BLTC Press Titles

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The Characters of Theophrastus


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

De l'esprit, or, Essays on the mind, and its several faculties

by Helvétius





BIOGRAPHY may be reckoned among the moft interefting of literary productions. Its intrinfic value is fuch, that, though capable of extraordinary embellifliment from the hand of genius, yet no inferiority of execution can fo degrade it, as to deprive it of all utility. Whatever relates even to man in genera), confidered only as an aggregate of active and intelligent beings, has a ftrong claim upon our notice; but that which relates to him as diftinguifhed from the reft of his fpecies, as moving in a more exalted fphere, and towering above them by the refplendent excellencies of mind, feems to me to be peculiarly calculated for our contemplation, and ought to form the higheft pleafure of our lives. There is a principle of curiofity implanted in us, which leads us, in an efpecial manner, to inveftigate our fellow-creatures ; the, eager inquifitivenefs with which the mechanic feeks to know the hiftory of his fellowworkmen ; and the ardour with which the philofopher, the poet, or the hiftorian, hunts for details that may familiarize him with Defcartes or Newton, with Milton, Hume, or Gibbon; fpring from the fame fource. Their object, however, may perhaps vary; for, in the former, it may be for the fake of detraction, invidious cavil, or malice; in the latter, it is a fweet homage paid by the human heart to the memory of departed genius.

It has been repeatedly obferved, that the life of a fcholar affords few materials for biography. This is only negatively true; could every Vcholar have-a Bofwell, the remark would vanifh; or were every fcholar a Rouffeau, a Gibbon, or a Cumberland, it would be equally nugatory. What can prefent higher objects of contemplation—what can claim more forcibly our attention—where can we feek for fubjects of a more precious nature than in the elucidation of the operations of mind, the acquifitions of knowledge, the gradual expanfion of genius; its application, its felicities, its forrows, its wreaths of fame, its cold undeferved neglect? Such fcenes, painted by the artift himfelf, are a rich bequeft to mankind; even when traced by the hand of friendfhip or the pencil of admiration, they poffefs a permanent intereft in our hearts. I cannot conceive a life more worthy of public notice—more important, more interefting to human nature, than the life of a literary man, were it executed according to the ideas I have formed of it; did it exhibit a faithful delineation of the progrefs of intellect:, from the cradle upwards; did it pourtray, in accurate colours, the production of what we call genius; by what accident it was firft awakened; what were its firft tendencies; how directed to a particular object ; by what means it was nourifhed and unfolded; the gradual progrefs of its operation in the production of a work; its hopes and fears; its delights; its miferies; its infpirations, and all the thoufand fleeting joys that fo often inveft its path but for a moment, and then fade like the dews of the morning.— Let it contain too a tranfcript of the many namelefs tranfports that float round the heart, that dance in gay circle before the ardent gazing eye, when the firft conception of fome future effort ftrikes the mind; how it pictures undefined delights of fame and popular applaufe; how it anticipates the bright moments of invention, and dwells with prophetic extacy on the felicitous execution of particular parts, that already ftart into exiftence by the magic touch of a heated imagination:—let it depict the tender feelings of folitude, the breathings of midnight filence, the fcenes of mimic life, of imaged trial, that often occupy the mufing mind; let it be fuch a work, fo drawn, fo coloured, and who fhall pronounce it inferior ? who rather will not confefs that it prefents a picture of human nature, where every heart may find fome correfponding harmony ? When, therefore, it is faid, that the life of a fcholar is barren, it is fo only becaufe it has never been properly delineated; becaufe thofe parts only have been felected which are common, and fail to diftinguifh him from the common man; becaufe we have never penetrated into his clofet, or into his heart; becaufe we have drawn him only as an outward figure, and left unnoticed that internal ftrudture that would delight, aftonifh, and improve. And then, when we compare the life of fuch a man with the more active one of a foldier, a ftatefman, or a lawyer, we pronounce it infipid, uninterefting: true;—the man of ftudy has never fought for hire, he has never flaughtered at the command of a mafter; he has never cringed for court favours, and ruined his country to preferve the fmiles of his monarch; he has never been the advocate of injuftice, tyranny, or fraud, for a fee ; he has been none of thefe; he would difdain to be fuch: but be not therefore deceived; though unaccompanied with the glaring actions of public men, which confound and dazzle by their publicity, but fhrink from theeftimation of moral truth, it would prefenta far nobler picture; yes, and a more instructive one: the calm difciple of reafon, he meditates in filence, and while he meditates, communes with his God ; he walks his road with innoxious humility; he is poor, but his mind is his treafure: he cultivates his reafon, and (he lifts him to the pinnacle of truth; he learns to tear away the veil of felf-love, folly, pride, and prejudice, and bares the human heart to his infpection; he corrects and amends; he repairs the breaches made by pafiion; the proud man pafl'es him by, and looks upon him with fcprn ; but he feels his own worth, that ennobling confcioufnefs which fwells in every vein, and infpires him with true pride, with manly independence;—to fuch a man I could fooner bow in reverence, than to the haughtieft, moft fuccefsful, candidate for the world's ambition, that ever graced the records of a nation. But of fuch men, for the reafon I have already mentioned, our information is fcanty. While of others, who have commanded a greater fhare of public notoriety, venal or miftaken admiration has given more than we wiihed to know.

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