« ForrigeFortsett »
FROM MR. GRAY TO BONSTETTEN."
LETTER I. - Cambridge, April 12, 1770. NEveR did I feel, my dear Bonstetten, to what a tedious length the few short moments of our life may be extended by impatience and expectation, till you had left me; nor ever knew before with so strong a conviction how much this frail body sympathizes with the inquietude of the mind. I am grown old in the compass of less than three weeks, like the sultan in the Turkish Tales, that did but plunge his head into a vessel of water and take it out again, as the standers-by affirmed, at the command of a dervise, and found he had passed many years in captivity, and begot a large family of children. The strength and spirits that now enable me to write to you, are only owing to your last letter—a temporary gleam of sunshine. Heaven knows when it may shine again! I did not conceive till now, I own, what it was to lose you, nor felt the solitude and insipidity of my own condition before I possessed the happiness of your friendship. I must cite another Greek writer to you, because it is much to my purpose: he is describing the character of a genius truly inclined to philosophy; “It includes,” he says, “qualifications rarely united in one single mind, quickness of apprehension, and a retentive memory, vivacity and application, gentleness and magnanimity: to these he adds an invincible love of truth, and consequently of probity and justice. Such a soul,” continues he, “will be little inclined to sensual pleasures, and consequently temperate; a stranger to illiberality and avarice; being accustomed to the most extensive views of things, and sublimest contemplations, it will contract an habitual greatness, will look down with a kind of disregard on human life, and on death, consequently, will possess the truest fortitude. Such,” says he, “is , the mind born to govern the rest of mankind.” But these very endowments, so necessary to a soul formed for philosophy, are often its ruin, especially when joined to the external advantages of wealth, nobility, strength, and beauty; that is, if it light on a bad soil, and want its proper nurture, which nothing but an excellent education can bestow. In this case he is depraved by the public example, the assemblies of the people, the courts of justice, the theatres, that inspire it with false opinions, terrify it with false infamy, or elevate it with false applause; and remember, that extraordinary vices and extraordinary virtues are equally the produce of a vigorous mind: little souls are alike incapable of the one and the other. If you have ever met with the portrait sketched out by Plato, you will know it again: for my part, to my sorrow, I have had that happiness: I see the principal features, and I foresee the dangers with a trembling anxiety. But enough of this; I return to your letter. It proves, at least, that in the midst of your new gaieties, I still hold some place in your memory, and, what pleases me above all, it has an air of undissembled sincerity. Go on, my best and amiable friend, to shew me your heart simply and without the shadow of disguise, and leave me to weep over it, as I now do, no matter whether from joy or sorrow.
* Bonstetten, in his youth, resided for some time at Cambridge, during which he enjoyed an almost daily intercourse with Mr. Gray, who attached himself to him with great ardour, and soon became his warmest and most confidential friend.
ALAs how do I every moment feel the truth of what I have somewhere read, “Ce n'est pas le voir, que de s'en souvenir;” and yet that remembrance is the only satisfaction I have left. My life now is but a perpetual
conversation with your shadow—the known sound of your voice still rings in my ears—there, on the corner of the fender, you are standing, or tinkling on the pianoforte, or stretched at length on the sofa. Do you reflect, my dearest friend, that it is a week or eight days before I can receive a letter from you, and as much more before you can have my answer; that all that time I am employed, with more than Herculean toil, in pushing the tedious hours along, and wishing to annihilate them; the more I strive, the heavier they move, and the longer they grow. I cannot bear this place, where I have spent many tedious years within less than a month since you left me. I am going for a few days to see poor N , invited by a letter, wherein he mentions you in such terms as add to my regard for him, and express my own sentiments better than I can do myself. “I am concerned,” says he, “that I cannot pass half my life with him; I never met with any one who pleased and suited me so well: the miracle to me is, how he comes to be so little spoiled, and the miracle of miracles will be, if he continues so in the midst of every danger and seduction, and without any advantages but from his own excellent nature and understanding. I own I am very anxious for him on this account, and perhaps your inquietude may have proceeded from the same cause. I hope I am to hear when he has passed that cursed sea, or will he forget me thus in insulam relegatum ? If he should, it is out of my power to retaliate.” Surely you have written to him, my dear Bonstetten, or surely you will he has moved me with these gentle and sensible expressions of his kindness for you; are you untouched by them? - - * * You do me the credit, and false or true it goes to my heart, of ascribing to me your love for many virtues of the highest rank. Would to heaven it were sol but they are indeed the fruits of your own noble and gene2 B 2 w
370 GRAY's Li FE AND LETTERs.
rous understanding, which has hitherto struggled against the stream of custom, passion, and ill company, even when you were but a child; and will you now give way to that stream when your strength is increased ? Shall the jargon of French sophists, the allurements of painted women comme il faut, or the vulgar caresses of prostitute beauty, the property of all who can afford to purchase it, induce you to give up a mind and body by nature distinguished from all others, to folly, idleness, disease, and vain remorse? Have a care, my ever amiable friend, of loving what you do not approve. Know me for your most faithful and most humble despot.
I AM returned, my dear Bonstetten, from the little journey I made into Suffolk, without answering the end proposed. The thought that you might have been with me there has embittered all my hours: your letter has made me happy, as happy as so gloomy, so solitary a being as I am, is capable of being made. I know, and have too often felt, the disadvantages I lay myself under, how much I hurt the little interest I have in you, by this air of sadness, so contrary to your nature and present enjoyments; but sure you will forgive, though you cannot sympathize with me. It is impossible for me to dissemble with you; such as I am I expose my heart to your view, nor wish to conceal a single thought from your penetrating eyes. All that you say to me, especially on the subject of Switzerland, is infinitely acceptable. It feels too pleasing ever to be fulfilled, and as often as I read over your truly kind letter, written long since from London, I stop at these words: “La mort qui peut glacer nos bras avant qu'ils soient entrelacéés.”
END OF LIFE AND LETTERS.