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Rasselas believes himself to have found in a certain rhetorical sage a wise and happy man, who, from the unshaken throne of rational fortitude, looks down on the scenes of life changing beneath him. But anon the sage is found to be querulously disconsolate at a family bereavement. “Sir," says the prince to him, “mortality is an event by which a wise man can never be surprised : we know that death is always near, and it should therefore always be expected.” “Young man," answers the philosopher, “you speak like one that has never felt the pangs of separation.” “ Have you then forgotten,” asks Rasselas, “the precepts which you so powerfully enforced? Has wisdom no strength to arm the heart against calamity ? Consider that external things are naturally variable, but truth and reason are always the same.” “What comfort," returns the mourner, “can truth and reason afford me? Of what effect are they now, but to tell me that my daughter will not be restored ?" And the prince, whose humanity will not suffer him to insult misery with reproof, goes away convinced of the emptiness of rhetorical sound, and the inefficacy of polished periods and studied sentences.
The French moralist's note of exclamation is noteworthy : “Combien de belles et inutiles raisons à étaler à celui qui est dans une grande adversité, pour essayer de le rendre tranquille !" One touch of nature there is in Addison's Marcus, when he impatiently breaks in upon his brother's polished periods and studied sentences, meant to tranquillize :
“These are suggestions of a mind at ease:
O Portius! didst thou taste but half the griefs
It is easy, says Jeremy Taylor, for him that is well to give a sick man counsel : Verum tu si hic esses, certè aliter sentires : “when it comes to be his own case, when the sickness pinches him, ... where 's the fine oration then ?” Gentleman Waife, in a well-known fiction, is described as adopting, on a particular occasion, the general method of consolers who set out on the principle that grief is a matter of logic, delivering himself accordingly of a series of reflections with a vigour of ratiocination which "admitted of no reply, and conveyed not a particle of comfort.” When Margaret Ramsay, in Scott's Nigel, is exhorted by the Lady Hermione to cultivate patience, “the only remedy against the evils of my life,” “Yes, madam,” she answers, drying her eyes, and trying in vain to suppress her present impatience, “I have heard so, very often indeed; and I dare say I have myself (heaven forgive me!) said so to people in perplexity and affliction ; but it was before I had suffered perplexity and vexation myself.” Parson Adams essaying to compose and calm down Joseph Andrews, with smooth drawn periods of unexceptionable soundness, “O) sir,” cries Joseph, "all this is very true, and very fine, and I could hear you all day, if I was not sọ grieved at heart as now I am.” “Would you take physic," says Adams, “when you are well, and refuse it when you are sick? Is not comfort to be administered to the afflicted, and not to those who rejoice, or to those who are at ease ?” “Oh, you have not spoke one word of comfort to me yet," cries Joseph. Nor is he more amenable to the parson's citation of wise men and philosophers who have written against the folly of grief, “ quoting several passages from Seneca, and the Consolation, which, though it was not Cicero's, was, he [Adams) said, as good almost as any of his works."1 Mr. Dickens characterizes the stoicism of his Mr. Dennis as of that
Some eight or nine chapters later, Parson Adams himself falls into sore trouble. Tidings suddenly reach him that his youngest boy is drowned. And Joseph has ample opportunity of noting how much easier it is for even a ripe scholar and parish priest to give advice than take it; to “offer” consolation than to accept and appropriate it, in his own hour of need.
A kind physician, in Mrs. Gaskell's North and South, endeavours to console an affectionate rector, who has just lost his wife : “But all the reply he got, was in the choked words, “You have never been married, Dr. Donaldson ; you do not know what it is'; and in the deep, manly sobs, which went through the stillness of the night like heavy pulses of agony."
Mackenzie's Montauban is for once, and at once, kind and wise, when he says, on coming to see Roubigné on the day of losing his wife, “I will not endeavour to stop the current of your grief: that comfort which
not uncommon kind, which enables a man to bear with exemplary fortitude the afflictions of his friends, but renders him, by way of counterpoise, rather selfish and sensitive in regard of any that happen to befall himself. Epictetus in his Enchiridion points out that if the son or the wife of another dies everybody is ready to declare, “ It is the common fate of mortals”: but if their own dies, immediately their exclamation is, “Woe's me! Wretched, most wretched !” “Pâov trapalveîv, madóvta kaptepeîv, says one old gnomic versemaker. And another, 'Etepóv ti toù déyelv éoti TÒ TETOVO éval. Goethe's officious counsellor and ex officio comforter, the irrepressible Mittler, is rebuffed on one occasion with the retort: “It is well for the man who is happy, who has all that he desires, to talk : but he would be ashamed of it if he could see how intolerable it is to the sufferer.” Farther on we have this from the lips of the same speaker : “ It is only when we suffer ourselves, that we feel really the true nature of all the high qualities which are required for the endurance of suffering." As the Roman poet words it in an old English play, by way of plea for one whose plaints are loud and instant :
“We may read constancy and fortitude
To other souls; but had ourselves been struck . . .
the world offers at times like these flows not from feeling, and cannot be addressed to it.”
The bereaved father, in Hood's Tylney Hall, is not quieted, but disquieted in vain, by the words of condolence (for they are vain words, and therefore words in vain) of his friend the justice. “You think I'm womanish,” said the baronet, “but it's easy for a father who has not lost a son, to say, Compose yourself, to one who has.”
The bereaved autobiographer of the Gates Ajar finds all her neighbours of one accord that she is to become “resigned in an arithmetical manner, and comforted according to the Rule of Three. .. If nobody need ever speak any more words to me!” is her wailing wish : “ If anybody only knew what to say ! Little Mrs. Bland has been ever very kind, and I thank her with all my heart. But she does not know, She does not understand. Her happy heart is bound up in her little live children. She never laid anybody away under the snow without a chance to say good-bye!"
A scene later there occurs this passage between two other Roman poets, Tibullus and Propertius:
“ Tib. You yield too much unto your griefs and fate,
Prop. Oh, peace, Tibullus ! your philosophy
No weight of my oppression.” It has sometimes occasioned expressions of surprise that the earliest of English tragedies, the Ferrex and Porrex of Sackville, Earl of Dorset (played at Whitehall in 1616), should contain lines so free from crabbed age, and the signs of it, as those in which Acastus counsels Gorboduc, and these in which Gorboduc appraises the counsel :
“Many can yield right sage and grave advice
Of patient sprite to others wrapt in woe,
LUKE xvi. 14. THE alleged impossibility of at once serving God and
1 mammon-summing up our Lord's discourse on the true riches, and the unrighteous and therefore untrue—this was a hard saying for the Pharisees to bear; who among them could bear it? But then again, who among them could answer it, disprove it, refute it? That was not easy. But it was easy to sneer. So they sneered. And, as Paley said of Gibbon, who can refute a sneer?
All those things about the mammon of unrighteousness, and unfaithful stewardship, and divided service, “ The Pharisees, also who were covetous, heard . ... and they derided Him." The Greek is é teplukt“picov: they sneered, or almost literally, in our homely phrase, they “turned up their noses” at Him; for the derivation is from puktúp, nose. The verb occurs again in chap. xxiii. 35, where we read that while the people stood beholding the Crucified One, the rulers also with them “derided Him," é EEUUKTpicov–bidding Him that had saved others save Himself, if He were indeed the Christ, the chosen of God. (Save Himself? But had He not come to save that which was lost?)
The sneer of Gibbon is characterised as "solemn" by Byron -himself accomplished in the art of sneering, though seldom of a solemn sort: the historian is pictured in his Lausanne retreat, hiving wisdom with each studious year, shaping his weapon with an edge severe—
“Sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer;
The lord of irony—that master spell
Which stung his foes to wrath.” One of Byron's best known figures in fiction is duly provided for out of the same armoury:
“There was a laughing devil in his sneer,
That raised emotions both of rage and fear.” Self-portrayed, the poet, in this as in other salient points of the same painting. Avowedly he could, and would, and did sneer when the humour took him, which was often enough, much in the mode of Goethe's Mephistopheles : “If I sneer sometimes, it is because I cannot well do less, and now and then it also suits my rhymes." All sneers, Frederick Robertson asserts, are shallow and superficial. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes somewhere remarks that men who see into their neighbours are very apt to be contemptuous; whereas men who see through them find something lying behind every human soul which it
1 Analogous in the Latin is the Naso suspendis adunco of Horace ; and in Persius, the expressive “. . . Rides : et nimis naribus indulges.”
The Greek verb is the rendering of Solomon's “A foolish man despiseth his mother” (Prov. xv. 20), as it is also of the cruel mockery of Psalm xxii. 7, and even of Divine derision, fearfully suggestive, in Psalm ii. 4.