« AnkstesnisTęsti »
ed with the kind-heartedness of the minstrel we surrender ourselves, as we read, to the delight of sympathizing with him; and yet all the while, we hardly know why, we are unable to persuade ourselves that he is really and actually in earnest. We almost hate ourselves for our own suspicions, but we cannot succeed in banishing them. We could not be induced to trust that man on a donkey of ours, with a crab-tree cudgel in his fist, by the richest bribe that could be laid before us. We could almost swear, that as soon as ever he got out of our sight, he would be found, in zealous imitation of the wretch whom, in a following verse of his lay, he stig. matizes with so much apparent earnestness, and giving the lie to his professions, by walloping his hanimal with all his means.' We may be thought to strain a point or two in de fence of our own prejudices, but we can not help fancying that the active verb "wallop" (which, it will be observed, is twice employed in the course of the lyric) comes rolling off the tongue with such gout, and seems so habitual to the mouth of the minstrel, as to give some ground (though it must, in common fairness, be confessed but a slight one) for supposing him not entirely inexperienced in the practice which it repre
But the unmasking a hypocrite, beneficial as it doubtless is to the public at large, is but an uncongenial field for the labours of the philanthropist, and we turn gladly to the "good men and true." There is a calmness and an innocent simplicity about Coleridge's "Lines to a young Ass," which convince us at once that they have their source in the heart. We see him, in
fancy, patting the head, and clapping the "ragged coat" of the unlearned juvenile, and tenderly enquiring the reason of a despondency so unnatural and unwonted in the lightsome season of youth; and we think his attributing it to filial pain at seeing his maternal parent
"Chain'd to a log within a narrow spot." one of the most exquisite touches we ever met with. The boldness, too and the magnanimity which he displays in venturing, "spite of the world's scorn," to acknowledge his fraternal relationship to the sufferer, are beyond all praise. Indeed, throughout the address, we do nothing but envy the man who could write and feel it; and by no means the least when he affirms that, could he place the subject of his song in that station in society of which he conceives him to be worthy, his very bray would sound in his, the poet's, ears most "musically sweet." Certes the much enduring Ithacan, who heard unmoved the song of the Sirens, (we say it advisedly, for the strapping to the mast was of his own free-will,) was a fool to him who could listen with positive pleasure to the braying of a jackass !
Talking of Ulysses very naturally puts us in mind of " the blind old man' whom the muse inspired to sing his wanderings; and, for the confusion of those who laugh at asses, we cannot resist quoting a passage, and that, too, thanks to the untranslateability of Homer, in the original. The son of Telamon, he of the sevenfold shield, is, by his unassisted prowess, keeping at bay whole hosts of Trojans, vainly furious at the impotence of their attacks. "Even as when," says the bard-but we said it should be in Greek
ὡς δ ̓ ότ ̓ ὄνος παρ' ἄρουραν ίων ἐβιήσατο παῖδας
All we want to know is, did Homer
There are some misguided people who fancy that, in his love and unshakeable fidelity to man the dog stands alone, and they quote in triumph the affecting incident commemorated in Scott's beautiful little poem called
“Helvellyn,” and bid us match it elsewhere among the inferior creation if we can! We accept the challenge, and claim the right to appear by our champion. Stand forth, William Wordsworth, and tell us how an ass could be as fond and as faithful-how he could stand over the drowned corpse of his late lord, sorrowing, solitary, starving,
and motionless, save that, at the rude ass ault of the wandering Potter, he once or twice
"Upon the pivot of his skull
Turn'd round his long left ear,"
His every gesture says imploringly, "Jump up Peter, my boy!" as plainly as the pigs, which run about ready roasted in Connecticut with knives and forks stuck between their ribs to
and voiceless, till, driven to speech by prevent their tumbling out, ejaculate
"He gave a groan, and then another,
Grunt the brother of groan! The
world has not been favoured with such a genealogical morceau since the Greek of old proclaimed dust to be "the thirsty sister of mud!" We mean to say that no man ever had a more beautiful and adequate conception of the moral dignity of an ass, than Wordsworth. That particular specimen of the breed who figures at this moment before us, deserves to be commented upon in nothing less than "whole volumes in folio," had we but leisure to fill them. Truly he is a most Christianlike ass! He is beaten (or, as our former friend would phrase it, "walloped") very heartily-and does he kick? Not he! His "shining hazel-eye” turns upon his persecutor only
"One mild, reproachful look,
A look more tender than severe."
Does he bear malice? Not a whit:Peter sets to work to haul out the dead body, and all his wrongs are forgiven in a moment!
"The little ass his neck extends,
He "looks on," and his very silence is eloquent:-he wants only the faculty of speech, which was given to his ancestor of old, to cry " Pull away, Peter!" The camel, it is said, is taught to go down on his knees to enable his rider to mount with greater ease. This is certainly sensible enough; but our friend the ass beats him hollow, for he does it of his own accord. A common-minded looker on a man who calls " a yellow primrose" a yellow primrose and nothing more, might have thought he merely meditated a roll, just to stretch his limbs after standing for four consecutive days in the same unaltered posi
"But no! that Peter on his back
Must mount, he shows, well as he can,"
to the chaps-watering multitude, "Come eat me! come eat me!" Two things more about this ass we cannot resist noticing, before we tear ourselves from so fascinating a theme. Firstly, our long eared friend is in
debted to Wordsworth for the most sublime comparison ever bestowed upon one of his fraternity. He has been by Peter (who was, as Shelley tells us in a graphic sketch of his character,
an evil cotter, And a polygamic potter") villainously abused, maltreated, beaten, and knocked down-a more aggravated case of assault and battery was never laid before a jury-and he rises at length from the ground, with manifold bumps and bruises-bones shaking and aching, and, as we afterwards learn, a considerable contusion on the occiput. He rises like-we would give you till the Greek Kalends to guess what-he rises
"like a tempest-shattered bark,
Glorious indeed! We never to this day see a jackass under process of belabouring, without being reminded of our fifteenth cousin the Middy, and the Thunder-and-Lightning man-ofwar in a white squall in the Bay of Biscay! Lastly, what a picture is the meeting of the ass and his young master! The love of man to beast was surely never painted in such glowing colours. The youth has been wandering over the country for three days, at the very least, to find his father, and his search has been in vain :-he
is approaching his home, sad, sorrowful, and ignorant of his sire's fate as when he left it, and suddenly his eye lights upon the returned ass. course his father has returned alsothere can be no doubt about the mat
ter-it would only be losing time to enquire he can see him at any time in the course of the evening-and, even supposing he had not by any
chance returned, at any rate there is the favourite, safe and sound, and, in a moment,
"Forth to the gentle ass he springs,
There! We used to think Titania was reasonably enamoured of Bottom, when she kissed his fair large ears,' and called him "her gentle joy," and rounded his hairy temples "with coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers.". We once were wont to look upon Sancho's recovery of his purloined Dapple-his affectionate greeting of, "How hast thou done, my dearest donkey! delight of my eyes! my sweet companion!" and the ass, holding his peace, and suffering himself to be kissed and caressed by Sancho, without answering one word," as something inimitably tender.- We did think that the love of donkeys could no farther go, but we were wrong, and we are not ashamed to own it; it is but confessing, as somebody says, that we are wiser to-day than we were yesterday.
Language asinine appears to be as familiar to Wordsworth as it was to Sterne before him-the mantle of Tristram Shandy has fallen upon Peter Bell; but the elder wearer was, to our thinking, the better interpreter. Somebody has said, severely enough, of Sterne, alluding to a passage in the Sentimental Journey, that he preferred whining over a dead ass to relieving the wants of a living mother. We will not believe it. If ever a kind heart shone out in a man's writings, it does in those of Sterne. We never read that two hundred and thirty-third
chapter without feeling that he who wrote it must have felt it also. Much as he may have elsewhere said in jest, he is here, at any rate, in earnest ;we feel that he could never have written it, had he not either witnessed, or been himself an actor in, some such incident as that which he describes ; and when we come to the oath at the end, sorry as we may be to find it there, we can hardly help thinking that, as he himself beautifully expresses it in another place," the accusing spirit, as he flew up to Heaven's Chancery with the oath, blushed as he gave it in, and the recording angel, as he wrote it down, dropped a tear upon the word, and blotted it out for ever!"
How much longer could we gossip on upon asses? A great deal longer than we intend to do; for, so inveterate is prejudice, that we doubt if we should ever convince the multitude of their merits, or save them so much as a single walloping" by our intercession. No, they are a doomed and devoted race: a mark "for scorn to point his slow unmoving finger at."
The ass," said the prophet of old, "knoweth his master's crib,"-but the donkey of our own times is not so fortunate; he is utterly unacquainted with the nature of a rack, and knoweth not even of the existence of a manger. He is a houseless vagrant, over commons and along lane sides; he is a beast among gypsies, and a gypsy among beasts, αφρήτωρ, αθέμιστιος ανέστιος. He is unfed, untended, unpitied ;-he is rated, kicked, spurred, thumped, lashed, tormented, troubled, and thrashed in every possible and devisable fashion—and for why ?—Your "most exquisite reason," good public ?-Alas! he is--an ass!
HINTS ON HISTORY; OR, A GLANCE AT THE DARK AGES.
WE would here premise a few gene. ral observations upon history-1st, as to the claim it puts forth of teaching the future by the past, whether for the guidance of the practical statesman, or for the enlightenment of those speculations upon human society that regard distant generations, for which we can only speculate; and 2d, as to the proper method and spirit of studying its annals, considered merely as a record of the past, and with the desire only of obtaining an intelligible retro spect. The subject is surely not uninviting. It is allied on every side to great topics of reflection; and though it will not engage us in any keen controversy, for there is no grave difference of opinion to combat, yet there is sufficient shade of obscurity hanging over it, we suspect, in the minds of most men, to rouse attention, and to justify this recurrence to the theme.
I. It is a notorious evil attendant upon mistaken and extravagant encomium, that it calls forth, as if by a law of reaction, a depreciation equally unjust; and if the subservience of history to political wisdom, its ability to guide and direct us in measures of government, has ever been seriously disputed, the scepticism, we apprehend, has arisen from a reaction of this kind. A misplaced reverence, a hasty, injudicious application of the authority of history, seem to have tempted some minds to a rejection altogether of that authority, or at least to a great disparagement of it. To prove the political value of history, it is only necessary to place its claims in this respect on their right grounds.
We not unfrequently hear the attempt made, and with the utmost confidence, to solve the political problem of the passing day by a simple appeal to a supposed analogous case in the history of past times. With some politicians, the French Revolution is ever at hand to explain all, and determine the character of every event. Now, nothing can be more weak than this method of applying history.
NO. CCXCI. VOL. XLVII.
History never exhibited any two cases exactly alike-never any two that had not in fact material differences. It is, therefore, at the utmost hazard that we make this use of its examples. But what at once decides against this manner of judging by a historical precedent is, that the precedent itself, if really applicable to the problem to be resolved-to the dispute in hand-is invariably found to lie open to a diversity of interpretation exactly corresponding to that diversity of opinion it was introduced to overrule-to lie open, in fact, to the very same conflict of argument it was brought forward to determine. To understand the precedent becomes just as difficult a task as to pronounce judgment at once upon those circumstances it was applied to decipher. The discussion is only transferred from the present to the past. Both parties in the dispute invariably read the historical precedent after their own interpretation, and find in the same example a confirmation of the most opposite views.
Does history, then, afford no help to the statesman-none in framing measures, or pronouncing on forms of government? Most assuredly it does: but not by furnishing individual precedents, to be applied as occasion requires a perilous mode of decision, if indeed it can do no more than add fuel to the controversy. History is subservient is indispensable to political knowledge; inasmuch as it affords the very field of observation where human nature is to be studied as it unfolds itself, not in the solitary bosom, but in the actions of congregated numbers— of citizens and of nations. Here alone can the social body be watched, and scanned, and criticised; here alone can the wants, and passions, and fevers of great societies be known and contemplated. The metaphysic philosopher who would investigate the individual mind, turns his scrutiny upon himself; he bears within the subject of his fine analysis; and the observer and his object of observation are one and the same. But if he
would further learn how a multitude of such individual beings as he has been scrutinizing, deport themselves when united together as a common. wealth or nation-how they act in war, or co-operate in commerce, or demean themselves in the civil strife of faction and of party-how they may be driven like sheep, terror-stricken, by no very gentle shepherds; or how, in their love of independence, they may refuse all law and subordination-how they may be banded into sects or pro.. pelled against each other, nation against nation, by hostile religions; if he would learn these things, he has no longer the subject-matter of observation immediately within reach; he must look out for himself-must look abroad on his fellow-citizens-must watch the community, not the man. Nor would one example of a state suffice. The spectacle of one government, or one people, and that seen but for a single age, would not only be inadequate for his purpose, but would of a certainty betray him into erroneous conclusions. In the page of history alone can he find his materials, his facts, his scope of observation. It is here only that, by carrying forward his knowledge of individual man into the transactions of states and communities, he becomes acquainted with human nature in its social and political capacity. Here is the great repertory of events, by the study of which he may arrive at certain general conclusions on the lives and fortunes of nations and communities. The knowledge of the past will teach him the future, because it will teach him the knowledge of mankind.
But general conclusions, it may be said, are uncertain and disputable. Be it so. We cannot mend the matter by seizing upon some one historical precedent, and so judging, as some might express it, by experience. If the principle, as extracted from, and modified by, a review of all the cases, still requires to be applied with much care and discrimination, shall we think to snatch at certainty by laying hold of any one of those cases, and making that the sole authority for our judgment?
Not only is the separate example of history employed and appealed to in this empirical manner, but a similar error is sometimes committed by those who take a survey of the whole tenor
of the past, in order to determine what will be the whole tenor of man's future existence. History is no science of itself, but is resolved into the science of man; yet its events are not unfrequently treated as if they were of an ultimate character; and therefore, because they have been, must necessarily be repeated. Thus we find some persons pronouncing an opinion that states, like individuals, have a period allotted to them in which to flourish and attain their highest prosperity, after which they are to sink into decrepitude, or to be cut off by sudden overthrow-we find such persons, and they used to be met with more frequently than now, who had manifestly been led to this opinion merely by the number of instances which history exhibits of the elevation and downfal of states. But it is not because nations have risen and fallen, that they therefore will continue invariably to rise and fall. If these prognosticators have discovered the causes of their progress and decay, and have satisfied themselves that these causes are permanent and universal, then, and then only are they justified in their conclusion. But if all communities of men had hitherto been known to suffer in their turn decline or overthrow, and there were yet one community in existence not exposed to the destructive influences hitherto in operation, or where these were counteracted by other and better tendencies, no conclusion derivable from the fate of all the rest could, of course, be applicable to this one.
Nor is the logical blunder confined to one only of those parties which divide this shadowy region of speculative politics. Those who reason from history in a more sanguine spirit, and dwell with ardour on the unlimited progress of human affairs, lapse frequently into an error of the same description. Because, according to their observation, society has hitherto, through all obstacles, and in spite of some retrograde movements, continued on the whole to advance, they conclude that it will therefore still persist in an onward career. Now, the mere fact that society has improved, is in itself no argument whatever that it will still further improve. These consolers of the race of man must show what have been the causes of this improvement, and then proceed