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My associations were classical ; my tastes were for Grecian and Roman models ; and my moral maxims were derived from
: pagan moralists, philosophers, and poets. I had no feeling that I was a child of Christian antiquity ; I felt my heart beat with a lofty pride that I too was a inan, when I read of Leonidas and his Spartans, of Aristides, of the noble old Hannibals and Scipios ; but was unmoved at the tale of the early Christian martyrs. The martyrdom of Peter and Paul, of John, of Ignatius, of Justin, Irenæus, Laurence, and so many others, was all a matter of course, the result of the folly of men who chose rather to be crucified, to be cast into the caldron of burning oil, or to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre, than to abandon a crotchet they had got into their heads. These were men of no classical taste; they were unable to appreciate the beauty of Grecian art, or to feel the rich poetry of heathen mythology. I gathered no moral strength from reading the lives and legends of saints and martyrs, written in barbarous monkish Latin, and I never once asked what these saints and martyrs had done for the progress of society. I only saw in them a race of weak and superstitious men and women, who thought more of telling their beads, of kissing the crucifix, of the relics of some old saint who perhaps never lived, than of the noble remains of the classical world, and the treasures of wisdom and poetry they contained. I scoffed at the old Gothic cathedral, but worshipped in the Parthenon.
Thus came I from the university, a bad Christian, and a miserable abortion of a heathen ; with no love for Christianity, only an imperfect appreciation of pagan antiquity ; and only a tolerable acquaintance with physical science. Yet my father was satisfied, my mother was delighted, and my friends set me down as a young man destined one day to do honor to his alma mater and to his country.
Predictions were numerous, hopes ran high. How I have fulfilled them, this narrative, if completed, will tell.
Soon after my return from college, and before I had decided on what profession I would study, I had the misfortune to lose both my father and my mother. They both died, almost on the same day, of a malignant fever. Í was left alone in the world. For a long time I was overcome with my loss ; sunk in a profound grief, I could take no interest in what was passing around me, and bestow no thought on my own future relations or movements. Time and the natural buoyancy of youth, after a while, softened my grief, and I began gradually to recover my self-possession, and the elasticity of my spirits. I still mourned the loss of my parents ; I still felt, at times, my loneliness, but I was young, and the world was still new and attractive. But my ambition to hold a distinguished place in society had, however, subsided. The terrible blow had deeply impressed me with the shortness and uncertainty of life, and with the vanity of all human pursuits. I felt that there was nothing worth living for, and that it was better to die, to lie peacefully in the grave, to return to the elements from which I was taken, than to live and struggle on in this vain and transitory world.
This feeling, which I found everywhere expressed by my favorite Greek and Roman poets, suggested the only proper course to be taken ; namely, to seize the present moment, to live while I lived, to make the most of what was offered me, and to gather every flower that might bloom along my pathway. Life is short, why waste it in grave cares and tormenting struggles ? Life is uncertain, why then reckon on to-morrow? Today is all I can call my own, and for to-day only let me live. A wealthy relative dying just about this time left me, with what I had inherited from my parents, the heir of an ample fortune, adequate to all my wants, and superseding the necessity of any exertion of my own.
I resolved to sit down and enjoy life as long as it should last. I would gather around me every luxury my fancy suggested, every pleasure that could be tasted, and my life should glide away smoothly, without other care than that of making the most of the present hour.
I fancied I had no very vicious propensities ; I was of a mild and equable disposition, of generous sentiments, of courteous manners, taking no pleasure in seeing or causing pain, and finding no little of my own pleasure in contributing to that of others. I wished well to all men, had no desire to harm a liv
a ing thing, but merely desired to live and find my own pleasure in my own way. I wished to disturb nobody, and wished nobody to disturb me. My tastes were not coarse and vulgar, but refined. I had great horror of all vulgar sensuality, of all coarse criminals ; I must have all in good taste, decorated with the most beautiful creations of art.
With this view, I collected me a splendid library of rare and costly books in elegant bindings ; collected also paintings and statuary from the best masters, and arranged every thing about and within my dwelling with the most exquisite taste and
the chastest beauty. Horses, carriages, hounds, and other ministers of pleasure were in harmony with the whole. I had senses for pleasure, a soul for beauty, and I was rarely thwarted in my wishes. What can withstand youth, health, wealth, fine tastes, engaging address, just enough of wit to be piquant, and of sentiment to smooth and polish the whole ?
For some few years I led such a lise as may be imagined. I was, indeed, no vulgar sensualist ; I practised on the principle, that to enjoy the most, and to make the most of life, I I must cultivate my whole nature, and be what the Germans call “many-sided.” No one taste, appetite, or passion must be allowed to become predominant, but all was to be cultivated in equilibrium ; no one was to be indulged to excess, but each to be indulged as near to the point where indulgence ceases to be pleasurable and becomes painful as possible without reaching that point. This was my grand life-plan. Thus I cultivated art and science, became a tolerable proficient in philosophy, and respectable for my literary attainments. There were few subjects on which I might not have been consulted, from the profound mysteries of antique philosophy down to the best breed of dogs or horses, and the proper method of managing them ; from the composition of an epic or symphony to the composition of a new dish for dinner; from the construction of a cathedral to the readiest way of dismissing a mistress.
Several years wore away, not without some hollow pleasure ; but I found not after all what I craved. My grounds, books, dogs, horses, pictures, statuary, friends, dinners, mistresses, all the most perfect in their kind, were far from always satisfying me. Various as they were, they at times palled and wearied me with their monotony. Sometimes I failed to maintain myself within the prescribed limits. A Margaret or Lilia, with her soft blue eye, sweet smile, guileless heart, and generous confidence, wound herself too closely around the heart, and was not to be dismissed without leaving an unpleasant feeling behind, and causing a little too much perturbation. Not that I cared much for her when fairly gone, but she could not always, without too much effort, be banished from the memory. I contrived, however, to escape pretty generally from all painful reflections, and to sustain myself tolerably well. If I did not attain all the pleasure I might wish, was I not making the most of life? Was
not securing all that so vain and worthless a world as this could be expected to give ?
One day, however, as I was meditating on arresting a passion which was engrossing me somewhat too much for my per
fect tranquillity, and as I was a little disturbed with the resistance I had to overcome, an old man suddenly entered my apartment, unannounced. He was a stranger, though I had frequently seen him before. He had frequently presented himself before me when I was on some of my pleasure excursions, and once, when I was returning from the chase, wearied and half sad, he had attempted to address me, but was repulsed. He was a man of singular appearance and strange manners. He appeared to have been in his youth of a robust frame and of a striking manly beauty, but he was now bent nearly double, yet, perhaps, not wholly with age ; his head was partially bald, and his long thin locks were perfectly white; his face was deeply furrowed, yet one felt not with years, but by causes not easy to divine ; but his large, full, black eye beamed with more than its natural brilliancy, and seemed to burn with an unearthly fire, and under its fixed gaze you had an uneasy sensation, and you half trembled. Some how or other, though I knew not his name, who he was, whence he came, or where he lived, or
, what concern he could have with me, his image was often before me, and I felt that in some undefined way he was connected with my pleasures and destined to interrupt them. The memory of him would often come up, like the voice of conscience, just as I held the cup of pleasure to my lips, to dash it to the ground.
He came near me, and, straightening himself up as much as possible, and extending his thin, bony, and trembling hand towards me with a gesture as if pronouncing a curse, before I could gather strength to address him, exclaimed in a voice which had lost nothing of its fullness or energy, " Edward Morton, I have you now where you cannot escape me.
Hear “But who are you ?" I replied, “and what would you with
" Who I am it matters not. What I want of you is. nothing. It is you that have need of me.”
I respect age and misfortune, but I am not aware that I am in want of any thing they have to give.”
- You know not what you want. You want every thing ; you are poor and destitute, ay, mean and despicable.”
“You speak uncivilly, and presume on my known mildness of disposition, and unwillingness to resent personal indignities.”
“ Personal indignities to you! I came not in here to speak to you in civil terms. I care not for your natural mildness or
me ? »
your natural roughness. Whether you are pleased or displeased at what I say, I care not. I came in here to bring you what you need.”
“And what is it you think I need ?”
“ You need to be told that you are poor and miserable, a mean and despicable wretch, — and that I tell you. You need to see a face that can look on you with contempt, and that you may see if you will raise your eyes.”
“I know not why you should address me in this rude manner. I am sure I have never wronged you.”
“ Wronged me! Pray, who do you think yourself? You never had power to do me good or evil.”
Why, then, address me so uncourteously ?” “I speak as seems to me good. When you deserve to be addressed as a man, I will speak to you in other terms. Till then, I can only tell you how poor and contemptible you are, and how much I loathe you; may you remember what I tell you, and find pleasure in contemplating yourself. I go now. I shall see you again hereafter."
So saying, he left me, bewildered and not a little angry. I rung to send a servant to watch his motions, but he had suddenly disappeared, and no one had seen him, or could discover which way he had gone.
For a long while I pondered on this old man, his sudden appearance and disappearance, his rude speech, and his possible motive for insulting me.
I at first concluded he must be insane; but his manner, though singular, was yet not that of a madman. His look was firm, and his words and tones appeared to be measured, and his whole address, excepting the meaning of his words, was polished, and betokened a man of the world. He did not appear to be angry, or to be moved by any sudden fit of passion or humor, but to act on a settled plan, with the cool deliberate intention of offering me an insult.
There was something extraordinary about this old man. While he was in your presence you felt he was your master, and
you were awed into submission. You could not but feel that he had a sort of right to say to you what he pleased. His words did not seem to be idle words ; I was therefore unable, after he had left me, to get them out of my mind. They stuck by me. It was odd that this old man should call me poor and destitute, mean and contemptible, since my wealth was very extensive, and I
VOL. II. NO. I.