« ZurückWeiter »
enlarged acquaintance with the principles which guide it, and the objects upon which it is to be exercised, we are neglecting the culture of the imagination.
The perfections of the imaginative faculty are formed, indeed, by the same progressive steps as the judgment-by extensive cultivation, and by vigorous exercise, but the means, the objects, and the mode of its operations, are essentially and strikingly different. Instead of rebuking with a cold and repulsive air, the wild or enraptured visions of the fancy, the mind yields to, and encourages, all its suggestions, and adopts every means to fan the flame of its poetic ardor. Some share of judgment may afterwards be called in to prune the exuberances of the imagination, but this operation is of a very limited and restricted description.
We know how greatly the human mind is subject to the influence of habit and circumstances. Conceive, then, what must be the result of those mental exercises which are employed in the formation of the most striking and novel combinations, in an excursive range through all nature and art, to discover whatever is "new or strange,"—and, finally, in the constant habit of presenting these stores of romantic research, and these creatures of inspiration, with all the glow, and fire, and animation, which it is in the power of the most brilliant language to convey,
"in thoughts that breathe, and words that burn."
It is in the very nature and constitution of the human mind, to attach itself, and become absorbed, in some favourite pursuit. In that pursuit, we shall generally succeed and excel: all the feelings of the heart, and all the attention of the understanding, is directed to the attainment of this master object; every feeling and every faculty is excited. Now it must be obvious that the concentrated force which is thus applied to accomplish the end in view, must essentially prevent the devotion of any extraordinary share of regard to a different object: and, when that object is calculated to oppose, or even to impede, our march to the goal of our wishes, it is not very likely that it will soon supplant the attachment to a favourite pursuit. Imagination may claim kindred with judgment, so far as it will assist its exercise; but when the one attempts to clip the wings of the other, the uncongenial associate will soon be abandoned.
It must be admitted that peculiar instances exist, in which a brilliant imagination is conjoined with a judgment of considerable accuracy. These instances, even in a modified appearance, are exceedingly rare; but their general combination, in their most exalted character, are decidedly impossible, --and this, not because the same mind, which is now brilliant
VOL. I. PART I.
in imagination, might not have become luminously accurate in judgment, but because the devoted and the absorbing tendency of an indulgence in all the higher flights of the imaginative faculty, must preclude the power of an equal cultivation of the judgment; and without that unlimited indulgence, and cultivation, neither the imagination nor the judgment can be elevated to the full extent of their capacity.
The subject then is reduced to a practical point. Can the first of poets be the first of philosophers? Could the qualities
of Homer and Socrates have been combined?
History answers the question:-the qualities never have been eminently combined. "The errors of genius" are proverbial. Every page of biography attests the position, and reason stamps it with the seal of truth.
Supposing, therefore, the opinion established, that a very accurate judgment is incompatible with a very brilliant imagination, we may arrive at this definite and useful conclusion, -that they who possess the mental qualities which constitute great correctness of judgment, should be content to cultivate imagination in a subordinate degree.
We may go farther, and extend the inference to the general operations of the human powers.-It will lead us to the recollection of their finite capacity, and impress the necessity of comparing means with ends, of proportioning the magnitude of our purposes with the powers and the resources by which they must be accomplished. Though it may be difficult to say what it is which perseverance cannot perform, there are rational grounds for asserting, that he who has the ambition to aim at the possession, in an exalted degree, of the faculties, both of imagination and of judgment, will very probably ascend no higher than mediocrity in either.
HAS THE MORAL IMPROVEMENT OF MANKIND KEPT PACE WITH THEIR INTELLECTUAL ADVANCEMENT?
IN behalf of the negative of this question, it was argued that the doctrine of the advancement of mankind in moral improvement, in proportion to their acquirements in science and literature, seemed to be an opinion which owed its adoption rather to the vanity of an age which prided itself on its intelligence, than to any authority from history and experience. The present period is, by most persons, regarded as a highly enlightened one; we hear continually of the brilliancy and
importance of our discoveries in science, and the beauty and splendour of our general literature: but, when these are conceded, we are not content to stop; we aspire to the reputation of superior virtue, as well as superior wisdom, and affirm that our progress in knowledge and in morals has been the same. Not only so, but that, from the very constitution of nature, it must be so; that what has taken place in our own age, is precisely the natural and orderly course of events; that there is some connexion between the arts and sciences, and the practice of virtue; and that the most certain way to ensure the latter, is to diffuse the knowledge of the former. Now, waving for a moment all reference to what has been, there seems no reasonable ground for concluding that such would be the fact; because, though the intimate connexion between science and virtue is frequently asserted, yet, when its advocates are called upon to shew its existence, they are unable to do so: they give us, indeed, abundance of fine declamation in praise of knowledge, the value of which is not disputed; but they are compelled at last to admit that virtue may dwell with ignorance, and vice make its abode even with learning and genius. The strong testimony of fact and experience confirms this admission, by presenting a long list of individuals, who have been alike distinguished by their talents and their vices. It would be painful to dwell upon the dark parts of the characters of such men, and the lover of literature and of humanity must alike wish that Sterne's recording angel might drop a tear upon their frailties, and blot them out for ever; but, when it is asserted that the amendment of the heart is inseparable from the cultivation of the mind, we cannot forget that it is not many years since an eloquent and learned divine suffered the penalty of the law--for forgery; that the days and nights of George Morland, were passed in the delirium of intoxication; that the muse of Dryden, could alternately descend to the basest adulation, and the most malignant libel; and that the integrity of Bacon, was not proof against a bribe! May it not reasonably be concluded that it is with nations as with individuals? The general voice of history assures us that such is the fact. The Egyptians, who were the earliest cultivators of the sciences, have left us no reason to think highly of their morals; whatever learning might do for them, it certainly did not preserve them from the basest and most degrading superstition. Nor are we justified in concluding, that it rendered them either temperate, just, or humane. Passing, however, to a far more interesting people, the Greeks, we shall find abundance of evidence, that the highest degree of intellectual improvement, is perfectly compatible with the most degrading vices, and the most atrocious crimes. In Greece, if any where,
the human intellect seems to have been developed in all its variety and grandeur. While it wandered in the graceful paths of literature, it shrank not from the severe deductions of mathematical science. With equal success, it pursued the sober facts of history, and penetrated the wildest regions of fiction; it communicated to the pencil of the painter, and the chisel of the sculptor, the power of producing those forms, matchless for truth and beauty, which have been the admiration of all succeeding ages, and will continue models for imitation, until the hand of time shall decompose the materials of which these are formed. But, amidst this blaze of intellectual splendour, the moral picture presented to us by Greece, is dreary and cheerless. Their monstrous ingratitude to those who had rendered eminent services to the state, the levity with which they transferred their affections from one political leader to another, the factions and venality that were almost universal,-clearly evince that the public virtues existed not among them; and, it is worthy of remark, that the only part of Greece in which they were found, was that from whence the arts and sciences were rigorously excluded. In the private manners of the Greeks we shall find as little to admire, as in their public acts. They seem to have been utterly regardless of those virtues upon which the well being of society principally depend. Elegant pleasures were the sole objects of their pursuit ; and the best that can be said of them, is, that they were a nation of refined sensualists. Their deficiency in morality, was equalled by their impiety; they were notorious for their disregard of the obligation of an oath, and, looking at their practice, we should be led to conclude that they imagined Jove laughs not at "lovers' perjuries" alone, but at perjury in general.
A view of the history of Rome will lead us to a conclusion upon the present question, similar to that which we derive from Greece. During many ages, the public and private manners of the Roman people were regulated by a very severe standard of morals; but precisely at that period when the capital of the world had attained the summit of intellectual improvement, did virtue cease to be a feature of the Roman character. All public spirit was lost in selfish views of gain or aggrandizement, and private vice ceased to be infamous, from the universality of licentious indulgence. The age, which was consecrated by genius, was profaned by crime. The same page of the historian which exhibits to our admiration a Horace, a Virgil, and a Tully, records, for our contempt and detestation, the degrading excesses of a Clodius, and the wild enormities of a Caligula. A halo of intellectual splendour irradiated the period of the commencement of
Rome's decline, but the poison of moral corruption was daily gaining strength and activity; and, while her poets and her orators were investing her with the bright semblance of health and beauty, disease had assailed the very seat of vitality, and death was circulating through every vein.
Quitting the ample volume of ancient history, we are naturally led to inquire whether, in the nations of modern times, the moral improvement of mankind appears to have kept pace with their intellectual advancement? and France and England are naturally suggested as the two nations in which the inquiry may be most properly instituted. In the former country, the age of Louis the Fourteenth demands our attention, and we find both genius and vice triumphant. Literature was fashionable at court, and this caused it to be encouraged every where else. The court was notoriously profligate, and profligacy pervaded every class of society. We look here in vain for some evidence of that connection between intellectual and moral improvement, which is so frequently contended for. Learning alone flourishes under sway of Louis le Grand; virtue seems to be known only by name.
But, advancing our eye nearly to the close of the nineteenth century, what sort of spectacle does France present,—a nation which had long been distinguished by its literature, and which had almost appropriated every department of the physical sciences to itself,—a nation, which had recently made discoveries that had changed the whole system of chemical science,—which was rapidly advancing in its career of discovery, and every day making some new one, more surprising and important than that which preceded it,-a nation in which education was very generally diffused, and in which the lowest of the people were acquainted with the chef d'œuvres of their national literature. In France, then, we might expect to find, at the period adverted to, the universal prevalence of virtue, and the total exclusion of moral evil. And how did the French nation distinguish itself at this period? By the perpetration of a series of crimes, which appalled the rest of the world; of atrocities which, in number and enormity, were previously unequalled in the annals of mankind, and in the recital of which, the historian will scarcely obtain credit in future times. Knowledge was allied with robbery, proscription, and murder; and a stranger in Paris, under the reign of Robespierre, found himself surrounded by scientific banditties, whose heads were full fraught with philosophy, while their hearts were inhabited by every demoniacal passion, and their hands familiar with deeds of rapine and of blood. France affords the most striking and conclusive evidence that men