Page images

With regard to the enigma which these ancient mythes present us with, I have said that the researches of modern science teach us to look for the true solution of it in a direction quite different from that which Bacon took. And without affecting to offer anything that can be called an opinion on the subject for myself, I am fortunately able to illustrate my meaning by an example of a modern solution, derived from one whose information includes probably everything that is known with reference to the question at issue, up to the latest dates. I allude to Professor Max Muller's paper on Comparative Mythology in the Oxford Essays of 1856.

The difficulty to be explained, as stated by him, is substantially the same as that which Bacon puts forward most prominently among his reasons for concluding that these old fables involved an allegorical meaning. "Let us think," says Professor Miiller, "of the times which could bear a Lykurgos and a Solon, — which could found an Areopagos and the Olympic Games, and how can we imagine that, a few generations before that time, the highest notions of the Godhead among the Greeks were adequately expressed by the story of Uranos maimed by Kronos, — of Kronos eating his children, swallowing a stone, and vomiting out alive his whole progeny? .... The difficulty is, how at first the human mind was led to such imaginings, — how the names and the tales arose; and unless this question can be answered, our belief in a regular and consistent progress of the human intellect, through all ages and in all countries, must be given up as a false theory."' "A fable that is probable," says Bacon, "may be thought to have been composed merely for pleasure, in

1 Ettay on Comparative Mythology, pp. 8. 11.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][graphic]

sounds an alarm on his stairs, then perhaps snch a one, (broken in thoughts of his moneys abroad, and cursing the monuments of coin which are in his house"), can be content to think of death, and (being hasty of perdition) will perhaps hang himself, lest his throat should be cut; provided that he may do it in his study, surrounded with wealth, to which his eye sends a faint and languishing salute, even upon the turning off: remembering always, that he have time and liberty, by writing, to depute himself as his own heir.

For that is a great peace to his end, and reconciles him wonderfully upon the pointHerein we all dally with ourselves, and are without proof of necessity.1 I am not of those that dare promise to pine away myself in vain-glory, and I hold such to be but feat boldness, and them that dare commit it to be vain. Yet for my part, I think nature should do me great wrong, if I should be so long in dying, as I was in being born.2

To speak truth, no man knows the lists of his own patience: nor can divine how able he shall be in his sufferings, till the storm come, (the perfectest virtue being tried in action,) but I would (out of a care to do the best business well) ever keep a guard, and stand upon keeping faith and a good conscience.

And if wishes might find place, I would die together, and not my mind often, and my body once; that is, I would prepare for the messengers of death, sickness and affliction, and not wait long, or be attempted by the violence of pain.

1 So the original. Modem editions read "till necessity:" probably a conjectural correction; and (I suspect) not the true reading.

1 rtcm in the last sentence, and yet in this, are omitted in the original.

[ocr errors][graphic]

since I must needs be dead, I require it may not be done before mine enemies, that I be not stript before I be cold; but before my friends. The night was even now; but that name is lost; it is not now late, but early. Mine eyes begin to discharge their watch, and compound with this fleshly weakness for a time of perpetual rest; and I shall presently be as happy for a few hours, as I had died the first hour I was bom.

« PreviousContinue »