« НазадПродовжити »
Marcus Antoninus calls it as unreasonable to expect an ill conditioned fellow not to act after his sort, as to desire that an unripe fig should not taste of the tree, that children should not squall in the cradle, nor horses neigh, nor other creatures follow the bent of their being. In Mark Tapley's homely phrase, touching a race much addicted to crowing, they are like the cock that went and hid himself to save his life, and was found out by the noise he made : “ They can't help crowing. They was born to do it; and do it they must, whatever comes of it.” The writer of an essay entitled The Leopard and his Spots comments forcibly on the persistency with which some people, in the face of all experience, go on expecting a given line of conduct from a person whose whole character renders such conduct as sheer an impossibility as it is for a bramble to produce grapes, or for a thistle to bring forth figs. They do not, says the essayist, recognise that it is character which makes the difference between one kind of man and another, or that the differences thus established are as generic as those between an ass and a horse, between a block of granite and a reach of shifting sand. You can never bring a crab to walk straight, says Aristophanes : OŰTOTE TOLÝCELS Tòv kaprívov opēà Badičev. The time had been when Cooper's old Leatherstocking thought it possible to make a companion of a beast. “Many are the cubs and many are the speckled fawns that I have reared with these old hands, until I have even fancied them rational and altered beings; but what did it amount to ? the bear would bite and the deer would run, notwithstanding my conceit in fancying that I could change a temper that the Lord Himself had seen fit to bestow."1 Molière's Gros-René is racily severe upon,
1 In no unlike spirit the author of Elsie Venner describes the feelings with which one marks a gray rat steal out of a drain, and begin gnawing at the bark of some tree loaded with fruit or blossoms, which he will soon girdle, if he is let alone. The first impulse is to murder him with the nearest ragged stone. But “then one remembers that he is a rodent, acting after the law of his kind, and cools down, and is contented to drive him off and guard the tree against his teeth for the future.” Macaulay's scathing onslaught on Barère, if it can find aught in excuse of him, finds
“Un certain animal difficile à connaître,
Et de qui la nature est fort encline au mal :
Que femme, tant qu'entier le monde durera.” As homely a satirist of another stock declaims on the assured fact that, however moralists may chatter, 'tis certain nature will be always nature : “we can't brew Burgundy from sour small beer, nor make a silken purse of a sow's ear"; and elsewhere, that “ To try to wash an ass's face, is really labour to misplace, and loss of time as well as soap.” Ass's face, leopard's spots, or sow's entire surface, it matters not. Ad mores natura recurrit Damnatos, fixa et mutari nescia. It has been said, or sung, of the slender beech and the sapling oak, that grow by the shadowy rill, you may cut down both at a single stroke, or cut down which you will:
“ But this you must know, that as long as they grow,
Whatever change may be,
To be aught but a greenwood tree.”
it in the nature of the beast. What the planters of Carolina and Louisiana say, or used to say, of black men with flat noses and woolly hair was, Macaulay affirms, strictly true of Barère: the curse of Canaan was upon him ; he was born a slave; baseness was an instinct in him. The impulse which drove him from a party in adversity to a party in prosperity was “as irresistible as that which drives the cuckoo and the swallow towards the sun when the dark and cold months are approaching.” Those who had to do with him are accordingly said to have felt no more hatred to him than they felt to the horses which dragged the cannon of the foe. The horses had only done according to their kind. “So was it with Barère. He was of a nature so low, that it might be doubted whether he could properly be an object of the hostility of reasonable beings.” As Philinte discourses in Le Misanthrope :
" — Mon esprit enfin n'est pas plus offensé
De voir un homme fourbe, injust, intéressé,
De singes malfaisants, et des loups pleins de rage.” All that you can expect from these lower natures is that they shall keep to their line of talent. As Pope puts it: “Bulls aim their horns and asses lift their heels; 'tis a bear's talent not to kick, but hug; and no man wonders he's not stung by Pug." We call a nettle but a nettle, and the faults of fool but folly, quoth old Menenius Agrippa.
A cart horse, says Cowper, might perhaps be taught to play tricks in the riding school, and might prance and curvet like his betters, but at some unlucky time would be sure to betray the baseness of his original. Smollett tells a story (and Mr. Hayward after him) of a troop of monkeys, who, under the management of an able trainer, had been taught to go through a succession of military movements with surprising precision, till one evening a spectator threw a handful of nuts among them, and in an instant they were scattered about the stage, chattering, screaming, biting, scratching, in hot contention for the spoil. Natural inclinations, says Montaigne, are much assisted and fortified by education, but are not really changed, much less extirpated, by any such ordinary means, the original qualities (or effects defective, as Polonius might say) are not to be rooted out, though they may be covered and concealed. Lucan is quoted to the purpose :
“ Sic ubi desuetæ silvis in carcere clausæ
Fervet, et a trepido vix abstinet ira magistro.”l Archdeacon Hare somewhere remarks that age seems to take away the power of acting a character, even from those who have done so the most successfully during the main part of their lives; the real man will appear, at first fitfully, and then predominantly. “Time spares the chiselled beauty of stone and marble, but makes sad havoc in plaster and stucco.” In Petronius Arbiter's phrase, Vera redit facies,
1“ So beasts of prey, imprisoned in a cage,
Grow tame, abandoning their native rage
As if their trembling keepers they would tear.” Lucan is here Englished, as also Montaigne above, by an old, if not also in the old phrase an eminent, hand.
dissimulata perit; or as La Bruyère says, “ La différence d'un homme qui se revêt d'un caractère étranger à lui-même, quand il rentre dans le sien, est celle d'un masque à un visage.” Mr. Tennyson reminds us that
“ The churl in spirit, howe'er he veil
His want in forms for fashion's sake,
At seasons through the gilded pale.” For who can always act? To apply Dryden's couplet : “Reaching beyond our nature does no good; we must fall back to our old flesh and blood.” Or, with Shenstone,
“See the rich churl, amid the social sons
Like Demea, in the play, benign and mild,
Revibrates quick, etc. In describing Sir William Ashton's ostentatious display of his wealth, Scott is alert to let us discover “his native meanness, however carefully veiled.” A French biographer of Mézeray takes as text for a paragraph the psychological fact that avec les années les gouts cachés se découvrent. Many a suppressed fault comes out strong with the wrinkles of age.many a restrained or concealed foible se démasque en vieillissant.
There is often, as Sainte-Beuve puts it in his Causerie sur le Marquis de la Fare, some one deep and dominant demerit in a man, some hidden vice whose existence is dissembled, which is ashamed to be recognised as what it is, and which is fain to disguise itself, while youth lasts, under other and pleasing forms; but wait a while, let the years run on, and this hidden vice grows tired of disguises and dissimulations; the mask drops off or wears away, and what is disguised or dissembled is seen clear as day, if also dark as night.
DOMINEERING DIOTREPHES; OR, PRATING FOR
3 Ep. John, 9, 10. 'O pilotporeúmv avtão Acorpedýs : “ Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them,” “receiveth us not,” writes the elder to the well beloved Gaius,—“prating against us with malicious words.” The verb pilotpoteúelv occurs in Polybius in the sense of to domineer; and Plutarch is cited for the equivalent phrase πάντα πρωτεύειν βουλόμενος. The race of domineering praters is not likely to die out. In all times it has flourished, and in all climes. Many prate themselves into pre-eminence with malicious words or otherwise, by dint of pushing without scruple, of prosing without mercy, of self assertion and self glorification, and all for love of having pre-eminence, with the profits, real or reputed, thereunto attached, or thence accruing.
Some men, as Emerson says, love only to talk where they are masters; they like to go to school girls or to boys, or into shops where the sauntering people gladly lend an ear to any one. They go rarely to their equals; “listen badly, or do not listen to the comment or the thought by which the company strive to repay them ; rather, as soon as their own speech is done, they take their hats.” Swift's readers could supply the name of the person indicated in that paragraph of his Essay on Conversation, where he professes to know a man of wit who is never easy but where he can be allowed to dictate and preside, who expects neither to be informed or entertained, but to display his own talents, whose business is to be good company and not good conversation, and who therefore chooses to frequent those only who are content to listen and profess themselves his admirers; witlings and sucking Templars, who every sentence raise, and wonder with a foolish face of praise. The dean bids Vanessa, in one of his letters, “ visit your neighbours, the worse the better; there is a pleasure in being reverenced.” His Very Reverence knew, or ought to have known that, experimentally, as well as most