Page images

their fields. There are few towns and villages in these wilds: solitary cottages, scattered here and there, afford the only habitations of these mountaineers. These houses have many windows, and are surrounded with galleries of wood; the thatched roofs of which project so far on the back part of them as entirely to cover these galleries, and sometimes to touch the sloping sides of the hills on which these little tenements are built. These habitations afford not a single specimen of masonry, and their large black beams suggest the idea of deep gloom. Many of these buildings have small chapels, the little bells of which are daily heard calling to morning and evening prayers.

“The inhabitants of these mountains were, as may be supposed, so extremely ignorant, that it was impossible for my father to find a companion among them: he was therefore rendered more entirely dependent for society on those learned men who thought it worth their while to come from a distance to enjoy for a short season the charms of retired life and literary ease.

"In the mean time, my father found constant amusement in the decoration of his place, and in the cultivation of my intellect; wishing to effect that change in my character by polite literature and a refined taste, which can only be produced by the influences of the Holy Spirit working effectually on the heart.

"As my father was a man of real taste and rectified feeling, he could not but greatly admire the excellency of virtue. He had an exalted idea of female perfection. He seemed precisely to know what ought to be the result of a good education; but mistaking the means which were to produce that result, he lost himself and his daughter, for a time at least, in seeking among the rubbish of heathen writers those treasures which exist only in the word of God.

"It might perhaps fatigue my reader, were I to note down precisely the order in which my father brought me acquainted with the ancient classic writers. Suffice it to say, that I pursued much the same course as is generally followed by young men in England who receive a classical education, with this exception, that I was not required to write Latin. I was also made to study the Greek and Roman history, to write correctly in English

and French, as well as to read and appreciate the best authors in these languages. My father was at no time an enemy to religion: so far from it, that when, in the course of these lectures, any religious sentiment or any notice of holy men or holy things came before his view, he would not only receive them favourably, but even speak of them in the warmest terms of approbation. These matters, however, took no hold of his mind; he would pass them over almost immediately, and scarcely give them a secondary weight when compared with the objects of his literary attention. Yet one thing I must remark, as happening to him, I believe, in common with many other well-meaning persons who are devoted to classical studies, that he would always speak of the Bible with respect, especially when it happened to be forced upon his attention, and would assert very coolly, and wholly without any appearance of doubt of his own sincerity, that it was in order to enable me to understand the Scriptures fully, that he had taught me the ancient languages; asserting that it was his intention at some future time to go through a regular course of Scriptural reading, taking with him all the helps which his knowledge of ancient languages and customs could supply; not considering that if he spent so much time in the vestibule of divine knowledge, little would be left for the study of its interior parts. But allowing that, which cannot be disputed, that the Latin and Greek classics might afford much assistance in explaining certain obscure passages of Scripture, in throwing light on ancient customs, and ascertaining the signification of the language and use of types and emblems; yet is it not to be feared that this end, for which no doubt the works of the ancient heathens have been preserved, by a wise Providence, is too often overlooked by the classical reader, and the study of the ancient writers carried on through life without the slightest reference to the connexion which they might be found to bear with sacred literature?

"But to hasten from this disputed ground, where I fear I shall bring down upon me the indignation of the wise and prudent of this world, I shall proceed to state the effect which the education I received had upon my mind, and to describe the kind of person I was in my seventeenth year.

[blocks in formation]

"I must begin with saying, that I was naturally lively, and from the unrestrained liberty I enjoyed, in amusing myself among the various beautiful scenes which our large domain included, I was remarkably healthy and active.

"The education, however, which I was receiving, and the society with which I mixed, prevented this exuberance of health and spirits from degenerating into coarseness. I had been accustomed to all the more refined decencies of high life. I had been early acquainted with courts, and I knew that it was expected of me that I should appear to be every thing that was accounted amiable. Neither was I without pride, nor yet without a just sense of what is graceful and estimable in women: so that I had various motives for endeavouring to set myself off to the highest advantage. My passions, too, were not of that overpowering nature which demand their gratification at every risk. I therefore passed well in the eyes of all who knew me, and my poor parents, no doubt, rested content in their work. In the mean time, however, nothing but disorder reigned within my breast. I was alternately a prey to eager longings after pleasure, and strong risings of resentment against the lawful and necessary restraints of society. At one time my buoyant spirits would carry me to the very verge of discretion, and at another I became a prey to painful regrets: for there was not in fact one single rectified idea in my mind, nor one solid point through the whole wide region of my heart whereon reason might fix its stand to take just views of human life. And here permit me to remark, that reason itself, without the aid of revelation, can throw but little light on the present circumstances of man; being utterly unable to unravel the mysteries of fate, to account for the contradictions exhibited in the human character, or to conceive how such multiplied imperfections should exist in the works of an all-wise and omnipotent God.

"I believe it to be a very common thing for young people, and those especially whose imaginations are naturally lively, and whose intellects are highly cultivated, particularly when frequently alone, to become the prey of very disorderly thoughts. Many excellent persons being fully aware of this, strictly forbid their children.

the indiscriminate use of novels and romances, with such works of the English poets as are not the most correct of their kind; and in so doing it cannot be doubted that they fulfil an important duty. But I ask, do these parents act consistently by being thus guarded with respect to the authors of our own country, while they place the writings of the heathen in the hands of all their infant sons? or, is it possible that they should not perceive that there is scarcely a single novel of the present century which does not contain more pure sentiments and more proper rules of life than could have been extracted from the whole Alexandrian library, had its thousand volumes been consulted for this only purpose? We of course except the sacred volumes of the Jews. And may it not further be asked, are not the works of men who have made the classics their chief study, and derived their sentiments from those polluted sources, generally speaking, the worst productions of the English press? I speak not of books which never find their way into polished life.

"But not to digress from my point.-I speak from experience when I assert, that all the worst effects of novels, with respect to filling the youthful mind with ideas which should if possible never be admitted into it, are produced in a stronger degree, and in a much more dreadful form, by these celebrated works of the ancient heathen; and I am fully persuaded that more persons have been prepared for vice in after life by books of this description than by any other engine which Satan ever devised.

"The form in which the images presented to me in these writings first took hold of my mind was apparently more pleasing than dangerous. It was soon after my arrival at Warenheim, when I first found myself removed at some distance from the hurry and confusion of more public life, and in a situation to enjoy the beauties of nature, and to range at liberty through the wild scenery which surrounded my father's house-it was in these circumstances that I first began to combine and arrange in my own mind those ideas which had been instilled into me from infancy. The writings of the ancient heathen are replete with exquisite images and striking symbols, which render them unspeakably fascinating to

youth, and thus enhance their danger; inasmuch as these elegancies of style are employed sometimes to set forth the most unworthy actions, and sometimes to conceal the most atrocious deeds.

"In early infancy the fable is often read, and the emblem committed to memory, with the same simple view as that under which the child considers the offering of Abel and the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. But as in one case the seeds of truth unfold themselves in after years, and shed their sacred influence over the heart; so in the other case the serpent, long concealed beneath the flowery emblem, after a while raises its threatening head, and poisons the whole soul in which it had long lain dormant.

"It was accordingly at that precise period of life in which a young person begins first to think and use those stores of knowledge, whether good or bad, which he has acquired in childhood, that my mind first began to make those classic images its own with which it had been so richly stored and having every help that the most beautiful scenery could afford, together with the aid of solitude, it was then that I began to people my usual haunts with the creations of fancy. In the purple light of the morning, beaming over the sombre Schwartzwald, I failed not to represent to myself the daughter of Hyperion and Thia, who, as the poets pretend, opens with her rosy fingers the gates of the east, and pours the dew upon the tender grass, causing the flowers to unfold their enamelled cups, and shed their odours through the ambient air. I fancied that I could see her chariot rising above the fir-crowned heights, while darkness fled before her-the celestial bow, the arch of the covenant, the token of our better hopes, brought no other image to my unsanctified imagination than that of the fabled Iris with her variegated robe-and the sun in his meridian glory had not power to excite in my mind any ideas more exalted than those which the heathen poets supply, although I must even then have heard that wonderful description of this glorious body in the Psalms, which, in point of poetical beauty, as much exceeds all classical images, as the majesty of the human countenance surpasses in glory the physiognomy of the noblest of the

brute creation.

« EelmineJätka »