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Curves round the cornfield and the hill of vines,
Questenburg. O, hear your father, noble youth! hear him Who is at once the hero and the man.
Oct. My son, the nursling of the camp spoke in thee.
Mar. 0, let the emperor make peace, my father!
Oct. What ails thee? What so moves thee, all at once?
Max. Peace have I ne'er beheld ? I have beheld it.
Oct. And so your journey has revealed this to you?
Max. 'Twas the first leisure of my life. 0, tell me, What is the mced and purpose of the toil,
The painful toil, which robbed me of my youth,
Oc. Much hast thou learnt, my son, in this short journey.
Mar. 0! day thrice lovely! when at length the soldier
SCHILLER, TRANSLATED BY COLERIDOI.
CLXIII. — TIE VANITY AND GLORY OF LITERATURE.
1. PARADOXICALE as it may seem, the chief cause of the virtual oblivion of books is no longer their extinction, but the fond care with which they are preserved, and their immensely rapid multiplication. The press is more than a match for the moth and the worm, or the mondering hand of time; yet the great destroyer equally fulfils his commission, by burying books under the pyramides which is formed by their accumulation. It is a striking example of the im'potence with which man struggles against tho destiny which awaits him and his works, that the very means hu takes to insure immortality destroy it; that the very activity of the press, of the instrument by which he seemed to have taken
pledges against time and fortune, is that which will make hir the spoil of both. The books themselves may no longer die ; but their spirit does : and they become like old men whose bodies have outlived their minds, — a spectacle more piteous than death itself.
2. It is really curious to look into the index of such learnëd writers as Jeremy Taylor, Cudworth, or Leibnitz, and to see the havoc which has been made on the memory of the greater part of the writers they cite, and who still exist, though no longer to be cited; of nien who were their great contemporaries or immediate predecessors, and who are quoted by them just as Locke or Burke is quoted by us. Of scarcely one in ten of these grave authorities has the best-informed student of our day read ten pages. The very names of vast numbers have all but perished; at all events, havo died out of familiar remembrance. Let the student, who flatters himself that he is not ill-informed, glance over the index of even such a work as Hallam's “ History of European Literature,” – designed only to record the more memorable names, — and ask himself of how many of the authors there mentioned he has read so much as even five pages. It will be enough to chastise all ordinary conceit of extensive attainments, and, perhaps, as effectually as anything, teach a man that truest kind of knowledge, the knowledge of his own ignorance.
3. But, without a gibe, to the destiny of the honest writer, even though but moderately successful, and much more if long and widely popular, is surely glorious and enviable. It may be true that he is to die, — for we do not count the record of a name, when the works are no longer read, as anything better than an epitaph, and even that may vanish; yet to come into contact with other minds, even though for limited periods, -- to move them by a silent influence, to coöperate in the construction of character, to mould the habits of thought, to promote the dominion of truth and virtue, to exercise a spell over those one has never seen and never can see, - in other climes, at the extremity of the globe, and when the hand that wrote it is still forover, — is surely a most wonderful and even awful prerogative. It comes nearer to the idea of the immediate influence of spirit on spirit than anything else with which this world presents us. It is of a purely moral nature ; it is also silent as the dew, invisible as the wind !
4. We can adequately conceive of such an influence only by imagining ourselves, under the privilege of Gyges,er to gaze, invisible, on the solitary reader as he pores over a favorite author, and watch in his countenance, as in a mirror, the reflection of the page which holds him captive; now knitting his brow over a
difficult argument, and deriving at once discipline and knowledge by the effort; now relaxing into smiles at wit and humor; now dwelling with a glistening eye on tenderness and pathos; and, in either case, the subject of emotions which not only constitute the mood of the moment, but, in their measure, coöperate to the formation of those habits which issue in character and conduct; now yielding up some fond illusion to the force of truth, and anon betrayed into another by the force of sophistry ;EI now rebuked for some vice or folly, and binding himself with renewed vows to the service of virtue; and now sympathizing with the too faithful delineation of vicious passions and depraved pleasures, and strengthening by one more rivet the dominion of evil over the soul !
5. Surely, to be able to wield such a power as this implies, in any degree and for limited periods, is a stupendous attribute ; one which, if more deeply pondered, would frequently cause a writer to pause and tremble, as though his pen had been the rod of an enchanter. Happy those who have wielded it well, and who, “dying, leave no line they wish to blot.” Happier, far happier such, in the prospect of speedy extinction, than those whose loftier genius promises immortality of fame, and whose abuse of it renders that immortality a curse. Melancholy, indeed, is the lot of all, whose high endowments have been worse than wasted; who have left to that world which they were born to bless only a legacy of shame and sorrow; whose vices and follies, unlike those of other men, are not permitted to die with them, but continue active for evil after the men themselves are dust.
6. It becomes every one who aspires to be a writer to remember this. The ill which other men do, for the most part, dies with them. Not, indeed, that this is literally true, even of the obscurest of the species. We are all but links in a vast chain which stretches from the dawn of time to the consummation of all things, and unconsciously receive and transmit a subtle influence. As we are, in a great measure, what our forefathers made us, so our posterity will be what we make them; and it is a thought which may well make us both proud and afraid of our destiny. But such truths, though universally applicable, are more worthy of being pondered by great authors than by any other class of men. These outlive their age ; and their thoughts continue to operate immediately on the spirit of their race. How sad, to one who feels that he has abused his high trust, to know that he is to perpetuate his vices; that he has spoken a spell for evil, and cannot unsay it; that the poisoned shaft has left the bow, and cannot be recalled !
7 Even such authors, however, will reach the oblivion they
have desired, at last ; for this must be the ultimate doom (what ever might otherwise have been the case) of all who have set at defiance the maxims of decency, morality, and religion, however bright their genius, and however vast their powers. As the world grows older, and, we trust, better, — as it approximates to that state of religious and moral elevation which Christianity warrants us to anticipate,- many a production which a licentious age has pardoned for its genius will be thrown aside in spite of it. In that day, if genius rebelliously refuse, as it assuredly will not, — for the highest genius has not even hitherto refused, – to consecrate itself to goodness, the world will rather turn to the humblest productions which are instinct with virtue, than to the fairest works of genius when polluted by vice. In a word, the long idolatry of intellect which has enslaved the world will be broken; and that world will perceive that, bright as genius may be, virtue is brighter still.
CLXIV. — FROM MILTON'S “PARADISE LOST.”
1. On His BLINDNESS.
2. March OF THE REBEL ANGELS.