« PreviousContinue »
Elegy on a Blackbird.
As every man in the exercise of his duty to himself and the community, struggles with difficulties which no man has always surmounted, and is exposed to dangers which are never wholly escaped ; life has been considered as a warfare, and courage as a virtue more necessary
other. It was soon found, that without the exercise of courage, without an effort of the mind by which immediate pleasure is rejected, pain despised, and life itself set at hazard, much cannot be contributed to the public good, nor such happiness procured to ourselves as is consistent with that of others.
But as pleasure can be exchanged only for pleasure, every art has been used to connect such
gratifications with the exercises of courage as compensate for those which are given up: the pleasures of the imagination are substituted for those of the senses, and the hope of future enjoyments for the possession of present; and to decorate these plea
sures and this hope has wearied eloquence and exhausted learning. Courage has been dignified with the name of heroic virtue; and heroic virtue has deified the hero: his statue, hung round with ensigns of terror, frowned in the gloom of a wood or a temple; altars were raised before it, and the world was commanded to worship.
Thus the ideas of courage, and virtue, and honour are so associated, that wherever we perceive courage, we infer virtue and ascribe honour; without considering whether courage was exerted to produce happiness or misery, in the defence of freedom or support of tyranny.
But though courage and heroic virtue are still confounded, yet by courage nothing more is generally understood than a power of opposing danger with serenity and perseverance. To secure the honours which are bestowed upon courage by custom, it is indeed necessary that this danger should be voluntary: for a courageous resistance of dangers to which we are necessarily exposed by our station is considered merely as the discharge of our duty, and brings only a negative reward, exemption from infamy.
He who, at the approach of evil, betrays his trust or deserts his post is branded with cowardice; a name, perhaps, more reproachful than any other, that does not imply much greater turpitude: he who patiently suffers that which he cannot without guilt avoid escapes infamy, but does not obtain praise. It is the man who provokes danger in its recess, who quits a peaceful retreat, where he might have slumbered in ease and safety, for peril and labour, to drive before a tempest, or to watch in a camp; the man who descends from a precipice by a rope at midnight, to fire a city that is besieged; or who ventures forward into regions of perpetual cold and