Page images

No. II.

Hæc studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium, ac solatium præbent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.-CICERO.

These studies afford nourishment to our youth, delight our old age, adorn prosperity, supply a refuge and solace in adversity, are a constant source of pleasure at home, are no impediment while abroad, attend us in the night-season, and accompany us in our travels and retirements.-KNOX.

THERE are no retrospections, perhaps, more delightful than those which spring from a review of the feelings and pleasures which accompanied our first voluntary excursions into the fields of literature, when life was new, and all things fresh around us. If the process of education itself, compulsory as, in its primary steps, it necessarily must be during the years of childhood, soon bring with it excitements and gratifications of no ordinary interest, and which, in after life, are often remembered with peculiar complacency; with what augmented satisfaction must we recur to that period of our youthful days, when, having surmounted the first formidable dif

ficulties which obstruct the avenues to learning, the world of intellect bursts upon us with all the intoxication of novelty, with a charm and vigour of impression which, as long as memory shall last, no subsequent events, nor even the pressure of age, can obliterate; and which, indeed, it is our wish and dearest employ to recollect and cherish.

It is, in fact, to this portion of our being, to this green oasis, as it were, in the journey of existence, that we generally turn for the very foundation of what has since constituted our character and modes of thinking through mature and even advanced years. More especially at this critical epoch is the literary bias formed for life, when the mind, just beginning to emerge from the discipline of the schools, is free to make her own election, and with imagination unchecked as her companion, ranges at will through the ever-varying scenery of what may be termed an intellectual paradise.

Most vividly, indeed, do I yet recollect the exquisite pleasure which, at this era of my early life, I felt in the liberty then first allowed me of choosing from the stores both of classical and vernacular literature whatever best suited my taste and inclinations; and with what rapture, in the latter branch, I

hung over the pages of Spenser, Milton, Thomson, and Gray; and from the treasures of the former, how dear to me, notwithstanding the difficulties. which had accompanied the efforts to master their language, were the Georgics of Virgil, and the Epistles of Pliny.

I am acquainted, indeed, with no book in the whole range of Roman literature better calculated, in every point of view, to excite and keep alive in the breasts of the young and ingenuous an exalted love for virtue, and an ardent spirit of literary enthusiasm, than the letters of the younger Pliny. The moral character of this accomplished patrician, estimating it, as in charity we ought to do, not by a comparison with the Christian standard, but with that which then constituted the general tone and colour of the best informed society in the heathen world, was, we may venture to say, nearly perfect. It would appear, in truth, from all that can be inferred, either from his own works or the testimony of his contemporaries, that in all the relations of life, public or private, social or domestic, he was alike the benefactor of his country and of his friends, as well privately, indeed, as professionally, the stay of the helpless, and the vindicator of the oppressed. There

is, in short, scarcely an epistle in the collection which, notwithstanding some occasional instances of display and self-complacency, does not, either directly or indirectly, impress us with a conviction of the great goodness and benevolence of the writer's heart; with an assurance, in fact, as firm and undoubting as must have fallen to the lot of any one of his contemporaries, that the influence, the eloquence, and the property of Pliny, were resources on which indigent genius and portionless virtue could always rely.

If we now turn from the moral to the literary features of Pliny, the topic to which, in illustration of the happy influence of an early-acquired love for letters, I shall devote the residue of this paper, a fresh field for esteem and admiration is opened before us; for it was invariably the wish and the endeavour of this amiable man to excite in others, and especially in the rising generation, the same pure taste for and ardent thirst of literature, which animated his own bosom. It is this feature predominating throughout the greater part of his epistles which has given to their perusal so peculiar a charm, a zest and flavour, indeed, no where else discoverable amongst the writings of the ancients in an equally poignant degree.

Thinking then, as I avowedly do, that it is scarcely possible for the young and educated mind to become acquainted with these pleasing productions without imbibing from them a passion for letters which shall last through life, I have often been surprised at finding them so little known and taught in our public schools, where, assuredly, their influence could never altogether fail in ameliorating either the head or heart. I can hardly imagine, indeed, any apathy of intellect in early life, short of that arising from defective organization, which could be totally proof against the delightful spirit of enthusiasm which, on subjects at least connected with literature and the fine arts, breathes throughout these epistles.

Nor are they less calculated to awaken in those whom business or dissipation may have long and almost exclusively absorbed a renewed appetite for literary pleasures and occupations; so fascinating are their style and manner, and with such persuasive eloquence do they plead for pursuits of which it may with truth be said, that whether embraced in youth, or manhood, or old age, they indisputably form one of the most permanent and unalloyed sources of human happiness.

With such an estimate as I have now brought



« PreviousContinue »