Images de page

whole train of suggestion, in that process in which the mind is said to invent, it is not less capable of modifying it in cases in which we never think that we are inventive. In the whole train of our thought, our conceptions, and the attendant emotions which they induce, still correspond with our prevalent wishes. When an occurrence may be productive of good and evil, the good may arise to us, because our general frame of mind is accordant with wishes, and, therefore, with conceptions of good; or the evil only may arise to that gloomy spirit which does not find good, merely because it does not seek to find it. A different general character of thought,—the associations, perhaps, of a few years,-a single prevailing notion, may in this way be sufficient, on the contemplation of the same event, to convert gladness into regret, regret itself into gladness.

Even when the same event is thus viewed by two different minds,--and the same consequences, in every other respect, arise to both minds,-how important a difference must there be, in the general resulting emotion, according as the two minds are more or less accustomed to view all the events of nature, as a part of a great design, of which the Author is the benevolent willer of happiness, or of the means of happiness! The mere difference of the habit, in this respect, is to the individuals almost the same thing, as if the events themselves had been in their own absolute nature diversified.

The same events, therefore, in external circumstances exactly the same, may be productive, to the mind, of emotions that are very different, according to its constitutional diversities, or acquired habits, or even according to slight accidents of the day or of the hour. We may rejoice, when others would grieve, or grieve when others would rejoice, according as circumstances arise to our reflection, different from those which would occur to them. Nor is the influence necessarily less powerful on our views of the future, than on our views of the past. We desire often, in like manner, what is evil for us upon the whol“, by thinking of some attendant good; as we fear what is good, by thinking only of some attendant evil. The vanity of human wishes is, in this way, proverbial. We do not need those memorable instances which Juve. pal has selected, to convince us, how destructive, in certain circumstances, may be the attainment of objects that seem to us,

when we wish for them, to comprehend all that is desirable. The gods, says that great moralist, have overwhelmed in ruin whole multitudes, merely by indulging them with everything for which they prayed.

" Evertere domos totas optantibus ipsis

Di faciles."

What is shewn, in such cases, only in the fatal result, to those whose scanty discrimination sees only what is or has been, and not what is to be, may, in some respects, be anticipated, by more discerning minds, that would feel sadness, therefore, at events which might seem to others to be subjects only of congratulation. Sagacity, when it exists in any high degree, is itself almost that second sight in which the superstitious of the wilder districts of this country put so much confidence. It looks, far before, into the futurity that is closed to common eyes. It sees the gloom in which gaiety is to terminate, the happiness that is to dawn on affliction, as, by supposed supernatural revelation, the Seer's quick, but gloomy eye, views, in the dance and merriment of evening, the last struggles of him who is the next morning to perish in the waves, or when a whole family is weeping for the shipwrecked son or brother, beholds on a sudden, with a wild and mysterious delight, that moment of joy when the well known voice of him who is lamented with so many tears, is to be heard again, as he returns in safety to the cottage-door.

It is not on the nature of the mere event, then, that the gladness or regret which it excites wholly depends, but in part, also, on the habits and discernment of the mind which considers it; and we are thus in a great measure, creators of our own happiness,not in the actions merely which seem more strictly to depend on our will, but on those foreign events which might have seemed at first to be absolutely independent of us.

If even simple gladness and regret, however, depend in some measure on the peculiar tendencies of the mind, the emotions, which we are next to consider, depend on them still more.

These are the emotions which attend our moral retrospects of

[merged small][ocr errors]


our past actions,—the remorse which arises on the thought of our guilt,—the opposite emotion of delight, which attends the remembrances of what is commonly termed a good conscience.

I have already treated of the emotions which are distinctive to us of vice and virtue in general; but the emotions with which we regard the virtues and vices of others, are very different from those with which we regard the same vices and virtues as our

There is the distinctive moral feeling, indeed, in both cases, whether the generous sacrifice, or the malignant atrocity which we consider, be the deed of another, or of our own heroic kindness or guilty passion ; but, in the one case, there is something far more than mere approbation, however pleasing, or mere disapprobation, however disagreeable. There is the dreadful moral regret arising from the certainty, that we have rendered ourselves unworthy of the love of man, and of the approbation of our God; or the most delightful of all convictions, that, but for our life, the world would have been less virtuous and happy, and that we are not unworthy of that highest of privileges, the privilege of fearlessly adoring Him, wbom, if we worship truly with that gratitude which looks beyond the moment of suffering to the happiness of every world and of every age, it matters but little though the place of our adoration should be a dungeon or a scaffold,

When we look to some oppressor in the magnificence of his unjust power, surrounded with those inferior tyrants, that, while they execute their portion of delegated guilt, tremble at the very glance of him whose frown can make them nothing,—with armies, whom victory after victory has rendered as illustrious, as slaves that carry slavery with them, and spread it wherever their arms prevail, can hope to be ;-—when we enter the chambers of state, in which he gives himself to public view, and see only the festival, and listen only to voices that are either happy, or seem to be happy, does all this splendour impose upon our heart, as it would half-seduce our senses into momentary admiration? Do we think, that God has reserved all punishment for another world, and that wickedness has no feelings but those of triumph in the years of earthly sway which consummate its atrocities? There are hours in which the tyrant is not seen, the very remembrance of which, in the hours in which he is seen, darkens, to his gloomy gaze, that pomp, which is splendour to every eye but his; and that,

even on earth, avenge, with awful retribution, the wrongs of the virtuous. The victim of his jealous dread, who, with a frame wasted by disease, and almost about to release his spirit to a liberty that is immortal, is slumbering and dreaming of heaven on the straw that scarcely covers the damp earth of his dungeon,-if he could know, at that very hour, what thoughts are present to the conscience of him who doomed him to this sepulchre, and who is lying sleepless on his bed of state, though, for a moment, the knowledge of the vengeance might be gratifying, would almost shrink the very moment after from the contemplation of horror so hopeless, and wish that the vengeance were less severe. “ Think not,” says Cicero, “ that Guilt requires the burning torches of the Furies to agitate and torment it. Their own frauds, their crimes, their remembrances of the past, their terrors of the future, these are the domestic furies that are ever present to the mind of the impious.”_" Nolite enim putare, quemadmodum in fabulis sæpenumero videtis, eos, qui aliquid impie scelerateque commiserint, agitari et perterreri Furiarum tædis ardentibus ; sua quemque fraus, et suus terror, maxime vexat; suum quemque scelus agitat, amentiaque afficit ; suæ malæ cogitationes, conscientiæque animi, terrent. Hae

int impiis assiduæ domesticæque Furiæ."* The instance which I have now chosen, is that of a species of guilt with the conscious remembrance of which few of the great multitude of mankind can be agitated. But those who cannot oppress kingdoms, may yet oppress families and individuals. There is a scale of iniquity, that descends from the imperial tyrant to the meanest of the mob; and there are feelings of remorse, that correspond, not with the extent of the power, but with the guilty wishes of the offender. In the obscurest hovel, on the most sordid bed, there are sleepless hours of the same sort of agony, which is felt, in his palace, by him who has been the scourge, perhaps, of half the nations of the globe. There are visions around that pillow, which, in the drama or romance, indeed, would form no brilliant picture, but which are not the less horrible to him, whose means, but not whose wishes of iniquity, have been confined to the little frauds, that have swallowed up the pittance of some widow, or seduced into the same career of guilt with himself, the yielding gentleness of some innocent heart. To the remorse of such a mind, there are

* Orat. pro Sex. Roscio Amerino, Sect. 24. (Gruter,) or 67 of others.

[ocr errors]

not even the same consolations, if I may apply the term of consolation to that dreadful relief, which in rendering horror less felt for the instant, truly aggravates its ultimate amount. The power of making armies march, though it be only to new desolation,-of altering, in an instant, the fate of kingdoms, though it be only to render kingdoms more wretched,--has yet something in it, which, by its greatness, occupies the mind; and the tumult of war, and the glory of victory, and the very multitude of those, who bow the knee and tremble, as they solicit favour, or deprecate wrath, afford at least a source of distraction to the mind, though they can afford no more. These sources of distraction the petty villain cannot share. His villanies present to him no other images than those of the insignificant profits which he has perhaps already squandered, and the miseries which he has made. There are no crowds of flatterers to aid the feeble efforts with which he strives to forget the past. He is left with nothing more than his conscience, and his power of doing still more evil; and he has recourse to this desperate expedient, which, desperate as it is, is still less dreadful than his horror of the past. He adds villany to villany, not so much for any new profit, as to have something which may occupy him, producing wretchedness after wretchedness around him, as far as his little sphere extends, till his sense of remorse is at last almost stupified; and he derives thus a sort of dreadful mitigation of suffering, from the very circumstances which are afterwards to be the aggravation of his misery.

In these cases of fraud and cruelty, the progress of guilt, in every stage of it, might have brought to the mind of the guilty the evil on which he was entering, or the evil which he was aggravating. But what deep remorse arises often to minds originally of better hopes, that, on entering on the very career, which has plunged them in vice, saw no images but those of social pleasure ; and that, after many years of heedless dissipation have elapsed, look back on the years which have been so strangely consumed, almost with the astonishment, though not with the comfort, of one who looks back on some frightful dream, and who scarcely knows whether he is awake.

“ Soft as the gossamer, in summer shades,
Extends its twinkling line,

Gently as sleep the weary lids invades,

So soft, so gently, Pleasure mines her way."

from spray


« PrécédentContinuer »