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Crede mihi, non est paruce fiduciæ, polliceri opem decertantibus, consilium dubiis, lumen cæcis, spem dejectis, refrigerium fessis. Magna quidem hæc sunt, si fiant ; parva, si promittantur. Verum ego non tam aliis legem ponam, quam legem vobis meæ propriæ mentis exponam; quam qui probaverit, teneat ; cui non placuerit, abjiciat. Optarem, fateor, talis esse, qui prodesse possem quam plurimis.
PETRARCH. De vita solitaria.*
Believe me, it requires no little confidence, to promise help to the struggling, counsel to the doubtful, light to the blind, hope to the despondent, refreshment to the weary. These are indeed great things, if they be accomplished; trifles if they exist but in a promise. I, however, aim not so much to prescribe a law for others, as to set forth the law of my own mind; which let the man, who shall have approved of it, abide by; and let him, to whom it shall appear not reasonable, reject it. It is my earnest wish, I confess, to employ my understanding and acquirements in that mode and direction, in which I may be enabled to benefit the largest number possible of my fellow-creatures.
ANTECEDENTLY to all history, and long glimmering through it as a holy tradition, there presents itself to our imagination an indefinite period, dateless as eternity; a state rather than a time. For even the sense of succession is lost in the uniformity of the stream.
It was toward the close of this golden age (the memory of which the self-dissatisfied race of men have everywhere preserved and cherished) when conscience acted in man with the ease and uniformity of instinct; when labor was a sweet name for the activity of sane minds in healthful bodies, and all enjoyed
* Lib. I. tract. iv. c. 4. Some clauses in the original are omitted, and one or two changes of words have been made, by the Author, in this quotation.-Ed.
in common the bounteous harvest produced, and gathered in, by common effort ; when there existed in the sexes, and in the individuals of each sex, just variety enough to permit and call forth the gentle restlessness and final union of chaste love and individual attachment, each seeking and finding the beloved one by the natural affinity of their beings; when the dread Sovereign of the universe was known only as the universal parent, · no altar but the pure heart, and thanksgiving and grateful love the sole sacrifice.
In this blest age of dignified innocence, one of their honored elders, whose absence they were beginning to notice, entered with hurrying steps the place of their common assemblage at noon, and instantly attracted the general attention and wonder by the perturbation of his gestures, and by a strange trouble both in his eyes and over his whole countenance. After a short but deep silence, when the first buzz of varied inquiry was becoming audible, the old man moved toward a small eminence, and having ascended it, he thus addressed the hushed and listening company :
“In the warmth of the approaching mid-day, as I was reposing in the vast cavern, out of which, from its northern portal, issues the river that winds through our vale, a voice powerful, yet not from its loudness, suddenly hailed me. Guided by my ear, I looked toward the supposed place of the sound for some form, from which it had proceeded. I beheld nothing but the glimmering walls of the cavern. Again, as I was turning round, the same voice hailed me : and whithersoever I turned my face, thence did the voice seem to proceed. I stood still, therefore, and in reverence awaited its continuation. Sojourner of earth!' (these were its words) • hasten to the meeting of thy brethren, and the words which thou now hearest, the same do thou repeat unto them. On the thirtieth morn from the morrow's sunrising, and during the space of thrice three days and thrice three nights, a thick cloud will cover the sky, and a heavy rain fall on the earth. Go ye therefore, ere the thirtieth sun arise, retreat to the cavern of the river, and there abide, till the clouds have passed away, and the rain be over and gone. For know ye of a certainty that whomever that rain wetteth, on him, yea, on him and on his children's children will fall—the spirit of madness.'
Yes! madness was the word of the voice : what this be, I know not! But at the sound of the word trembling came upon me, and a feeling which I would not have had ; and I remained even as ye beheld and now behold me."
The old man ended, and retired. Confused murmurs succeeded, and wonder, and doubt. Day followed day, and every day brought with it a diminution of the awe impressed. They could attach no image, no remembered sensations, to the threat. The ominous morn arrived, the prophet had retired to the appointed cavern, and there remained alone during the appointed time. On the tenth morning, he emerged from his place of shelter; and sought his friends and brethren. But alas ! how affrightful the change! Instead of the common children of one great family, working toward the same aim by reason, even as the bees in their hives by instinct, he looked and beheld, here a miserable wretch watching over a heap of hard and innutritious small substances, which he had dug out of the earth, at the cost of mangled limbs and exhausted faculties. This he appeared to worship, at this he gazed, even as the youths of the vale had been accustomed to gaze at their chosen virgins in the first season-of their choice. There he saw a former companion speeding on and panting after a butterfly, or a withered leaf whirling onward in the breeze; and another with pale and distorted countenance following close behind, and still stretching forth a dagger to stab his precursor in the back. In another place he observed a whole troop of his fellow-men famished and in fetters, yet led by one of their brethren who had enslaved them, and pressing furiously onward, in the hope of famishing and enslaving another troop moving in an opposite direction. For the first time, the prophet missed his accustomed power of distinguishing between his dreams and his waking perceptions. He stood gazing and motionless, when several of the race gathered around him, and inquired of each other, Who is this man ? how strangely he looks ! how wild a worthless idler ! exclaims one : assuredly, a very dangerous madman! cries a second. In short, from words they proceeded to violence : till harassed, endangered, solitary in a world of forms like his own, without sympathy, without object of love, he at length espied in some foss or furrow a quantity of the maddening water still unevaporated, and uttering the last words of reason, IT IS IN VAIN TO BE SANE IN A WORLD OF MADMEN, plunged and rolled himself in the liquid poison, and came out as mad as, and not more wretched than, his neighbors and acquaintances.
The plan of The Friend is comprised in the motto to this essay. This tale or allegory seems to me to contain the objections to its practicability in all their strength. Either, says the skeptic, you are the blind offering to lead the blind, or you are talking the language of sight to those who do not possess the sense of seeing. If you mean to be read, try to entertain, and do not pretend to instruct. To such objections it would be amply sufficient, on my system of faith, to answer, that we are not all blind, but all subject to distempers of the mental sight, differing in kind and in degree; that though all men are in error, they are not all in the same error, nor at the same time; and that each, therefore, may possibly heal the other, even as two or more physicians, all diseased in their general health, yet under the immediate action of the disease on different days, may remove or alleviate the complaints of each other. But in respect to the entertainingness of moral writings, if in entertainment be included whatever delights the imagination or affects the generous passions, so far from rejecting such a mean of persuading the human soul, my very system compels me to defend not only the propriety, but the absolute necessity, of adopting it, if we really intend to render our fellow-creatures better or wiser.
But it is with dullness as with obscurity. It may be positive, and the author's fault; but it may likewise be relative, and if the author has presented his bill of fare at the portal, the reader has himself only to blame. The main question then is, of what class are the persons to be entertained ?_“ One of the later school of the Grecians (says Lord Bacon) examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it that men should love lies, where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets ; nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I can not tell : this same truth is a naked and open daylight, that doth not show the masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily, as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day ; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken
from men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves ?''*
A melancholy, a too general, but not, I trust, a universal truth and even where it does apply, yet in many instances not irremediable. Such at least must have been my persuasion; or the present volumes must have been wittingly written to no purpose. If I believed our nature fettered to all this wretchedness of head and heart by an absolute and innate necessity, at least by a necessity which no human power, no efforts of reason or eloquence, could remove or lessen ; I should deem it even presumptuous to aim at other or higher object than that of amusing a small portion of the reading public.
And why not? whispers worldly prudence. To amuse, though only to amuse, our visitors is wisdom as well as good-nature, where it is presumption to attempt their amendment. And truly it would be most convenient to me in respects of no trifling importance, if I could persuade myself to take the advice. Released by these principles from all moral obligation, and ambitious of procuring pastime and self-oblivion for a race, which could have nothing noble to remember, nothing desirable to anticipate, I. might aspire even to the praise of the critics and dilettanti of the higher circles of society ; of some trusty guide of blind fashion; some pleasant analyst of taste, as it exists both in the palate and the soul ; some living gauge and mete-wand of past and present genius. But alas ! my former studies would still have left a wrong bias! If instead of perplexing my common sense with the flights of Plato, and of stiffening over the meditations of the imperial Stoic, I had been laboring to imbibe the gay spirit of a Casti, or had employed my erudition, for the benefit of the favored few, in elucidating the interesting deformities of ancient Greece and India, what might I not have hoped from the suffrage of those, who turn in weariness from the Paradise Lost, because compared with the prurient heroes and grotesque monsters of Italian romance, or even with the narrative dialogues of the melodious Metastasio, that adventurous song,
Which justifies the ways of God to man,
* Essays. I. Of Truth.—Ed.