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THE SEASONS OF LIFE.
COULD beauty's early bloom return, and boyhood's voice of mirth, Like floral hues and songs of birds when Spring revives the earth; Though forms should fade-and hearts grow cold-and life's fair flowers decay,
"Twere sweet to know that wintry spell ere long might pass away!
But when life's fleeting seasons fail, they leave the soul forlorn;
The green earth glitters in the sun-the skylark bathes in lightRich odours float upon the breeze from vernal blossoms brightA busy hum of insect joy the cheerful valley fills,
And wandering Echo's shout is heard, like laughter, in the hills!
Such sights and sounds and charms we leave, and, dearer far than all,
The faces that we loved in youth-the tones that yet enthral ;Oh! when the thought of that dark hour o'ershades each bliss below,
How quails the horror-stricken heart-how voiceless is the woe!
Yet when the solemn mandate comes that bids the doomed prepare, To change for death's dark stifling cell the free and pleasant air, Can no sweet sound the prisoner cheer-no hope-rekindling ray? Ah, yes!--the voice that frees the soul-the light of endless day!
Without good company, indeed, all dainties
"By the use of the tongue, God hath distinguished us from beasts; and by the well or ill using it we are distinguished from one another; and therefore though silence be innocent as death, harmless as a rose's breath to a distant passenger, yet, it is rather the state of death than life; and therefore when the Egyptians sacrificed to Harpocrates, their God of silence, in the midst of their rites they cried out, The tongue is an angel; good or bad, that is as it happens."
"CONVERSATION," says Seneca, "forms a large portion of the comfort of human life." This commendation, however, is not to be applied to ordinary discourse. "The best conversation," says the same moralist, that we can ever have, is with philosophers; I mean such as teach matter, not words; that preach up to us necessary things, and engage us to practise them." The ancients appear to have turned conversation to nobler purposes than the moderns; for not possessing those ready means of circulating knowledge through the medium of printed books and papers, which have been rendered so effective in the present age, they were compelled to trust for much of their fame and influence to oral communications. The original mode of multiplying manuscripts was tedious and unsatisfactory, compared to the admirable process by which thought is now circulated with an almost electrical rapidity through all quarters of the globe. A man of superior sense and genius, unable to do justice to his own talents in social intercourse, may now console himself with the assurance that he has other and more powerful means of pouring out his soul, and of arousing the sympathy and attention of his fellow
creatures. If the impression produced by his printed labours be less vivid and immediate than the effect of graceful and impassioned conversation, it is at all events far more permanent and extensive. Men of genius, who are conscious of their influence as authors, are often indifferent to the honours and advantages of colloquial eloquence, and indeed are too apt to associate their ideas of wisdom and ability with books alone. Confined to their silent cells they look not abroad upon the living world, but upon the world of letters; and in proportion to their real ignorance of life is their contempt for the general mass of their fellow-men. Those writers who have taken a more enlarged and philosophical view of human nature, have acknowledged the innumerable benefits to be derived from a free and cordial personal intercourse with society. The eccentricity, the dogmatism, the self-conceit and the visionary character of the literary recluse, would be greatly checked by an interchange of sentiments and opinions with men of less genius, but greater knowledge of life and of mankind. He would see subjects, which he had been accustomed to study from one point only, in an infinite variety of lights, and his mind would be stirred by fresh ideas and new suggestions. The learned and judicious Locke did not scorn the opinions of men in common life, and well knew the good that was to be gathered from a variety of counsel. The vulgar saying, that two heads are more than equal to one, is full of truth. "We see" (says the great writer just mentioned) but in part, and therefore it is no wonder we conclude not right from our partial views. This might instruct the proudest esteemer of his own parts, how useful it is to talk and consult with others, even such as come short of him in capacity, quickness and penetration; for since no one sees all, and we generally have different prospects of the same thing according to our different positions, it is not incongruous think, nor beneath any man to try, whether another may not have notions of things which have escaped him,
and which his reason would make use of if it came into his mind." Many of the wild absurdities in which theorists and metaphysicians have occasionally indulged, would probably have never found their way into print if they had been previously well canvassed in conversation. It is wonderful how much more plain good sense is diffused throughout society than is generally supposed. There is no opinion, however extravagant and ridiculous, which has not been countenanced and supported by some individual author, who would perhaps have been ashamed of its advocacy had it been freely discussed in his presence in an intelligent private circle. When called upon to explain his ideas in conversation, a man is obliged to give the very pith of the question. His hearers have no time or patience for extraneous details, or elaborate and ingenious mystification.
"The most fruitful and natural exercise of the mind," says Montaigne, "is conversation, the use of which I find to be more agreeable than any other exercise in life. For this reason, were I now forced to make my choice, I think I would rather lose my sight, than my hearing or my speech."
It is not good for man to be alone, and such is the force of the social principle, that even those who have willingly immured themselves for a time in the secret depths of solitude, are stirred with an irrepressible yearning towards the first human face that breaks like a gleam of sunshine upon their unnatural isolation. Men who meet in a coffee-house at London with cold and uneasy reserve, would fly into each other's arms in the deserts of Arabia.
They who in crowded cities lead a lonely life, are only reconciled to their position by the consciousness of the proximity of their fellow-men. They would make as melancholy Robinson Crusoes as the most constant haunters of balls and parties. We are never so truly happy as in the interchange of thoughts and feelings with each other, and the retired student is not less
ambitious of the sympathy and esteem of his fellow-creatures than those who revel in the enjoyments of social life. His craving after the regard of the world is, in fact, far more vehement and intense; for not contented with the admiration and love of a comparatively narrow circle of associates, he demands the sympathy of the public mind. He hears the distant echoes of his fame, and exults in that supremacy of intellect, compared to which the power of a king is of a limited and vulgar nature. Silent reserve and an air of coldness are by no means infallible indications of apathy or selfishness. There is perhaps no man, for example, so little understood or so ill appreciated in general society, as the poet, whose excellence in his art is a proof of an impassioned temperament. But often while his heart overflows with social love, he is apparently the most unsocial of human beings. Deep feelings do not rise rapidly to the lips, and are rather checked than encouraged by the trivial forms and ceremonies of worldly intercourse. The most essential attribute of the true poet is a profound sympathy with human nature, and with the whole external world. It is the intensity of his emotions that compels him to "wreak himself upon expression," and appeal to the hearts of his fellow-creatures. As the passionate outpouring of his feelings would be ridiculous and unseasonable in the crowded hall, he retires to his study. When his companions in society are struck with his seeming apathy, his soul perhaps is tossed upon a sea of thought, or involved in a tempest of wild and incommunicable dreams. From being in some measure unfitted by his deep abstractions for the ordinary intercourse of life, he devotes himself more exclusively to the cultivation of his divine art, by which he is enabled even in his retirement to touch the general pulse with the contagious passion of his own heart. In his remotest solitude he clings to human ties, and rejoices in stirring with kindred feelings the breasts of thousands to whom he is personally unknown. He feeds his inmost spirit with the