Page images
PDF
EPUB

am setting out on such a progress ; I cannot be content without an accurate sketch of the windings thus far of a stream which is to bear me on forever. I try to imagine how it will be to recollect, at a far distant point of my era, what I was when here; and I wish, if it were possible, to retain, as I advance, the whole course of my existence within the

scope

of clear reflexion : to fix in my mind so very strong an idea of what I have been in this original period of my time that I shall most completely possess this idea in ages too remote for calculation.

The review becomes still more important, when I learn the influence which this first part of the progress will have on the happiness or misery of the next. One of the greatest difficulties in the way

of executing the proposed task will have been caused by the extreme deficiency of that self-observation, which, to

extent, is no common employment, either of youth or any later age. Men realize their existence to the surrounding objects that act upon them, and form the interests of self, rather than that very self, that interior being, which is thus acted upon. So that this being itself, with its thoughts and feelings, as distinct from the objects of those thoughis and feelings, but rarely occupied its own deep and patient attention. Men carry their minds as they carry their watches, content to be ignorant of the mechanism of their movements, and satisfied with attending to the little exterior circle of things, to which the passions, like indexes, are pointing. It is surprising to see how little self- knowledge a person not watchfully observant of himself

may have gained in the whole course of an active or even inquisitive life. He may have lived almost an age, and traversed a continent, minutely examining its curiosities, and interpreting the half-obliterated characters on its monuments, unconscious the while of a process operating on his own mind to impress or to erase characteristics of much more importance to him than all the figured brass or marble that the world contains. After having explored na

ny a cavern or dark ruinous avenue, he

may

have left undetected a darker recess in his character. He may have conversed with many people, in different languages, on numberless subjects ; but, having neglected those conversations with himself by which his whole moral being should have been kept continually disclosed to his view, he is better qualified perhaps to describe the intrigues of a foreign court, or the progress of a foreign trade ; to represent the manners of the Italians, or the Turks ; to narrate the proceedings of the Jesuits, or the adventures of the gypsies; than to write the history of his own mind.

If we had practised habitual self-observation, we could not have failed to make important discoveries. There have been thousands of feelings, each of which, if strongly seized upon, and made the subject of reflection, would have shown us what our character was, and what it was likely to become. There have been numerous incidents, which operated on us as tests, and so fully brought out the whole quality of the mind, that another person, who should have been discriminatively observing us, would instantly have formed a decided estimate. But unfortunately the mind is too much occupied by the feeling or the incident itself, to have the slightest care or consciousness that any thing could be learnt, or is disclosed. In very early youth it is almost inevitable for it to be thus lost to itself even amidst its own feelings, and the external objects of attention ; but it seems a contemptible thing, and it certainly is a criminal and dangerous thing, for a man in mature life to allow himself this thoughtless escape from self-examination.

We have not only neglected to observe what our feelings indicated, but have also in a very great degree ceased to remember what they were. justly wonder how our minds could pass away successively from so many scenes and moments which seemed to us important, each in its time, and retain so slight an impression, that we have now nothing to tell about what once excited our utmost emotion.

We nay

As to my own mind, I perceive that it is becoming uncertain of the exact nature of many feelings of considerable interest, even of later years : of course, the remembrance of what was felt in early life is exceedingly faint. I have just been observing several children of eight or ten years old, in all the active vivacity which enjoys the plentitude of the moment without “ looking before or after;" and while observing, I attempted, but without success, to recollect what I was at that

age.

I can indeed remember the principal events of the period, and the actions and projects to which my feelings impelled me; but the feelings themselves, in their own pure juvenility, cannot be revived, so as to be described and placed in comparison with those of maturity. What is become of all those vernal fancies, which had so much power to touch the heart? What a number of sentiments have lived and revelled in the soul that are now irrevocably gone. They died, like the singing birds of that time, which now sing no more.

The life that we then had, now seems almost as if it could not have been our own. When we go back to it in thought, and endeavour to recal the interests which animated it, they will not come. We are like a man returning, after the absence of many years, to visit the embowered cottage where he passed the morning of his life, and finding only a relic of its ruins.

VIEW OF LIFE-Continued.

We may regard our past life as a continued, though irregular course of education; and the discipline has consisted of instruction, companionship, reading, and the diversified influences of the world. The

young mind eagerly came forward to meet the operations of some of these modes of discipline, though without the possibility of a thought concerning the important process under which it was beginning to pass. In some certain degree we have been influenced by each

of these parts of the great system of education ; it will be worth while to inquire how far, and in what man

per.

Few persons can look back to the earlv period when they were peculiarly the subjects of instruction, without a regret for themselves, (which may be extended to the human race,) that the result of instruction, excepting that which leads to evil, bears so small a proportion to its compass and repetition. Yet some good consequences will follow the diligent incul. cation of truth and precept on the youthful mind; and our consciousness of possessing certain advantages derived from it will be a partial consolation in the review that will comprise so many proofs of its comparative inefficacy. You can recollect perhaps the instructions to which you feel yourselves permanently the most indebted, and some of those which produced the greatest effect on your mind at the time, those which surprised, delighted, or mortified you. You can remember the facility or difficulty of understanding, the facility or difficulty of believing, and the practical inferences which you drew from principles, on the strength of your own reason, and sometimes in variance with those made by your instructors. You can remember what views of truch and duty were most frequently and cogently presented, what passions were appealed to, what arguments were employed, and which had the greatest influence. Perhaps your present idea of the most convincing and persuasive mode of instruction may be derived from your early experience of the manner of those persons, with whose cpinions you felt it the most easy and delightful to harmonize, who gave you the most agreeable consciousness of your faculties expanding to the light, like morning flowers, and who, assuming the least of dictation, exerted the greatest degree of pow.

You can recollect the submissiveness with which your mind yielded to instructions as from an oracle, or the hardihood with which you dared to examine and oppose them. You can remember how far they Most persons,

er.

became, as to your own conduct, an internal authority of reason and conscience, when you were not under the inspection of those who inculcated them; and what classes of persons or things around you they in. duced you to dislike or approve. And you can perhaps imperfectly trace the manner and the particulars in which they sometimes aided, or sometimes counteracted, those other influences which have a far stronger efficacy on the character than instruction can boast.

I presume, can recollect some few sentences or conversations which made so deep an impression, perhaps in some instances they can scarcely tell why, that they have been thousands of times recalled, while all the rest have been forgotten; or they can advert to some striking incident, coming in aid of instruction, or being of itself a forcible instruction, which they seem even now to see as clearly as when it happened, and of which they will retain a perfect idea to the end of life. In some instances, to recollect the instructions of a former period will be to recollect too the excellence, the affection, and the death of the persons who gave them. Amidst the sadness of such a remembrance, it will be a consolation that they are not entirely lost to us. Wise monitions, when they return on us with this melancholy charm, have more pathetic cogency than when they were first uttered by the voice of a living friend who is now silent. It will be an interesting occupation of the pensive hour, to recount the advantages which we have received from beings who have left the world, and to reinforce our virtues from the dust of those who first taught them.

In our review, we shall find that the companions of our childhood, and of each succeeding period, have had a great influence on our characters. A creature so conformable as man, and at the same time so capable of being moulded into partial dissimilarity by social antipathies, cannot have conversed with his fel. low beings thousands of hours, walked with them

« PreviousContinue »