Page images
PDF
EPUB

strength of judgment, and above all, temperance of feelings. And even if these should effect no change, yet the delay will al least prevent the final approval of the decision from being alloyed by the inward censure of the rashness and vanity, by which it had been precipitated. It would be a sort of irreligion, and scarcely less than a libel on human nature to believe, that there is any established and reputable profession or employment, in which a man may not continue to act with honesty and honor; and doubtless there is likewise none, which may not at times present temptations to the contrary. But woefully will that man find himself mistaken, who imagines that the profession of literature, or (to speak more plainly) the trade of authorship, besets its members with fewer or with less insidious temptations, than the Church, the law, or the different branches of commerce. But I have treated sufficiently on this unpleasant subject in an early chapter of this volume. I will conclude the present therefore, with a short extract from Herder, whose name I might have added to the illustrious list of those, who have combined the successful pursuit of the Muses, not only with the faithful discharge, but with the highest honors and honorable emoluments of an established profession. The translation the reader will find in a note below.'' “ Am sorgfältigsten, meiden sie die Autorschaft. Zu früh oder unmässig gebraucht, macht sie den Kopf wüste und das Herz leer; wenn sie auch sonst keine üble Folgen gäbe. Ein Mensch, der nur lieset um zurdrucken, lieset wahr.

10 TRANSLATION. “With the greatest possible solicitude avoid authorship. Too early or immoderately employed, it makes the head waste and the heart empty; even were there no other worse consequences. A person, who reads only to print, in all probability reads amiss; and he, who sends away through the pen and the press every thought, the moment it occurs to him, will in a short time hare sent all away, and will become a mere journeyman of the printing-office, a compositor."

To which I may add from myself, that what medical physiologists affirm of certain secretions applies equally to our thoughts ; they too must be taken up again into the circulation, and be again and again re-secreted in order to ensure a healthful vigor, both to the mind and to its intellectua) offspring.

• See Appendix. (Note O.)

scheinlich übel ; und wer jeden Gedanken, der ihm aufstosst, durch Feder und Presse versendet, hat sie in kurzer Zeit alle versandt, und wird bald ein blosser Diener der Druckerey, ein Buchstabensetzer werden."11

" See Appendix. (Note N.)

CHAPTER XII.

A Chapter of requests and premonitions concerning the perusal or omis

sion of the chapter that follows. In the perusal of philosophical works I have been greatly bene. fited by a resolve, which, in the antithetic form and with the allowed quaintness of an adage or maxim, I have been accustomed to word this : until you understand a writer's ignorance, presume yourself ignorant of his understanding. This golden rule of mine does, I own, resemble those of Pythagoras in its obscurity rather than in its depth. If however the reader will permit me to be my own Hierocles,' I trust that he will find its meaning fully explained by the following instances. I have now before me a treatise of a religious fanatic, full of dreams and supernatural experiences. I see clearly the writer's grounds, and their hollowness. I have complete insight into the causes, which through the medium of his body had acted on his mind; and by applica. tion of received and ascertained laws I can satisfactorily explain to my own reason, all the strange incidents which the writer records of himself. And this I can do without suspecting him of any intentional falsehood. As when in broad daylight a man tracks the steps of a traveller, who had lost his way in a fog or by treacherous moonshine, even so, and with the same tranquil sense of certainty, can I follow the traces of this bewildered visionary. I understand his ignorance.

On the other hand, I have been re-perusing with the best energies of my mind the TIMÆUS of Plato. Whatever I comprehend, impresses me with a reverential sense of the author's genius; but there is a considerable portion of the work, to

1 [A Neo-Platonist of the fifth century, who left a Commentary on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, as well as other works. S.C.]

which I can attach no consistent meaning. In other treatises of the same philosopher, intended for the average comprehensions of men, I have been delighted with the masterly good sense, with the perspicuity of the language, and the aptness of the inductions. I recollect likewise, that numerous passages in this author, which I thoroughly comprehend, were formerly no less unintelligible to me than the passages now in question. It would, I am aware, be quite fashionable to dismiss them at once as Platonic jargon. But this I cannot do with satisfaction to my own mind, because I have sought in vain for causes adequate to the solution of the assumed inconsistency. I have no insight into the possibility of a man so eminently wise, using words with such half-meanings to himself, as must perforce pass into nomeaning to his readers. When in addition to the motives thus suggested by my own reason, I bring into distinct remembrance the number and the series of great men, who after long and zealous study of these works had joined in honoring the name of Plato with epithets that almost transcend humanity, I feel, hat a contemptuous verdict on my part might argue want of modesty, but would hardly be received by the judicious, as evidence of superior penetration. Therefore, utterly baffled in all my attempts to understand the ignorance of Plato, I conclude myself ignorant of his understanding.

In lieu of the various requests which the anxiety of authorship addresses to the unknown reader, I advance but this one ; that he will either pass over the following chapter altogether, or read the whole connectedly. The fairest part of the most beau.. tiful body will appear deformed and monstrous, if dissevered from its place in the organic whole. Nay, on delicate subjects, where a seemingly trifling difference of more or less may constitute a difference in kind, even a faithful display of the main and supporting ideas, if yet they are separated from the forms by which they are at once clothed and modified, may perchance present a skeleton indeed; but a skeleton to alarm and deter. Though I might find numerous precedents, I shall not desire the reader to strip his mind of all prejudices, nor to keep all prio! systems out of view during his examination of the present. or in truth such requests appear to me not much unlike the advice

given to hypochondriacal patients in Dr. Buchan's domestic medicine ; videlicet, to preserve themselves uniformly tranquil and in good spirits. Till I had discovered the art of destroying the memory a parte post, without injury to its future operations, and without detriment to the judgment, I should suppress the request as premature; and therefore, however much I may wish to be read with an unprejudiced mind, I do not presume to state it as a necessary condition.

The extent of my daring is to suggest one criterion, by which it may be rationally conjectured before-hand, whether or no a reader would lose his time, and perhaps his temper, in the peru. sal of this or any other treatise constructed on similar principles. But it would be cruelly misinterpreted, as implying the least disrespect either for the moral or intellectual qualities of the indi. viduals thereby precluded. The criterion is this: if a man receives as fundamental facts, and therefore of course indemon. strable and incapable of further analysis, the general notions of matter, spirit, soul, body, action, passiveness, time, space, cause and effect, consciousness, perception, memory and habit; if he feels his mind completely at rest concerning all these, and is satisfied, if only he can analyse all other notions into some one or more of these supposed elements with plausible subordination and apt arrangement: to such a mind I would as courteously as possible convey the hint, that for him the chapter was not written.

Vir bonus es, doctus, prudens; ast haud tibi spiro

For these terms do in truth include all the difficulties, which the human mind can propose for solution. Taking them therefore in mass, and unexamined, it requires only a decent apprenticeship in logic, to draw forth their contents in all forms and colors, as the professors of legerdemain at our village fairs pull out ribbon after ribbon from their mouths. And not more diffi. cult is it to reduce them back again to their different genera. But though this analysis is highly useful in rendering our know. ledge more distinct, it does not really add to it. It does not in. crease, though it gives us a greater mastery over, the wealth which we before possessed. For forensic purposes, for all tho established professions of society, this is sufficient. But for phi

« PreviousContinue »