תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

Eternity! thou pleasing, dreadful thought!
Through what variety of untried being,
Through what new scenes and changes must we pass ?
The wide, th' unbounded prospect, lies before me;
But shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it.
Here will I hold. If there 's a power above us,
(And that there is, all nature cries aloud
Through all her works), he must delight in virtue;
And that which he delights in must be happy.
But when ? or where? This world was made for Cæsar.
I 'm weary of conjectures. This must end them.

(Laying his hand on his sword.]
Thus am I doubly armed: my death and life,
My bane and antidote, are both before me:
This in a moment brings me to an end,
But this informs me I shall never die.
The soul, secured in her existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
Grow dim with age, and nature sink in years ;
But thou shalt flourish in immortal youth,
Unhurt amidst the wars of elements,
The wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds.
What means this heaviness that hangs upon me?
This lethargy that creeps through all my senses ?
Nature oppress'd, and harass'd out with care,
Sinks down to rest. This once I'll favour her
That my awaken'd soul may take her flight,
Renew'd in all her strength, and fresh with life,
An offering fit for heaven. Let guilt or fear
Disturb man's rest: Cato knows neither of them;
Indifferent in his choice to sleep or die.

Addison was now at the height of his fame. He had long aspired to the hand of the countess-dowager of Warwick, whom he had first known by becoming tutor to her son ; and he was united to that lady, in 1716. Не, , however, married discord in a noble wife.' IIis marriage was as unhappy as Dryden's marriage with Lady Elizabeth Howard had been. Both ladies awarded to their husbands, the heraldry of hands, not hearts,' and the fate of these poets should serve as beacons to warn other ambitious literary adventurers.

Addison received his highest political honor in 1719, when he was made secretary of state. He held this important office, however, but for a short time; for he wanted the physical boldness and ready resources of an effective public speaker, and was unable to defend his own measures in parliament. He, therefore, retired from the secretaryship with a pension of fifteen hundred pounds per annum, and resolved to devote the remainder of his life exclusively to literary pursuits. He planned a new version of the Psalms of David,' and a work on the Evidences of the Christian Religion, but did not live to complete either. He was oppressed by asthma anıl dropsy, and

was, for some years, conscious that he should die at a comparatively early age. For this trying event he now deliberately prepared, and with what degree of sincerity is evident from the following incidents. He had injured Gay the poet, but in what way is unknown; and he, therefore, from his death-bed, sent for him, that he might obtain his forgiveness, and assure him, should his life be epared, that he would make every reparation in his power. He next requested an interview with the Earl of Warwick, whom he was anxious to reclaim from a dissipated and licentious course of life. 'I have sent for you,' said he,' that you may see in what peace a Christian can die.' The mournful event thus calmly anticipated occurred at Holland House, on the seventeenth of June, 1719, before Addison had attained the forty-eighth year of

his age.

A minute and critical review of the daily life of Addison, and of his intercourse with his literary associates, would have a tendency to diminish our reverence and affection for his character. His temper was jealous and taciturn ; and the satire of Pope, that he could bear no rival near the throne,' seems to have been just and well founded. He was, however, a good man and a sincere Christian ; and to this the uniform tendency of all his writings, bears abundant testimony. Of his poetry, to the poems already quoted, we add the following beautiful ode :

How are thy servants blest, O Lord !

How sure is their defence!
Eternal wisdom is their guide,

Their help Omnipotence.
In foreign realms, and lands remote,

Supported by thy care,
Through burning climes I pass'd unhurt,

And breathed in tainted air
Thy mercy sweeten'd every soil,

Made every region please;
The hoary Alpine hills it warm'd,

And smooth'd the Tyrrhene seas.
Think, O my soul! devoutly think,

How, with affrighted eyes,
Thou saw'st the wide extended deep

In all its horrors rise.
Confusion dwelt on every face,

And fear in every heart,
When waves on waves, and gulfs on gulfs,

O’ercame the pilot's art.
Yet then from all my griefs, O Lord !

Thy mercy set me free;
Whilst in the confidence of prayer

My soul took hold on thee.
For though in dreadful whirls we hung

High on the broken wave,

I knew thou wert not slow to hear,

Nor impotent to save.
The storm was laid, the winds retir’d,

Obedient to thy will;
The sea that roar'd at thy command,

At thy command was still.
In midst of dangers, fears, and death,

Thy goodness I'll adore;
I'll praise thee for thy mercies past,

And humbly hope for more.
My life, if thou preserv'st my life,

Thy sacrifice shall be;
And death, if death must be my doom,

Shall join my soul to thee.

As a prose writer Addison has had few equals in the language. His style is natural and unaffected, easy and polite, and full of those graces peculiar to a vivid and flowing imagination. In thought and sentiment he is always pure, and his figures are almost uniformly delicate, accurate, and appropriate. If in any thing he is deficient, it is in strength. The following essay on the works of creation has always been regarded as one of his best productions

THE WORKS OF CREATION.

I was yesterday about sunset walking in the open fields, until the night insensibly fell upon me. I at first amused myself with all the richness and variety of colours which appeared in the western parts of heaven. In proportion as they faded away and went out, several stars and planets appeared one after another, until the whole firmament was in a glow. The blueness of the ether was exceedingly heightened and enlivened by the season of the year, and by the rays of all those luminaries that passed through it. The galaxy appeared in its most beautiful white. To complete the scene, the full moon rose at length in that clouded majesty which Milton takes notice of, and opened to the eye a new picture of nature, which was more finely shaded and disposed among softer lights, than that which the sun had before discovered to us.

As I was surveying the moon walking in her brightness, and taking her progress among the constellations, a thought rose in me which I believe very often perplexes, and disturbs men of serious and contemplative natures. David himself fell into it in that reflection: 'When I consider the heavens the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou regardest him ? In the same manner, when I considered that infinite host of stars, or, to speak more philosophically, of suns, which were then shining upon me, with those innumerable sets of planets or worlds which were moving round their respective suns—when I still enlarged the idea, and supposed another heaven of suns and worlds rising still above this which we discovered, and these still enlightened by a superior firmament of luminaries, which are planted at so great a distance, that they may appear to the inhabitants of the former as the stars do to us--in short, while I pursued this thought, I could not but reflect on that little insignificant figure which I myself bore amidst the immensity of God's works.

Were the sun which enlightens this part of the creation, with all the host of planetary worlds that move about him, utterly extinguished and annihilated, they would

not be missed more than a grain of sand upon the sea-shore. The space they possess is so exceedingly little in comparison of the whole, that it would scarce make a blank in the creation. The chasm would be imperceptible to an eye that could take in the whole compass of nature, and pass from one end of the creation to the other; as it is possible there may be such a sense in ourselves hereafter, or in creatures which are at present more exalted than ourselves. We see many stars by the help of glasses which we do not discover with our naked eyes; and the finer our telescopes are, the more still are our discoveries. Huygenius carries this thought so far, that he does not think it impossible there may be stars whose light has not yet travelled down to us since their first creation. There is no question but the universe has certain bounds set to it; but when we consider that it is the work of infinite power prompted by infinite goodness, with an infinite space to exert itself in, how can our imagination set any bounds to it?

To return, therefore, to my first thought; I could not but look upon myself with secret horror as a being that was not worth the smallest regard of one who had so great a work under his care and superintendency. I was afraid of being overlooked amidst the immensity of nature, and lost among that infinite variety of creatures which in all probability swarm through all these immeasurable regions of matter.

In order to recover myself from this mortifying thought, I considered that it took its rise from those narrow conceptions which we are apt to entertain of the divine nature. We ourselves can not attend to many different objects at the same time. If we are careful to inspect some things, we must of course neglect others. This imperfection which we observe in ourselves is an imperfection that cleaves in some degree to creatures of the highest capacities, as they are creatures ; that is, beings of finite and limited natures. The presence of every created being is confined to a certain measure of space, and consequently his observation is stinted to a certain number of objects. The sphere in which we move, and act, and understand, is of a wider circumference to one creature than another, according as we rise one above another in the scale of existence. But the widest of these our spheres has its circumference. When, therefore, we reflect on the divine nature, we are so used and accustomed to this imperfection in ourselves, that we can not forbear in some measure ascribing it to Him in whom there is no shadow of imperfection. Our reason indeed assures that his attributes are infinite, but the poorness of our conceptions is such, that it can not forbear setting bounds to every thing it contemplates, until our reason comes again to our succour, and throws down all those little prejudices which rise in us unawares, and are natural to the mind of man.

We shall, therefore, utterly extinguish this melancholy thought of our being overlooked by our Maker, in the multiplicity of his works and the infinity of those objects among which he seems to be incessantly employed, if we consider, in the first place, that he is omnipresent; and, in the second, that he is omniscient.

If we consider him in his omnipresence, his being passes through, actuates, and supports the whole frame of nature. His creation, and every part of it, is full of him. There is nothing he has made that is either so distant, so little, or so inconsiderable, which he does not essentially inhabit. His substance is within the substance of every being, whether material or immaterial, and as intimately present to it as that being is to itself. It would be an imperfection in him were he able to remove out of one place into another, or to withdraw himself from any thing he has created, or from any part of that space which is diffused and spread abroad to infinity. In short, to speak of him in the language of the old philosopher, he is a being, whose centre is everywhere, and his circumference nowhere.

In the second place, he is omniscient as well as omnipresent. His omniscience, indeed, necessarily and naturally flows from his omnipresence: he can not but be conscious of every motion that arises in the whole material world, which he thus essentially pervades; and of every thought that is stirring in the intellectual world,

to every part of which he is thus intimately united. Several moralists have considered the creation as the temple of God, which he has built with his own hands, and which is filled with his presence. Others have considered infinite space as the receptacle, or rather the habitation, of the Almighty. But the noblest and most exalted way of considering this infinite space is that of Sir Isaac Newton, who calls it the sensorium of the Godhead. Brutes and men have their sens sensoriola, or little sensoriums, by which they apprehend the presence, and perceive the actions of a few objects that lie contiguous to them. Their knowledge and observation turn within a very narrow circle. But as God Almighty can not but perceive and know every thing in which he resides, infinite space gives room to infinite knowledge, and is, as it were, an organ to omniscience.

Were the soul separate from the body, and with one glance of thought should start beyond the bounds of the creation-should it for millions of years continue its progress through infinite space with the same activity—it would still find itself within the embrace of its Creator, and encompassed round with the immensity of the Godhead. While we are in the body, he is not less present with us because he is concealed from us. 'Oh that I knew where I might find him!' says Job. 'Behold I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I can not perceive him : on the left hand where he does work, but I can not behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand that I can not see him.' In short, reason as well as revelation assures us that he can not be absent from us, notwithstanding he is undiscovered by us.

In this consideration of God Almighty's omnipresence and omniscience, every uncomfortable thought vanishes. He can not but regard every thing that has being, especially such of his creatures who fear they are not regarded by him. He is privy to all their thoughts, and to that anxiety of heart in particular which is apt to trouble them on this occasion : for as it is impossible he should overlook any of his creatures, so we may be confident that he regards with an eye of mercy those who endeavour to recommend themselves to his notice, and in an unfeigned humility of heart think themselves unworthy that he should be mindful of them.

Ambrose and John Philips, Thomas Parnell, William Somerville, and Thomas Tickell next claim our attention.

AMBROSE PHILIPs was of an ancient Leicestershire family, and was born in 1671. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, and while at the university acquired some notoriety as a writer of Pastorals. On leaving the university he repaired to London, and soon became conspicuous among the wits of the town. Sir Richard Steele was his particular friend, and inserted, with unmeasured praise, the following poem in the Tatler,' written by Philips at Copenhagen, in 1709, and addressed to the Earl of Dorset :

TO THE EARL OF DORSET,
From frozen climes, and endless tracts of snow,
From streams which northern winds forbid to flow,
What present shall the Muse to Dorset bring,
Or how, so near the pole, attempt to sing ?
The hoary winter here conceals from sight
All pleasing objects which to verse invite,
The hills and dales, and the delightful woods,
The flowery plains, and silver-streaming floods,

« הקודםהמשך »