Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

her expatches, en els to look one's own to

we have each servant mysteriously and fanatically delivering her experience in the matter of corpse-candles, death-spells, death-watches, etc., so that one might have learned for all one's life afterwards to look on one's death as a dark fate, haunting and hovering over one's own person and those of beloved friends, from which there is no escape, not even by prayer and fasting; might have learned to “look out for it in dim prognostications, to watch for it, and anticipate its cruel blows in incipient madness.—'Our Bibles say we know not the day nor the hour,' said Grandmère ; ‘but He knows—that is enough.”” One of La Bruyère's pensées sur la mort is, that “ce qu'il y a de certain dans la mort, est un peu adouci par ce qui est incertain : c'est un indéfini dans le tems, qui tient quelque chose de l'infini, et de ce qu'on appelle éternité." Byron indeed utters the remonstrant query,

Ah! why do darkening shades conceal

The hour when man must cease to be ? " But his sigh was little in the spirit of the Psalmist's prayer to be made to know his end, and the measure of his days, what it was.

BEATIFIC VISION AND OVERSHADOWING CLOUD.

ST. LUKE ix. 34. To the three favoured apostles it was granted by their

1 Master to be eye-witnesses of His majesty, when they were with Him on the holy mount. They saw the fashion of His countenance altered, and His raiment become white and glistering. They saw with Him in glory Moses, whose burial-place no man knew, and Elijah, who was translated that he should not see death. And Peter said it was good to be there, and he desired to make that mount of transfiguration a dwelling-place, and to prolong the splendours of that beatific vision. Three tabernacles he proposed to rear, in that eager impetuosity which so often marked his character; at present scarcely knowing what he said, but conscious of a privileged apocalypse, and deprecating its speedy withdrawal. But “while he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them; and they feared as they entered into the cloud.”

So it was again at a later day, and upon another mount, when the risen Master was asked by His assembled apostles would He at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Brief was the reply, and no sooner uttered than, while they beheld-gazed wistfully, hopingly, longingly, on the Presence they had so lately lost, and were now eager to retain—while they beheld, “ He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”

The overshadowing cloud to mar the sunshine is one of the commonest of common-places in man's experience. Perpetually being verified in prosaic reality, all too real, is the poet's image

"Across the sunbeam, with a sudden gloom,

A ghostly shadow flitted,” Medio de fonte leporum surgit amari aliquid. The very exuberance of human happiness tends to suggest its opposite.

Gibbon felt simply as a man when he felt what he has described in a memorable passage relating to his sense of gratified triumph at the conclusion of his magnum opus. It was between the hours of eleven and twelve, he records, on a calm night in June, that he wrote the last lines of his last page in a summer-house in his garden at Lausanne. After laying down his pen, he took several turns in a covered walk of acacias, which commanded a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. “I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that whatsoever might be the future date of my history the life of the historian must be short and precarious.” It is the common lot. It is but another reading of the complaint in Prior's pastorals—

“Yet thus beloved, thus loving to excess,

Yet thus receiving and returning bliss,
In this great moment, in this golden Now,

A melancholy tear afflicts my eye,
And my heart labours with a sudden sigh ;
Invading fears repel my coward joy,

And ills foreseen the present bliss destroy." Or as elsewhere the same poet gloomily exclaims, and fruitlessly supplicates

“ O impotent estate of human life,

Where hope and fear maintain eternal strife !
Where fleeting joy does lasting doubt inspire,
And most we question what we most desire !
Amongst Thy various gifts, great Heaven, bestow
Our cup of love unmixed; forbear to throw
Bitter ingredients in ; nor pall the draught

With nauseous grief.” Hardly can it be called, though the author of “The Ring and the Book” does call it,

... “strange how, even when most secure
In our domestic peace, a certain dim
And fitting shade can sadden all ; it seems
A restlessness of heart, a silent yearning,

A sense of something wanting, incomplete.” A thought comes over us sometimes in our career of pleasure, Lord Lytton remarks, or in the exultation of our ambitious pursuits, a thought comes over us like a cloud, that around us and about us Death, Shame, Crime, Despair, are busy at their work. He tells us what he has read somewhere of an enchanted land where the inmates walked along voluptuous gardens, and built palaces, and heard music, and made merry; while around and within the land were deep caverns, where the gnomes and the fiends dwelt; and ever and

[ocr errors]

anon their groans and laughter, and the sounds of their unutterable toils or ghastly revels, travelled to the upper air, mixing in an awful strangeness with the summer festivity and buoyant occupation of those above. And this he claims to be a picture of human life.

Always there is a black spot in our sunshine, exclaims Mr. Carlyle ; and he tells us what it is, “the shadow of ourselves.”

At a seeming crisis of assured prosperity the heroine of a French roman is made to exclaim, “ The future is all our own—the radiant future, without cloud or obstacle, pure in the immensity of its horizon, and extending beyond the reach of sight.” But while she thus speaks her features suddenly assume an expression of touching melancholy, as she adds, in a voice of profound emotion, “ And yet—at this very hour—so many unfortunate creatures are suffering pain !" So with the young hero in one of Mr. Hannay's fictions : “In that moment he felt that he had attained a new stage of life ; yet, an instant's reaction seized him, as in every fruition through one's progress in time comes that curious moment's speck, the touch of an unseen hand, that seems to tell you, “Too much joy is not for you here.' It passed away, having just dashed his triumph as it always does.” At a later stage in this adventurer's career the ebb of his spirits is made the text of a paragraph comparing them to a ship in the tropics, where a light wind comes, and dies again, and leaves you becalmed, or the horizon blackens suddenly and death seems impending in the unhealthy air. “Few things are more touching than that peculiar melancholy which sometimes comes over one in theatres or at feasts, and reminds us of the dark element in nature and the heart ... which chills the philosopher and the pleasure-taker. ... When the light southerner of old got a glimpse of it he called for his lyre and his garlands; but roses will not charm it away from the deep heart of the child of the Teuton, and he sees its awful shadow trembling in the wine.” The English Opiumeater somewhere professes to derive from the spectacle of dancing, where the motion is continuous and the music not of a trivial character but charged with the spirit of festal pleasure, “ the very grandest form of passionate sadness which can belong to any spectacle whatever.” Wordsworth is treating of presentiments when he says that,

“ The laughter of the Christmas hearth
With sighs of self-exhausted mirth

They feelingly reprove.” And of such is Currer Bell too treating in a passage that tells of the writer's fancy budding fresh and her heart basking in sunshine; only these feelings “were well kept in check by the secret but ceaseless consciousness of anxiety lying in wait on enjoyment, like a tiger crouched in a jungle. The breathing of that beast of prey was in my ear always.” 'EŚ ηδονής γάρ φύεται το δυστυχείν.

" Who knows what that low sullen murmur means,

The river's fall sends up to blast life's fairest scenes ?” The happiest, as Pope's Homer has it, “ taste not happiness sincere, but find the cordial draught is dashed with care.” What biography of successful ambition but has its parallel passage to one in Prescott's history of the conqueror of Peru: “Amidst this burst of adulation the cup of joy commended to Pizarro's lips had one drop of bitterness in it that gave its flavour to all the rest”! As M. Ampére's Cleopatra owns,

“Oui, parmi les plaisirs, la joie et les festins,

Je médite du sort les arrêts incertains.” How apt, at a bright banquet, is the thought of death to flash across the mind, is trite among the truisms of experience. It was at Belshazzar's feast, while they drank wine out of the golden vessels of the temple, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone, when the revelry was at its height and the revellers at their best, that in the same hour there came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his

« НазадПродовжити »