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Lord Lytton's historical novel, would read the riddle of the future, and “climb to heaven through the mysteries of hell,” the witch bids them-poor “worms "--crawl back to the clay—to the earth : “One such night as the hag ye despise enjoys as her sport and her glee, would freeze your veins, and sear the life in your eyeballs," etc., etc. What says the wizard, again, in Tasso ?
“But that I should the sure events unfold
Of things to come, or destinies foretel,
Too rash is your desire, your wish too bold." Cagliostro, professing to foresee the fate of La Perouse, is importunately asked by his fellow-guests at that memorable dinner-party commemorated by M. Dumas, why then he did not forewarn and save that brave man before setting out. At the very least, why not have told him to “beware of unknown isles”—that he might at any rate have had the chance of avoiding them ? But, “ I assure you no, count,” is the mystic's reply; "and, if he had believed me, it would only have been the more horrible, for the unfortunate man would have seen himself approaching those isles destined to be fatal to him, without the power to escape from them. Therefore he would have died, not one, but a hundred deaths, for he would have gone through it all by anticipation. Hope, of which I should have deprived him, is what best sustains a man under all trials.” “Yes,” says Condorcet, the sceptical and sententious, "the veil which hides from us our future, is the only real good which God has vouchsafed to man." And what again, to the same purport, says the Hermit Monk to Alpine's Lord :
" Roderick, it is a fearful strise
For man endowed with mortal life,
And therefore, says Sir Thomas Browne, in his moralisings on the undesirableness of all such foresight, “and therefore the wisdom of astrologers, who speak of future things, hath wisely softened the severity of their doctrines; and even in their sad predictions, while they tell us of inclination not coaction from the stars, they kill us not with Stygian oaths and merciless necessity, but leave us hopes of evasion.” Tant mieux for those who, like Hudibras,
... “still gape to anticipate
like Hudibras, bursting with the wish,
“Oh, that I could enucleate
And solve the problem of my fate ;
Vanity and vexation of spirit, these visionary previsions all. Sacred, therefore, be, in Thomson's phrase, the veil that kindly clouds a light too keen for mortals,
... “for those that here in dust
Must cheerful toil out their appointed years." In a feeling paragraph on the pains of a first separation, Miss Ferrier observes, or rather asks, if in the long and dreary interval that ensues, it were foreseen what griefs were to be borne, what ties severed, what hearts seared or broken“who of woman born could bear the sight and live? But 'tis in mercy these things are hidden from our eyes.” Looking back upon a certain year's accumulated troubles, Mrs. Gaskell's Margaret Hale “wondered how they had been borne. If she could have anticipated them, how she would have shrunk away and hid herself from the coming time !” And yet day by day, it is explained, had of itself, and by itself, been very endurable—small, keen, bright little spots of positive enjoyment having come sparkling into the very middle of sorrows.
Margaret Hale does but exemplify in prose what Home's
“Had some good angel oped to me the book
Of ills which one by one I have endured.”
"That God, whose ministers good angels are,
Hath shut the book, in mercy to mankind.” Not but that this doctrine has found special recusants, if too generally taken, or, in their own instance, too particularly applied. “I have somewhere read,” says Caleb Williams, " that Heaven in mercy hides from us the future incidents of our life. My own experience does not well accord with this assertion.” And mentioning one critical occasion, he adds, that this once at least he should have been saved from insupportable labour and indescribable anguish, could he have foreseen what was then impending.–Sometimes the natural complaint is like that of Duke Ferdinand in John Webster's tragedy:
“Oh, most imperfect light of human reason,
That mak'st us so unhappy to foresee
What we can least prevent !”
“ Then did I see how that presentient shroud
Of grief, which raiseth many a fond complaint
Hurl'd from full joy.” To be ignorant of evils to come, as well as forgetful of past, Sir Thomas Browne hails as a merciful provision of nature, “whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days.” In another of his works the fine old physician would have us, in the heyday of prosperity, “think of sullen vicissitudes,” but beat not our brains to foreknow them. “Be armed against such obscurities, rather by submission than fore-know
ledge. The knowledge of future evils modifies present felicities,
And happy thou,
Thou couldst well see
Raise not the mud
· Dig not for woe
In times to come ; for it will grow.
He breaks the square.
I grow too wide,
He that would know
Unto those grounds,
But thro' a churchyard which them bounds." The assured knowledge of the exact minute of one's death may be treated religiously as a privilege, after the manner of appeals by gaol-chaplains to condemned-cell criminals; as where the clergyman of the Tolbooth Church bade Wilson and Robertson, convicted Porteous rioters, not despair on account of the suddenness of the summons, “but rather to feel this comfort in their misery, that, though all who now [in that church] lifted the voice, or bent the knee in conjunction with
them, lay under the same sentence of certain death, they only had the advantage of knowing the precise moment at which it should be executed upon them.” But how does Professor Henry Rogers treat the question, in its practical aspect, in his so-called “Vision about Prevision”? The seer, or foreseer, in that fantasiestück, when asked, concerning those who consult him as to the future, whether some at least do not wish to know the hour of their death—that they may duly prepare for it? answers, “That least of all. Not a soul will hear his tale told to the end ; they won't let us unveil to them the hour or the mode of their dissolution. ... They prefer having a veil thrown over the closing scene of their life. Like other play-goers, they do not like death to be actually exhibited on the stage, and willingly let the curtain fall ere the catastrophe.” Well, but the seer himself : he at any rate is above that weakness : he at any rate has inquired into the secret of his end ? “For what purpose?” is his reply: is not that knowledge the very misery of prisoners in the condemned cell ? are they not accounted miserable precisely because they are to die just that day month? will not hundreds, who pity them for that very circumstance, in fact die before them ? and yet are not these accounted happy in comparison, because they know it not?
“E'en the great shadow, Death, lost half its gloom
In kind oblivion of impending doom,” says one philosophical poet. Another, and a greater, in a poem on presentiments, has this among many stanzas addressed to them :
"'Tis said, that warnings ye dispense,
That men have lived for whom,
Should knell them to the tomb.
Unwelcome insight !”— that is the comment, that the note of exclamation, with which Wordsworth commences the stanza next ensuing. When death has invaded the quiet rectory in Miss Tytler's Huguenot story,