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As yet 'tis midnight deep. The weary clouds
Where now, ye lying vanities of life?
Father of light and life ! thou Good Supreme !
117. The Voyage of Life.
“Life,” says Seneca, “ is a voyage, in the progress of which we are perpetually changing our scer.es. We first leave childhood behind us, then youth, then the years of ripened manhood, then the better and more pleasing part of old age.” The perusal of this passage having excited in me a train of reflections on the state of man, the incessant fluc
tuation of his wishes, the gradual change of his disposition to all external objects, and the thoughtlessness with which he floats along the stream of time, I sunk into a slumber amidst my meditations, and on a sudden found my ears filled with the tumult of labor, the shouts of alacrity, the shrieks of alarm, the whistle of winds, and the dash of waters.
My astonishment for a time repressed my curiosity; but, soon recovering myself so far as to inquire whither we were going, and what was the cause of such clamor and confusion, I was told that we were launching out into the ocean of life; that we had already passed the straits of infancy, in which multitudes had perished, some by the weakness and fragility of their vessels, and more by the folly, perverseness, or negli gence of those who undertook to steer them; and that we were now on the main sea, abandoned tr the winds and billows, without any other means of security than the care of the pilot, whom it was always in our power to choose among great numbers that offered their direction and assistance.
I then looked round with anxious eagerness, and first, turn ing my eyes behind me, saw a stream flowing through flowery islands, which every one that sailed along seemed to behold with pleasure, but no sooner touched, than the current, which, though neither noisy nor turbulent, was yet irresistible, bore him away. Beyond these islands, all was darkness; nor could any of the passengers describe the shore at which he first embarked.
Before me, and on each side, was an expanse of waters violently agitated, and covered with so thick a mist, that the most perspicacious eye could see but a little way. It ap peared to be full of rocks and whirlpools; for many sunk unexpectedly rnile they were courting the gale with full sails, and insulting those whom they had left behind. So numerous, indeed, were the dangers, and so thick the dark. ness, that no caution could confer security. Yet there were many, who, by false intelligence, betrayed their followers into whirlpools, or by violence pushed those whom they found in their way against the rocks
The current was invariable and insurmountable; but though it was impossible to sail against it, or to return to the place that was once passed, yet it was not so violent as to allow no opportunities for dexterity or courage, since, though none could retreat back from danger, yet they might avoid it by oblique direction.
It was, however, not very common to steer with much care or prudence; for by some universal infatuation, every man appeared to think himself safe, though he saw his consorts every moment sinking around him ; and no sooner had the waves closed over them, than their fate and their misconduct were forgotten; the voyage was pursued with the same jocund confidence; every man congratulated himself upon the soundness of his vessel, and believed himself able to stem the whirlpool in which his friend was swallowed, or glide over the rocks on which he was dashed; nor was it often observed that the sight of a wreck made any man change his course: if he turned aside for a moment, he soon forgot the rudder, and left himself again to the disposal of chance.
This negligence did not proceed from indifference or from weariness of their present condition ; for not one of those, who thus rushed upon destruction, failed, when he was sinking, to call loudly upon his associates for that help which could not now be given him; and many spent their last moments in cautioning others against the folly by which they were intercepted in the midst of their course. Their benerolence was sometimes praised, but their admonitions were unregarded.
In the midst of the current of Life was the gulf of Intemperance - a dreadful whirlpool, interspersed with rocks, of which the pointed crags were concealed under water, and the tops covered with herbage, on which Ease spread couches of repose, and with shades, where Pleasure warbled the song of invitation. Within sight of these rocks all who sailed on the ocean of life must necessarily pass. Reason, indeed, was always at hand to steer the passengers through a narrow
outlet by which they might escape; but few could, by her entreaties or remonstrances, be induced to put the rudder into her hand, without stipulating that she should approach so near unto the rocks of Pleasure, that they might solace themselves with a short enjoyment of that delicious region, after which they always determined to pursue their course without any other deviation.
Reason was too often prevailed upon so far, by these promises, as to venture her charge within the eddy of the gulf of Intemperance, where, indeed, the circumvolution was weak, but yet interrupted the course of the vessel, and drew it by insensible rotations towards the centre. She then repented her temerity, and with all her force endeavored to retreat; but the draught of the gulf was generally too strong to be overcome; and the passenger, having danced in circles with a pleasing and giddy velocity, was, at last, overwhelmed and lost.
As I was looking upon the various fate of the multitude about me, I was suddenly alarmed with an admonition from some unknown power: “Gaze not idly upon others, when thou thyself art sinking. Whence is this thoughtless tranquillity, when thou and they are equally endangered?” I looked, and seeing the gulf of Intemperance before me, started and awaked.
A hoop was an eternal sound
A top a joyous thing;
And careful thoughts the string.
My marbles — once my bag was stored.
With Theseus † for a taw!
And harnessed to the law !
My kite - how fast and far it flew !
My pleasure from the sky!
Will never soar so high.
My joys are wingless all and dead;
My flights soon find a fall;
And seldom with a call !
My football's laid upon the shelf;
The world knocks to and fro;
My arrows and my bow.
• Lord Elgin's collection of ancient marbles in the British Museum + The head of Theseus for a marble to play with.