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Impatient of control, and eager to exercise over others that authority, which it resents when exercised towards itself, though only for its protection, - it longs for the time when it shall be as old and as strong as its brothers, and sisters, and companions, that it may enjoy the same liberties, and assume the same airs and rights which they do.
When a little further grown, the boy, -- looking up, and pressing onward, as he rises in stature, and feels new capacities expanding within him, - rebels in secret against the yoke, the reins, and the scourge, with which he finds himself ruled, however his servitude may be disguised; and he sighs for maturity, that he may go where he pleases, and do what he likes.
It is not, then, the toys, the sweetmeats, the holidays, the finery, and the caresses that are lavished upon him, – these are mere every-day matters of course, - it is something far more intellectual than any childish thing, that constitutes the charm of childish existence. 66 When I am a man!” is the poetry of childhood; and, Oh ! how much is comprehended in that puerile phrase, so often employed by little lips, unconscious of its bitter meaning; and so unheeded by those who are men already, and have forgotten that they ever had a golden dream of that iron age,
a dream, to which all the fictions of romance are cold and unnatural ! 66 When I am a man!” means, in the mind of a child, when he shall be no more that which he is; when (as he is already by anticipation) he shall be that which he is not, – that, which, alas ! he never will be - Lord of himself.
If we would really know, by a test which will hardly deceive us, the highest happiness of what is (mistakenly I am sure) deemed the happiest period of human life, let us recollect what were our own emotions, when we were cherishing ideas of manhood to come,
- but which never did come to the heart as it had been promised to the hope. 66 When I was a child !” is the poetry of
age. Man, advancing in years, enriched with the treasure of disappointed hopes, looks less eagerly before him, because he expects less good, and fears more evil, in this world, in proportion as he proves for himself what are the sad and sober realities of life. Eternity invites him to explore its mysteries, in anticipation of his approaching end; when all his love, and all his hatred, and all his envy shall cease, and there remain no longer a portion to him in all that is done under the sun. [Ecclesiastes, ix. 6.]
Yet, while caution and prudence, the fruits of many a failure and much suffering, make him peep warily forward into his future trials in the
present state,- the circumstances of spiritual existence are so utterly unseen and inconceivable by mortal faculties, that, when his mind puts forth its feelers beyond the grave, imperfectly to apprehend a little of the terrors or the glories of an hereafter, -soon coming in contact with things with which flesh and blood can hold no communion, it draws them back with a sensitive collapse, like that which shrinks up a snail, when its telescopic eyes suddenly touch a palpable substance.
Yet not into itself alone, or even within the circumscribed horizon of the present, does the mind
retire from eternity; it takes refuge in past time, and recalls, with fondness and entrancement (unknown while they were in his power), the sports of infancy, the raptures of boyhood, and the passionate pursuits of youth. But, in the dream of memory, he forgets that while he was passing successively through these, the poetry of Hope was, in each, alluring him forward to the stage beyond; and even through the matter-offact period of maturity continued to decoy him from the every-day business of life, till he arrived at that barrier, where “ desire faileth, because man goeth to his long home.” It is from that barrier, that he daily looks less and less onward, and more and more behind him, at the scenes which he is leaving for ever, and especially at the earliest, the most endeared, though the most familiar of the whole series.
Ah! then, how naturally will some bright day, among
clouded ones, recur to him in all its splendour, and be spent, like youth renewed, spent over again in imagination, through all its hours, with an intensity of enjoyment which the reality never gave — never could give, subject, as all present felicities must be, to inconveniences and annoyances, forgotten as soon as they are over ; while the ethereal, or rather the ideal, of the scenes and the circumstances alone survives in remembrance.
“ This lives within him ; this shall be
Amidst the cares, the toils, the strife,
When, with a lightning-flash of thought,
It is then, in the recollection of such a day, innocently spent with friends, of whom some have been long dead, others are far separated, and a few have grown old with himself, - it is then that he can say,
The harmonies of heaven and earth,
The thought how fugitive and fair,
They were, they are, and yet shall be." Now, all these are of the nature of poetry – poetry in its highest, purest, most intellectual, imaginative,
and passionate form. And that verse is not poetry, which does not, in some way or other, and in no inconsiderable degree, excite sentiments, images, and associations, kindred to those which would be awakened in the mind, presented to the eye, or inspired into the soul, — by the well-proportioned statue of Minerva on her temple at Athens, -- by the low sounds of battle, booming from the sea-coast, along the banks of the Thames, when the British and Dutch fleets were engaged within hearing, but out of sight, of the metropolis, - by the first view of his native land, and its nearer approach, till he beheld the smoke from his own chimney, to the mariner returning from a long voyage, - by the contemplation of the stars and the heavens, under all the aspects in which we have considered them, — by the ineffable forecastings of Hope in the bosom of the lad, who thinks to himself, much oftener than he
66 When I am a man!” and by the tender but sublime emotions of the man, looking back through the vista of years, and exclaiming, child !” remembering only the delights of nutting, bird-nesting, fishing for minnows with a crooked pin, and going home at the holidays - but forgetting the tasks, the control, the self-denial, and the hard fare to which the schoolboy was subjected.
May I add, that “the Pleasures of Memory," and “ the Pleasures of Hope,” have had poets in our own language, whose strains, worthy of their themes, will not soon cease to animate the aspirations of youth, and hallow the recollection of
6. When I was a