Page images

with Robert Hall, which probably did more for his mind, than all the teachings of all his youthful years. They were eighteen and nineteen years of age, an age when the mind is hoping every thing—fearing nothing ; a time when perfect freedom of intercourse is possible ; for then no community of interests is exacted between two noble natures, except that of aims which may be carried forward into infinity. How beautiful, how purely intellectual, this friendship was, may be best felt from reading the two letters Sir James wrote many years after to Robert Hall upon his recovery from derangement. In these exquisite letters, a subject which would seem almost too delicate for an angel's touch, is in nowise profaned; and the most elevated, as well as the most consoling view is taken with the confidence of one who had seen into the very depths of Hall's nature. There is no pity, no flattery–no ill-advised application of the wise counsels of calm hours and untried spirits, but that noble and sincere faith, which might have created beneath the ribs of death what it expected to find there. The trust of one who had tried the kernel, and knew that the tree was an oak; and, though shattered by lightning, could not lose its royalty of nature.

From the scene of metaphysical and religious discussions, which gave such a bias to his mind and character, Sir James went to lead a life of great animal and mental excitement in Edinburgh. Here he first tourneyed with the world, and came off from the lists, not inglorious if not altogether victorious. Already he had loved once; but this seems, like his after-attachments, not to have been very deep; and as he ingenuously confesses, declined on his side, without any particular reason, except, indeed, that his character was, at that time growing ; which is reason enough. A man so intellectual, so versatile, and so easily moved as he, was formed to enjoy and need society, both in and out of the domestic circle, but not to be the slave of the Passions, nor yet their master. Perhaps it may be doubted whether any man can become the master of the passions of others without having some time gone through the apprenticeship, i. e. the slavery to his own. Sir James never had power to electrify at will a large body of men,he had not stored up within the dangerous materials for the “lightning of the mind”-and every way there was more of the Apollo than the Jupiter about him.

At Edinburgh he made many friends, acquired and evaporated many prejudices, learned much, and talked more.

Here was confirmed that love, which, degenerating into a need, of society, took from him the power of bearing the seclusion and solitary effort, which would have enabled him to win permanent glory and confer permanent benefits.

Then came his London life, rather a bright page, but of not more happy portent. Compare it with the London experiment of the poet Crabbe, made known to us not long since by the pen

of his son.

Do we not see here a comment on the hackneyed text, “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” and find reason to admire tře impartiality always in the long run to be observed in the distribution of human lots? To view the thing superficially, Crabbe, ill-educated, seemingly fit for no sphere, certainly unable to find any for which he thought himself fit, labouring on poetry, which the most thinking public of booksellers) would not buy, reduced to his last fourpence, and apparently for ever separated from his Myra, was a less prosperous person than Mackintosh, on whose wit and learning so many brilliant circles daily feasted, whose budding genius mature statesmen delighted to honour, the husband of that excellent woman he has so beautifully described, and the not unsuccessful antagonist of that Burke on whom Crabbe had been a dependant. Yet look more deeply into the matter, and you see Crabbe ripening energy of purpose, and power of patient endurance, into an even heroic strength ; nor is there anywhere a finer monument of the dignity to which the human soul can rise independent of circumstances, than the letter which he wrote to Burke from that fit of depression which could never become abject; a letter alike honourable to the writer and him to whom it was addressed. In that trial, Crabbe, not found wanting, tested his powers to bear and to act—he ascertained what he would do, and it was done-Mackintosh, squandering at every step the treasures which he had never been forced to count, divided in his wishes, imperfect in his efforts, wanting to himself, though so far above the herd, might well have been glad to leave his flowery paths for those through which Crabbe was led over a słony soil, and beneath a parching sun, but still-upwards. Had it been so, what a noble work might we have had instead of the Vindiciæ Gallicæ! A bright star was that, but we might have had a sun.

Yet had the publication of the Vindiciæ been followed by Sir James's getting into parliament, and becoming the English great man, the mover of the day, the minister to the hour, it had been much ; and we should not have been forward to express regret, even though we might deem his natural vocation to be for litera. ture and philosophy. Freedom has so often been obliged to retreat into garrison in England, that the honor of being one of her sentinels there is sufficient for a life. But here again a broken thread—a beginning not followed up. He goes to India, and after that he was always to act with divided soul, and his life could be nothing better than a fragment; a splendid fragment indeed, but one on which it is impossible to look without sorrowful thoughts of the whole that might have been erected from materials such as centuries may not again bring together.

The mind of man acknowledges two classes of benefactors those who suggest thoughts and plans, and those who develope and fit for use those already suggested. We are more ready to be grateful to the latter, whose labours are more easily appreciated by their contemporaries; while the other, smaller class,

really comprises intellects of the higher order, gifted with a rapidity and fertility of conception too great to be wholly brought out in the compass of a short human life. As their heirs and pupils bring into use more and more of the wealth they bequeathed to the world in unwrought ore, they are elevated by posterity from the rank which their own day assigned them of visionaries and obscure thinkers, to be revered almost as the Demigods of literature and science. Notwithstanding the hours of gloom and bitter tears by which such lives are defaced, they are happy to a degree, which those who are born to minister to the moment can never comprehend. For theirs are hours of “deep and uncommunicable joy," hours when the oracle within boldly predicts the time when that which is divine in them, and which they now to all appearance are breathing out in vain, shall become needful as vital air to myriads of immortal spirit.

But Sir James Mackintosh belonged strictly to neither of these classes. Much he learned—thought much—collected inuch treasure ; but the greater part of it was buried with him. Many a prize, hung on high in the intellectual firmament, he could dis. cern with eyes carefully purged from the films of ignorance and grossness; he could discern the steps even by which he might have mounted to the possession of any one which he had resolutely chosen and perseveringly sought—but this he did not. And though many a pillar and many a stone remain to tell where he dwelt and how he strove, we seek in vain for the temple of perfect workmanship with which Nature meant so skilful an architect should have adorned her Earth.

Sir James was an excellent man; a man of many thoughtsof varied knowledge—of liberal views_almost a great man; but he did not become a great man, when he might by more earnestness of purpose ; he knew this, and could not be happy. This a ant of earnestness of purpose, which prevented the goodly tree from bearing goodly fruit in due season, may be attributed in a great measure to these two causes.

First, the want of systematic training in early life. Much has been well-written and much ill-spoken to prove that minds of great native energy will help themselves, that the best attainments are made from inward impulse, and that outward discipline is likely to impair both grace and strength. Here is some truthmore error. Native energy will effect wonders, unaided by school or college. The best attainments are made from inward impulse, but it does not follow that outward discipline of any liberality will impair grace or strength; and it is impossible for any mind fully and harmoniously to ascertain its own wants, without being made to resound from some strong outward pressure. Crabbe helped himself, and formed his peculiar faculties to great perfection ; but Coleridge was well tasked—and not without much hard work could Southey become as “ erudite as natural.” The flower of Byron's genius expanded with little care of the gardener; but the greatest observer, the deepest thinker, and as the greatest artist, necessarily the warmest admirer of Nature of our time (we refer to Goethe), grew into grace and strength beneath the rules and systems of a disciplinarian father. Genius will live and thrive without training, but it does not the less reward the watering-pot and pruning-knife. Let the mind take its own course, and it is apt to fix too exclusively on a pursuit or set of pursuits to which it will devote itself till there is not strength for others, till the mind stands in the relation to a well-balanced mind, that the body of the blacksmith does to that of the gladiator. We are not in favor of a stiff, artificial balance of character, of learning by the hour, and dividing the attention by rule and line ; but the young should be so variously called out and disciplined, that they may be sure that it is a genuine vocation, and not an accidental bias, which decides the course on reaching maturity.

Sir James Mackintosh read and talked through his early

« PreviousContinue »