« PreviousContinue »
therefore, gentle reader ! if borrowing from my title a right of anticipation, I avail myself of the privileges of a friend before I have earned them; and waiving the ceremony of a formal introduction, permit me to proceed at once to the subject, trite indeed and familiar as the first lessons of childhood; which yet must be the foundation of my future superstructure with all its ornaments, the hidden roote of the tree, I am attempting to rear, with all its branches and boughs. But if from it I have deduced my strongest moral motives for this undertaking, it has at the same time been applied in suggesting the most formidable obstacle to my success, -as far, I mean, as my plan alone is concerned, and not the talents necessary for its completion.
Conclusions drawn from facts which subsist in perpetual flux, without definite place or fixed quantity, must always be liable to plausible objections, nay, often to unanswerable difficulties; and yet, having their foundation in uncorrupted feeling, are assented to by mankind at large, and in all ages, as undoubted truths. As our notions concerning them are almost equally obscure, so are our convictions almost equally vivid, with those of our life and individuality. Regarded with awe as guiding principles by the founders of law and religion, they are the favorite objects of attack with mock philosophers, and the demagogues in church, state, and literature; and the denial of them has in all times, though at various intervals, formed heresies and systems, which, after their day of wonder, are regularly exploded, and again as regularly revived when they have re-acquired novelty by courtesy of oblivion.
Among these universal persuasions we must place the sense of a self-contradicting principle in our nature, or a disharmony in the different impulses that constitute it ;-of a something which essentially distinguishes man both from all other animals that are known to exist, and from the idea of his own nature, or conception of the original man. In health and youth we may indeed connect the glow and buoyance of our bodily sensations with the words of a theory, and imagine that we hold it with a firm belief. The pleasurable heat which the blood or the breathing generates, the sense of external reality which comes with the strong grasp of the hand, or the vigorous tread of the foot, may indifferently become associated with the rich eloquence of a Shaftesbury, imposing on us man's possible perfections for his existing nature; or with the cheerless and hardier impieties of a Hobbes, while cutting the Gordian knot he denies the reality of either vice or virtue, and explains away the mind's selfreproach into a distempered ignorance, an epidemic affection of the human nerves and their habits of motion.
“ Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy!” I shall hereafter endeavor to prove, how distinct and different the
sensation of positiveness is from the sense of certainty ;-the turbulent heat of temporary fermentation from the mild warmth of essential life. Suffice it for the present to affirm, to declare it at least, as my own creed, that whatever humbles the heart, and forces the mind inward, whether it be sickness, or grief, or remorse, or the deep yearnings of love [and there have been children of affliction for whom all these have met and made up one complex suffering], in proportion as it acquaints us with the thing we are, renders us docile to the concurrent testimony of our fellow-men in all ages and in all nations. From Pascal in his closet resting the arm, which supports his thoughtful brow, on a pile of demonstrations, to the poor pensive Indian that seeks the missionary in the American wilderness, the humiliated self-examinant feels that there is evil in our nature as well as good ;-an evil and a good, for a just analogy to which he questions all other natures in vain. It is still the great definition of humanity, that we have a conscience, which no mechanic compost, no chemical combination of mere appetence, memory and understanding, can solve; which is indeed an element of our being ;-a conscience, unrelenting yet not absolute; which we may stupefy but can not delude; which we may suspend but can not annihilate; although we may perhaps find a treacherous counterfeit in the very quiet which we derive from its slumber, or its entrancement.
Of so mysterious a phenomenon we might expect a cause as mysterious. Accordingly, we find this [cause be it, or condition, or necessary accompaniment] involved and implied in the fact, which it alone can explain. For if our permanent consciousness did not reveal to us our free-agency, we should yet be obliged to deduce it, as a necessary inference, from the fact of our conscience : or rejecting both the one and the other, as mere illusions of internal feelings, forfeit all power of thinking consistently with our actions, or acting consistently with our thought, for any single hour during our whole lives. But I am proceeding farther than I had wished or intended. It will be long ere I shall dare flatter myself that I have won the confidence of my reader sufficiently to require of him that effort of attention, which the regular establishment of this truth would require.
After the brief season of youthful hardihood, and the succeeding years of unceasing fluctuation, after long-continued and patient study of the most celebrated works in the languages of ancient and modern Europe, in defence or denial of this prime article of human faith, which (save to the trifler or the worldling) no frequency of discussion can superannuate, I at length satisfied my own mind by arguments, which placed me on firm land. This one conviction, determined, as in a mould, the form and feature of my whole system in religion and morals, and even in literature. These arguments were not suggested to me by books, but forced on me by reflection on my own being, and observation of the ways of those about me, especially of little children. And as they had the power of fixing the same persuasion in some valuable minds, much interested, and not unversed in the controversy, and from the manner probably rather than the substance, appeared to them in some sort original—[for oldest reasons will put on an impressive semblance of novelty, if they have indeed been drawn from the fountain-head of genuine self-research]—and since the arguments are neither abstruse, nor dependent on a long chain of deductions, nor such as suppose previous habits of metaphysical disquisition; I shall deem it my duty to state them with what skill I can, at a fitting opportunity, though rather as the biographer of my own sentiments than a legislator of the opinions of other men.
At present, however, I give it merely as an article of my own faith, closely connected with all my hopes of melioration in man, and leading to the methods by which alone I hold any fundamental or permanent melioration practicable ;—that there is evil distinct from error and from pain, an evil in human nature which is not wholly grounded in the limitation of our understandings. And this, too, I believe to operate equally in subjects of taste, as in the higher concerns of morality. Were it my conviction, that our follies, vice, and misery, have their entire origin in miscalculation from ignorance, I should act irrationally in attempting other task than that of adding new lights to the science of moral arithmetic, or new facility to its acquirement. In other words, it would have been my worthy business to have set forth, if it were in my power, an improved system of book-keeping for the ledgers of calculating self-love. · If, on the contrary, I believed our nature fettered to all its 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 [no, nor even prepare the way for such removal or diminution]; I should then yield myself at once to the admonitions of one of my correspondents (unless, indeed, it should better suit my humor to do nothing than nothings, nihil quam nihili], and deem it even presumptuous to aim at other or higher object than that of amusing, during some ten minutes in every week, a small portion of the reading public.
OONOLUSION OF NO. I.
Previously to my ascent of Etna, as likewise of the Brocken in North-Germany, I remember to have amused myself with examining the album or manuscript, presented to travellers at the first stage of the mountain, in which, on their return, their fore-runners had sometimes left their experience, and more often disclosed or betrayed their own characters. Something like this I have endeavored to do relatively to my great predecessors in periodical literature, from the Spectator to the Mirror, or whatever later work of excellence there may be. But the distinction between my proposed plan and all and each of theirs, I must defer to a future essay. From all other works The Friend is sufficiently distinguished, either by the very form and intervals of its publication, or by its avowed exclusion of the events of the day, and of all personal politics.
For a detail of the principal subjects, which I have proposed to myself to treat in the course of this work, I must refer to the Prospectus,-printed at the end of this sheet. But I own I am anxious to explain myself more fully on the delicate subjects of religion and politics. Of the former perhaps it may, for the present, be enough to say that I have confidence in myself, that I shall neither directly nor indirectly attack its doctrines or mysteries, much less attempt basely to undermine them by allusion, or tale, or anecdote. What more I might dare promise of myself, I reserve for another occasion. Of politics, however, I have many motives to declare my intentions more explicitly. It is my object to refer men to principles in all things; in literature, in the fine arts, in morals, in legislation, in religion. Whatever, therefore, of a politic nature may be reduced to general principles, necessarily, indeed, dependent on the circumstances of a nation internal and external, yet not especially connected with this year or the preceding—this I do not exclude from my scheme. Thinking it a sort of duty to place my readers in full possession, both of my opinions and the only method in which I can permit myself to recommend them, and aware, too, of many calumnious accusations, as well as gross misapprehensions of my political creed, I shall dedicate my second number entirely to the views, which a British subject, in the present state of his country, ought to entertain of its actual and existing constitution of government. If I can do no positive good, I may perhaps aid in preventing others from doing harm. But all intentional allusions to particular persons, all support of, or hostility to, particular parties or factions, I now and forever utterly disclaim. My principles command this abstinence, my tranquillity requires it:
Tranquillity! thou better name
But I have transgressed a rule, which I had intended to have established for myself, that of never troubling my readers with my
Ite hinc Camæne ! vos quoque, ite, suaves,
Revisitote ; sed pudenter et raro. I shall, indeed, very rarely and cautiously, avail myself of this privilege. For long and early habits of exerting my intellect in metrical composition have not so enslaved me, but that for some years I have felt, and deeply felt, that the poet's high functions were not my proper assignment;—that many may be worthy to listen to the strains of Apollo, neighbors of the sacred choir, and able to discriminate, and feel, and love its genuine harmonies; yet not therefore -called to receive the harp in their own hands, and join in the concert. I am content and gratified, that Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, have not been born in vain for me: and I feel it as a blessing, that even among my contemporaries I know one at least, who has been deemed worthy of the gift; who has received the harp with reverence, and struck it with the hand of power.
COMMENCEMENT OF NO. II.
CONSCIOUS that I am about to deliver my sentiments on a subject of the utmost delicacy, to walk
Suppositos cineri doloso, I have been tempted by my fears to preface them with a motto of unusual length, from an authority equally respected by both of the opposite parties. I have selected it from an orator, whose eloquence has taken away for Englishmen all cause of humiliation from the names of Demosthenes and Cicero: from a statesman, who has left to our language a bequest of glory unrivalled, and all his own, in the keen-eyed, yet far-sighted genius, with which he has almost uniformly made the most original and profound general principles of political wisdom, and even recondite laws of human passions, bear upon particular measures and events. While of the harangues of Pitt, Fox, and their elder compeers, on the most important occurrences, we retain a few unsatisfactory fragments alone, the very flies and weeds of Burke shine to us through the purest amber, imperishably enshrined, and valuable from the precious material of their embalmment. I have extracted the passage from that Burke whose latter exertions have rendered his works venerable, as oracular voices from the sepulchre of a patriarch, to the upholders of government and society in their existing state and order ; but from a speech delivered by him while he was the most beloved, the proudest name with the more anxious friends of liberty (I distinguish them in courtesy by the name of their own choice, not as implying any enmity to true freedom in the characters of their opponents); while he was the darling of those, who, believing mankind to have been im