« PreviousContinue »
I embark into the consideration of the question respecting that kind of life which the appellation I have adopted implies.
I cautiously avoid recurring to out-door opinions, as a clew to lead me through the labyrinth of my present investigation. For, although it would be an easy matter to furnish myself with much matter pro and con, from almost any volume picked out of my library at random, yet my mind would derive little satisfaction from the contradictory sentiments of those, who were governed in their choice of life by the peculiar complexion of their own character and affairs. For example, it has been said, on the one side, that the love of solitude is the offspring of chagrin caused by shame or ridicule; that the passions of men, irritated by solitude, hover round these regions of death and silence; that nobody eulogises solitude but he who despairs of cutting a figure at court; that the spirit of man is an active principle, and therefore he that withdraws himself from the world, before he has finished the part he had to act, deserves to be hissed, and cannot pass for virtuous, because he refuses to continue on to the catastrophe; that the worst of men is he, who, persisting in shutting himself up in a closet, contracts his heart more and more within himself; and Diderot (I think) declares very roundly that the good man lives in society whilst none but the bad chooses to live alone. On the other hand, we are told that every kind of evil proceeds from not being able to live alone-such as gaming, debaucheries, dissipations, ignorance, slander, envy, forgetfulness of ourselves and duties. Who, asks some writer, has ever felt the sublime of a solitary desert? How rapturous to listen in the stillness of solitude! How happy is the man who knows how to live with himself, to find pleasure in his own company! I think the venerable Montaigne says, that it is no small matter to manage well one's retreat from the bustle of life, and that to do so affords employment enough without mixing other business with it. If Providence confers upon us leisure to dispose of ourselves by living in retirement, let us make preparations for it, get our baggage ready, take an early leave of our company, and disentangle ourselves from those pur
suits which, by detaining our attention, keep us at a distance from ourselves. La Fontaine makes one of his characters declare that the true greatness of the philosopher is to reign over himself, and his true pleasure to enjoy himself: this greatness and this pleasure are to be found in solitude, and scarcely any where else. I do not, continues he, pretend to say that this kind of life is suitable for every body; to me it is a comfort and a blessing; for you it might be an evil.
If I had not promised to wave the weight of authorities, in frying this question, I would rally round the concluding sentiment of La Fontaine, which leaves room for a very liberal decision. When I cast my eyes around, how am I struck with the diversity of human characters and pursuits, the disparity of their fortunes, and the difference in their expectations! Before we minutely pry into the minor subdivisions of society, the first distinct classification of the great mass of mankind appears to be three-fold. The sons and daughters of Pleasure may be thrown together in one group, resembling an English rout of the better dressed and more fashionable ones of the various nations of the world. The second class is made up of the indefatiga, constant in their devotions at the shrine of Mammon, and bent under the weight of their cares. In the third parcel we behold a motley collection of the votaries of Ambition, who from various motives, and under different appearances are driving, at full speed, through every avenue of human society. Now the simple question, under my present view of these things, is, why any individual of either of these three great crowds may not retire from the common bustle and hide himself like the Recluse, in the woods? If he have borne a part in this tumultuous farrago until he is tired out, or disgusted with his own dull repetitions, is he not at liberty to sit down and rest; or turn aside from the commotion and endeavour to cure the blisters which the dance has brought upon his feet? This is to be diseased with St. Vitus's dance, with a vengeance, if he must continue to dance on, rain or shine, contrary to his own inclination!
Does it follow that I must necessarily be refractory or deluded by a wrong spirit because I no longer have views of life,
common to others? With their associations and entanglements it would not be well, nay, it might be criminal for them to leave their posts and their duties. But circumstances alter cases, and if I fly to the shades of retirement with as much alacrity as they to their merchandize, are we not both governed by the same arbitrary laws of volition? Neither am I much alarmed by the gravity of those reprovers, who put their ingenuity to the torture to invent what they call social duties, in order to saddle me with burthens that belong not to my shoulders. Every man, say these wise censors, possesses a talent which he is bound to employ to the best advantage, for the help of his fellow beings, and for the melioration of their several conditions. This I am willing to acknowledge, although, at the same time, it must not be denied that the doctrine is urged with a very bad grace by those whose practical employment of their respective talents appears to be confined to the accumulation of riches and the aggrandizement of themselves! They ought to bear in mind, that upon their system of ethics which recognizes self-love and social to be the same, and which justifies their own laborious exertions for private emolument, the hermit's inactive seclusion from the common walks of business, may at least be pardoned. Take a view of one man, who upon a fortune of his own acquiring, or another, who, upon the unincumbered patrimony derived from his wealthy predecessors, retires into the bosom of a family all of whom are partial to this doctrine of social enjoyments and friendly intercourse, but who are governed in every act of their lives by selfish considerations. Lolling at ease upon the soft couch of sensual gratifications, or lounging away their hours in literary frivolities, shall it be said that the holy cause of Benevolence is indebted to them for all the clamour they can raise against those who desert one station in life for another, from a diffidence of their own qualifications only? I have suspected that if the real motives for such virulent reprehensions of a retired life as I have been contemplating, were accurately traced, it would he found that human vanity acts as a spur to all this zeal. Man, howeyer fond of "banquetting upon his own perfections," is not satisfied with being the solitary gazer upon the splendour
The sight of his own
and embellishments of his rank in society. greatness would soon afford him but little enjoyment, and the appetite for riches, itself, would have no edge, if it were not sharpened by the frequent bursts of admiration from others. Hence it is that until they, themselves, can be willing to sink into obscurity and forgetfulness, they cannot do less than zealously oppose the retreat of those upon whose applause they literally feed, and hence they will be furnished with much to say which to a slight observer may sound like the language of pure philanthropy; whilst every expression is really the dictate of an unamiable selfishness. Under this view of the subject it would be easy to impeach the honesty of many of my accusers, who have are apt to associate with that life of the Recluse, which I been stickling for, the dreariness and barrenness of a cloister, such as many a monkish tale has impressed upon their imaginations. But I shall content myself with this ingenuous exposition of of my own motives in thus stealing away as a voluntary exile, or, to use the law phrase, into a civil death. Happy shall I be, if, whilst indulging my wearied limbs, in the repose of this refreshing retirement, my heart may be permitted to expand itself by an occasional excursion, in this friendly manner, to the neighbourhood of that society which I have corporeally relinquished forever! And thrice happy shall I indeed consider myself if, without even a hope of benefiting others, by my exerup what I can and carry with me tions, I may be allowed to gather un to the shades. "Happy shades!" to make use of the language of the celebrated panegyrist of the Chartreuse de Grenoble, "whither he who has been chafed and heated by terrestrial attachments may go to refresh himself and renew his mind by tasting that secret joy which is experienced under the empire of Religion when submitted to without reserve. And here," says he, "I speak of that religion which, far from every kind of idolatry,*
* Je parle ici de cette religion qui, loin de toute espèce d'idolâtrie, consiste à retrouver Dieu en soi-même, à se confier à lui, à l'adorer, à l'aimer, dans les vives espérances d'un bonheur que lui seul dispense. Ce n'est qu'ainsi du moins que l'homme désabusé doit fuir le monde, et innocence s'abriter des mechans.
Opinion de Mercier sur les Sepultures Privées.
consists in coming back again to the Divine principle within oneself, in confiding in it, in adoring it, and in becoming enamoured of it, filled with the hopes of a happiness which it alone. can dispense. It is in this manner only, that a man who is no longer deceived by the world, is at liberty to fly from it, and that innocence may expect to find a safe asylum from the importunate molestations of the wicked."
CRITICISM.-FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
Inchiquin, the Jesuit's Letters, during a late residence in the United States of America; being a Fragment of a Private Correspondence accidentally discovered in Europe; containing a favourable view of the manners, literature, and state of society of the United States, and a refutation of many of the aspersions cast upon this country, by former Residents and Tourists. By some unknown Foreigner. I. Riley, New-York, 1810. pp. 165.
Turs is a work of no common stamp-the exuberant, and we believe, hasty production of no common pen. Though small, it possesses great merit-in many parts real excellence, both of argument, style, matter and manner. The first and highest of moral excellencies it certainly can boast, for it has a broad and substantial basis in truth. Its literary character will also, as we believe, bear the test of the severest ordeal, without sinking in the stream or evaporating in the fire. Still, however, it is not perfect. It is not-we are persuaded it is not, the chef d'oeuvre of the hand that wrote it. The author of Inchiquin's Letters is capable of being the author of a superior work-a work, the origin of which he need not, from an excess of modesty, an apprehension of being mortified by public neglect, or a morbid, shrinking sensibility of any kind, attempt to transfer to another or bury in fable.
The real source to which the public are indebted for this interesting production, we regard as a matter of secondary mo