Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

“He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,

And all are slaves beside.” They knew that to whom men yield themselves servants to obey, his servants they are to whom they are obedient, whether of sin unto death, or of loyal service unto righteousness. There is a freedom from righteousness, which is servitude to sin ; and there is that service of God which, though a service, or rather because a service, is perfect freedom.

Gray, in the best known of his odes (best known by heart) devises this expressive phrase,

“Constraint, that sweetens liberty.” It refers to schoolboys, enjoying all the more their playground freedom for the previous and succeeding restraints and constraints of the schoolroom. All work and no play makes a dull boy; but so does all play and no work. In this sense, as in so many others, does the paradox hold good that half is more than the whole (déov ñulov navtós); and even a schoolboy can find by experience that a half holiday may be more than a whole one.

Wordsworth sounds the depths of this philosophy in his magnificent Ode to Duty. He is fatigued by freedom ; he would be no longer the sport of every random gust; he would no longer stray in smooth walks, but would serve Duty more strictly if he might:

“Through no disturbance of my soul,

Or strong compunction in me wrought,
I supplicate for thy control ;

But in the quietness of thought :
Me this uncharted freedom tires ;

I feel the weight of chance desires ;
My hopes no more must change their name,

I long for a repose that ever is the same.” Whose service is perfect freedom-that is God's service only. The true character of that service in Greek Testament phrase, slavery) is aptly indicated by St. Paul to the Ephesians, where he speaks of with good will doing service Met' eůvoias ΔΟΥΛΕΥΟΝΤΕΣ, ως τω Κυρίω και ουκ ανθρώποις. The law of

the Spirit of life makes free from the law of sin and death, that the righteousness of spiritual law may be fulfilled in those who sometime were free from righteousness. Freedom from righteousness is, in fact, identical with that bondage of corruption from which they are delivered into the glorious liberty of the children of God. He that is so called, being free, is yet Christ's servant, doüos. And, as a servant, whatsoever he doeth he is to do heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men-cü yap Kupio Xplotů AOYAEYEI. Goethe's biographer tells us how he would assert, against the encyclopedists, that“ whatever frees the intellect, without at the same time giving us command over ourselves, is pernicious;” or would utter one of his profound and pregnant yvõua. such as Nur das Gesetz kann uns die Freiheit geben, i.e., only within the circle of law can there be true freedom. “We are not free when we acknowledge no higher power, but when we acknowledge it, and in reverence raise ourselves by proving that a Higher lives in us.” We may wrest to our purpose the lines of Schiller, in Wallensteins Tod:

“Nay, let it not afflict you that your power

Is circumscribed. Much liberty, much error!
The narrow path of duty is securest.”

Liberty of will is likened by Jeremy Taylor to the motion of a magnetic needle towards the north, full of trembling and uncertainty till it be fixed in the beloved point : “it wavers as long as it is free, and is at rest when it can choose no more.” What is liberty ? asks M. Jules Simon; and answers, The power of doing or not doing. But, he proceeds to inquire, can this liberty exist independent of law ?-cette liberté peut-elle subsister sans règle? Nay, liberty without rule, or law, so far from ennobling him who possesses it, degrades him. Liberty is not given to us to withdraw us from the authority of law, but that we may obey it in recognising its great First Cause. Unrestrained liberty is our ruin ; liberty subjected to law, and that an immovable law, is the instrument and the token of our true greatness. Wordsworth philosophically affirms that “all men

may find cause, when life is at a weary pause, and they have panted up the hill of duty with reluctant will,” to

“Be thankful, even though tired and faint,

For the rich bounties of constraint ;
Whence oft invigorating transports flow,

That choice lacked courage to bestow." The truth admits of exemplification in a thousand minor details of every-day life. Mrs. Gaskell relates how she heard Charlotte Brontè declare, in reference to the “exact punctuality and obedience to the laws of time and place” enforced by her somewhat despotic aunt on the motherless family at Haworth parsonage, that no one but themselves could tell the value of this control in after life: “ with their impulsive natures it was positive repose to have learnt obedience to external laws." In the last of her own fictions—and, though unfinished, the ripest and best-Mrs. Gaskell herself suggestively observes of a patient who, when a medical adviser is at length called in, finds it a great relief to be told what to do, what to eat, drink, and avoid, that “such decisions ab extra are sometimes a wonderful relief to those whose habit has been to decide, not only for themselves, but for every one else;" and that occasionally the relaxation of the strain which a character for infallible wisdom brings with it does much to restore health. M. de Vigny, in one of his highly finished historiettes, speculates on the nature and power of the instinct which seems to urge mankind, as by a kind of necessity, to seek pleasure in obedience, and to feel a desire to depose, as it were, their free agency and consequent responsibility in other hands; as if thereby a burden was laid down, too weighty to be voluntarily supported ; and how this sensation of relief seems to give a secret feeling of complacency, and a freedom to the act of obedience, which reconcile it to the pride of human nature. Soldiers, observes Sir Walter Scott, are always most pleased when they are best in order for performing their military service; and licence or inactivity, however acceptable at times, are not, when continued, so agreeable to men of the camp as strict discipline and a prospect of employment. “I have heard men talk of the blessings of freedom,” says Wamba to himself, when suddenly freed from sharing the captivity of his master ; " but I wish any wise man would teach me what use to make of it now that I have it." So Elia, in his essay on The Superannuated Man, to whom life being now one long holiday has no holiday henceforth; where he expatiates on the sight of “busy faces to recreate the idle man, who contemplates them ever passing by—the very face of business a charm by contrast to his relaxation from it." Many an individual experience can put its own private interpretation on the averment of one of Rousseau's correspondents-Ce lien si redouté me delivre d'une servitude beaucoup plus redoubtable.

Of significant application again is De Quincey's denial of the truth of Lessing's æsthetical assertion, that the sense of necessary and absolute limitation is banished from the idea of a fine art. On the contrary, he maintains this sense is indispensable as a means of resisting (and therefore realizing) the sense of freedom : “the freedom of a fine art is found not in the absence of restraint, but in the conflict with it." So in literature. That certain rules of composition sustain themselves at all is due, according to Mr. W. Caldwell Roscoe, to the fact that creative genius of a high order is not impatient of forms, but rather loves, on the contrary, to have certain limits defined for it, and to be freed to some extent from “the weight of too much liberty.” Shakspeare, he adds, did not fret because tragedies are limited to five acts, nor Milton quarrel with the formal conditions of an epic poem. Here again shall we find in Wordsworth a passage to the point:

“In truth the prison, unto which we doom

Ourselves, no prison is : and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;

Pleased, if some souls (for such there needs must be),

Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.”

· The biographer of Edward Irving tells us how deeply he was affected when the decision of the presbytery against him

removed him from the range of their control, so that, “notwithstanding all his independence, the profound loyalty of his soul was henceforth baulked of its healthful necessities.” He felt himself with a pang to be cast unnaturally free of restraint“that lawful, sweet restraint, ... to which the tender dutifulness so seldom wanting to great genius naturally clings.”* Habits of instant and mechanical obedience are affirmed by Sir Henry Taylor to be those that give rest to the child, and spare its health and temper. Men are but children of a larger growth; and though as regards obedience to a Father which is in heaven, “mechanical ” obedience may not be the word, yet is cheerfully implicit obedience the thing ; obedience is the privilege of the child.

For obedience is nobler than freedom. What's free?

The vexed straw on the wind, the frothed spume on the sea.

* Another type of mind, deficient in the higher attributes of independence, is often feverishly eager to sink its sense of individual responsibility by seeking what is called “rest in the Church.” Dr. Bungener represents his Julian, when committed to the Bastile, as rather rejoicing at than terrified by the despotism of the hand laid upon him ; and in the same way, on taking holy orders, he, being “ subdued in heart, enslaved in mind, tired of being his own master, only to create his own torments,” flatters himself that he gives the Church complete power over his faculties at the same time that he gives her plenary power over his actions.

To the baser sort, remarks Sir James Stephen, no yoke is so galling as that of self control, no deliverance so welcome as that of being handsomely rid of free agency. “With such men mental slavery readily becomes a habit, a fashion, and a pride. To the abject many the abdication of selfgovernment is a willing sacrifice.”

One of our acutest essayists on social subjects comments on the readiness of a man to exult in the fact that he has done something which he cannot undo, and has pledged himself to a course from which he cannot draw back, as more commonly the sign of a weak than of a strong nature. “The comfort of plunging right into the stream is unspeakable to anybody who has been accustomed to stand shivering and irresolute on the bank.” When a person of this sort, it is justly observed, has brought himself to take the plunge, his exultation and fearlessness are wonderful : the knowledge that the Rubicon is crossed, and the die cast, seems to relieve him from the necessity of further resolution. “He has set in motion a machine which will of itself wind off results and consequences for him without more ado on his own part; and this is an order of release from the demands of circumstances upon his will, for which he cannot be too thankful."

« НазадПродовжити »