« PreviousContinue »
prepared to endure if it should happen; which may, in the common courfe of things, happen to any man; and which has been known to happen to the moft diftinguifhed and virtuous perfons in hiftory. Shall I mention those wife and ancient bards, whofe misfortunes the Gods are faid to have compenfated by fuperior endowments, and whom men fo much revered, that they chofe rather to impute their want of fight to the injustice of heaven than to their own want of innocence or virtue? What is reported of the Augur Tirefias is well known; of whom Apollonius fung thus in his Argonauts;
To men he dar'd the will divine disclose,
But God himself is truth; in propagating which, as men display a greater integrity and zeal, they approach nearer to the fimilitude of God, and poffefs a greater portion of his love. We cannot fuppofe the Deity envious of truth, or unwilling that it fhould be freely communicated to mankind. The lofs of fight, therefore, which this infpired fage, who was fo eager in promoting knowledge among men, fuftained, cannot be confidered as a judicial punishment. Or fhall I mention those worthies who were as diftinguished for wildom in the cabinet, as for valour in the field? And firft, Timoleon of Corinth, who delivered his city and all Sicily from the yoke of flavery; than whom there never lived, in any age, a more virtuous man, or a more incorrupt statesman: Next Appius Claudius whofe difcreet counfels in the fenate, though they could not restore fight to his own eyes, faved Italy from the formidable inroads of Pyrrhus: then Cæcilius Metellus the high priest, who loft his fight, while he faved, not only the city, but the palladium, the protection of the city, and the moft facred relics, from the deftruction of the flames. On other occafions Providence has indeed given confpicuous proofs of its regard for fuch fingular exertions of patriotifm and virtue; what, therefore, happened to fo great and fo good a man, I can hardly place
place in the catalogue of misfortunes. Why fhould I mention others of later times, as Dandolo of Venice, the incomparable Doge; or Boemar Zifca, the bravest of generals, and the champion of the crofs; or Jerome Zanchius, and fome other theologians of the highest reputation? For it is evident that the Patriarch Isaac, than whom no man ever enjoyed more of the divine regard, lived blind for many years; and perhaps alfo his fon Jacob, who was equally an object of the divine benevolence. And in fhort, did not our Saviour himself clearly declare that that poor man whom he reftored to fight, had not been born blind, either on account of his own fins or thofe of his progenitors? And with respect to myself, though I have accurately examined my conduct, and fcrutinized my foul, I call thee, O God, the fearcher of hearts to witness, that I am not conscious, either in the more early, or in the later periods of my life, of having committed any enormity, which might defervedly have marked me out as a fit object for fuch a calamitous vifitation. But fince my enemies boast that, this affliction is only a retribution for the tranfgreffions of my pen; I again invoke the Almighty to witnefs, that I never, at any time wrote any thing which I did not think agreeable to truth, to juftice, and to piety. This was my perfuafion then, and I feel the fame perfuafion now. now. Nor was I ever prompted to fuch exertions by the influence of ambition, by the luft of lucre or of praife; it was only by the conviction of duty and the feeling of patriotism, a difinterefted paffion for the extenfion of civil and religious liberty. Thus, therefore, when I was publickly folicited to write a reply to the defence of the royal caufe, when I had to contend with the preffure of ficknefs, and with the apprehenfion of foon lofing the fight of my remaining eye, and when my medical attendants clearly announced, that if I did engage in the work, it would be irreparably loft, their premonitions caufed no hesitation and infpired no difmay. I would not have liftened to the voice even of Efculapius himself from the fhrine of Epidauris, in preference to the fuggestions of the heavenly monitor within my breast; my refolution was unfhaken, though the alternative was either the lofs of
my fight, or the defertion of my duty; and I called to mind those two deftinies, which the oracle of Delphi announced to the fon of Thetis.
Two fates may lead me to the realms of night;
I confidered that many had purchased a lefs good by a greater evil, the meed of glory by the lofs of life; but that I might procure great good by little fuffering; that though I am blind, I might still discharge the most honourable duties, the performance of which, as it is fomething more durable than glory, ought to be an object of fuperior admiration and esteem; I refolved, therefore, to make the fhort interval of fight, which was left me to enjoy, as beneficial as poffible to the public intereft. Thus it is clear, by what motives I was governed in the measures which I took, and the loffes which I fuftained. Let then the calumniators of the divine goodnefs ceafe to revile, or to make me the object of their fuperftitious imaginations. Let them confider, that my fituation, fuch as it is, is neither an object of my fhame or my regret; that my refolutions are too firm to be fhaken, that I am not depreffed by any fenfe of the divine difpleasure; that, on the other hand, in the most momentous periods, I have had full experience of the divine favour and protection; and that, in the folace and the strength, which have been infused into me from above, I have been enabled to do the will of God; that I may oftener think on what he has bestowed, than on what he has withheld; that in short, I am unwilling to exchange my consciousness of rectitude with that of any other perfon; and that I feel the recollection a treasured ftore of tranquillity and delight. But, if the choice were neceffary, I would Sir, prefer my blindnefs to yours; yours is a cloud fpread over the mind, which darkens both the light of reafon and of conscience ; mine keeps from my view only the coloured furfaces of
things, while it leaves me at liberty to contemplate the beauty and stability of virtue and of truth. How many things are there befides, which I would not willingly fee; how many which I must fee against my will; and how few which I feel any anxiety to fee! There is, as the apostle has remarked, a way to ftrength through weaknefs. Let me then be the moft feeble creature alive, as long as that feeblenefs ferves to invigorate the energies of my rational and immortal spirit; as long as in that obfcurity, in which I am enveloped, the light of the divine prefence more clearly fhines; then, in proportion as I am weak, I fhall be invincibly ftrong; and in proportion as I am blind, I fhall more clearly fee. O that I may thus be perfected by feebleness, and irradiated by obfcurity! And indeed, in my blindness, I enjoy in no inconfiderable degree the favour of the Deity; who regards me with more tendernefs and compaffion in proportion as I am able to behold nothing but himself. Alas! for him who infults me, who maligns and merits public execration! For the divine law not only shields me from injury, but almost renders me too facred to attack; not indeed fo much from the privation of my fight, as from the overshadowing of thofe heavenly wings, which feem to have occafioned this obfcurity; and which, when occafioned, he is wont to illuminate with an interior light, more precious and more pure. To this I afcribe the more tender affiduities of my friends, their foothing attentions, their kind vifits, their reverential obfervances; among whom there are fome with whom I may interchange the Pyladean and Thefean dialogue of infeparable friends.
Orest. Proceed, and be rudder of my feet, by fhewing me the most endearing love.
Eurip. in Oreft.
And in another place,
Lend your hand to your devoted friend,
Throw your arm round my neck, and I will con, duct you on the
This extraordinary kindness which I experience, carnot
be any fortuitous combination; and friends, fuch as mine do not fuppofe that all the virtues of a man are contained in his eyes. Nor do the perfons of principal distinction in the commonwealth fuffer me to be bereaved of comfort, when they fee me bereaved of fight, amid the exertions which I made; the zeal which I fhowed, and the dangers which I run for the liberty which I love. But, foberly reflecting on the cafualties of human life, they fhew me favour and indulgence as to a foldier who has ferved his time; and kindly concede to me an exemption from care and toil. They do not ftrip me of the badges of honour which I have once worn; they do not deprive me of the places of public truft to which I have been appointed; they do not abridge my falary or emoluments; which, though I may not do fo much to deferve as I did formerly, they are too confiderate and too kind to take away; and in fhort they honour me as much, as the Athenians did those, whom they determined to fupport at the public expence in the Prytaneum. Thus, while both God and man unite in folacing me under the weight of my affliction, let no one lament my lofs of fight in fo honourable a caufe. And let me not indulge in unavailing grief; or want the courage either to despise the revilers of my blindness, or the forbearance easily to pardon the offence. I return to you, Sir, whoever you may be, who, with a remarkable inconfiftency, seem to confider me at one time as a giant; and at another as a dwarf. You end with expreffing your wifh, that the United Provinces may with as much eafe, and as much fuccefs, put an end to this war as Salmafius will put an end to Milton. To which wifh, if I were cheerfully to affent, I think that I fhould not omen ill, nor ill implore for our fuccefs, or for the English interest.
But lo! again a diffonant and hiffing cry! It seems as if a flock of geefe were paffing through the air. I now perceive what it is; the cry has no tragic tones; the chorus makes its appearance; when lo! two poetafters, if two there be, as diverfe in colour as in form. Shall I call it a Sphinx, or that poetical monfter of Horace, with a woman's head and an afs's neck, covered with motley plumes, and made up of limbs taken from every species