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that all the party are equally lustrous; but finding, by degrees, no flashes from an unfortunate gentleman on his right, he turns stiffly towards him at the first commonplace remark, measures him from head to foot with a kind of wondering indifference, and then falls to stirring his tea with a half-inquiring glance at the rest of the company, just as much as to say, “a fellow not overburdened, eh?” or, “who the devil has Tom got here ?”
Like all who are tyrannically given, and of a bullying turn of mind, which is by no means confined to those who talk loudest, these persons are apt to be as obsequious and dumb-stricken before men of whom they have a lofty opinion as they are otherwise in the case above mentioned. This, indeed, is not always the case; but you may sometimes find out one of the caste by seeing him waiting with open mouth and impatient eyes for the brilliant things which the great gentleman to whom he has been introduced is bound to utter. The party, perhaps, are waiting for dinner, and as silent as most Englishmen, not very well known to each other, are upon such occasions. Our hero waits with impatience to hear the celebrated person open his mouth, and is at length gratified ; but not hearing very distinctly, asks his next neighbor, in a serious and earnest whisper, what it was.
“Pray, sir, what was it that Mr. W. said ? "
The gentleman thinks this no very profound remark for so great a man, but puts on as patient a face as he can, and, refreshing himself with shifting one knee over the other, waits anxiously for the next observation. After a little silence, broken only by a hem or two, and by somebody's begging pardon of a gentleman next him for touch
ing his shoe, Mr. W. is addressed by a friend, and the stranger is all attention.
“ By the bye, W., how did you get home last night ?”
“Oh, very well, thank’ye; I couldn't get a coach, but it was’nt very rainy, and I was soon there, and jumped into bed.”
Ah, there's nothing like bed after getting one's coat wet.”
“Nothing, indeed. I had the clothes round me in a twinkling, and in two minutes was as fast as a church.”
Here the conversation drops again ; and our delighter in intellect cannot hide from himself his disappointment. The description of pulling the clothes round, he thinks, might have been much more piquant; and the simile, as fast as a church, appears to him wonderfully commonplace from a man of wit. But such is his misfortune. He has no eyes but for something sparkling or violent; and no more expects to find any thing simple in genius, than any thing tolerable in the want of it.
Persons impatient of others' deficiencies are, in fact, likely to be equally undiscerning of their merits; and are not aware, in either case, how much they are exposing the deficiencies on their own side. Not only, however, do they get into this dilemma, but what is more, they are lowering their respectability beneath that of the dullest person in the room. They show themselves deficient, not merely in the qualities they miss in him, but in those which he really possesses, such as self-knowledge and good temper. Were they as wise as they pretend to be, they would equal him in these points, and know how to extract something good from him in spite of his deficiency in the other; for intellectual qualities are not the only ones that excite the reflections, or conciliate the regard, of the truly intelligent, — of those who can study human nature in all its bearings, and love it, or sympathize with it, for all its affections. The best part of pleasure is the communication of it. Why must we be perpetually craving for amusement or information from others (an appetite which, after all, will be seldom acknowledged), and never think of bestowing them ourselves ? Again, as the best part of pleasure is that we have just mentioned, the best proof of intellectual power is that of extracting fertility from barrenness, or so managing the least cultivated mind, which we may happen to stumble upon, as to win something from it. Setting even this talent aside, there are occasions when it is refreshing to escape from the turmoil and final nothingness of the understanding, and repose upon that contentedness of mediocrity which seems to have attained its end without the trouble of wisdom. It has often delighted me to observe a profound thinker of my acquaintance, when a good natured person of ordinary understanding has been present. He is reckoned severe, as it is called, in many of his opinions : and is thought particularly to overrate his intellectual qualities in general; and yet it is beautiful to see how he will let down his mind to the other's level, taking pleasure in his harmless enjoyment, and assenting to a thousand truisms, one after another, as familiar to him as his finger-ends. The reason is that he pierces deeper into the nature of the human being beside him, can make his very deficiencies subservient to his own speculations, and, above all, knows that there is something worth all the knowledge upon earth, - which is happiness and a genial nature. It is thus that the sunshine of happy faces is reflected upon our own. We may even find a beam of it in every thing that Heaven looks upon. The dullest minds do not vegetate for nothing, any more than the grass in a green lawn. We do not require the trees to talk with us, or get impatient at the monotonous quiet of the fields and hedges. We love them for their contrast to noise and bustle, for their presenting to us something native and elementary, for the peaceful thoughts they suggest to us, and the part they bear in the various beauty of creation.
Is a bird's feather exhibited in company, or a piece of sea-weed, or a shell that contained the stupidest of created beings, every one is happy to look at it, and the most fastidious pretender in the room will delight to expatiate on its beauty and contrivance. Let this teach him charity and good sense, and inform him that it is the grossest of all coxcombry to dwell with admiration on a piece of insensibility, however beautiful, and find nothing to excite pleasing or profitable reflections in the commonest of his fellow-men.
A POPULAR VIEW OF THE HEATHEN MY.
HE divinities of the ancient mythology are of a
very tangible order. They were personifications of the power of the external world, and of the operations of the intellect; and some
times merged themselves into the particular providence of an eminent prince or reformer. Mankind wishing to have distinct ideas of the unknown powers of the universe, naturally painted them at first in their own shapes; and not being able to conceive of them otherwise than by the light of their understanding, they as naturally gifted them with their own faculties, moral and intellectual. Hence, the heathen gods were reflections of the qualities most admired or feared during the times in which they originated; and to the same cause were owing the inconsistencies and the vices palmed upon them by the stories of different ages and nations, whose gods became lumped together; and hence the trouble that the philosopher had in endeavoring to reconcile the popular superstitions with a theology more becoming.* Plutarch, who was a priest at Delphi, and a regular devout pagan, but good-hearted and imbued with philosophy, is shocked at the popular stories of the rapes and quarrels of the gods; and Plato, on a similar account, was for banishing Homer from his republic. Plutarch will not allow that it was the real Apollo who fought serpent and afterwards had to purify himself. He said it must have been a likeness of him, a demon. In other words the gods of Plutarch were to resemble the highest ideas which Plutarch could form of dignity and power. Hence, the greater philosophers whose ardor in the pursuit of truth rendered them still more desirous of departing from conventional degradations of it, came to agree that the nature of the deity was inconceivable ; and that the most exalted being they
* Virtue or vice either if accompanied with power, will do to make a god of in barbarous times, and till mankind learn the perniciousness of that sort of apotheosis. An Eastern writer says that Pharaoh wished to pass for a divinity with his subjects, and had frequent conversation with the devil for that purpose. The devil put him off from time to time, till he told him one day that the hour was arrived. “How is that,” cried Pharaoh, “why is it time now, and was not before?” – “The reason is,” replied the devil, “ that you have not hitherto been quite bad enough : at length you have become intolerable, and there is no alternative between a revolt of your subjects, and their belief in your being a god. Once persuade them of that, and there is nothing so extravagant, either in word or deed, which they will not take from you with re. spect."
D'Herbelot, article Feraoun.