Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors]



I wish to make this Essay a sort of study of the meaning of several words, which have at different times a good deal puzzled me. Among these are the words, wicked, false and true, as applied to feeling; and lastly, depth and shallowness. It may amuse the reader to see

. the way in which I work out some of my conclusions under-ground, before throwing them up on the surface. A great but useless thinker once asked me,

if I had ever known a child of a naturally wicked disposition ? and I answered, “ Yes, that there was one in the house with me that cried from morning to night, for spite." I was laughed at for this answer, but still I do not repent it. It appeared to me that this child took a delight in tormenting itself and others; that the love of tyrannising over others and subjecting them to its caprices was a full compensation for the beating it received, that the screams it uttered soothed its peevish, turbulent spirit, and that it had a positive pleasure in pain from the sense of power accompanying it. His principiis nascuntur tyranni, his carnifex animus. I was supposed to magnify and over-rate the symptoms of the disease, and to make a childish humour into a bugbear; but, indeed, I have no other idea of what is commonly understood by wickedness than that perversion of the will or love of mischief for its own sake, which constantly displays itself (though in trifles and on a ludicrously small scale) in early childhood. I have often been reproached with extravagance for considering things only in their abstract princi- . ples, and with heat and ill-temper, for getting into a passion about what no ways concerned

If any one wishes to see me quite calm, they may cheat me in a bargain, or tread upon my toes; but a truth repelled, a sophism repeated, totally disconcerts me, and I lose all patience. I am not, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, a good-natured man; that is, many things annoy me besides what interferes with my own ease and interest. I hate a lie; a piece of injustice wounds me to the quick, though nothing but the report of it reach me. Therefore I have made many enemies and few friends ; for the public know nothing of wellwishers, and keep a wary eye on those that would reform them. Coleridge used to com:



plain of my irascibility in this respect, and not without reason. Would that he had possessed a little of my tenaciousness and jealousy of temper; and then, with his eloquence to paint the wrong, and acuteness to detect it, his country and the cause of liberty might not have fallen without a struggle! The craniologists give me the organ of local memory, of which faculty I have not a particle, though they may say that my frequent allusions to conversations that occurred many years ago prove the contrary. I once spent a whole evening with Dr. Spurzheim, and I utterly forget all that passed, except that the Doctor waltzed before we parted! The only faculty I do possess, is that of a certain morbid interest in things, which makes me equally remember or anticipate by nervous analogy whatever touches it; and for this our nostrum-mongers have no specific organ, so that I am quite left out of their system. No wonder that I should pick a quarrel with it! It vexes me beyond all bearing to see children kill flies for sport ; for the principle is the same as in the most deliberate and profligate acts of cruelty they can afterwards exercise upon their fellowcreatures. And yet I let moths burn themselves to death in the candle, for it makes me mad; and I say it is in vain to prevent fools from rushing upon destruction. The author of the « Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” (who sees farther into such things than most people,) could not understand why I should bring a charge of wickedness against an infant before it could speak, merely for squalling and straining its lungs a little. If the child had been in pain or in fear, I should have said nothing, but it cried only to vent its passion and alarm the house, and I saw in its frantic screams and gestures that great baby, the world, tumbling about in its swaddling-clothes, and tormenting itself and others for the last six thousand years ! The plea of ignorance, of folly, of grossness, or selfishness makes nothing either way: it is the downright love of pain and mischief for the in. terest it excites, and the scope it gives to an abandoned will, that is the root of all the evil, and the original sin of human nature. There is a love of power in the mind independent of the love of good, and this love of power, when it comes to be opposed to the spirit of good, and is leagued with the spirit of evil to commit it with greediness, is wickedness. I know of no other definition of the term. A

A person who does not foresee consequences is a fool: he who cheats others to serve himself is a knave: he who is immersed in sensual pleasure is a


« PreviousContinue »