« PreviousContinue »
faculties last as long as the faculties themselves. They have nothing to do with time, place, and circumstance; and are of universal applicability and recurrence. An incident in my own history, that delighted or tormented me very much at the time, I may have long since blotted from my memory,--or have great difficulty in calling to mind after a certain period ; but I can never forget the first time of my seeing Mrs. Siddons act;-which is as if it happened yesterday ; and the reason is because it has been something for me to think of ever since. The petty and the personal, that which appeals to our senses and our appetites, passes away with the occasion that gives it birth. The grand and the ideal, that which appeals to the imagination, can only perish with it, and remains with us, unimpaired in its lofty abstraction, from youth to age; as wherever we go, we still see the same heavenly bodies shining over our heads! An old familiar face, the house that we were brought up in, sometimes the scenes and places that we formerly knew and loved, may be changed, so that we hardly know them again; the characters in books, the faces in old pictures, the propositions in Euclid, remain the same as when they were first pointed out to us. There is a continual alternation of generation and decay in individual forms and feelings, that marks the progress of existence, and the ceaseless current of our lives, borne along with it; but this does not extend to our love of art or knowledge of nature. It seems a long time ago since some of the first events of the French Revolution ; the prominent characters that figured then have been swept away and succeeded by others; yet I cannot say that this circumstance has in any way abated my hatred of tyranny,or reconciled myunderstanding to the fashionable doctrine of Divine Right. The sight of an old newspaper of that date would give one a fit of the spleen for half an hour; on the other hand, it must be confessed, Mr. Burke's Reflections on this subject are as fresh and dazzling as in the year 1791 ; and his Letter to a Noble Lord is even now as interesting as Lord John Russell's Letter to Mr. Wilberforce, which appeared only a few weeks back. Ephemeral politics and still-born productions are speedily consigned to oblivion ; great principles and original works are a match even for time itself!
We may, by following up this train of ideas, give some account why time runs faster as our years increase. We gain by habit and experience a more determinate and settled, that is, a more uniform notion of things. We refer each particular to a given standard. Our impressions acquire the character of identical
propositions. Our most striking thoughts are turned into truisms. One observation is like another, that I made formerly. The idea I have of a certain character or subject is just the same as I had ten years ago. I have learnt nothing since. There is no alteration perceptible, no advance made; so that the two points of time seem to touch and coincide. I get from the one to the other immediately by the familiarity of habit, by the undistinguishing process of abstraction. What I can recal so easily and mechanically does not seem far off; it is completely within my reach, and consequently close to me in apprehension. I have no intricate web of curious speculation to wind or unwind, to pass from one state of feeling and opinion to the other; no complicated train of associations, which place an immeasurable barrier between my knowledge or my ignorance at different epochs. There is no contrast, no repugnance to widen the interval; no new sentiment infused, like another atmosphere, to lengthen the perspective. I am but where I was. I see the object before me just as I have been accustomed to do. The ideas are written down in the brain as in the page of a book-totidem verbis et literis. The mind becomes stereotyped. By not going forward to explore new regions, or break up new grounds, we are thrown back more and more upon our past acquisitions; and this habitual recurrence increases the facility and indifference with which we make the imaginary transition. By thinking of what has been, we change places with ourselves, and transpose our personal identity at will ; so as to fix the slider of our improgressive continuance at whatever point we please. This is an advantage or a disadvantage, which we have not in youth. After a certain period, we neither lose nor gain, neither add to, "nor diminish our stock; up to that period we do nothing else but lose our former notions and being, and gain a new one every instant. Our life is like the birth of a new day; the dawn breaks apace, and the clouds clear away. A new world of thought and observation is opened to our search. A year makes the difference of an age. A total alteration takes place in our ideas, feelings, habits, looks.
We outgrow ourselves. A separate set of objects, of the existence of which we had not a suspicion, engages and occupies our whole souls. Shapes and colours of all varieties, and of gorgeous tint, intercept our view of what we were. Life thickens. Time glows on its axle. Every re
volution of the wheel gives an unsettled aspect to things. The world and its inhabitants turn round, and we forget one change of scene in another. Art woos us; science tempts us into her intricate labyrinths; each step presents unlookedfor vistas, and closes upon us our backward path. Our onward road is strange, obscure, and infinite. We are bewildered in a shadow, lost in a dream. Our perceptions have the brightness and the indistinctness of a trance. Our continuity of consciousness is broken, crumbles, and falls in pieces. We go on, learning and forgetting every hour. Our feelings are chaotic, confused, strange to each other and to ourselves. Our life does not hang together,—but straggling, disjointed, winds its slow length along, stretching out to the endless future--unmindful of the ignorant past. We seem many beings in one, and cast the slough of our existence daily. The birth of knowledge is the generation of time. The unfolding of our experience is long and voluminous; nor do we all at once recover from our surprise at the number of objects that distract our attention. Every new study is a separate, arduous, and insurmountable undertaking. We are lost in wonder at the magnitude, the difficulty, and the interminable prospect. We spell out the first years of our exist