« НазадПродовжити »
and strange and pity it is that such recollections, which renovate the soul of one human creature, should plunge another into affliction. And
yet I have recently seen this contrast in such strongly marked colours, that I cannot help describing it in illustration of these observations. For I have lately visited two of my oldest friends, both very old men, whose dispositions (as opposite as light and darkness) exhibit abundant proofs of the truth of this reasoning. One of them, whom from his melancholy temper I will designate by the name of SomBROSO, is certainly past the full age of man, and on this account he says he has already closed his life; though, to look at him, several years seem yet to remain to him, for his
“Age is as a lusty winter,
Frosty, but kindly." He has no secret grief, and as little, perhaps, any secret sin. Yet he has long fled the world, from the persuasion that he has survived all its interests; and memory, so far from consoling him, only adds to his griefs. I found him, therefore, in a most mournful state of querulousness, and though looking still with a degree of freshness, preparing himself, and wishing, as he said, to die.
He is fond of the writings of Sir William Temple, but
says, “ what he best remembers, and what is most fit to be remembered, is Sir William's opinion, that when he considered how many noble, how many estimable men, and how many lovely and agreeable women he had outlived, among his friends, he thought it looked impertinent in him to be alive.” In reading to me this melancholy effusion, SOMBROSO sighed from the bottom of his heart, and said: “That is exactly my case; already in the tomb from the total deprivation of all that can make life interesting, the sooner I close this rapid existence, and the less I think of its former aspect, the better.”
When I combated this, and told him how much former usefulness ought to console him, and the memory of former pleasures refresh him, he observed with a still deeper sigh, “Remembered only to show more forcibly that we are pushed from our stools by more favoured competitors :” and then, in the language of the sinking king, he burst out with —
6 • Let me not live
All but new things disdain.' "No!
I wish too,
I quickly were dissolved from the hive.”” In answer to this I observed, that it was true in old age men should change their objects, and consent to renounce pleasures for which, by Nature's decree, they had become unfit; yet that change was not extinction, and that other pleasures remained to those who did not disdain to enjoy them; that even a good dinner and easy chair were not despicable to some who yet called themselves philosophers; that the contemplation of the works of Nature were an unfailing resource; that he was still alive, if he
pleased, to the pleasures of the liberal arts, music and painting; and that, even if the perception of these last were weakened by the weakening of his senses, the remembrance of his former delight in them might still afford a rich mental treat. But, superior to these, I reminded him of the still higher and never changing satisfaction he must feel in works of benevolence, for which his fortune sufficed, in looking back upon a useful and well-spent life, and in the many powerful friendships his public services had achieved. Finally, and chief of all, I urged the fair hopes of a
I hereafter, where disappointment never comes.
To all this he replied, that “the pleasures of mere ease of body, or of the table, were too sensual to be valued by a man of mind; that, as to a well spent life, all consciousness of it was lost in the reflection of how many opportunities he had missed of doing better; that his growing infirmities took away all power to contemplate the works of Nature; his fear for his eyesight, all the pleasures of reading. Then, as to succouring distress, what was it but to encourage idleness, and hold out a premium for ingratitude; and, as to powerful friendships, nothing could be so miscalled, for the services that created them being at an end, so were the friendships; thus all was mockery. Last, and worst of all, the cheerfulness of the hope of a hereafter was destroyed by its fears, and at best by the doubt which everywhere poisoned it. I have, therefore,” concluded he, while he absolutely groaned, “ nothing left but the privilege of thinking everything vanity and vexation of spirit,
and of seeking some decent corner in which to lie down and die.”
Shocked and mortified at this failure of my endeavour to bring SOMBROSO to a better state of mind, and perceiving the inutility of continuing the discourse, I took my leave in sorrow; nor, though there was no immediate danger to his health, did I recover my tranquillity until after a visit I afterwards paid to iny happier friend HILARIO. This gentleman is even two or three years older than SOMBROSO, and by no means in such enjoyable health, being subject to the gout. He carries it off, however, by congratulating himself that it is not the stone; and, though his looks bespeak him more of an invalid than SOMBROSO, they show far more internal happiness. This is entirely owing to that constitutional temperament so praised by Hume, of which he is fully aware, for he makes no pretence to philosophy, least of all to stoicism.
He too, like SOMBROSO, has been distinguished in public life ; from which also, like him, he has retired with reputation; but feels not, like him, that he is undervalued, or his services forgotten, because, in the struggles in which he owns he is no longer fit to mix, and from which, therefore, he himself retired, he cannot be treated as the partisan he was.
66 To know when and how to retire,” he says, “is one of the great secrets of life; and, when no longer useful, not to expect the same treatment as if you were still so, another. A faded beauty, still seeking the admiration of a ball-room, is not more deservedly ridiculous," he says,
“than a worn-out worldly politician still seeking
high place. But this superannuation deprives you not either of the respect or the rewards you
have earned; and the enjoyment of these you will not the less value, because they are the consequence of services already performed, not what are expected.” His difference of feeling on this point with SOMBROSO is remarkable. The cause of SOMBROSO's unhappiness on this subject he knows full well, and says
proceeds entirely from a mistake of his own in thinking a partnership in a political struggle the same thing as private friendship. This it is not, unless accompanied by all those qualities and that intercourse which combine to establish the reciprocity of private regard. The other is a mere partnership for a particular object, which being obtained, or laid aside, the partnership is at an end.
All this is good sense, without requiring more than common equanimity to steer us without harm through the changes of life. But where this constitutional equanimity is wanting, and the unfavourable is the preferred side of things, as with SOMBROSO, the morning as well as the evening of life is overcast, and our approaching departure from the world loses all those consolations, which a different constitution, such as Hilario's, might present. I have said, that the visit I paid him made amends for that to Som
His cheerfulness was most exhilarating; his unaffected content, whether he looked backward or forward, put one in good-humour with one's self and with the world; but, above all, his remembrance of
! things, which to SOMBROSO was a black cloud, was to