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Confessions Of An Inquiring Spirit Etc by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

ESSAY II. Quod me non movet aestimatione: Verum est Greek text which cannot be reproduced.à

Quod me non movet aestimatione:
Verum est [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] mei sodalis. CATULL. xii.

(Translation.) -- It interests not by any conceit of its value; but it is a remembrance of my honoured friend.

The philosophic ruler, who secured the favours of fortune by seeking wisdom and knowledge in preference to them, has pathetically observed -- |The heart knoweth its own bitterness; and there is a joy in which the stranger intermeddleth not.| A simple question founded on a trite proverb, with a discursive answer to it, would scarcely suggest to an indifferent person any other notion than that of a mind at ease, amusing itself with its own activity. Once before (I believe about this time last year), I had taken up the old memorandum book, from which I transcribed the preceding essay, and they had then attracted my notice by the name of the illustrious chemist mentioned in the last illustration. Exasperated by the base and cowardly attempt that had been made to detract from the honours due to his astonishing genius, I had slightly altered the concluding sentences, substituting the more recent for his earlier discoveries; and without the most distant intention of publishing what I then wrote, I had expressed my own convictions for the gratification of my own feelings, and finished by tranquilly paraphrasing into a chemical allegory the Homeric adventure of Menelaus with Proteus. Oh! with what different feelings, with what a sharp and sudden emotion did I re-peruse the same question yester-morning, having by accident opened the book at the page upon which it was written. I was moved; for it was Admiral Sir Alexander Ball who first proposed the question to me, and the particular satisfaction which he expressed had occasioned me to note down the substance of my reply. I was moved; because to this conversation I was indebted for the friendship and confidence with which he afterwards honoured me, and because it recalled the memory of one of the most delightful mornings I ever passed; when, as we were riding together, the same person related to me the principal events of his own life, and introduced them by adverting to this conversation. It recalled too the deep impression left on my mind by that narrative -- the impression that I had never known any analogous instance, in which a man so successful had been so little indebted to fortune, or lucky accidents, or so exclusively both the architect and builder of his own success. The sum of his history may be comprised in this one sentence -- Haec, sab numine, nobismet fecimas, sapientia duce, fortune permittente. (i.e. These things under God, we have done for ourselves, through the guidance of wisdom, and with the permission of fortune.) Luck gave him nothing: in her most generous moods, she only worked with him as with a friend, not for him as for a fondling; but more often she simply stood neuter, and suffered him to work for himself. Ah! how could I be otherwise than affected by whatever reminded me of that daily and familiar intercourse with him, which made the fifteen months from May, 1804, to October, 1805, in many respects the most memorable and instructive period of my life? Ah! how could I be otherwise than most deeply affected, when there was still lying on my table the paper which the day before had conveyed to me the unexpected and most awful tidings of this man's death? his death in the fulness of all his powers, in the rich autumn of ripe yet undecaying manhood! I once knew a lady who, after the loss of a lovely child, continued for several days in a state of seeming indifference, the weather at the same time, as if in unison with her, being calm, though gloomy; till one morning a burst of sunshine breaking in upon her, and suddenly lighting up the room where she was sitting, she dissolved at once into tears, and wept passionately. In no very dissimilar manner did the sudden gleam of recollection at the sight of this memorandum act on myself. I had been stunned by the intelligence, as by an outward blow, till this trifling incident startled and disentranced me; the sudden pang shivered through my whole frame; and if I repressed the outward shows of sorrow, it was by force that I repressed them, and because it is not by tears that I ought to mourn for the loss of Sir Alexander Ball.

He was a man above his age; but for that very reason the age has the more need to have the master-features of his character portrayed and preserved. This I feel it my duty to attempt, and this alone; for having received neither instructions nor permission from the family of the deceased, I cannot think myself allowed to enter into the particulars of his private history, strikingly as many of them would illustrate the elements and composition of his mind. For he was indeed a living confutation of the assertion attributed to the Prince of Conde, that no man appeared great to his valet de chambre -- a saying which, I suspect, owes its currency less to its truth than to the envy of mankind, and the misapplication of the word great, to actions unconnected with reason and free will. It will be sufficient for my purpose to observe that the purity and strict propriety of his conduct, which precluded rather than silenced calumny, the evenness of his temper, and his attentive and affectionate manners in private life, greatly aided and increased his public utility; and, if it should please Providence that a portion of his spirit should descend with his mantle, the virtues of Sir Alexander Ball, as a master, a husband, and a parent, will form a no less remarkable epoch in the moral history of the Maltese than his wisdom, as a governor, has made in that of their outward circumstances. That the private and personal qualities of a first magistrate should have political effects will appear strange to no reflecting Englishman, who has attended to the workings of men's minds during the first ferment of revolutionary principles, and must therefore have witnessed the influence of our own sovereign's domestic character in counteracting them. But in Malta there were circumstances which rendered such an example peculiarly requisite and beneficent. The very existence for so many generations of an order of lay celibates in that island, who abandoned even the outward shows of an adherence to their vow of chastity, must have had pernicious effects on the morals of the inhabitants. But when it is considered too that the Knights of Malta had been for the last fifty years or more a set of useless idlers, generally illiterate, for they thought literature no part of a soldier's excellence; and yet effeminate, for they were soldiers in name only; when it is considered that they were, moreover, all of them aliens, who looked upon themselves not merely as of a superior rank to the native nobles, but as beings of a different race (I had almost said species) from the Maltese collectively; and finally, that these men possessed exclusively the government of the island; it may be safely concluded that they were little better than a perpetual influenza, relaxing and diseasing the hearts of all the families within their sphere of influence. Hence the peasantry, who fortunately were below their reach, notwithstanding the more than childish ignorance in which they were kept by their priests, yet compared with the middle and higher classes, were both in mind and body as ordinary men compared with dwarfs. Every respectable family had some one knight for their patron, as a matter of course; and to him the honour of a sister or a daughter was sacrificed, equally as a matter of course. But why should I thus disguise the truth? Alas! in nine instances out of ten, this patron was the common paramour of every female in the family. Were I composing a state memorial I should abstain from all allusion to moral good or evil, as not having now first to learn, that with diplomatists and with practical statesmen of every denomination, it would preclude all attention to its other contents, and have no result but that of securing for its author's name the official private mark of exclusion or dismission, as a weak or suspicions person. But among those for whom I am now writing, there are, I trust, many who will think it not the feeblest reason for rejoicing in our possession of Malta, and not the least worthy motive for wishing its retention, that one source of human misery and corruption has been dried up. Such persons will hear the name of Sir Alexander Ball with additional reverence, as of one who has made the protection of Great Britain a double blessing to the Maltese, and broken |THE BONDS OF INIQUITY| as well as unlocked the fetters of political oppression.

When we are praising the departed by our own firesides, we dwell most fondly on those qualities which had won our personal affection, and which sharpen our individual regrets. But when impelled by a loftier and more meditative sorrow, we would raise a public monument to their memory, we praise them appropriately when we relate their actions faithfully; and thus preserving their example for the imitation of the living alleviate the loss, while we demonstrate its magnitude. My funeral eulogy of Sir Alexander Ball must therefore he a narrative of his life; and this friend of mankind will be defrauded of honour in proportion as that narrative is deficient and fragmentary. It shall, however, be as complete as my information enables, and as prudence and a proper respect for the feelings of the living permit me to render it. His fame (I adopt the words of our elder writers) is so great throughout the world that he stands in no need of an encomium; and yet his worth is much greater these his fame. It is impossible not to speak great things of him, and yet it will be very difficult to speak what he deserves. But custom requires that something should be said; it is a duty and a debt which we owe to ourselves and to mankind, not less than to his memory; and I hope his great soul, if it hath any knowledge of what is done here below, will not be offended at the smallness even of my offering.

Ah, how little, when among the subjects of The Friend I promised |Characters met with in Real Life,| did I anticipate the sad event, which compels one to weave on a cypress branch those sprays of laurel which I had destined for his bust, not his monument! He lived as we should all live; and, I doubt not, left the world as we should all wish to leave it. Such is the power of dispensing blessings, which Providence has attached to the truly great and good, that they cannot even die without advantage to their fellow-creatures; for death consecrates their example, and the wisdom, which might have been slighted at the council-table, becomes oracular from the shrine. Those rare excellences, which make our grief poignant, make it likewise profitable; and the tears which wise men shed for the departure of the wise, are among those that are preserved in heaven. It is the fervent aspiration of my spirit, that I may so perform the task which private gratitude and public duty impose on me, that |as God hath cut this tree of paradise down from its seat of earth, the dead trunk may yet support a part of the declining temple, or at least serve to kindle the fire on the altar.|

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