Page images
PDF
EPUB

never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its

grossness. This mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the ancient chivalry ; and the principle, though varied in its appearance by the varying state of human affairs, subsisted and influenced through a long succession of generations, even to the time we live in. If it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear would be great. It is this which has given its character to modern Europe. It is this which has distinguished it under all its forms of government, and distinguished it to its advantage, from the states of Asia, and possibly from those states which flourished in the most brilliant periods of the antique world. It was this which, without confounding ranks, had produced a noble equality, and handed it down through all the gradations of social life. It was this opinion which mitigated kings into companions, and raised private men to be fellows with kings. Without force, or opposition, it subdued the fierceness of pride and power; it obliged sovereigns to submit to the soft collar of social esteem, compelled stern authority to submit to elegance, and gave a dominating vanquisher of laws, to be subdued by manners.

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.

COW PER.

1731 - 1800.

WILLIAM COW PER was born in 1731 and died in 1800. IIis life was a sad one, and his last years were shadowed by a mental gloom which almost amounted to insanity. His thouglits dwelt on somber themes, and his poems, with a few exceptions, are didactic to an unpleasant degree. It is not easy to understand how the same mind could have given birth to the melancholy imaginings which constitute the staple of his verse, and the warm, free humor of John Gilpin's Ride. Morbid and unsocial though he was, Cowper was able to win and retain the liearty attachment of a few friends, in whose tender care he passed the closing years of his life. Though not one of the greatest English poets, Cowper holds and will hold an honorable place. His sentiments were always elevated, and his expression graceful, if not exceptionally brilliant or vigorous. He is emphatically the poet for thoughtful minds. One of his best-known pocnis is Alexander Selkirk, of which we give some specimen stanzas.

ALEXANDER SELKIRK.*

I am monarch of all I survey,

My right there is none to dispute ;
From the center all round to the sea

I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
O Solitude, where are the charıns

That sages have seen in thy face ?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms

Than reign in this borrible place.

I am out of humanity's reach ;

I must finish my journey alone ;
Never hear the sweet music of speech -

I start at the sound of my own.
The beasts that roam over the plain

My form with indifference see ;
They are so unacquainted with men,

Their tameness is shocking to me.

Society, friendship, and love,

Divinely bestowed upon man,
O had I the wings of a dove,

How soon would I taste you again !

* ALEXANDER SELKIRK was a Scottish sailor, who, having quarreled on one of his voyages with bis captain, was left, in 1704, on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, where he remained for more than four years before his rescue. Selkirk's adventures, it is said, suggested to Defoe the celebrated romance of Rohinson Crusoe, with which all young people are familiar.

My sorrows I then might assuage

In the ways of religion and truth; Might learn from the wisdom of age,

And be cheered by the sallies of youth.

Religion ! what treasure untold

Resides in that heavenly word !
More precious than silver and gold,

Or all that this earth can afford.
But the sound of the church-going bel?

These valleys and rocks never heard, Never sighed at the sound of a knell,

Or smiled when a Sabbath appeared.

Ye winds that have made me your sport,

Convey to this desolate shore Some cordial endearing report

Of a land I shall visit no more. My friends, do they now and then send

A wish or a thought after me? O tell me I yet have a friend,

Though a friend I am never to see.

How fleet is a glance of the mind !

Compared with the speed of its flight, The tempest itself lags behind,

And the swift-wingéd arrows of light. When I think of my own native land,

In a moment I seem to be there ; But, alas! recollection at hand

Soon hurries me back to despair.

But the sea-fowl is gone to her nest;

The beast is laid down in his lair; Even here is a season of rest,

And I to my cabin repair. There's mercy in every place;

And mercy, encouraging thought! Gives even affliction a grace,

And reconciles man to his lot.

GIBBON.

1737 - 1794.

men.

EDWARD GIBBON, the historian, was born in Surrey, England, in 1737, and died in 1794. He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, but remained only a short time. At an early age he became deeply interested in religion, and devoted himself to study, relieving the tedium of his labors by assiduous courtship of Mademoiselle Curchod, whose acquaintance he made in Switzerland. The lady inclined to him; but her father did not, and she finally married M. Necker, and became the mother of Madame de Staël. In 1759 he returned to England and was admitted into the most cultivated society. Two years later he published in French an Essay on the Study of Literature, which attracted but little attention in England. In 1763 he went to France, and became the intimate friend of Helvetius, D'Alembert, Diderot, and other eminent

The next year he went to Rome, and there conceived the project of writing the history of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In 1776 the first volume of this great work was published, and at once made him famous. His attacks on Christianity called out many severe rebukes, which enhanced the popular interest in his book. The concluding volumes of the History appeared in 1787. The author's last literary work was his own Autobiography, which has been pronounced the finest specimen of that kind of composition in the English language. The graces of Gibbon's style have always been the subject of wonder and admiration. In his History he is stately and magnificent; in his Autobiography he is easy, spirited, and charming. The style of his History has been censured by some critics for its excessive elaboration, and its opulence of French phrases ; but the general verdict of literary authorities of his own and later ages awards him the highest rank among English historians as a master of the language.

ARABIA.

In the dreary waste of Arabia, a boundless level of sand is intersected by sharp and naked mountains ; and the face of the desert, without shade or shelter, is scorched by the direct and intense rays of a tropical sun. Instead of refreshing breezes, the winds, particularly from the southwest, diffuse a noxious and even deadly vapor; the hillocks of sand which they alternately raise and scatter are compared to the billows of the ocean, and whole caravans, whole armies, have been lost and buried in the whirlwind. The common benefits of water are an object of desire and contest; and such is the scarcity of wood, that some art is requisite to preserve and propagate the element of fire. Arabia is destitute of navigable rivers, which fertilize the soil, and convey its produce to the adjacent regions; the torrents that fall from the hills are imbibed by the thirsty earth ; the rare and hardy plants, the tamarind or the acacia, that strike their roots into the clefts of the rocks, are nourished by the dews of the night: a scanty supply of rain is collected in cisterns and aqueducts : the wells and springs are the secret treasure of the desert ; and the pilgrim of Mecca, * after many a dry and sultry march, is disgusted by the taste of the waters, which have rolled over a bed of sulphur or salt. Such is. the general and genuine picture of the climate of Arabia. The experience of evil enhances the value of any local or partial enjoyments. A shady grove, a green pasture, a stream of fresh water, are sufficient to attract a colony of sedentary Arabs to the fortunate spots which can afford food and refreshment to themselves and their cattle, and which encourage their industry in the cultivation of the palm-tree and the vine. The high lands that border on the Indian Ocean are distinguished by their superior plenty of wood and water : the air is more temperate, the fruits are more delicious, the animals and the human race more numerous : the fertility of the soil invites and rewards the toil of the husbandman; and peculiar gifts of frankincense and coffee have attracted in different ages the merchants of the world.

* MECCA. A city in Arabia and the birthplace of Mahomet, a celebrated religious teacher and pretended prophet, born about 750 A. D. He was the founder of one of the most widely diffused

Arabia, in the opinion of the naturalist, is the genuine and original country of the horse ; the climate most propitious, not indeed to the size, but to the spirit and swiftness, of that generous animal. The merit of the Barb, the Spanish, and the English breed, is derived from a mixture of Arabian, blood ; the Bedoweens † preserve, with superstitious care, the honors and the memory of the purest race : the males are sold at a high price, but the females are seldom alien

ated : and the birth of a noble foal was esteemed, among the tribes, · as a subject of joy and mutual congratulation. These horses are

educated in tents, among the children of the Arabs, with a tender familiarity, which trains them in the habits of gentleness and attachment. They are accustomed only to walk and to gallop : their sensations are not blunted by the incessant abuse of the spur and the whip: their powers are reserved for the moments of flight and pursuit : but no sooner do they feel the touch of the hand or the stirrup, than they dart away with the swiftness of the wind : and if their friend be dismounted in the rapid career, they instantly stop till he has recovered his seat. In the sands of Africa and Arabia the camel is a sacred and precious gift. That strong and patient beast of burden can perform, without eating or drinking, a journey of several days; and a reservoir of fresh water is preserved in a large religions of the globe. (See Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chap. I., and Irving's Mahomet and his Successors.)

+ BEDOWEENS, BEDOUINS. A tribe of nomadic Arabs who live in tents, and are scattered over the deserts of Arabia, Egypt, and parts of Africa.

« PreviousContinue »