Page images

and a jest. How many shrines have outlasted the religions that reared them! In theology, nothing seems certain but its uncertainty ; nothing immutable but its constant mutability, for as the world grows older, it invariably throws aside the spiritual toys that amused its youth. Pass we from the Paganism of the Egyptians, who animalised the divine, to that of the Greeks, who deified the human, and we shall find the same affinity between mind and matter manifested in the earth's morning by the primeval shepherds of Arcady :

They when their yearning hearts required a god
Sate on their mountains musing till the dawn
Of inspiration bade them recognise
A mighty spirit breathing through the whole
Infinitude of ocean, earth, and skies,
The world's creator, and its living soul ;-
A self-existent, ever-flowing stream
Of light and life, pervading, blessing, ALL,
And hence, ejaculating Pan, with fall

Of reverent knees, they hail'd him god supreme. In the emblematic deity eventually formed out of these first conceptions, the upper portion typified mankind, the lower part the brutes, the outbent horns the diverging rays of the sun and moon, his seven-reed pipe the music of the seven-infolded spheres. This unattractive idol could not long satisfy a people so naturally æsthetic, and with such refined perceptions as the Greeks. Fashioned themselves in the most perfect mould of symmetry, and all their environments harmonising with this exquisite human model, nature had furnished them with such materials for a correct and elegant taste, that to become matchless artists they had only to imitate what they saw. To such worshippers of the charms of form, earthly gracefulness suggested all their conceptions of heavenly grace ; they showed their adoration of spiritual and invisible beauty by endeavouring to render it visible ; without quitting earth they soared into the empyrean of the superhuman, realising their sublime aspirations in marble, and bequeathing to an enraptured world, in their statues of Jupiter, Venus, Apollo, and other deities, master-pieces of majesty and grace which succeeding generations have never attempted to rival, and which future ages will never cease to admire.

Fascinating nymphs, and goddesses, and all the bewitching visions of poetry and enthusiasm, brought down from Heaven to irradiate the romantic hills, and dales, and fountains of Greece, and made terrestrial, tangible, almost companionable, by multiplied statues of enchanting loveliness, could not fail to exercise a civilising, a gladdening, not to say a religious influence upon so sensitive a people. To stand in the constant presence of his deities, even in their graven images, must have thrown a moral halo around a Pagan of those days. The poorest wayfarer kept august company, in whose very silence there was a soul-stirring eloquence; he celestialised his thoughts, whithersoever he might wander, not only by the marble divinities that graced his path, but by the spiritual ones brooding over it in unseen beauty; for every locality had its tutelary genius, every tree its hamadryad, every fountain its nymph, every sea its nereids, and by the tongues of winds, and waves, and woods, their voices were heard, whispering the secrets of the invisible world, or thrilling the imaginative hearer with melodious hymns and canticles. An enthusiasm thus kindled was not likely to cool when the votary approached a noble temple, crowning some picturesque eminence, flanked on either side by stately groves, the dark blue sky behind it, as it reposed in marble majesty, looking down upon the vale beneath, at once its sanctifier, its guardian, and its grace. A worshipper, preceded on his way to the altar by such graceful harbingers, gazing at embodied aspirations, and sculptured thoughts with wings that wafted his soul to empyrean heights, could hardly fail to be devout, for the sympathy between material and moral beauty is ever accompanied by a religious effusion. This is one of the harmonies of our common humanity; all the suggestions, even of inanimate nature, are fraught with similar associations. Blame not, then, the unenlightened Pagan, when he exclaims

Estque Dei sedes ubi terra, et pontus, et aer,

Et cælum, et virtus ; superos quid quærimus ultra ? For his pantheism was natural piety, and infinitely preferable to the Anthropomorphic mythology as it then existed. Preposterous as was the

theory of Paganism in Greece, and immoral as were many of its observances, Athens will testify that it was not unfavourable to intellectual development; while it cannot be denied that it tended, wherever it prevailed, to refine and gladden its votaries, one of the main purposes of all religion. To this extent it was a hallowed and beneficent falsehood. More true and more rational systems have occasionally presented less favourable results. Mark the contrast in the devotional tendencies of the northern nations! Rough climates, unlovely scenery, frowning and inclement skies, stunted and ungraceful figures, reflecting themselves in the spiritual mirror, have conjured up an equally unattractive faith and doctrine. Christianity itself, the product of a southern clime, became gradually blighted in the chilling atmosphere to which it was transplanted, until the religion of love was made to assume an aspect not only frowning but ferocious. God made man in his own image ; bigots have reversed the process, selecting for deification the very worst specimens of humanity, and even demonising the fiction they had thus impiously imagined. Instead of bringing down the spirit of Heaven into theinselves, they have distorted their own spirit into a monster, and projecting it into Heaven, brand as infidels all those who refuse to acknowledge this hideous idol as a deity. Let us not, however, judge them too harshly. In the sympathy between body and mind every man unconsciously helps to fashion his own God. Bile, indigestion, and a defective organisation, or a hale constitution and sound frame, respectively impart a hateful or a loveable character to the object of their worship. The mind is the body s pulse; faith is the mind's pulse. Tell me a man's creed and doctrine, and I will tell you the state of his health.

In our early church architecture, which, as already observed, may be termed petrified theology, a literal illustration of Shakspeare's “ Sermons in Stones,” the same striking contrasts are traceable. With the massive but not ungracefully ornamented columns, the semi-circular arches and roof, and cheerful interior of the Saxon places of worship, were blended frightful heads of monsters, fiends, and chimeras, supporting corbels, terminating spouts, or appearing to be crushed and tormented beneath ponderous transoms ; types of the demons, whom none but an orthodox church could trample down.

At a later period the long observance of Eastern models, facilitated by the crusades, introduced that oriental style which eventually assumed the name of Gothic, and which adapts itself beyond any other to the requisite aims and influences of a religious edifice. The subdued windowlight, hallowed by oozing through painted saints and angels, and losing itself in the mysterious recesses of the lofty roof; the tall, clustering shafts attracting the eye heavenward till it is baffled by the distant twilight of apparently interminable arches ; the long aisles upon which every footfall, reverberating from the charnel vaults beneath, sounds like a mournful knell ; the out-stretched figures upon the monuments with praying hands, that seem to give a voice to their motionless lips of marble; the tranquil air, never disturbed by any other echoes than those of prayers and hymns, combine to awaken feelings of the deepest and most impressive devotion. In all this there is a pleasing harmony between the material and the moral elements, between the structure and the sentiment it evokes; but, alas! the harsher features of theology must also be preached by the mason, we must have litanies in limestone, sculptured superstitions, and oh! what a contrast between the diablerie, the demon monsters, tortured saints, and grim martyrs of a mediæval cathedral, and the exquisite statues that gladdened and beautified a Grecian temple! The genius of the north and of the south are here presented in striking opposition to each other. The religion of the former realised and demonised ideal monsters ; that of the latter idealised and celestialised real beauty.

If there be a constant sympathy between the spiritual and the material, there exists a no less certain approximation between the intellectual and the moral ; between the developments of the head and the tendencies of the heart. For my own part I receive implicitly the recent wonderful discoveries in science, and the more perfect subjection of the elements to human purposes, as a guarantee for a commensurate improvement in human happiness, fully agreeing with Sir John Herschel, when he asks

Why should we despair that the reason which has enabled us to subdue all nature to our purposes should (if permitted and assisted by the providence of God) achieve a far more difficult conquest, and ultimately find some means of enabling the collective wisdom of mankind to bear down these obstacles which individual short-sightedness, selfishness, and passion oppose to all improvements, and by which the highest hopes are continually blighted and the fairest prospects marred?” Why indeed ? despair of such a blessed consummation were to doubt the beneficence of the Deity.

“ What!" methinks I hear some critic exclaim, “are we dealing with a dreamer, a visionary, an enthusiast, a believer in the advent of the millennium ?” Patience !—“I am not mad, most mighty Festus!" Without putting faith in the perfectibility of man, may I not cherish the conviction of his almost limitless improvability? What so pious, what so heart-cheering ?-ay, and in spite of sneers, what consummation so probable? The very trust in such a glorious destiny tends to realise it, and man's past history justifies his loftiest hopes of the future. If gabbling savages, crouching in mud hovels, could in a few centuries perfect the Greek language, compose the Iliad, and build the Parthenon, what may not be accomplished in ten or twenty times as many centuries? God, who is the master workman, having eternity in his hands, need not hurry in his operations. Our time is not his time. Who shall reckon the great geological cycles during which the earth was devastated by fire and water, by earthquake and convulsion, until it became fitted for the habitation of man? Even so may virtue and vice, the fire and water of the moral world, and the angry passions, which are its disturbing forces, be destined to undergo a gradual subsidence, and man eventually fulfil his glorious mission by effecting constant though slow meliorations and advancements, until our moral nature shall better harmonise with the absolute perfection of the material world.

Mine be the precious, mine the lofty, mine the exhilarating faith that a beneficent Providence is constantly, however slowly, leading us towards this blessed consummation. Mine be the consoling belief that, when years, or even ages, seem to pass without human progression, the destinies of man are but gathering strength for a fresh and more decided advance. Mine be the hallowing creed which renders the whole moral world a forward—moving, God-directed scheme of gradual improvement—which makes every day a sabbath, every sod an altar, every visible object, and every passing event a preacher of good tidings to man.

Oh, glorious aspirations! Oh, beatific hopes ! cease not to hover around and to cheer me with your holy and your gracious influences! Ye have shed an additional radiance upon bright hours, ye have diminished the gloom of dark ones; ye have been my solace in life, ye will be my consolation and support in death!








It was with no small amount of mortification that I, Leander Castleton, who as an only son, had been considered an important personage at home, found myself compelled in my capacity of a fag to perform the multifarious offices of cook, scullion, footman, butler, valet, errand-boy, shoe-black, &c.; and although I endeavoured with juvenile philosophy to turn to profit various sentences in elegant and epigrammatic Latin implying that “ use is second nature," and that “ habit reconciles us to every thing," I found that in the present instance, the habit of being fagged by no means reconciled its practice to me.

But the state of bewilderment into which my new experiences at a public school plunged my unsophisticated faculties, gradually subsided as time went on; and if I could not accustom myself to fagging, and had an invincible objection to take the mos pro lege” in that particular, I found in myself a remarkable adaptation to the ways and usages of the place in other respects ; and especially as regarded cricket, foot

ball, boating, and shooting ; but it was not until I had gained more than a year's experience in all sorts of mischief and unlawful practices, that I had the boldness to break bounds for the sake of enjoying the latter most severely forbidden pastime.

To the college custom of “tick” also I took most kindly from the first ; indeed it came to me as easy and natural as mischief; it was as if I had been born to it, which in fact, perhaps, I was, if the portents attending my entrance into the world are to be taken into account as having influence on my future destiny. The air of scorn also with which the aristocratic Green major had treated the idea of a gentleman paying ready money for the things that it pleased him to become possessed of dwelt in my memory, and like an ill weed cast on congenial soil, it grew apace, and fourished into an abundant growth of evil habits. In short, the spirit of "Tick” possessed me like an evil genius, and in spite of the warnings which I received in its progress, and the sufferings which I endured from its consequences, it continued to pursue me through life as a destined victim.

It is due to myself, however, to say, in mitigation, that I was surrounded by bad examples on every side ; the getting into debt was the habit of the whole school ; and to this the pernicious facilities afforded by the tradespeople gave tempting encouragement. I think I may venture to affirm that most of the boys were always in debt; the course was this ; during the current half year they incurred debts on the understanding that the tradespeople were to be paid with the money given to the boys by their parents on their return to school after the holidays at the beginning of the next half year; and these debts were always scrupulously paid, although their amount in many cases exhausted all the boys' pocketmoney, and not unfrequently exceeded it. From this prompt exhaustion of the exchequer, however, it resulted, that, in order to procure the same luxuries he had to incur similar debts again. Thus he was never out of debt ; indebtment became a habit ; gradually it assumed the character of one of the conditions of his existence; and at last he grew resigned to the evil as one of the ills of life, to which boys as well as men are heir to.

Nor was the condition of having debts without the present means of paying them deemed disgraceful ; on the contrary, it was considered rather as the criterion of a boy's personal consequence and pecuniary means in proportion as his debts were large or small; and I remember well that in this their quasi-embryo state of profitable debtors, their creditors, purveyors of tarts and cucumbers, had a most astute perception of how far they might go in giving tick to this or that particular customer according to the degree of liberality or indiscreet profuseness with which his parents or guardians were accustomed to supply him with money, or in the technical and expressive phraseology of the school “ to pouch him."

Thus, as I say, the boy was always without money, and always in debt; so that to be in debt became the habitual state of his existence ; and if I may be allowed to repeat what I have written elsewhere, the Eton boy, in pursuance of his training in definitions, came at last to reject the definition of the French philosopher who described man as a cooking animal ; as well as that of the ingenious Monboddo who persisted that man was originally of the monkey kind with his tail worn off; and regardless also of the more sublime definition of the poet, that man was the only animal with the power to lift his eyes to the contemplation of the heavens (“ 09

« PreviousContinue »