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most recondite propositions. What, indeed, is love itself, divine sentimental love, but the quintessence of metaphysics? We have fallen upon evil days ; the world is too much of Polonius's opinion ; nothing serious goes down with it, but Methodism. The plain, wholesome, beef and pudding reading of our ancestors is too heavy for the delicate stomachs of the present day. Three consecutive sentences pall the appetite ; and any thing more logical than Hood's “ Whims and Oddities" gives the headache. To be sure, most people have enough of serious affairs of their own on their hands,—their wives, or their debts, or their scapegrace sons, to bother them,—without puzzling their brains with philosophy. It is not so surprising that persons who require only to be amused, should dislike being lectured ; but I am astonished at the patience with which they swallow the infinite deal of heavy, lumpy stuff, which passes current in the Row for light reading; novels without plot, character, or lively dialogue ; self-styled poems; voyages and travels, that are mere chronicles of dates and places; memoirs of block heads, (the memoirs of a coxcomb may amuse); réchauffes of jest-books; and publications of all sorts written without an object, and like Peter Pindar's razors, made only to sell. I have considered this matter somewhat deeply, and I heartily beseech the reader to take it on my word, that literary compositions are, cæteris paribus, entertaining in proportion as they have something to tell; and that dulness lies much more in the author than the theme. It has been well said that easy reading is not easy writing ; and certainly there is nothing so easy as to write to all eternity, “eating, and drinking, and sleeping hours excepted,” (as Touchstone has it,) in the most approved style of fashionable literature. True light reading teems with thought as well as mirth; and we never shake our sides so heartily as when there is something positive in the joke. I appeal to the pleasure which every one feels, be he as trifling and insipid a reader as the author he approves, when, by some strange accident he pitches upon a stray touch of truth and nature, or just reflection, or a happy inference, in a novel of high life, or in a volume of frippery miscellanies. For my own part, I would rather read Aristotle and Plato from beginning to end, or study Euclid without the diagrams, or swallow a whole number of the “ Quarterly" fasting, than wade through a single duodecimo of pure frivolity. It is worse than passing a night in a crowded rout with no other human intercourse than “ How dreadfully hot it is !” or, “Are you going on to Lady Mary's ?” Why else is it that so many authors of the first vogue, who cannot be grave, make up for the deficiency by being prosy? Why does the author of Tremaine fill his pages with politics, religion, and metaphysics, but because such matters are a relief to the wearisome toil of light reading? We who write must know something of every thing that is printed ; and I look as anxiously for the avatar of a solid book on art or science, to relieve the tedium of the enforced perusal of tales and sketches, and aristocratic drawingroom literature, as a Swedenborgian does for the Millennium. By heaven! the Advertising Supplement to the , " Times” newspaper is, whipped cream to the “Vivian Grey” school, or the fourth-rate imitators of Sir Walter Scott, and the lackadaisicalities of the Lady Bettys and Lord Charleses.
But to return to my metaphysics, for which this dissertation on light literature is but an avant-courier, to make way handsomely, and bespeak a good reception: I do not know any branch of inquiry that teems with so much curiosity and amusement, or that is more calculated to “ elevate and surprise." How delightful is the inquiry after things not to be discovered, which leaves every man at liberty to maintain his own opinions, secure from the chances of refutation! How ennobling and intellectual to speculate on the modes and attributes of beings whose existence is only known to us by inference! What an infinite distance do such researches place between their followers and the dry analyzers of every-day matters-of-fact, and of tangible interests ! If novels are swallowed, rather than perused, for their invention, metaphysics abound in fiction beyond the wildest fancies of romance. If poets are almost deified for their sublimity, Bishop Berkeley, or the new French school of Cousinists soar far beyond the highest fights of a Goethe, or the proudest eagle of the Westmoreland Parnassus. Then Lazarillo de Tormes and Gil Blas are infinitely below the genuine metaphysicians in that most fashionable of all things, mystification. Metaphysics are the levers which move the political and fashionable world ; and Breslaw, Jonas, and the Emperor of all the Conjurors, have nothing in slight of hand so calculated to cheat the eye and confound the understanding, as a single page of cant.
Into this course of speculation I was thrown the other morning, while considering the properties and bearings of the possessive pronoun, which plays so large a part in the world's game, which is so frequently in every man's mouth, and so much more frequently in every man's heart, and of which, notwithstanding, so few persons duly appreciate the meaning. Most people, it is true, imagine that they have a tolerable idea of the relation expressed by this emphatic monosyllable. The organ of appropriation seems to be pretty strongly developed in the cranium of all civilized Europeans, and they are very much accustomed to refer all things to the considerations it suggests. But in this fact lies the proof of the universal ignorance which prevails on the point. Men are the slaves of their animal instincts, and plunge into false calculations and mischievous mistakes at every turn, for want of a little metaphysics to help them out of their scrapes, by enabling them to set a due value, and no more than a due value, on this one word.
Simple as the signification of the pronoun “my” may appear, it varies in intensity in almost every instance in which it is used. When I speak, for instance, of my head, and of my hat, it is very obvious that these particulars are mine in two very distinct senses ; and that none but a madman would attach the same importance and consequence to the relation implied by the particle in both cases. When a man speaks of “my purse,” and “my honour," his conduct at once shows that the pronoun assumes a very different modification of meaning. There are instances in which the possessive appears to merge completely into the personal; while there are others in which the personality seems wholly to escape. My soul and my brains are equally maxima pars mei, and cannot be separated from their subject without a complete destruction of its identity. My leg, or my place under Government, though more capable of a mental abstraction, without the annihilation of all idea of personality, are not to be disjoined, in fact, without a most painful and revolting process; whereas my slipper and my integrity are most loosely attached to the person of the speaker, and the ore slips on and off with as little detriment to the individuality as the other. My wife, accord
ing to the church text, is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone; yet the practice of the world shows that this homosarkic identity is very easily dissolved, and that one half of the compound may thrive the better for being disengaged from the other. Few men, indeed, affect to attach any very close personality to this relation, except when before a special jury, on their road to Doctors' Commons; and then they strive to make the twelve good men and true believe that a wife is more a part of a man's self than his skin, and that a solution of continuity is in both cases alike painful and distressing: but who would part with his skin for even twice ten thousand pounds damages, and sixpence costs ?
To imagine, therefore, that the possessive pronoun always means the same thing, is to be a dupe to the mechanism of language. The same particle which expresses a man's relation to whatever is most closely incorporated with his being (his life, his soul, his self,) denotes also his connexion with a number of insignificant particulars; but to conclude from this fact, that they all stand to him in the same nearness and dearness, would be the grossest of all fallacies. Every thing in society depends upon the due consideration of this particular, and on the just and proper employment of this one little word. If the world is so full of mishaps and misadventures, it is very principally because ninety-nine people out of every hundred are guilty of the most absurd errors in ninety-nine out of every hundred instances of its application. There is a class of persons, for instance, of whom it is proverbially said that all their geese are swans; with whom it suffices that any thing should be theirs, in the loosest sense of the word, to involve it in the whole intensity of their personality, and to raise it at once in their esteem and their affections to a perfect level with their own heart's blood. This false calculation renders them always ridiculous, often unjust, not unfrequently miserable, and every now and then a confounded bore. The English, as a nation, are desperately given to this mistake. All trueborn Britons are irrecoverably convinced that their political constitution is not only the finest and the best that ever was heard of, but the very type and abstract of all theoretic perfection. Though totally unable to define it, to determine when or how it began, or in what it consists, or to appreciate its merit in any other way than by the one cuckoo-phrase that it works well, they are always ready to knock down the wretch who should presume “to hint a fault, or hesitate dislike,” and to explode like detonating powder, should a neighbour venture to look it too fully in the face. Although it is changing some hundreds of times every session of Parliament, and is daily and hourly altered by the decisions of judges, it is still in their imaginations ever the same perfection, in each of its successive stages, for the time being; under Alfred as under William the Conqueror, under Harry the Eighth and George the Fourth, in 1688 and 1829. Now the error, to say the least of it, is very funny; but when it plunged the nation into two bloody, unjust, and unnecessary wars,—with the French for not adopting the constitution, and with the Americans for presuming to improve on it, -most people would say that it was very atrocious. In the same spirit, the English climate is the best climate, the people the most religious, the soldiers the bravest, the clergy the most meek and pious, and the women the chastest creatures that ever detested the sight of man; and all this because they belong to the country that belongs to the opinant. Just so, to compare great things with small, the lovers of a fine horse
though eternally buying and selling, chopping and changing, always imagine the horse of the day to be the very best beast that ever was strode.
The giving an undue value to the possessive pronoun, is a mighty troublesome error in parents. There are few persons, of the male sex at least, who do not most potently believe that children are, in the abstract, great nuisances. There is scarcely a bachelor in existence who does not heartily wish the whole genus infantile strangled, as often as the course of his digestion is impeded by the introduction of the "young folks" along with the dessert. Yet the moment any of these descendants of Herod commit matrimony, and become parents themselves, they incontinently imagine that their children must be an exception to the general rule; that their prattle is no interruption to conversation; that their voracity does not disgust; and that their romping and violence neither spoils female dress, nor wears the patience of the guests of all denominations. It is the same intense feeling of personality and proprietorship in their children, that leads parents into false calculations concerning the faculties, attainments, and prospects of their offspring, which, by pushing them beyond the natural sphere of their exertions, prepares for them a futurity of such bitter disappointment. How many a predestined Archbishop of Canterbury, or Lord Chancellor, pining in the penury of a country curacy, or dragging an empty bag through Westminster Hall, sighs for the substantial comforts of the back-parlour behind the parental shop, and curses the day when he was elevated to the barren honours of professional life. The varieties of absurdity which are falsely attributed to parental fondness, but which arise from this extension of identity, are almost innumerable. Selfishness assumes so many disguises, and mimics so many virtues, that the most penetrating moralist is liable to frequent mistake. Another instance of error respecting the possessive pronoun exists in the weakness of domestic servants, who derive a gratification from the wealth and ostentation of their masters, and who talk of our people, our carriage, our races, &c. as if all these things were their own. In this they are by no means singular ; the honest John Bulls of all classes take a similar pride in the luxury and extravagance of their rulers; in the victorious pursuit of unneces. sary and unjust wars ; in the grandeur of the East India Company; nay, in the immensity of the National Debt itself. A still more grievous and intolerable mistake is that which confounds duties and dependencies with rights and privileges, through the instrumentality of this equivocal particle. Thus a member of Parliament talks of " my seat," and "my constituents," and a peer of “my boroughs," with an intensity of possessive signification by no means warranted by the relation which the language ought to imply. So likewise all aristocrats speak of their country, brewers of their publicans, and official personages of their places;, and so diplomatists use the phrase of "the King my master,”. as denoting something personal and incorporated with themselves, or at least, as existing solely for their advantage and gratification,
Our sensations indeed are personal, so is our time; next to these, there is nothing more strictly personal than liberty, which is but the power of employing time to the best advantage, and of seeking pleasurable sensations in the direction which promises them in the greatest abundance. The slave having no property in his own person, he has nothing that he can call his own but his sorrows. All
unnecessary restraints imposed on the individual · by society, are so many direct attacks on the plenitude of his existence. Liberty, says Montesquieu, is life ; and tyranny is just so much worse than murder, as in depriving the victim of his functions, it does not take from him the liability to suffer. Here, however, the instinct of possession is wholly at fault. The majority of mankind are very little interested in the preservation of what is so large a portion of themselves, but are ready to sacrifice it for the most paltry considerations. Liberty, my dear and most thinking fellow-countrymen, is not only the power of disposing of our actions, but the control over labour realized and fructified. Liberty is money. In all attacks on the subject, his strongbox is the immediate object of pursuit. Uncontrollable and impatient as is the lust of rule, no one would take the trouble to tyrannize over his species, if the substantial fruits of despotism were not at hand to reward him for the labour. With all his avarice and cunning, therefore, no one makes a worse bargain than the paltry scoundrel who sells his country for gold. It is like seeking a quick circulation of capital by selling under prime cost; and worse than a crime, it is a downright fault. If I were a popular candidate at an election, I would have no other banner or watch-word, than the simple appeal of “ Look to your pockets."
If mankind attach too little personality to their liberties, the same cannot be said of their opinions, in which they place the whole weight of their amour propre. The coolest arguers are disposed to defend their notions with more acrimony than a mere zeal for truth should properly inspire; and, in general, the harder the disputant is pressed, the more he defends himself with a desperate and determined obstinacy. This practice, though tolerably irrational, is not so unnatural. An idea is an idea; and whether it be derived from sensation, reflection, or mere hearsay, it occupies the same space in the imagination. It requires a long experience to detect the difference in the force of evidence; and as most persons are rather satisfied, than otherwise, with their own intellectual faculties, it is not so surprising that they should resent a denial of consequences as a sort of personal affront. In this, however, there is a very gross confusion of identity. In nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of every thousand, in which we are fighting for what we take to be our own opinions, we have really no opinion at all on the subject, but are merely repeating the opinions of others. The larger part of our self-styled opinions are but unexamined propositions, derived from the world ; the common property of our age and country, of our parents and instructors, or, most likely, of that venerable lady, our old nurse. Ask your friend the Curate, by what process of ratiocination he discovered the innate decency of a bishop's wig, or the piety of being stupid on a Sunday? It is a hundred to one that he can give no better reason for his conviction than authority. Ask the Equity Lawyer why he believes in the perfection of the Court of Chancery, and most assuredly he will not produce you a chain of inductive reasoning. Old Admiral Benbow might defend his creed that one Englishman can beat four Frenchmen by an appeal to the victorious career of his professional life; but, if he is honest, he will acknowledge that he was not a week in the service before his faith in the dogma was irrevocably fixed. Of the great mass of Europeans, who believe that the world is spherical, that it turns on its own axis, and revolves annually round the sun, how