Nature does not capriciously scatter her secrets as golden gifts to lazy pets and luxurious darlings, but imposes tasks when she presents opportunities, and uplifts him whom she would inform. The apple that she drops at the feet of Newton is but a coy invitation to follow her to the stars.
The essence of the ludicrous consists in surprise,--in unexpected terms of feeling and explosions of thought,--often bringing dissimilar things together with a shock; as when some wit called Boyle, the celebrated philosopher, the father of chemistry and brother of the Earl of Cork.
In most old communities there is a common sense even in sensuality. Vice itself gets gradually digested into a system, is amenable to certain laws of conventional propriety and honor, has for its object simply the gratification of its appetites, and frowns with quite a conservative air on all new inventions, all untried experiments in iniquity.
What a lesson, indeed, is all history and all life to the folly and fruitlessness of pride! The Egyptian kings had their embalmed bodies preserved in massive pyramids, to obtain an earthly immortality. In the seventeenth century they were sold as quack medicines, and now they are burnt for fuel! The Egyptian mummies, which Cambyses or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth. Mummy is become merchandise.
The great characteristic of men of active genius is a sublime self-confidence, springing not from self-conceit, but from an intense identification of the man with his object, which lifts him altogether above the fear of danger and death, which gives to his enterprise a character of insanity to the common eye, and which communicates an almost superhuman audacity to his will.
Do we, mad as we all are after riches, hear often enough from the pulpit the spirit of those words in which Dean Swift, in his epitaph on the affluent and profligate Colonel Chartres, announces the small esteem of wealth in the eyes of God, from the fact of His thus lavishing it upon the meanest and basest of His creatures?
Genius is not a single power, but a combination of great powers. It reasons, but it is not reasoning; it judges, but it is not judgment; imagines, but it is not imagination; it feels deeply and fiercely, but it is not passion. It is neither, because it is all.
But the conceit of one's self and the conceit of one's hobby are hardly more prolific of eccentricity than the conceit of one's money. Avarice, the most hateful and wolfish of all the hard, cool, callous dispositions of selfishness, has its own peculiar caprices and crotchets. The ingenuities of its meanness defy all the calculations of reason, and reach the miraculous in subtlety.
True wisdom, indeed, springs from the wide brain which is fed from the deep heart; and it is only when age warms its withering conceptions at the memory of its youthful fire, when it makes experience serve aspiration, and knowledge illumine the difficult paths through which thoughts thread their way into facts,--it is only then that age becomes broadly and nobly wise.
A composition which dazzles at first sight by gaudy epithets, or brilliant turns or expression, or glittering trains of imagery, may fade gradually from the mind, leaving no enduring impression; but words which flow fresh and warm from a full heart, and which are instinct with the life and breath of human feeling, pass into household memories, and partake of the immortality of the affections from which they spring.
No language can fitly express the meanness, the baseness, the brutality, with which the world has ever treated its victims of one age and boasts of the next. Dante is worshipped at that grave to which he was hurried by persecution. Milton, in his own day, was "Mr. Milton, the blind adder, that spit his venom on the king's person"; and soon after, "the mighty orb of song." These absurd transitions from hatred to apotheosis, this recognition just at the moment when it becomes a mockery, saddens all intellectual history.
We all originally came from the woods! it is hard to eradicate from any of us the old taste for the tattoo and the war-paint; and the moment that money gets into our pockets, it somehow or another breaks out in ornaments on our person, without always giving refinement to our manners.