Page images
PDF
EPUB

Such is the “ Clemenza di Tito;" without all doubt the masterpiece of this great Italian dramatist. We read it throughout, despite of its errors of conception, with breathless interest; and we closed the book with a mournful but submissive persuasion that earth holds no reward commensurate with the kind of excellence which is there portrayed. For such a soul as that which Metastasio has inspired into his Tito there can be no companionship on this side the grave. The joy of love and the security of friendship are both denied, because the world contains no being worthy or capable of affording either to him. He is the property of earth-his virtues belong to the whole family of man, and it seems to us part of the ordination of Heaven, that, in such cases as his, virtues should never be concentrated. Berenice possessed the undivided empire of his soul, and he resigned her because Rome rebelled against her lineage. Sextus enjoyed the great privilege of his confidence, and he knew so little of its value that his own hand plucked it down, and robbed the solitary prince of the last refuge for his affections. Such is the crucible in which virtue is purified till it is without alloy. There is no such thing as sorrow, no such evil as poverty, till the property of the heart is confiscated, and then begins that ordeal of human fortitude out of which if the sufferer come forth at all, he cometh seven times purified and refined.

OLD AND NEW FRIENDS.

BY T. C. GRATTAN, ESQ., AUTHOR OF

HIGH-WAYS AND BY-WAYS."

One of the greatest evils of life is, that attachments cannot be always new—that our feelings grow old like ourselves, and, that like other habits, the habit of friendship becomes threadbare and shabby from long use. How glorious is the spring-time of young affection! how blighted and withered its maturity! It is almost rotten before ripe. What a pity it should ever reach the summer season!

There is no greater fallacy than that which leads us to rely for aid on the sympathy of what are by courtesy called old friends—that is to say, near relatives, close neighbours, our father's associates, or our own school companions. There is no comparison between the cold callousness of such and the vigorous warmth of new-formed, and chancechosen connexions. Old friends have been made for us, new ones are of our own making. Our measure, so to express it, has never been taken for the first. No wonder they fit so ill, and hang so loosely. Yet, when a man starts in life, he is so proud of his “old friends,” and, what is worse, so sure of them! He reckons his importance in proportion to the number of those reeds, which are not yet broken only because he does not happen to have leaned on them; and the hypocrite world to whom he boasts of his imagined jewels, never has the candour to tell him they are paste. But he finds out the truth!

We marvel at the numerous instances in which old connexions abanNov.-VOL. LIV, NO. CCXV.

2 E

don, while recently formed acquaintances uphold and stand by, a man in distress. It all springs from that instinct called selfishness, in its worst acceptation ; and self-love, in its best. When “old friends" hear of a man's misfortunes, the first feeling naturally is, that it is to them he will apply for aid. Their hearts as instantly collapse, while every mean and cold blooded consideration expands as in self-defence. The porcupine begins to shoot forth its quills ere the enemy is seen. The selfish never wait for the attack. They fire off their pistols before the avalanche thinks of falling: they disable the foe before he can bring his guns to bear on them. Envy, and all the congenial host of pigmy yet powerful passions, then come into play to neutralise any claims the unfortunate might put forward. They commence a war of pin's point persecution—they bind their almost invisible threads round their victim; and though he be, compared to his assailants, an intellectual Gulliver, he is fastened down as tightly as though a giant held him to the earth.

Thus the tribe of “old friends, however individually insignificant, are decidedly the most dangerous of foes. They spare no means of villifying him they are determined to disown. Everything good is suppressed--every failing exaggerated-every calumny raked up, remodelled, and renewed. A sneaking tone of regret cloaks the meanest injuries; interference is volunteered, only to aid in his entanglement; reproaches are offered in the guise of advice, and unpunishable insults are ingeniously wrapped up in generous professions-gilded pills, which the poor patient must swallow; till harassed, at length, beyond endurance, he retorts and casts off his friends; when the world, in ignorance, and, perhaps, in indignation, exclaims, “ What do you think of him now? Even his relatives and oldest friends have given him up!"

But, on the other hand, when newly-formed intimates, or neighbours of short standing, hear of his reverses, their first feeling is compassion. They expect no demand ; and, if it do come, they are taken by surprise. Kindness is always active ; and they give their aid ere reflection has time to check the generous impulse. The deed done—the money lent

-the thanks and blessings of him they serve enter into their hearts. All their amiable sympathies are up-every good feeling is enlarged by the genial dews of gratitude-a good deed is never repented of; and the approval of one's own heart is reflected back in the object that excites it. Self-love is satisfied; and this passion is no more like itself in its other point of view, than the moon in brightness is like the moon in eclipse. But if exceptions did not exist, these rules could not be proved. Few persons have seen much of life without meeting one old friend thoroughly staunch, or an occasional new one as false as though he had grown gray in our confidence.

The different classes of society have essentially different characteristics. The rule that regulates one has no application to the rest. What I have been saying applies chiefly to the mean product, to the middle orders of mankind-the only branch through which a general problem of morals can be fairly solved. The extremes show a marked diversity, for while the high and noble rarely abandon their relatives in reverse, the unbred and vulgar almost always do. Each consider their connexions exactly in the ratio of their possession or their want of the quality they themselves value most. Birth being the most estimable in

the minds of the first-mentioned, the ruined cousin or brother who loses all else in the world, is sure of his family's sympathy, in right of the advantage which nothing can deprive him of. Money being the ignoble inspiration of the other class, that once lost, the ill-starred sufferer is cast off without remorse.

The subtle elements of which friendship is composed baffle analysis. They are as bright and evanescent as the refracted rays of light which blend in a rainbow, or play in fantastic brilliancy on the sun-lit summit of Mont Blanc. Nothing is more false than the belief that friendship must be founded on the solid basis of long acquaintanceship, or congeniality of pursuits, or similitude of opinions and tastes. Were it so, friendship would be a commonplace concern; and commonplace minds fritter away whole years in ascertaining the claims of him they would make their friend, before they venture to give him their regard ; and they many a time reject a claimant for their friendship, because they discover in him the very qualities that would, if they but knew it, best suit with their own. People of this stamp lose life in reconnoitring, and never understand the alkali that would neutralise their acids.

It may appear paradoxical, but it is nevertheless true, that the most ardent, most generous, most intense friendships exist between individuals the most dissimilar in mind. The grave and the gay, the bold and the timid, the talkative and the taciturn, the ignorant and the learned, the man of taste and the man of no taste, often and often join together in attachment, cemented by some occult feeling which they cannot themselves define. Friendship is rarely built on acts of mutual service. Those who think it is, mistake the consequence for the cause. The sentiment leads to the sacrifice, but never springs from it: on the contrary, there is a perversity in the human heart which makes it often deny its sympathy to the being who possesses its gratitude or excites its compassion. We frequently refuse to love that which we revere; and our affections and our charities rarely go together. Equality, in fact, is essential to the existence of friendship, though congeniality is possibly a bar to it. What is it, then, that constitutes that fibrous chain which links mind to mind with such amazing power? Whence comes that wondrous web, which at once enwraps two separate hearts in a common fold? Is this active and positive effect composed at times of negatives? Is it no real agency of combining power-no spirit-moving sentiment, inquiring and responding from breast to breast? Is it the absence of qualities capable of creating envy and jealousy in ourselves, that leads us so readily to a union with others ? Is it the impossibility of collision on points of taste or temper, that creates so close a contact between heart and heart? Are the fine results of friendship, after all, but the incapacity of sympathy? If so, it is very mortifying to the mere sentimentalist, but consoling enough to the philosopher, who finds in the flagrant contradictions of Nature the most soothing excuse for his own ignorance of her mysteries. Benefits conferred, are, in some cases, very bane of friendship. No man can feel a friendship for him who serves him, unless he possess the essential spirit of gratitude--that safety-valve which carries off the oppressive sense of obligation. The sentiment is as old as De La Rochefaucault—that if you serve an ungrateful man, you make him your bitter foe. “Why should be

the

my enemy?” said Louis the Sixteenth; “I do not recollect ever to have done him a kindness.” An ungenerous mind will accept a benefit, but cannot forgive the donor. Many are capable of finding pleasure in granting a favour—there are few who can receive it with pleasure. Generosity, in fact, is a much more common sentiment than gratitude. The first is an inherent impulse--a spontaneous growth; the latter is a compound feeling, the produce of another, the consequence of a cause; every soil is not suited to the seed.

One of the most difficult of all things is the forming a proper estimate of what we ought to expect from our friends, and how much we ought to be satisfied with it. What a man is able to give in this way, is quite a matter of mental temperament. We must be good moral anatomists, before we can fairly make an estimate of each individual's capability. And how often are we taken by surprise! how often do we find those from whom we expected most, and who owe us most, fall short of our reckoning; while those from whom we hoped nothing, and on whom we had no claim, burst on us with a generosity and delicacy so unlooked-for and profuse, that it takes away our breath and beggars us of the power of acknowledgment !

The manner of conferring a favour is more-much more than the favour itself. Bis dat qui cito dat, is true; but it is as true that he who gives with consideration and kindness, adds tenfold to the value of his gift. There are some people who have the unhappy knack of turning even their civilities into incivility—who, in apparently underrating the obligation they confer, evidently undervalue the acceptor. There are few indeed who can enter into the feelings of others—but the most rare of all, is the donor who understands and appreciates the feelings of him who receives. But we must not quarrel with our fellow-creatures for defects over which they have no control. Let us take men as they are, and for what they are worth—being cautious to take no one at his own valuation. By this means we shall save a world of discontent; for the truth is, that our disappointment in others is a reproach on our own want of judgment, far greater than on their deficiencies. We do not acknowledge this when we make the discovery ; and, while we think that we are solely disgusted with them, it is that we are really angry against ourselves. For our own sakes, then, let us be tolerant to the failings of our fellows-and for theirs let us endeavour to lessen our

own.

THE CONVERSAZIONE,

ON THE LITERATURE OF THE MONTH.

The Barrister. " A Historical Essay on the Revolution of 1688,” by C. Plumer Ward, Esq.—Mr. Ward, in these volumes, gives the result of his political studies, and his long political experience, for the wisdom of the rising generation. Few men could be better entitled, on either ground, to act as public advisers. He had seen the principles of rebellion, covering themselves under the name of national rights, in the American revolution ; he had been the holder of important offices during that French revolution, which, beginning with the release of the people from allegiance, ended in the despotism of a military tyrant. And, warred by the example of both, he here comes forward to protest against doctrines which would involve England in a revolution, probably the most disastrous, desperate, and remediless that Europe had ever

seen.

The Rector. Hallam's “ Constitutional History," and, “The History of the Revolution of 1688,” the fragment left by the late Sir James Mackintosh of that “ History of England” which he was for half a century promising to the world, yet never completed, have brought Mr. Ward into the field. He charges both works with inconsistencies, prejudices, and hazardous principles, and he proceeds to maintain his point by close and copious references to the facts of the “Great Revolution,” under William the Third.

The Doctor. Nothing is more extraordinary than that Mackintosh should ever have subjected himself to those charges. On all occasions where he spoke, wrote, or acted from his natural impulses, he was an admirer of monarchy, a hater of innovation, an advocate of peace. His speech on Peltier's trial was throughout a lofty, eloquent, and unanswerable protest against the doctrines then espoused by the whole revolutionary party of England. His acceptance of office under the Government of Mr. Perceval, his immediate separation from the Foxites, and his slow, unwilling, and frigid connexion with them on his return from India, prove indisputably the true leaning of his inclinations.

The Rector. It is difficult to account for the ineffectiveness of Mackintosh's life, but from some such painful struggle between his convictions and his conduct. His mind was formed, like his style, on the model of Burke. His imagination had borrowed the glow, the profusion of idea, the Asiatic opulence of Burke. He was of an inferior grade; but he would have made a Satrap in the Court circle of that jewelled sovereign of thoughts “ born of fire, and children of the sun." His

History,” slight and brief as it is, shows the same restless struggle. The Republican everywhere unexpectedly gives way to the Monarchist, and even the broadest announcement of revolutionary principles is rapidly followed by the atoning and equivalent principles of allegiance, peace, and loyalty. In him the malignant flash of the lightning is for

« PreviousContinue »