And with how free an eye doth he look
Upon these lower regions of turmoil!
Where all the storms of passions mainly beat
On flesh and blood; where honour, power, renown,
Are only gay afflictions, golden toil;
Where greatness stands upon as feeble feet
As frailty doth; and only great doth seem
To little minds, who do it so esteem....
Knowing the heart of man is set to be
The centre of this world, about the which
These revolutions of disturbances
Still roll; where all th’ aspects of misery
Predominate; whose strong effects are such
As he must bear, being powerless to redress;
And that, unless above himself he can
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!
If the exhortation of these verses be somewhat too high and stoical for you, let me return to Longinus and read you, from his concluding chapter, a passage you may find not inapposite to these times, nor without a moral:
‘It remains’ [he says] ’to clear up, my dear Terentianus, a question which a certain philosopher has recently mooted. I wonder,’ he says, ’as no doubt do many others, how it happens that in our time there are men who have the gift of persuasion to the utmost extent, and are well fitted for public life, and are keen and ready, and particularly rich in all the charms of language, yet there no longer arise really lofty and transcendent natures unless it be quite peradventure. So great and world-wide a dearth of high utterance attends our age. Can it be,’ he continued, ’we are to accept the common cant that democracy is the nursing mother of genius, and that great men of letters flourish and die with it? For freedom, they say, has the power to cherish and encourage magnanimous minds, and with it is disseminated eager mutual rivalry and the emulous thirst to excel. Moreover, by the prizes open under a popular government, the mental faculties of orators are perpetually practised and whetted, and as it were, rubbed bright, so that they shine free as the state itself. Whereas to-day,’ he went on, ’we seem to have learnt as an infant-lesson that servitude is the law of life; being all wrapped, while our thoughts are yet young and tender, in observances and customs as in swaddling clothes, bound without access to that fairest and most fertile source of man’s speech (I mean Freedom) so that we are turned out in no other guise than that of servile flatterers. And servitude (it has been well said) though it be even righteous, is the cage of the soul and a public prison-house.’
But I answered him thus.—’It is easy, my good sir, and characteristic of human nature, to gird at the age in which one lives. Yet consider whether it may not be true that it is less the world’s peace that ruins noble nature than this war illimitable which holds our aspirations