Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

For, as Shakspeare has it,

“ There are a sort of men whose visages

Do cream and mantle like a standing pond ;
And do a wilful stillness entertain,
With purpose to be dress’d in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit.
0, my Antonio, I do know of those,
That therefore only are reputed wise,
For saying nothing ; who, I am very sure,

If they should speak, would " not be reputed wise, but the uttermost opposite, whatever that may be called.

- o

PENAL PREVISION.

I SAMUEL xxvii. 19, 20.

W H Y had Saul disquieted Samuel, to bring him up from

VV the place of the dead, by the midnight agency of the “wise woman ” of Endor? Because he would fain pry into futurity, and learn from supernatural sources his coming fate. The desired foresight was vouchsafed him. By to-morrow he and his sons were to be with the dead-and-gone seer, whose spirit he had rashly invoked. The prevision had its present penalty. “ Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel.” The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, and only those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children. The tree of foreknowledge of good and evil may offer fruit that is pleasant to the sight, and seemingly to be desired to make one wise ; but it is fatal food, not to be eaten of, nor to be touched, by any but the venturesome profane.

Indulged to his cost with previsions of what should befall his posterity, Milton's Adam, at sight of the Flood and its ravages, breaks out into the exclamation,

“ O visions ill foreseen! Better had I

Lived ignorant of future ! so had borne

My part of evil only, each day's lot

Enough to bear.” Warned by so distressful an experience, he would have no man seek henceforth to be foretold what shall befall him or his children ; “ evil he may be sure, which neither his foreknowing can prevent; and he the future evil shall, no less in apprehension than in substance, feel grievous to bear." It has been asked what would become of men, were their future absolutely foreknown by them : would they not become in imagination, and therefore in reality, the passive slaves of an inevitable fate, with all hope extinguished, all fear intensified, awaiting in terror the foreseen evil, and looking with indifference on the promised good, darkened as it would be by the shadow of intervening calamities, and stripped of the bright colouring of hope ? And yet,

“ With eager search to dart the soul,
Curiously vain, from pole to pole,
And from the planets' wandering spheres
To extort the number of our years,
And whether all those years shall flow
Serenely smooth, and free from woe,
Or rude misfortune shall deform
Our life with one continual storm ;
Or if the scene shall motley be
Alternate joy and misery, -
Is a desire which, more or less,
All men feel, though few confess."

So at least affirms the author of the “Rosciad,"—who in another of his writings puts the query :

Tell me, philosopher, is it a crime

To pry into the secret womb of time;
Or, born in ignorance, must we despair
To reach events, and read the future there ?

Assuredly, says Cicero, the ignorance of evils to come is of more advantage than the knowledge of them : certe ignoratio futurorum malorum utilior est quam scientia. And Horace, in a celebrated passage:

“ Prudens futuri temporis exitum
Caliginosâ nocte premit Deus :
Ridetque, si mortalis ultra

Fas trepidat.” . . .
Caliginosa noa: forms a thick black curtain.

“What hangs behind that curtain ?-would'st thou learn ?

If thou art wise, thou would'st not.” A thoughtful mind, sententiously observes Miss Clarissa Harlowe, is not a blessing to be coveted, unless it has such a happy vivacity with it as her friend Miss Howe's : a vivacity which enables one to enjoy the present, without being anxious about the future. It is, according to Goldsmith, the happy confidence in bright illusions that gives life its true relish, and keeps up our spirits amidst every distress and disappointment. “How much less would be done, if a man knew how little he can do! How wretched a creature would he be, if he saw the end as well as the beginning of his projects ! He would have nothing left but to sit down in torpid despair, and exchange enjoyment for actual calamity.” The warrior in Mr. Roscoe's tragedy argues judiciously when he says,

" What is't to me, that I should vex my soul

In dim forebodings of what is to be ?
It is enough I know, and ache to know,
What on this bridge of time I have to do,

Not overlook the abysm till my head fail.” Fortunately for us mortals, Mr. Froude says, necessary as any future may be, and inevitable as by our own actions we may have made it, it is kindly kept from us wrapt up in clouds, and we are not made wretched about it by anticipation. “O my fortune," prays Agrippina, in one of Jonson's Roman tragedies, “ let it be sudden thou preparest against me; strike all my powers of understanding blind, and ignorant of destiny to come !"

Seek to know no more, is in vain the joint appeal of the three witches to Macbeth, beside the magic caldron in the cave; but as to the future of Banquo's issue he will be satisfied. Cranmer, predicting a glorious reign for the infant Elizabeth, parenthesises a sigh on the common lot

“Would I had known no more ! but she must die."

Shakspeare's King Henry the Fourth, again, in one place utters the aspiration, “O Heaven ! that one might read the book of fate !" Hardly an aspiration, however, as the context shows; a privilege to be deprecated rather; for could there be foreseen all the changes and chances of one's mortal life, “how chances mock, and changes fill the cup of alteration with divers liquors,"

“0, if this were seen,
The happiest youth,-viewing his progress through,
What perils past, what crosses to ensue,
Would shut the book, and sit him down and die.”

Mr. de Quincey describes an Installation of the Knights of St. Patrick at which he was present, during the LordLieutenancy of Lord Cornwallis—the narrator's companions on that occasion being Lord and Lady Castlereagh, who “were both young at this time, and both wore an impressive appearance of youthful happiness; neither, happily for their peace of mind, able to pierce that cloud of years, not much more than twenty, which divided them from the day destined in one hour to wreck the happiness of both.” Vision ill foreseen it were to know the times and the seasons, the manner how, and the place where.

“O tell me, cried Ereenia, for from thee
Nought can be hidden, when the end will be.
Seek not to know, old Casyapa replied,
What pleaseth Heaven to hide.

Dark is the abyss of Time.
But light enough to guide your steps is given ;

Whatever weal or woe betide,
Turn never from the way of truth aside,

And leave the event, in holy hope, to Heaven." The hermit in Scott's “ Talisman," who, after failing to read aright the fate of others, has to own himself uncertain whether he may not have miscalculated his own,-withdraws from the action of the story with the reflection that God will not have us break into His council-house, or spy out His hidden mysteries. “We must wait His time with watching and prayer-with

fear and with hope. I came hither the stern seer—the proud prophet, skilled, as I thought, to instruct princes, and gifted even with supernatural powers, but burdened with a weight which I deemed no shoulders but mine could have borne. But my bands have been broken! I go hence humble in mine ignorance," etc. In Scott's other and less popular Tale of the Crusaders, Eveline deprecates the Lady of Baldringham's offer to show her niece how the balance of fate inclines, and shrinks from the asserted privilege “enjoyed” by their house of looking forward beyond the points of present time, and seeing in the very bud the thorns or flowers which are one day to encircle their head. “For my own sake, noble kinswoman,” answered Eveline, “I would decline such foreknowledge, even were it possible to acquire it without transgressing the rules of the Church. Could I have foreseen what has befallen me within these last unhappy days, I had lost the enjoyment of every happy moment before that time.” So again reasons the Italian adept, Baptista Damiotti, in one of Sir Walter's shorter tales, when dismissing the two agitated ladies who have been consulting his magic mirror. “Few,” he added, in a melancholy tone, "leave this house as well in health as they entered it. Such being the consequence of seeking knowledge by mysterious means, I leave you to judge of the condition of those who have the power of gratifying such irregular curiosity." Cowper observes in one of his letters that man often prophesíes without knowing it; but that did he foresee, what is always foreseen by him who dictates what he supposes to be his own, he would suffer by anticipation as well as by consequence; and wish perhaps as ardently for the happy ignorance to which he is at present so much indebted, as some have foolishly and inconsiderately done, for a knowledge that would be but another name for misery. Even in the ecstasy of rapturous foresight the Seer exclaims,

“ Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,

Ye unborn ages, crowd not on my soul !” When Harold and Haco, “pale king and dark youth,” in

« НазадПродовжити »