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Promethean heat of a man's own soul that enlivens his despair, spreads its glowing hues over moments of despondency, dissipates doubt and fear, and illuminates his onward course.
There is, or seems to be, in all great minds, a consciousness of what they are and were meant to be. It does not appear the instigation of pride, or the flattery of vanity, but a conviction which they have established within themselves, by a process we know not of. It may be, in part, the vividness of hope; in part, the triumph of a tried superiority; in part, the reflection of an ardent imagination, the mingled action of our ignorance and our desires, the unrepressed eagerness of our wishes, floating on the daring pinions of our aspirations. But, whatever it may be, or whatever its origin, nearly all great men have recorded it as among their strongest inciterents to labour, and the earliest impulses of their youth. Milton, and Tasso, and Bacon, speak calmly of their preparations for immortality; so calmly that it might be supposed the assurance had been given from above. There is something like a feeling of awe when we contemplate what these spirits might have known; how much was imparted to their transcendant intellects. Their intelligence must not only have included more, but have swept far beyond the common view, and awakened to scenes where human life was not. Where the passions of men held no sway, their thoughts never rose, nor their destiny formed a part; but all partook of the etheriality and essence of pure intellect. No great genius has yet kept the diary of its ordinary and domestic thoughts and feelings. No one yet knows how the sacred fire is lighted on the altar where a great mind worships. No one can judge whence are gathered all those lofty reflections it moulds for the use of man; for, like the works of nature that lie familiarly around us, and are designed for common purposes, the recorded efforts of such spirits are too easily appreciated to attract strong attention, or to be looked on with admiration. Yet their source is divine; they are not framed by intercourse with man and his mortal hours, but from high communings and musings over inward impulses, that come strongly and irregularly, yet, in their coming, shadow forth the knowledge they desire. In this way truth and science minister to them, and time, with its dying centuries, unfolds its gloomy and inspiring pages. For such men feel that
.“ Past and future are the wings On whose support, harmoniously conjoined,
Moves the great spirit of human knowledge;"' and they feel that however the hour passes, the fountain they have opened is eternal, and that they and their labours mingle with all future thought. The shadow of immortal glory rises
in grandeur like the sun over the sea, and their minds glow in the reflection of their own renown.
There is no doubt that the humblest minds, at times, have thoughts whose source and tendency are beyond their understanding and their conceptions. With these it is, probably, things external to them that excite the obscure and transient views of their nature and their destiny. The current of daily life, its cares and difficulties, are too absorbing to admit of reflection on more than the barren circle of their wants and necessities. They are bound to the earth by their condition, and it is only when some of the phenomena take place that amaze the most insensible, that an idea is created of their being more than they seem. Death, to all the most mysterious and wonderful of events, may, as it did with Bolingbroke, while standing over Pope, in his last moments, lead to the exclamation, “Great God, what is man?" But it is only such startling occurrences that make their way to the imperfect and torpid sensibility of the ignorant and insensible. These, however, overwhelm and rouse the mind by stirring the heart. The rising and setting of the sun—the bright spheres in the heavens—the birth of the commonest insect--the budding of the plainest flower—are all as much beyond our ken as the cessation of life.
Yet they pass before us without attracting attention. Familiarity has lessened our wonder, and they bring neither fear nor hope. But the dying man calls forth every sympathy. We bring the scene home to ourselves. We acknowledge it as the most important, as well as the most marvellous of the occurrences the human eye can witness, or the mind conceive. But this arises from its connection with self. There is dread and awe, besides the holy fear religion teaches, at beholding a human being upon the precipice of eternity, mingling with the more trivial but natural terror which leads us to shrink from the pains of dissolution and the after horrors of the grave.
There is nothing of the spirit of philosophy in these feelings; no impulse to inquiry given from within; no desire to question or know, rising from the eager restlessness of one's own nature; no shadowing forth of time and destiny; no revealing our mortal life in our intellectual; no disclosing the impression to be made on the page of existence by the powers of the soul. Across these leaden intellects, except the immediate and dying images of sense, nothing passes. They remain the vassals of their infirmity, shrouded by the deep obscurity that gathers over all who are confined to the common affairs of the world, and are incapable of breaking the iron links of their bondage. It is only the greatest spirits that feel the whispering of these inward inspirations. “You ask me what I am meditating," says Milton ; "by the help of Heaven, an immortality of fame !"
Wherice to the youthful bard came this revelation of the future, this assurance that time, as it flowed on the tide of ages, was to be the messenger of his glory? whence but from an inward consciousness of power, that would not quail before difficulty, but make all, the instruments of his energy. And Tasso, when bowed and crushed by his wrongs, exclaims, “I had designed to write philosophy with eloquence, so that there might remain an eternal memory of me in the world ;” and even in the “prisoned solitude” of his cell, encompassed and overborne by the dark miseries of his madness, by real injuries and imaginary insults, he continued to correct and improve his immortal epic. And Shakspeare, who seems to have had no egotism, no feeling of his infinite superiority, still imagined that there was life in his
“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
We cannot suppose that, with Shakspeare, this forecasting of the future was vanity or even ambition, too sanguine and overzealous in its character, such as acts on inferior intellects in the elation of temporary success. All cotemporary evidence declares his spirit to have been too gentle, and his mind too steady, to be influenced and carried away by the mere love of fame, or the desire for its notoriety; and there seems, from the same authority, to have been with him less consciousness of superiority, or a more modest display of it. He gave way to no insolent triumphing over his compeers, nor showed a sense that he was meant, as Ben Jonson says of him, “not for an age, but for all time.” Yet in those lines there is as deep an assurance of being immortal, as if the events of ages were figured before him. This conviction of enduring fame may be, and probably was, with these wonderful beings, the result of a fixed and determined purpose to devote themselves to a particular object. They were men possessing the
highest faculties and the most profound thoughts, and as capable of reflecting on the operations of their own minds and extent of their powers, as upon any other subjects. Indeed it is more than probable that a review of themselves, with an accurate balancing and nice discrimination of what and how much they can perform, is a principal source of reflection; and if so, they can feel within themselves how far coming time will be interested in their labours. Such as these can look beyond the present, and feel that they are the servants of posterity—that though now there may be no appreciation of their efforts, which are flung aside into the eddy of passing things, yet that they must at last return into the general current, and be the guide and controller of its motions. Some such feeling appears to have existed with all who have proposed to the world novel doctrines and systems. They were aware that they stood before their age—that men's minds were not fitted nor open to the reception of their opinions, and that they must therefore bear the imputation of having wasted their lives in the study and development of useless and impracticable speculations. This mortifying opinion could have reached and attached itself, with more appearance of truth, to Bacon, than to any other philosopher who has undertaken the instruction of his species. His labours were devoted to the removal of errors; to the unsettling of modes of thought that had been fixed by education, and bore the sanction of time and custom ; of course he assaulted bigotry and prejudice, that form imperceptibly, with the mass of men, the most powerful affections of which they are susceptible. There could have been then hardly a hope, with him, of gaining reputation, or of being useful to his generation; and the consciousness of this he expresses in strong, but subdued satire on the people of England. “My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, and to my own countrymen after a certain time be passed over.” And here we see that he looked into futurity, and into the depths of his soul, where all was clear, and time and its wants were reflected with a pure lustre. He perceived that in the gradual improvement of men's minds his works would become necessary; and that mankind, at various eras of thought, would recur to them to refresh and renew their vigour.
If it be allowed that it is through deep thought these men bring forward the future, then they must be acquitted of idle vanity and presumption in asserting their pre-eminence; and it must be acknowledged that, by a due appreciation of themselves, and a true understanding of the wants of society, they do really foresee the station they are to hold. But there is another thing in the mental constitution of such men, equally astonishing with this apparent revelation of their destiny-it is, the persevering
tenacity with which they adhere to the system and career of thought they have planned. Almost all men and all minds require encouragement. They wish to see reflected, through the sympathies of their fellow men, their own hopes——they wish to feel that their own zeal has entered the hearts of those around them--that a feeling, responding to their own, has touched a chord, and animated a pulse, leading to the hearts of others;and, not to anticipate disappointment from a cold and repulsive reception, to foresee the wasting of life and labour, and to find that the only echo is the return of their own voice, and that the only agitation, the only warmth that had been excited, was the throbbing and the glow of their own bosoms. There is no such thing, happily, with men of genius, as intellectual indifference—that torpid indolence of sense and mind, which slumbers over their perceptions and their thoughts—but all which reaches them is quickened with a new life, and regenerated from the ardour and vigour of their souls. It is, then, impossible for these men to waver or grow cold. They assume to themselves the wide province of knowledge; they cast every energy, every desire, on the gathering of its noble products; they dream of its glories; they shadow forth its power; they exhaust themselves to partake of its overflowing waters, and are willing to tread the wide desert that lies between its first bounds and the uttermost extent man can reach, though it sometimes blights with its barrenness, till its beauties are attained, and makes the fainting and dying mind fall a sacrifice on its altar; yet there is ever a sufficient force within to impel them on their path. They have too deep a sense of their duties, to flag ; too much pride and too strong an ambition, to give way to difficulties, or surrender to obstacles. They still hold on their course, when all around is bending and breaking with the tempest; they still rise and soar towards the topmost elevation of their desires ; though all is black with doubt and uncertainty, and their minds feeling but not yielding to the blast, still mount steady and unwavering through the mist and obscurity of the storm. But there seems one thing essential to this patient endurance, this strong unyielding determination-a powerful imagination. Without this, that which is now sublime would degenerate into the neutrality and negativeness of common obstinacy; it would lose the wonder that now attaches to it, and all the extraordinary speculation that comes from it, and subside into a mere effort of the will; but, as it is, there is something in it which gives a loftier view and higher sense of man and intellect—something that enlarges our aspirations, by the elevation of our character—that creates a greater love and respect for life, by enlivening the hopes of our condition. This vivid shadowing forth of the future, this reflection of our fate through the dimness and distance of coming