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GUESSES AT TRUTH.
IN the wars of the middle ages, when the armies were lying in their camps, single knights would often sally forth to disport themselves in breaking a lance. In modern warfare too the stillness of a night before a battle is ever and anon interrupted by a solitary cannon-shot; which does not always fall without effect. Ahab was slain by an arrow let off at a venture: nor are his the only spolia opima that Chance has borne away to adorn her triumphs.
Detacht thoughts in literature, under whatsoever name they may be cast forth into the world,— Maxims, Aphorisms, Essays, Resolves, Hints, Meditations, Aids to Reflexion, Guesses,may be regarded as similar sallies and disportings of those who are loth to lie rusting in inaction, though they do not feel themselves called to act more regularly and in mass. And these too are not wholly without worth and power; which is not uniformly in proportion to bulk. One of the lessons of the late wars has been, that large disciplined bodies are not the only effective force:
Cossacks and Guerillas, we have seen, may render good service in place and season. A curious and entertaining treatise might be written de vi quae residet in minimis. Even important historical events have been kindled by the spark of an epigram or a jest.
In some cases, as in Novalis, we see youthful genius gushing in radiant freshness, and sparkling and bringing out some bright hue on every object around, until it has found or made itself a more continuous channel. And as spring sheds its blossoms, so does autumn its golden fruit. Mature and sedate wisdom has been fond of summing up the results of its experience in weighty sentences. Solomon did so: the wise men of India and of Greece did so: Bacon did so: Goethe in his old age took delight in doing so. The sea throws up shells and pebbles that it has smoothed by rolling them in its bosom and what though children alone should play with them? "Cheered
by their merry shouts, old Ocean smiles."
A dinner of fragments is said often to be the best dinner. So are there few minds but might furnish some instruction and entertainment out of their scraps, their odds and ends of thought. They who cannot weave a uniform web, may at least produce a piece of patchwork; which may be useful, and not without a charm of its own. The very sharpness and abruptness with which truths must be asserted, when they are to stand singly, is not ill fitted to startle and rouse sluggish
and drowsy minds. Nor is the present shattered and disjointed state of the intellectual world unaptly represented by a collection of fragments. When the waters are calm, they reflect an image in its unity and completeness; but when they are tossing restlessly, it splits into bits. So too, when the central fires are raging, they shake the mainland, and strew it with ruins, but now and then cast up islands. And if we look through history, the age of Asia seems to have past away; and we are approaching to that of Polynesia.
Only whatsoever may be brought together in these pages, though but a small part be laid within the courts of the temple itself, may we never stray so far as to lose it out of sight: and along with the wood and hay and stubble, may there be here and there a grain of silver, if not of gold.
Poetry is the key to the hieroglyphics of Nature.
On the outside of things seek for differences; on the inside for likenesses.
Notions may be imported by books from abroad: ideas must be grown at home by thought.
If the imagination be banisht from the garden of Eden, she will take up her abode in the island of Armida; and that soon changes into Circe's. u.
Why have oracles ceast? Among other reasons, because we have the books of the wise in their stead. But these too will not answer aright, unless the right question be put to them. Nay, when the answer has been uttered, he who hears it must know how to interpret and to apply it.
One may develope an idea: it is what God has taught us to do in his successive revelations. But one cannot add to it, least of all in another age.
Congruity is not beauty: but it is essential to beauty. In every wellbred mind the perception of incongruity impedes and interrupts the perception of beauty. Hence the recent opening of the view upon St Martin's church has marred the beauty of the portico the heavy steeple presses down on it and crushes it. The combination is as monstrous as it would be to tack on the last act of Addison's Cato to the Philoctetes of Sophocles.
In truth steeples, which belong to the upwardlooking principle of Christian architecture, never harmonize well with the horizontal earthly character of the Greek temple. To understand the beauty of the latter, one must see it free from this extraneous and incompatible incumbrance. One should see it too with a southern sky to crown it and look through it.