Page images
PDF
EPUB

Of guests he makes them slaves,
Inhospitably kills their infant males.

And vital virtue infus'd, and vital warmth
Throughout the fluid mass

God made thee of choice his own, and of his own To serve him.

I believe

every
reader will

agree,

that in all those passages, though not equally in all, the musick is injured, and in some the meaning obscured. There are other lines in which the vowel is cut off, but it is so faintly pronounced in common speech, that the loss of it in poetry is scarcely perceived ; and therefore such compliance with the measure may be allowed.

Nature breeds
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable, inutterable; and worse
Than fables yet have feign'd-

From the shore
They view'd the vast immeasurable abyss.

Impenetrable, impal'd with circling fire.

To none communicable in earth or heav'n.

Yet even these contractions increase the roughness of a language too rough already; and though in long poems they may be sometimes suffered, it never can be faulty to forbear them.

Milton frequently uses in his poems the hypermetrical or redundant line of eleven syllables.

Thus it shall befal
Him who to worth in woman over trusting
Lets her will rule

I also err'd in over much admiring.

Verses of this kind occur almost in every page ; but though they are not unpleasing or dissonant, they ought not to be admitted into heroick poetry, since the narrow limits of our language allow us no other distinction of epick and tragick measures, than is afforded by the liberty of changing at will the terminations of the dramatick lines, and bringing them by that relaxation of metrical rigour nearer to prose.

N° 89. TUESDAY, JANUARY 22, 1751.

Dulce est de sipere in loco.

HORACE.

Wisdom at proper times is well forgot.

Locke, whom there is no reason to suspect of being a favourer of idleness or libertinism, has advanced, that whosoever hopes to employ any part of his time with efficacy and vigour, must allow some of it to pass in trifles. It is beyond the powers of humanity to spend a whole life in profound study and intense meditation; and the most rigorous exacters of industry and seriousness have appointed hours for relaxation and amusement.

It is certain that, with or without our consent, many of the few moments allotted us will slide imperceptibly away; and that the mind will break, from confinement to its stated task, into sudden excursions. Severe and connected attention is preserved but for a short time ; and when a man shuts himself up in his closet, and bends his thoughts to the discussion of any abstruse question, he will find his faculties continually stealing away to more pleasing entertainments. He often perceives himself transported, he knows not how, to distant tracks of thought, and return to his first object as from a dream, without knowing when he forsook it, or how long he has been abstracted from it.

It has been observed, that the most studious are not always the most learned. There is, indeed, no great difficulty in discovering that this difference of proficiency may arise from the difference of intellectual powers, of the choice of books, or the convenience of information. But I believe it likewise frequently happens, that the most recluse are not the most vigorous prosecutors of study. Many impose upon the world, and many upon themselves, by an appearance of severe and exemplary diligence, when they in reality, give themselves up to the luxury of fancy, please their minds with regulating the past, or planning out the future ; place themselves at will in varied situations of happiness, and slumber away their days in voluntary visions. In the journey of life some are left behind, because they are naturally feeble and slow : some because they miss the way,

and many because they leave it by choice, and instead

of pressing onward with a steady pace, delight themselves with momentary deviations, turn aside to pluck every flower, and repose in every shade.

There is nothing more fatal to a man whose business is to think, than to have learned the art of regaling his mind with those airy gratifications. Other vices or follies are restrained by fear, reformed by admonition, or rejected by the conviction which the comparison of our conduct with that of others may in time produce. But this invisible riot of the mind, this secret prodigality of being, is secure from detection, and fearless of reproach. The dreamer retires to his apartment, shuts out the cares and interruptions of mankind, and abandons himself to his own fancy; new worlds rise up before him, one image is followed by another, and a long succession of delights dances round him. He is at last called back to life by nature, or by custom, and enters peevish into society, because he cannot model it to his own will. He returns from his idle excursions with the asperity, though not with the knowledge, of a student, and hastens again to the same felicity with the eagerness of a man bent upon the advancement of some favourite science. The infatuation strengthens by degrees, and, like the poison of opiates, weakers his powers, without any external symptom of malignity.

It happens, indeed, that these hypocrites of learning are in time detected, and convinced, by disgrace and disappointment, of the difference between the labour of thought and the sport of musing. But this discovery is often not made till it is too late to recover the time that has been fooled

away. A thousand accidents may, indeed, awaken drones to a more early sense of their danger and their shame. But they who are convinced of the necessity of breaking from this habitual drowsiness, too often relapse in spite of their resolution : for these ideal seducers are always near, and neither any particularity of time nor place is necessary to their influence : they invade the soul without warning, and have often charmed down resistance, before their approach is perceived or suspected.

This captivity, however, it is necessary for every man to break, who has any desire to be wise or useful, to pass his life with the esteem of others, or to look back with satisfaction from his old age upon his earlier years. In order to regain liberty, he must find the means of flying from himself; he must, in opposition to the Stoick precept, teach his desires to fix upon external things ; he must adopt the joys and the pains of others, and excite in his mind the want of social pleasures and amicable communication.

It is perhaps not impossible to promote the cure of this mental malady, by close application to some new study, which may pour in fresh ideas, and keep curiosity in perpetual motion. But study requires solitude, and solitude is a state dangerous to those who are too much accustomed to sink into themselves. Active employment, or public pleasure, is generally a necessary part of this intellectual regimen, without which, though some remission may be obtained, a complete cure will scarcely be effected.

This is a formidable and obstinate disease of the intellect; of which, when it has once become radi

« PreviousContinue »