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' E colo descendit γνῶ Οι ςεαυτὸν.-JUVEN AL.
THE Greeks were the only people who studied wisdom. Among other nations, and in other times, its pursuit has been the monopoly of the few. In the earlier ages of the several republics, their lawgivers and statesmen were also the instructors of those whom they governed. They guided by example and precept, and inculcated moral and political knowledge by daily conversation. From the beginning, and in all ages, the Greeks were imbued with an instinctive love of learning. They were governed, both nationally and individually, by a maxim or an apothegm. The seeking of wisdom was a part of their religion. In times of doubt or danger, they always courted the interposition of divine direction through the responses of their oracles.
There was a political philosophy, plain, simple and practical, which preceded the metaphysical subtleties of the schools. Traditionary and sententious, that wisdom is still popularly in vogue, but how different is its application! The maxims of Solon once governed Athens and enlightened Greece: they now constitute the copy-scrawl of the unthinking school-boy; and if, perchance, in after years he should remember the golden precepts of Grecian wisdom, they are eternally associated with the reminiscence of his painful progress from 'pot-hooks' to 'joining-hand!' The 'seven wise men' rank with the seven champions of Christendom, and their learned labors form perhaps a part of the nursery-code, but certainly do not constitute an item in the modern education of later years. The human mind is now of the growth of centuries; and the first lessons of lisping infancy are gleaned from the master-pieces of ancient learning. The lessons of the great fabulist were written for the instruction of men, but modern discipline devotes them to the entertainment of children. And yet it was so, even in the palmy days of Roman education.
The early wisdom of Greece forms a part of our common stock of knowledge, but its apothegms are received rather as abstract truths, than as the practical and practicable lessons of experience. Like virtue, laudatur et alget.' It may not be unpatriotic, even in these times of utility, to regret that the economical precepts of Franklin are better suited to the genius of his countrymen, than those more elevated prototypes recorded by Plutarch.
The sententious philosophy of early Greece exercised an important effect upon the manners and morals of the people. Its precepts possessed the efficacy of laws, and were written upon the public mind as well as inscribed upon their tempies. Of these one of the most celebrated and familiar is contained in our present motto. Its character of divine origin is supposed to have been derived from the circumstance of its being engraven upon the Temple of Apollo, at Delphos. Dr. Johnson, in one of the numbers of the Rambler, regrets that history does not inform us whether this celebrated sentence was uttered as a general instruction to mankind, or as a particular caution to some private inquirer; whether it was applied to
some single occasion, or laid down as the universal rule of life. There can be no doubt that in the primitive eyes of the Grecian states, the condensation of wisdom into such brief and popular sentences was intended for political purposes. It was a part of the patriarchal machinery of a government which strove to enlighten the minds and morals, as well as regulate the conduct, of its citizens. The recitation of maxims of political and general wisdom formed a part of the competition of the public games; and the wise were accustomed to assemble together for the purpose of concerting such precepts as should be promulgated for the public benefit, and to these was insured a publicity equal to that given to the laws themselves. Pliny says that his contemporaries granted to Chilo, one of the reputed authors of our motto, a fellowship with the oracles, by the consecration of three of his maxims, in golden letters, to the Temple at Delphos. These considerations would seem to remove all difficulty in regard to the origin and purpose of the precept now in question.
It might be presupposed that in the progress of mental philosophy man would soon learn a proper sense of the importance of selfknowledge. But, alas! even in the present era of improvement, as in the degenerate age of the Satirist, we may equally exclaim:
'Ut nemo in sese tentat descendere: nemo!
It is the unchanging fate of humanity, that its only teacher shall be experience; and self-knowledge is the last lesson of experience.
The precept know thyself' is sufficiently comprehensive to include the whole life, conduct, and pursuits of mankind:
In summis, minimis; etiam cumpiscis emeter.'
But although of such general application, it is only as an individual rule, and when applied to particular cases, that it can be made available and useful. What then is its definite meaning and philosophy? It refers both to our good and our evil qualities. It means not simply that we should understand and control our errors and weaknesses; but it also teaches us to ascertain, appreciate, and develope, the virtues and capacities with which we may be endowed.
Self-knowledge must, necessarily, always be an individual acquisition, and yet it is also the trait of a class. It is an attribute of genius, and must accompany its efforts, in whatever sphere they may be exerted. It is, indeed, the very foundation of its success; for however the divinus afflatus' may assist in the progress of a work, still the project, in its inception, must be based upon a correct appreciation of the varied powers which are to be tasked in its accomplishment. What avails imagination, even in the fine arts, unless assisted by knowledge and self-knowledge? The prophetic eye of taste,' and the 'learned spirit' in 'human dealings,' are not alone sufficient for the conception and execution of the immortal productions of the poet and the orator. That deep-felt consciousness of power which renders all the faculties of mind subservient to the will, is equally required. The self-knowledge of genius is not only thus necessary to the effectual action of the intellectual agents, but it is also boastful and prophetic in its anticipations. We frequently hear of the
innate modesty, the shrinking sensitiveness, supposed to be uniformly associated with distinguished talents. These qualities may have been exemplified in the lives of many, for the true artist forgets himself in his art; but where is the evidence of their existence in the immortal products of the mind? They are the attributes of life, not of immortality. The fears of humanity may have affected the man, but they touched not his mind. The soul was all confidence, and exulted in the full consciousness of its destiny. The non omnis moriar' has been echoed and rëechoed by all who share in the fulfilment of its prophecy.
Could our precept but find its way to the consciences of that servile band who live upon the petty larcenies of literature, what a revolution might be accomplished! How many skilful manipulators, the scissor-bearers and filchers of small wares, to whom the corps editorial are too often the guilty receivers, would be transferred from their patch-work operations to the more congenial employments of humble utility! But, alas! this may not be. The troop of jackalls must follow the footsteps of the lion; not feeding upon relinquished garbage, but preying upon the very vitals of the monarch. Man has been defined to be the imitative animal;' and certain it is, that many always have displayed, and ever will exhibit, this generic trait. As of old, there must be modern Fanii who, ultro delatis capsis et imagine,' continue to usurp even the chosen seats of the temple, until they are scourged out with many stripes.
But beside the numerous tribe of poetasters who are afflicted with the imitative cacoethes, there is another class to whom self-knowledge would be peculiarly useful. There are many who have the misfortune to possess the feelings of the poet, without the gift of that expressive power which can hallow the recorded miseries of existence, and lend a meritricious beauty even to folly and depravity. These are they, of whom some mistake taste for talent, the impression for the impressive power, and others who, under the delusion of excitement, voluntarily
'Sit at the altar which they raise to wo,
And feed the source whence tears eternal flow;'
whose only hope is despair; who cultivate Byronic pangs, and die, in print, of delicate distress.' How happy, could they but know the unreality of their misery! But this species is the creation of a particular influence, which, in this respect at least, is fortunately on the wane. The clouds and mists have passed away from Parnassus, and gladdening sunshine rests upon its summit. May it be perpetual !
Indolence, that canker of the mind, is not always attributable to the constitutional temperament of the individual. It is sometimes the offspring of ignorance-the effect of a deficiency of self-knowledge and self-appreciation. How often does the full tide of genius pour through the untaught mind, wasting its freshness, and drying up with the fountain whence it springs, undiscovered by the individual, unsuspected by the world! With the eye fixed on vacancy, the dreamer muses idly upon the fairy shapes and hues which glow through the 'wild universe' within; he turns his eye inward to revel on 'thick-coming fancies,' and feels conscious of the beautiful pageantries which glitter in his mental eye; but he understands not the
source of their creation; he knows not how to fix the fleeting shadows as they pass; and the gorgeous day-dream vanishes like the dim vision of the night. Knowledge has not entered the fairy microcosm of his fancy: it is yet an Eden, with the fruit of power untasted and untouched. He knows not that his lonely musings are emanations of the creative power of that genius, which of all earthly qualities is 'likest God's,' and which is, indeed, the first attribute of Divinity. He is what the world calls idle; but let the rude touch of reality change these dreaming hours, and rouse the spirit into action; let ambition call forth the hidden energies of mind; let the knowledge of his untried capacities come in whatever form it may—and he stands forth the image and similitude of intellectual energy; he strikes the Orphean lyre with the full tone of inspiration, or fulmines over the heart with the resistless sway of eloquence.
Mental indolence often arises from the want of a proper self-appreciation. We magnify the power of others, and underrate our own capacities, because self-knowledge has never taught us the mode in which that power is evolved. We have never descended into the mental laboratory; we are too much accustomed to think that the sublime conceptions and brilliant fancies of the orator or the poet are the free and spontaneous effusions of taste and genius. Blinded and dazzled by the brightness of the scintillations, we heed not the fervid and ponderous strokes, the hammering of the mind, by which they are struck off.
We should look within ourselves, and revolve the answer of Demosthenes to the reproach of Pytheus, who told him, tauntingly, that 'all his arguments smelt of the lamp.' We should remember, that if we would become laborers in the rich mine of intellect, we must delve unceasingly by the pale light of the solitary and 'conscious lamp,' ere we may hope to grasp the prize which will reward our toil the talisman which is to transmute even our own words into the breath and accents of that fame which constitutes the meed of the present and the inspiration of future ages. We must steadily persevere in that long and painful course of previous study and patient thought, which alone can entitle us to join in the triumphant prophecy of Horace, or prepare us for the struggles, and the glories of that hour, when, like Demosthenes, we may be 'invoked by the common voice of our country to speak for her salvation.'
Should such opportunity be never realized, or should we fail in our high-directed efforts, we will still retain the ennobling consciousness of meritorious exertion, and derive heart-felt comfort and renewed hope from that consolatory reflection, in magnis voluisse sat est,'
W. H. R.
GENIUS! oh didst thou know its fate,
It is the season when the yellow leaves,
And merry cricket, piping constantly
Through the mild sunny day: when evening comes
A calm and lovely morn! I sit within
Upon the floor a chequer'd light, that waves
It is a sweet and silent time! I hear
The frequent and the varied sounds of morn
Ring through the blue, half-misty air: and hark!
The gushing melody of birds awakes,
As if it were the first bright day of Spring.
There is a change on the fair face of earth:
Of mingled teints, to meet the dying year