תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

distinguish themselves by the productions of genius-who explore the secrets of nature to decorate the temple of science or, gifted with a sublime capacity for thought, seek to enrich others from their own intellectual stores. The names of such are not allowed to perish; being "dead" they yet "speak" with an immortal voice; they are placed by posterity among the benefactors of their race; and their example is held up to excite the emulation and stimulate the energies of kindred spirits. The distinction thus conferred by mental superiority, is in general far more permanent than that which is obtained by wealth or station, the inroads of war, or the imposing attitude of victory. Empires wide in extent and eminent for power and civilization, have been blotted from the map of nations; cities which gathered the commerce of the earth to their gates have gone to decay, and are no longer to be distinguished from the surrounding deserts; monuments which were erected to guard the ashes and register the deeds of monarchs, have crumbled into dust, or remain only in ruins to tell a tale of baffled pride to the passing visiter: but the thoughts, aspirations, and communings of lofty minds, embalmed in song or embodied in philosophy, have triumphed over the sweep of ages, and survived the vicissitudes which in their lapse have been witnessed. The rhapsodies of Homer and the imaginings of Plato, have outlived the conquests of Alexander and the riches of Croesus.

But intellectual endowments must give place in the order of true greatness to moral worth; and the attempt to expand and cultivate the mind, commendable as it is, can bear no comparison, in point of importance, with the effort to improve and renovate the heart. Mental greatness seeks the improvement of man in time, but moral greatness aims at his preparation for eternity; the one has the sphere of its influence confined to the present state, but the other enters in behind the "vail," and penetrates into the "holiest place." The object which it contemplates is, to inspire our fallen

whose names are deservedly honoured as well for the efforts of genius, as for the more unobtrusive exercises of piety.

To the greatest minds it has been an object of ambition, to live in the esteem and admiration of posterity; to be spoken and thought of when the sepulchre shall have closed over their remains; and thus to travel down the stream of time, to receive the homage of succeeding ages. "Nothing I confess," says Pliny to his friend Capito, "so strongly stimulates my breast, as the desire of acquiring a lasting name - a passion highly worthy of the human heart, especially of his, who, not being conscious of any ill, is not afraid of being known to posterity. It is the continued subject, therefore, of my thoughts,

By what fair deed I too a name may raise."*

But in estimating the characters of individuals, and in apportioning the honours of immortality, the world is too often guided by maxims directly opposed to those which the "wisdom from above" sanctions. The admiration of mankind is in general attracted by outward show and pompous ceremonial; and he who has contrived to surround himself with the elements of earthly grandeur, however unworthy his actions, and disastrous his existence may have been to others, is often distinguished by a memorial and an eulogy. The pen of the historian, the song of the poet, and the chisel of the sculptor, hence, have been employed to preserve the memory of those, who have alone surpassed their fellows by a career of splendid crime and desolating power. The distinctions, however, conferred upon such candidates for fame, are but short-lived; for though the record of their names may exist, yet posterity consigns them to merited neglect, or only refers to their story to illustrate the scorn and execration which an ill-spent life deserves.

A far stronger claim upon the notice of a future age, have they who attempt to secure it by literary eminence; who

* Lib. v. Epist. viii.

distinguish themselves by the productions of genius-who explore the secrets of nature to decorate the temple of science -or, gifted with a sublime capacity for thought, seek to enrich others from their own intellectual stores. The names of such are not allowed to perish; being "dead" they yet "speak" with an immortal voice; they are placed by posterity among the benefactors of their race; and their example is held up to excite the emulation and stimulate the energies of kindred spirits. The distinction thus conferred by mental superiority, is in general far more permanent than that which is obtained by wealth or station, the inroads of war, or the imposing attitude of victory. Empires wide in extent and eminent for power and civilization, have been blotted from the map of nations; cities which gathered the commerce of the earth to their gates have gone to decay, and are no longer to be distinguished from the surrounding deserts; monuments which were erected to guard the ashes and register the deeds of monarchs, have crumbled into dust, or remain only in ruins to tell a tale of baffled pride to the passing visiter: but the thoughts, aspirations, and communings of lofty minds, embalmed in song or embodied in philosophy, have triumphed over the sweep of ages, and survived the vicissitudes which in their lapse have been witnessed. The rhapsodies of Homer and the imaginings of Plato, have outlived the conquests of Alexander and the riches of Croesus.

But intellectual endowments must give place in the order of true greatness to moral worth; and the attempt to expand and cultivate the mind, commendable as it is, can bear no comparison, in point of importance, with the effort to improve and renovate the heart. Mental greatness seeks the improvement of man in time, but moral greatness aims at his preparation for eternity; the one has the sphere of its influence confined to the present state, but the other enters in behind the "vail," and penetrates into the "holiest place." The object which it contemplates is, to inspire our fallen

nature with the love of virtue and religion; to restrain the passions, purify the thoughts, and regulate the conduct; and thus direct the footsteps of mankind from the paths of vice and error, to the highway of holiness and truth. It is in the prosecution of a design so magnificent, that the noblest kind of renown is won, the highest grade of honour attained; and to such distinction it is the peculiar province of Christianity to lead. It excites in every bosom which it visits the ambition of doing good; it teaches man to become the friend and brother of his species; to address himself to the mighty task of elevating the character and improving the condition of his race; to espouse as his own, the interests of human nature; and to be ever "ready to be offered up" on the altar of sacrifice, for the well-being of the erring family to which he belongs. Characters of this description, marked with this moral greatness, may not attract, during their brief day, the gaze and wonder of a dazzled world; but after-ages bring them from their obscurity, reverence their memory, and raise them in the scale of worth, far above the heroes of historic page and poetic song. The influence which they exert does not cease with their dissolution; while they pass from us to a brighter world, the impression of their example descends a silent blessing to posterity; and the seeds of warning and instruction, which their lives have scattered, and the record of their story preserves, spring up to benefit a future age. "They rule our spirits from their urns;" they restrain and check the tide of human degeneracy; excite others to the attainment of similar excellence; awaken in far-distant bosoms a desire of emulation; and kindle in the mind familiar with their career, the sparks of kindred eminence.

To this latter class the subject of the following memoirs belongs; conspicuous for greatness of mind, purity of heart, benevolence towards man, and devotion towards God; occupying a station in public as well as in private life to which but few have attained. In perusing the present detail of his

history, the lover of extraordinary incident and strange adventure, will be disappointed; but he who delights to gaze upon a picture of piety and wisdom, to trace the operations of a mind devoting its energies to the best interests of the human race, to behold an individual abstracted from earthly concerns, pursuing in the silent retirement of his closet designs of a purely spiritual and intellectual character, will, perhaps, meet with something by which he may be instructed, gratified, and improved.

Of the ancestry of Dr. Isaac Watts we have but few memorials. From the scanty information afforded us, it appears that the family possessed some paternal property, which would have been considerable but for the intolerance of the times. His father was a nonconformist, and unhappily on that account he suffered from the persecuting court of Charles II.; and it is probable that the legal proceedings in which he was involved, materially injured his private fortune, and deprived him of the fruits of an industrious life. This was indeed a common case with the dissenters in that age of bigotry and oppression; as dissident from the national establishment they were obnoxious to fines, proscription, and contumely; and often had they to suffer "the spoiling of their goods," to meet the expensive suits instituted against them in the civil and ecclesiastical courts.

From a note appended to one of the Doctor's poems, we learn that his grandfather, Mr. Thos. Watts, was engaged in the naval service, as commander of a ship-of-war in the year 1656. Among his contemporaries he was much esteemed, and celebrated for many of those accomplishments, which gave such a lustre to his name in the person of his gifted grandson. Not only was he well acquainted with the mathematics, but also skilled in the lighter arts of music, painting, and poetry. His personal courage was remarkable. A descendant of the family relates, that when closely pursued

« הקודםהמשך »