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Swept in the storm of chase ; as moon and stars
CXXIX. - NOBLE REVENGE.
THOMAS DE QUINCEY was born in Manchester, England, August 15, 1785, lived for some years in Grassmere, in the county of Westmoreland, and has latterly resided in Scotland. He first attracted attention as a writer by his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, published in 1822, which was much admired for the splendor of its descriptions, the vividness of its pictures, and the impassioned eloquence of its style. Since then he has written a great number of papers in periodical journals, especially in Blackwood's Magazine, which have been collected and published in America;* filling thus far (and the list is not exhausted) not less than eighteen small-sized volumes.
De Quincey is a man of great learning and great genius. He has been a diligent student of Greek literature, of German literature, of political economy, and of metaphysical philosophy. His style is distinguished for elaborate splendor and imperial magnificence. He writes in long sentences, containing clause within clause, and unfolding and expanding like a piece of stately music. He has a rare power of painting solemn and gorgeous pictures; not by a few quick touches, but in lines slowly drawn and with colors carefully laid on. He has equal skill in expressing the language of strong and deep passion - the sorrow that softens the heart and the remorse which lacerates it. He has also a peculiar vein of humor, which produces its effects by ampli
* By Messrs. Ticknor & Fields, Boston.
Acation, and by slowly adding one ludicrous conception to another. And combined with these are a rare faculty of acute metaphysical analysis, which divides and defines with the sharpost precision, and a biting critical discernment which eats into the heart of ignorance and presumption.
The writings of De Quincey are well worth studying, on account of their rhetorical power and their wealth of expression; the more so, from the fact that they are, in one respect, unlike most of the prose writings of our time. Our popular prose writers, in general, write in short, compact sentences; in which the thought is done up in the most portable forms. The world moves on at so rapid a rate that there is a sort of necessity for this; and for many objects this is the most effective way. But all the reserved powerg and hidder harmonies of the English language can only be fully brought out by a miter like Io Quincey, who constructs elaborate periods, and whose mind moves not by sudden and short springs, but by long and majestic flights.
The following anecdote is told by him in his Autobiographical Sketches, which form ono volume of his works as collected and published in this country.]
A YOUNG officer (in what army no matter) had so far forgotten himself, in a moment of irritation, as to strike a private soldier, full of personal dignity, (as sometimes happens in all ranks,) and distinguished for his courage. The inexorable laws of military discipline forbade to the injured soldier any practical redress — he could look for no retaliation by acts. Words only were at his command, and, in a tumult of indignation, as he turned away, the soldier said to his officer, that he would make him repent it.” This, wearing the shape of a menace, naturally rekindled the officer's, anger, and intercepted any disposition which might be rising within him towards a sentiment of remorse; and thus the irritation between the two young men grew hotter than before.
Some weeks after this a partial action took place with the enemy. Suppose yourself a spectator, and looking down into a valley occupied by the two armies. They are facing each other, you see, in martial array. But it is no more than a skirmish which is going on; in the course of which, however, an occasion suddenly arises for a desperate service. A redoubt, which has fallen into the enemy's hands, must be recaptured at any price, and under circumstances of all but hopeless difficulty. A strong party has volunteered for the service; there is a cry for somebody to head them; you see a soldier step out from the ranks to assume this dangerous leadership; the party moves rapidly forward ; in a few minutes it is swallowed
from your eyes in clouds of smoke; for one half hour, frog behind these clouds you receive hieroglyphic reports of bloody strife — fierce n peating signals, flashes from the guns, rolling musketry, and exulting hurrahs advancing or receding, slackening or redoubling.
At length all is over; the redoubt has been recovered; that which was lost is found again ; the jewel which had been made captive is ransomed with blood. Crimsoned with glorious gore, the wreck of the conquering party is relieved, and at liberty to return. From the river you see it ascending. The plumecrested officer in command rushes forward, with his left hand raising his hat in homage to the blackened fragments of what once was a flag, whilst with his right hand he seizes that of the leader, though no more than a private from the ranks. That perplexes you not; mystery you see none in that. For distinctions of order perish, ranks are confounded; “high and low” are words without a meaning, and to wreck goes every notion or feeling that divides the noble from the noble, or the brave man from the brave.
But wherefore is it that now, when suddenly they wheei into mutual recognition, suddenly they pause? This soldier, this officer—who are they? O reader! once before they had stood face to face—the soldier that was struck, the officer that struck him. Once again they are meeting; and the gaze of armies is upon them. If for a moment a doubt divides them, in a moment the doubt has perished. One glance exchanged between them publishes the forgiveness that is sealed forever. As one who recovers a brother whom he had accounted dead, the officer sprang forward, threw his arms around the neck of the soldier, and kissed him, as if he were some martyr glorified by that shadow of death from which he was returning; whilst, on his part, the soldier, stepping back, and carrying his open hand through the beautiful motions of the military salute to a superior, makes this immortal answer that answer which shut up forever the memory of the indignity offered to him, even while for the last time alluding to it: “Sir,” he said, “ I told you before that I would make you repent it.”
CXXX. - DISTINCTION BETWEEN MIND AND
[WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING was born at Newport, Rhode Island, April 7, 1780, was graduated at Harvard College in 1798, and died October 2, 1842. He was settled as a clergyman over the church in Federal Street, in Boston, in 1803, and continued in that relation till a short time before his death. His works, which consist of sermons, occasional discourses, essays, and roviews, all have a common resemblance, and tend towards a common object. They set forth the dignity of man's nature, his capacity for improvement, the beauty of spiritual truth, and the charm of spiritual freedom; and press upon the attention of man those views and considerations which shall induce him to be true to his destiny, and to obey his highest aspirations. Some of his earlier writings were controversial; but that was not the element in which his mind most gladly moved; and he preferred to unfold those truths in morals and religion which are felt and recognized by all Christians. In the latter part of his life, his mind was more turned towards practical subjects. He wrote upon war, temperance, popular education, the duties of the rich towards the poor, and especially slavery. Upon this last subject, his writings are marked by a fervor and earnestness which meet the claims of the most zealous opponent of slavery, and yet are free from any thing vituperative or needlessly irritating.
Dr. Channing's style is admirably suited for the exposition of moral and spiritual truth. It is rich, Aowing, and perspicuous; even its diffuseness, which is its obvious literary defect, is no disadvantage in this aspect. There is a persuasive charm over all his writings, flowing from bis earnestness of purpose, his deep love of humanity, his glowing hopes, and his fervid religious faith. He has a poet's love of beauty and & prophet's love of truth. He lays the richest of gifts upon the purest of altars. The heart expands under his influence, as it does when we see a beautiful countenance beaming with the finest expression of benevolence and sympathy.
He was a man of slight frame and delicate organization. His manner in the pulpit was simple and impressive; and the tones of his voice were full of sweetness and pen. etrating power. He was not one of those speakers who produce a great effect upon those who hear them for the first time, but those who were accustomed to his teachings recognized in him all the elements of the highest eloquence.
The following extract is from a sermon on the doctrine of immortality.]
WHEN we look at the organized productions of nature, we see that they require only a limited time, and most of them a very short time, to reach their perfection, and accomplish their end. Take, for example, that noble production, a tree. Having reached a certain height, and borne leaves, flowers, and fruit, it has nothing more to do. Its powers are fully developed ; it has no hidden capacities, of which its buds and fruit are only the beginnings and pledges. Its design is fulfilled; the principle of life within it can effect no more. Not so the mind. We can never say of this, as of the full-grown tree in autumn, It has answered its end; it has done its work; its capacity is exhausted. On the contrary, the nature, powers, desires, and purposes of the mind are all undefined. We never feel, when a great intellect has risen to an original thought, or a vast discovery, that it has now accomplished its whole purpose, reached its bound, and can yield no other or higher fruits. On the contrary, our conviction of its resources is enlarged; we discern more of its affinity to the inexhaustible intelligence of its Author. In every step of its progress, we see a new impulse gained, and the pledge of nobler acquirements.
So, when a pure and resolute mind bas made some great sacrifice to truth and duty, has manifested its attachment to God and man in singular trials, we do not feel as if the whole energy of virtuous principle were now put forth, as if the measure of excellence were filled, as if the maturest fruits were now borne, and henceforth the soul could only repeat itself. We feel, on the contrary, that virtue by illusti ious efforts replenishes instead of wasting its life; that the mind, by perseverance in well doing, instead of sinking into a mechanical tameness, is able to conceive of higher duties, is armed for a nobler daring, and grows more efficient in charity. The mind, by going forward, does not reach insurmountable prison walls, but learns more and more the boundlessness of its powers, and of the range for which it was created.
Let me place this topic in another light, which may show, even more strongly, the contrast of the mind with the noblest productions of matter. My meaning may best be conveyed by reverting to the tree. We consider the tree as having answered its highest purpose when it yields a particular fruit. We judge of its perfection by a fixed, positive, definite product. The mind, however, in proportion to its improvement, becomes conscious that its perfection consists not in fixed,.prescribed effects, not in exact and defined attainments, but in an original, creative, unconfinable energy, which yields new prod