprice of momentary passion. “Nec tanti Reipublicæ Gracchorum eloquentia fuit, ut pateretur et leges.”

Of the influence of association on the moral character of man, the whole history of our race, when we compare the vices and virtues of ages and pations with each other, is but one continued though varied display. We speak of the prevailing manners and dispositions, not merely of savage and civilized life in their extremes, but of progressive stages of barbarism and civilization, with terms of distinction, almost as clear and definite, as when we speak of the changes which youth and age produce in the same individual; not that we believe men in these different stages of society to be born with different natural propensities, which expand themselves into the diversities afterwards observed, but because there appears to us to be a sufficient source of all these diversities in the circumstances in which man is placed—in the elementary ideas and feelings which opposite states of society afford, for those intimate, and perhaps indissoluble complexities of thought and passion, that are begun in infancy, and continually multiplied in the progress of life. To bring together, in one spectacle, the inhabitants of the wild, of the rude village, and of the populous city, would be to present so many living monuments of the dominion of that priuciple which has been the subject of our investigation.

When we descend, from the diversities of national character, to the details of private life, we find the elements of the power which produced those great results. It has been said, that the example, which it is most easy to follow, is that of happiness; and the happiness, which is constantly before us, is that to which our early wishes may be expected to turn. We readily acquire, therefore, the desires and passions of those who surround us from our birth; because we consider that as happiness, which they consider

[ocr errors]

as happiness. There may be vice in this indeed, and vice, which, in other circumstances, we should readily have perceived; but it is the vice of those who have relieved our earliest wants, and whose caresses and soothings, long before we were able to make any nice discriminations, have produced that feeling of love, which commends to us every thing, that forms a part of the unanalysed remembrance of our parents and friends. Even in more advanced life, it is not easy to love a guilty person, and to feel the same abhorrence of guilt; though vice and virtue have been previously distinguished in our thought with accuracy and therefore, in periods of savage or dissolute manners, and at an age, when the ideas of virtue and vice are obscure, and no analysis has yet been made of complex emotions, it is not wonderful that the child, whose parents are, perhaps, his only objects of love, should resemble them still more in disposition than in countenance.

“Here vice begins then : At the gate of life,
Ere the young multitude to diverse roads
Part, like fond pilgrims on a journey unknown,
Sits Fancy, deep enchantress; and to each,
With kind maternal looks, presents her bowl,
A potent beverage. Heedless they comply:
Till the whole soul, from that mysterious draught
Is tinged, and every transient thought imbibes
of gladness or disgust, desire or fear,
Ope home-bred colour."**

It would, indeed, be too much to say, that the virtues of their offspring are comprehended in the virtues of the parents, as the embryo blossom in the seed from which it is to spring; but at least, it may be truly said, that the parental virtues are not more a source of happiness to the child, than they are a source of moral inspiration ; and that the most heroic benevolence of him, to whose glory every voice is joining in homage, may often be nothing more than the developement of that humbler virtue, which smiled upon his infancy,—and which listens to the praise with a joy that is altogether unconsciogs of the merit which it might claim.

When the passion of ambition begins to operate, the principle which we are considering acquires more than double energy. Each

Pleasures of Imagination, Second Form of the Poem, B. II. v. 445, 454.

individual is then governed, not merely by his own associations, but by the whole associations of the individuals surrounding him, that seem to be transferred, as it were, to his breast. He seeks distinction,-and he seeks that species of distinction which is to make him honourable in their eyes. He is guided, therefore, by views of good, which have been the gradual growth, in the nation, of circumstances, that might perhaps never have affected himn personally, and he acts, accordingly, not as he would have acted, but as it is the fashion of the time to act. To be informed of the circumstances which, among the leading orders of society, are reckoned glorious or disgraceful, would be to know, with almost accurate foresight, the national character of the generation that is merely rising into life; if it were not for those occasional sudden revolutions of manners, produced by the shock of great political events, or the energies of some extraordinary mind; though, even then, the associating principle, in changing its direction, is far from losing any part of its efficacy. More than half of the excessive austerity of manners, in the time of Cromwell, was produced by the same passion, which, after the restoration of Charles, produced perhaps an equal proportion of the dissipation and general profligacy of that licentious and disgraceful reign. A very few words of ridicule, if they have become fashionable, may render virtue more than a man of ordinary timidity can venture to professor practise ; and the evil which hypocrisy has done in the world, bas pot arisen so much from the destruction which it has produced of the appearances of morality, as from the opportunity which it has afforded to the profligate of fixing that name on the real sanctity of virtue and religion, and of thus terrifying the inconsiderate into a display of vices which otherwise they would have hated, and blushed to embrace.

What irresistible effect, in the rejection of opinions, has been produced by the terms of contempt that have been affixed to them, sometimes from accidental circumstances, and still more frequently from intentional malice,-and which have continued, ever after, to associate with the opinions an ignominy which did not belong to them! The most powerful of all persecution has often been not the are and the faggot, but the mere invention of a naine.

To this sort of persecution all our passions lend themselves readily, because, though we may be quite unable to understand the disunc

« PrécédentContinuer »