It is absolutely necessary to recollect that the age in which Shakspeare lived was one of great abilities applied to individual and prudential purposes, and not an age of high moral feeling and lofty principle, which gives a man of genius the power of thinking of all things in reference to all. If, then, we should find that Shakspeare took these materials as they were presented to him, and yet to all effectual purposes produced the same grand result as others attempted to produce in an age so much more favourable, shall we not feel and acknowledge the purity and holiness of geniusa light which, however it might shine on a dunghill, was as pure as the divine influence which created all the beauty of nature?
For more than a thousand years the Bible, collectively taken, has gone hand in hand with civilization, science, lawin short, with the moral and intellectual cultivation of the speciesalways supporting, and often leading the way. Its very presence, as a believed Book, has rendered the nations emphatically a chosen race; and this, too, in exact proportion as it is more or less generally known and studied. Of those nations which in the highest degree enjoy its influences it is not too much to affirm that the differences, public and private, physical, moral, and intellectual, are only less than what might have been expected from a diversity of species. Good and holy men, and the best and wisest of mankind, the kingly spirits of history, enthroned in the hearts of mighty nations, have borne witness to its influences, have declared it to be beyond compare the most perfect instrument of Humanity.
In former times a popular work meant one that adapted the results of studious meditation, or scientific research, to the capacity of the people: presenting in the concrete by instances and examples what had been ascertained in the abstract and by the discovery of the law. Now, on the other hand, that is a popular work which gives back to the people their own errors and prejudices, and flatters the many by creating them, under the title of the public, into a supreme and unappealable tribunal of intellectual excellence.
I have known what the enjoyments and advantages of this life are, and what the more refined pleasures which learning and intellectual power can bestow; and with all the experience that more than threescore years can give, I, now on the eve of my departure, declare to you (and earnestly pray that you may hereafter live and act on the conviction) that health is a great blessing, competence obtained by honourable industry a great blessingand a great blessing it is to have kind, faithful, and loving friends and relatives; but that the greatest of all blessings, as it is the most ennobling of all privileges, is to be indeed a Christian.
If we would drive out the demon of fanaticism from the people, we must begin by exorcising the spirit of Epicureanism from the higher ranks, and restore to their teachers the true Christian enthusiasm, the vivifying influences of the altar, the censer, and the sacrifice.
In what way, or by what manner of working, God changes a soul from evil to good, how He impregnates the barren rockthe priceless gems and goldis to the human mind an impenetrable mystery in all cases alike.
Thelwall thought it very unfair to influence a childs mind by inculcating any opinions before it had come to years of discretion to choose for itself. I showed him my garden, and told him it was my botanical garden. How so? said he; it is covered with weeds. Oh, I replied, that is only because it has not yet come to its age of discretion and choice. The weeds, you see, have taken the liberty to grow, and I thought it unfair in me to prejudice the soil towards roses and strawberries.
Never yet did there exist a full faith in the Divine Word (by whom light as well as immortality was brought into the world) which did not expand the intellect, while it purified the heart,which did not multiply the aims and objects of the understanding, while it fixed and simplified those of the desires and passions.
We live by faith, says the philosophic apostle; but faith without principles (on which to ground our faith and our hope) is but a flattering phrase for wilful positiveness or fanatical bodily sensations. Well, and with good right, therefore, do we maintain (and with more zeal than we should defend body or estate) a deep and inward conviction, which is as a moon to us; and like the moon, with all its massy and deceptive gleams, it yet lights us on our way (poor travellers as we are, and benighted pilgrims). With all its spots and changes and temporary eclipseswith all its vain haloes and bedimming vapoursit yet reflects the light that is to rise upon us, which even now is rising, though intercepted from our immediate view by the mountains that enclose and frown over the whole of our mortal life.
The first great requisite is absolute sincerity. Falsehood and disguise are miseries and misery-makers, under whatever strength of sympathy, or desire to prolong happy thoughts in others for their sake or your own only as sympathizing with theirs, it may originate. All sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but disguised selfishness.
The happiness of mankind is the end of virtue, and truth is the knowledge of the means; which he will never seriously attempt to discover who has not habitually interested himself in the welfare of others.
The fear of hell may indeed in some desperate cases, like the moxa, give the first rouse from a moral lethargy, or, like the green venom of copper, by evacuating poison or a dead load from the inner man, prepare it for nobler ministrations and medicines from the realm of light and life, that nourish while they stimulate.
What though the polite man count thy fashion a little odd, and too precise; it is because he knows nothing above that model of goodness which he hath set himself, and therefore approves of nothing beyond it: he knows not God, and therefore doth not discern and esteem what is most like Him. When courtiers come down into the country, the common home-bred people possibly think their habit strange; but they care not for thatit is the fashion at court. What need, then, that Christians should be so tender-foreheaded as to be put out of countenance because the world looks upon holiness as a singularity? It is the only fashion in the highest court, yea, of the King of kings himself.
The genius of the Spanish people is exquisitely subtile, without being at all acute: hence there is so much humour and so little wit in their literature. The genius of the Italians, on the contrary, is acute, profound, and sensual, but not subtile: hence what they think to be humorous is merely witty.
There is no slight danger from general ignorance; and the only choice which Providence has graciously left to a vicious government, is either to fall by the people, if they are suffered to become enlightened, or with them, if they are kept enslaved and ignorant.
To write or talk concerning any subject, without having previously taken the pains to understand it, is a breach of the duty which we owe to ourselves, though it may be no offence against the laws of the land. The privilege of talking and even publishing nonsense is necessary in a free state; but the more sparingly we make use of it the better.
For meditation is, I presume, that act of the mind by which it seeks within, either the law of the phenomena which it has contemplated without, or semblances, symbols, and analogies corresponsive to the same.
Shakspeare has portrayed female character, and described the passion of love, with greater perfection than any other writer of the known world, perhaps with the single exception of Milton in the delineation of Eve.
The misery of human life is made up of large masses, each separated from the other by certain intervals. One year the death of a child; years after, a failure in trade; after another longer or shorter interval, a daughter may have married unhappily;in all but the singularly unfortunate the integral parts that comprise the sum total of the unhappiness of a mans life are easily counted and distinctly remembered. The happiness of life, on the contrary, is made up of minute fractions: the little soon-forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a heart-felt compliment in the disguise of playful raillery, and the countless other infinitesimals of pleasurable thought and genial feeling.
The word nature has been used in two senses; viz., actively and passively, energetic and material. In the first it signifies the inward principle of whatever is requisite for the reality of a thing as existent . In the second or material sense of the word nature, we mean by it the sum total of all things, so far as they are objects of our senses, and consequently of possible experience,the aggregate of phenomena, whether existing for our outward senses or for our inner sense.
It cannot but be injurious to the human mind never to be called into effort. The habit of receiving pleasure without any exertion of thought, by the mere excitement of curiosity and sensibility, may be justly ranked among the worst effects of habitual novel-reading. Like idle morning visitors, the brisk and breathless periods hurry in and hurry off in quick and profitless succession; each, indeed, for the moment of its stay, prevents the pain of vacancy, while it indulges the love of sloth; but altogether they leave the mistress of the housethe soul, I meanflat and exhausted, incapable of attending to her own concerns, and unfitted for the conversation of more rational guests.
I believe that obstinacy, or the dread of control and discipline, arises not so much from self-willedness, as from a conscious defect of voluntary power; as foolhardiness is not seldom the disguise of conscious timidity.
Poetry is not the proper antithesis to prose, but to science. Poetry is opposed to science, and prose to metre . The proper and immediate object of science is the acquirement or communication of truth; the proper and immediate object of poetry is the communication of pleasure.
Poetry has been to me its own exceeding great reward: it has soothed my afflictions; it has multiplied and refined my enjoyments; it has endeared solitude; and it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and the beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me.
Burke possessed, and had sedulously sharpened, that eye which sees all things, actions, and events in relation to the laws that determine their existence and circumscribe their possibility. He referred habitually to principles. He was a scientific statesman, and therefore a seer. For every principle contains in itself the germs of a prophecy.
The rules of prudence in general, like the laws of the stone tables, are, for the most part, prohibitive. Thou shalt not, is their characteristic formula; and it is an especial part of Christian prudence that it should be so.
Why are not more gems from our great authors scattered over the country? Great books are not in everybodys reach; and though it is better to know them thoroughly than to know them only here and there, yet it is a good work to give a little to those who have neither time nor means to get more. Let every book-worm, when in any fragrant scarce old tome he discovers a sentence, a story, an illustration, that does his heart good, hasten to give it.
Understanding is discursive, and in all its judgments refers to some other faculty as its ultimate authority. It is the faculty of reflection. Reason is fixed, and in all its decisions appeals to itself as the ground and substance of their truth. It is the faculty of contemplation. It is indeed far nearer to sense than to understanding.
It will secure you from the narrow idolatry of the present times and fashions, and create the noblest kind of imaginative power in your soul, that of living in past ages;wholly devoid of which power, a man can neither anticipate the future, nor even live a truly human life, a life of reason, in the present.
Reader, you have been bred in a land abounding with men able in arts, learning, and knowledges manifold: this man in one, this in another; few in many, none in all. But there is one art of which every man should be a master,the art of reflection. If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all? In like manner, there is one knowledge which it is every mans duty and interest to acquire, namely, self-knowledge. Or to what end was man alone, of all animals, endued by the Creator with the faculty of self-consciousness?
In its wider acceptation, understanding is the entire power of perceiving and conceiving, exclusive of the sensibility; the power of dealing with the impressions of sense, and composing them into wholes, according to a law of unity; and in its most comprehensive meaning it includes even simple apprehension.
Good works may exist without saving principles, and therefore cannot contain in themselves the principles of salvation; but saving principles never did, never can exist without good works. Men often talk against faith, and make strange monsters in their imagination of those who profess to abide by the words of the apostle interpreted literally, and yet in their ordinary feelings they themselves judge and act by a similar principle. For what is love without kind offices whenever they are possible? (and they are always possible, if not by actions, commonly so called, yet by kind words, by kind looks, and, where these are out of our power, by kind thoughts and fervent prayers!) Yet what noble mind would not be offended if he were supposed to value the serviceable offices equally with the love that produced them; or if he were thought to value the love for the sake of the services, and not the services for the sake of the love?
In a language like ours, so many words of which are derived from other languages, there are few modes of instruction more useful or more amusing than that of accustoming young people to seek the etymology or primary meaning of the words they use. There are cases in which more knowledge, of more value, may be conveyed by the history of a word than by the history of a campaign.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection, Aphor. 12.
Let us carry ourselves back in spirit to the mysterious week, to the teeming work-days of the Creator, as they rose in vision before the eye of the inspired historian of the generations of the heavens and the earth, in the days that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. And who that hath watched their ways with an understanding heart could contemplate the filial and loyal bee, the home-building, wedded, and divorceless sparrow, and, above all, the manifoldly intelligent ant-tribes, with their commonwealths and confederacies, their warriors and miners, the husband-folk that fold in their tiny flocks on the honeyed leaf, and the virgin sisters with the holy instincts of maternal love, detached, and in selfless purity, and not say to himself, Behold the shadow of approaching humanity, the sun arising from behind, in the kindling morning of the creation!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection, App. xxxvi.