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THIS girl was a person of some poetic distinction, being (unconsciously to herself) the chief speaker in a little pastoral poem of Wordsworth's. That she was really beautiful, and not merely so described by me for the sake of improving the picturesque effect, the reader will judge from this line in the poem, written, perhaps, ten years earlier, when Barbara might be six years old:
""T was little Barbara Lewthwaite, a child of beauty rare!" This, coming from William Wordsworth, both a fastidious judge and a truth-speaker of the severest literality, argues some real pretensions to beauty, or real at that time. But it is notorious that, in the anthologies of earth through all her zones, one flower beyond every other is liable to change, which flower is the countenance of woman. Whether in his fine stanzas upon "Mutability," where the most pathetic instances of this earthly doom are solemnly arrayed, Spenser has dwelt sufficiently upon this the saddest of all, I do not remember.
Already Barbara Lewthwaite had contributed to the composition of two impressive pictures-first, in her infancy, with her pet lamb, under the evening shadows of the mighty Fairfield; secondly, in her girlhood, with the turbaned Malay, and the little cottage child. But, subsequently, when a young woman, she entered unconsciously into the composition of another picture even more rememberable,
* Referred to in the "Confessions," page 93, as a beautiful English girl.
suggesting great names, connected with the greatest of themes; the names being those of Plato, and, in this instance, at least, of a mightier than Plato, namely, William Wordsworth; and the theme concerned being that problem which, measured by its interest to man, by its dependencies, by the infinite jewel staked upon the verdict, we should all confess to be the most solemn and heart-shaking that is hung out by golden chains from the heaven of heavens to human investigation, namely - Is the spirit of man numbered amongst things naturally perishable? The doctrine of our own Dodwell (a most orthodox man), was, that naturally and per se it was perishable, but that by supernatural endowment it was made immortal. Apparently the ancient oracles of the Hebrew literature had all and everywhere assumed the soul's natural mortality. The single passage in Job, that seemed to look in the counter direction, has long since received an interpretation painfully alien from such a meaning; not to mention that the same objection would apply to this passage, if read into a Christian sense, as applies to the ridiculous interpolation in Josephus describing Christ's personal appearance, namely - Once suppose it genuine, and why were there not myriads of other passages in the same key? Imagine, for a moment, the writer so penetrated with premature Christian views, by what inexplicable rigor of abstinence had he forborne to meet ten thousand calls, at other turns of his work, for similar utterances of Christian sentiment? It must not be supposed that the objections to this Christian interpretation of Job
rest solely with German scholars. Coleridge, one of the most devout and evangelical amongst modern theologians, took the same view; and has expressed it with decision. But Job is of slight importance in comparison with Moses. Now, Warburton, in his well-known argument, held, not only that Moses did (as a fact) assume the mortality of the soul, but that, as a necessity, he did So, since upon this assumption rests the weightiest argument for his own divine mission. That Moses could dispense with a support which Warburton fancied all other legislators had needed and postulated, argued, in the bishop's opinion, a vicarious support a secret and divine support. This extreme view will be rejected, perhaps, by most people. But, in the mean time, the very existence of such a sect as the Sadducees proves sufficiently that no positive affirmation of the soul's immortality could have been accredited amongst the Hebrew nation as a Mosaic doctrine. The rise of a counter sect, the Pharisees, occurred in later days, clearly under a principle of " development" applied to old traditions current among the Jews. It was not alleged as a Mosaic doctrine, but as something deducible from traditions countenanced by Moses.
From Hebrew literature, therefore, no help is to be looked for on this great question. Pagan literature first of all furnishes any response upon it favorable to human yearnings. But, unhappily, the main argument upon which the sophist in the Phado relies, is a pure scholastic conundrum, baseless and puerile. The homogeneity of human consciousness, upon which is made to rest its indestructibility, is not established
or made probable by any plausible logic. If we should figure to ourselves some mighty angel mounting guard upon human interests twenty-three centuries ago, this tutelary spirit would have smiled derisively upon the advent and the departure of Plato. At length, once again, after many centuries, was heard the clarion of immortality not as of any preternatural gift, but as a natural prerogative of the human spirit. This time the angel would have paused and hearkened. The auguries for immortality, which Wordsworth drew from indications running along the line of daily human experience, were two. The first was involved in the exquisite little poem of "We are Seven." That authentic voice, said Wordsworth, which affirmed life as a necessity inalienable from man's consciousness, was a revelation through the lips of childhood. Life in its torrent fulness that is, life in its earliest stage affirmed itself; whereas the voice which whispered doubts was an adventitious and secondary voice consequent upon an earthly experience. The child in this little poem is unable to admit the thought of death, though, in compliance with custom, she uses the word.
"The first that died was little Jane ;
Till God released her from her pain,
The graves of her brother and sister she is so far from regarding as any argument of their having died, that she supposes the stranger simply to doubt her statement, and she reiterates her assertion of their
graves as lying in the churchyard, in order to prove
that they were living:
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,'
'Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side.
And eat my supper there.
The other argument was developed in the sublime "Ode upon the Intimations of Immortality," &c. Man in his infancy stood nearest (so much was matter of fact) to the unseen world of the Infinite. What voices he heard most frequently, murmuring through the cells of his infantine brain, were echoes of the great realities which, as a new-born infant, he had just quitted. Hanging upon his mother's breast, he heard dim prolongations of a music which belonged to a life ever more and more receding into a distance buried in clouds and vapors. Man's orient, in which lie the fountains of the dawn, must be sought for in that Eden of infancy which first received him as a traveller emerging from a world now daily becoming more distant. And it is a great argument of the divine splendor investing man's natural home, that the heavenly lights which burned in his morning grow fainter and fainter as he "travels further from the East."