« PředchozíPokračovat »
how reason differs from instinct; and Prior has with no great propriety made Solomon himself declare, that to distinguish them is "the fool's ignorance and the pedant's pride." To give an accurate answer to a question, of which the terms are not completely understood, is impossible; we do not know in what either reason or instinct consists, and therefore cannot tell with exactness how they differ; but surely he that contemplates a ship and a bird's nest, will not be long without finding out, that the idea of the one was impressed at once, and continued through all the progressive descents of the species, without variation or improvement; and that the other is the result of experiments compared with experiments, has grown, by accumulated observation, from less to greater excellence, and exhibits the collective knowledge of different ages and various professions.
Memory is the purveyor of reason, the power which places those images before the mind upon which the judgment is to be exercised, and which treasures up the determinations that are once passed, as the rules of future action, or grounds of subsequent conclusions.
fore make her nest quickly, and consequently it will be slight.' GOLDSMITH. 'The nidification of birds is what is least known in natural history, though one of the most curious things in it.'"-Boswell's Johnson, ii. 248.
1 "How can we justly different causes frame,
"Tis the fool's ignorance and the pedant's pride." -Solomon on the Vanity of the World, bk. i., 1. 233.
It is, indeed, the faculty of remembrance, which may be said to place us in the class of moral agents. If we were to act only in consequence of some immediate impulse, and receive no direction from internal motives of choice, we should be pushed forward by an invincible fatality, without power or reason for the most part to prefer one thing to another, because we could make no comparison but of objects which might both happen to be present.
We owe to memory not only the increase of our knowledge, and our progress in rational inquiries, but many other intellectual pleasures. Indeed, almost all that we can be said to enjoy is past or future; the present is in perpetual 'motion, leaves us as soon as it arrives, ceases to be present before its presence is well perceived, and is only known to have existed by the effects which it leaves behind. The greatest part of our deas arises, therefore, from the view before or behind us, and we are happy or miserable, according as we are affected by the survey of our life, or our prospect of future existence.
With regard to futurity, when events are at such a distance from us that we cannot take the whole concatenation into our view, we have generally power enough over our imagination to turn it upon pleasing scenes, and can promise ourselves riches, honours, and delights, without intermingling those vexations and anxieties, with which all human enjoyments are polluted.1 If
1 Boswell refers to this passage as illustrating the meaning which Johnson attached to this word, when in his will he
fear breaks in on one side, and alarms us with dangers and disappointments, we can call in hope on the other, to solace us with rewards, and escapes, and victories; so that we are seldom without means of palliating remote evils, and can generally soothe ourselves to tranquillity, whenever any troublesome presage happens to attack
It is, therefore, I believe, much more common for the solitary and thoughtful to amuse themselves with schemes of the future, than reviews of the past.1 For the future is pliant and ductile, and will be easily moulded by a strong fancy into any form. But the images which memory presents are of a stubborn and untractable nature, the objects of remembrance have already existed, and left their signature behind them impressed upon the mind, so as to defy all attempts of rasure or of change.
said: "I bequeath to God a soul polluted with many sins, but I hope purified by Jesus Christ." Boswell remarks on this: "The expression polluted may to some convey an impression of more than ordinary contamination; but that is not warranted by its genuine meaning, as appears from The Rambler, No. 42 ."-Boswell's Johnson, iv. 404. He might have instanced also the words added by Johnson to The Idler written by Reynolds (No. 82): "and pollute his canvas with deformity."
1 Johnson is here describing his own state. On his birthday in 1764 he recorded: "I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having from the earliest time almost that I can remember been forming schemes of a better life."-Boswell's Johnson, i. 483. In the last year but one of his life he describes how a few hours before he was struck with the palsy he "began to plan schemes of life."-Ib. iv. 230.
As the satisfactions, therefore, arising from memory are less arbitrary, they are more solid, and are, indeed, the only joys which we can call our own. Whatever we have once reposited, as Dryden expresses it, "in the sacred treasure of the past," is out of the reach of accident, or violence, nor can be lost either by our own weakness, or another's malice:
-Non tamen irritum
Quod fugiens semel hora vexit.1
Be fair or foul, or rain or shine,
The joys I have possess'd in spite of fate are mine. Not Heav'n itself upon the past has pow'r, But what has been has been, and I have had my hour. -DRYDEN.2 There is certainly no greater happiness than to be able to look back on a life usefully and virtuously employed, to trace our own progress in existence, by such tokens as excite neither shame nor sorrow. Life, in which nothing has been done or suffered to distinguish one day from another, is to him that has passed it, as if it had never been, except that he is conscious how ill he has husbanded the great deposit of his Creator. Life, made memorable by crimes, and diversified through its several periods by wickedness, is
1 Horace, 3 Odes, xxix. 45.
2 Dryden's Poems, Aldine ed., iii. 168. Fox used to quote these lines as an instance that " Dryden's imitations of Horace are better than the originals." Samuel Rogers's Table-Talk, p. 89. The last two lines are the motto to Earl Russell's Recollections.
indeed easily reviewed, but reviewed only with horror and remorse.
The great consideration which ought to influence us in the use of the present moment, is to arise from the effect, which, as well or ill applied, it must have upon the time to come; for though its actual existence be inconceivably short, yet its effects are unlimited; and there is not the smallest point of time but may extend its consequences, either to our hurt or our advantage, through all eternity, and give us reason to remember it for ever, with anguish or exultation.
The time of life, in which memory seems particularly to claim predominance over the other faculties of the mind, is our declining age. It has been remarked by former writers, that old men are generally narrative,1 and fall easily into recitals of past transactions, and accounts of persons known to them in their youth. When we approach the verge of the grave it is more eminently true;
Vitæ summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam.2
And stretch thy hopes beyond thy years.-CREECH. We have no longer any possibility of great vicissitudes in our favour; the changes which are to
1 Johnson, in his Dictionary, gives as the second meaning of narrative, when used as an adjective, "story-telling; apt to relate things past," and quotes from Dryden [Works, ed. 1821, xiii. 21]: "Age, as Davenant says, is always narrative," and from Pope, "narrative old age.' See also Pope's Iliad, iii. 200. "Chiefs wise through time and narrative with age."
2 Horace, Odes, iv. 15.