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An affectionate friend does, indeed, illumine with a serene lustre that engaging society of solitude, which, in a world like this, a cultivated mind frequently finds only in the sanctuary of its own bosom: when books are its friends, and the birds are its companions.
In retirement, statesmen recruit their mental strength, like Achilles stringing his bow; an eagle sharpening his talons ; or an elephant whetting his tusks. In retirement, the man of learning or genius strips himself of all ornament; his thoughts become concentrated, and his desires moderated. To those devoted to worldly, or to scientific pursuits, it gives that temperate rest, so necessary to recruit the weary organs of activity :-It affords the leisure to arrange the materials of thought; to mature the labours of art; and to polish the works of genius. It relieves the mind from the frivolities of life; and lessens its anxieties, as much as every improvement in mechanics diminishes the value of bodily strength.
To a life of solitude has been objected a destitution of employment: and if the accusation were just, the censure were severe. For without occupation, the mind becomes listless ; it preys upon itself; and we should be in danger of becoming melancholy, even to weariness of life. In nothing, therefore, does Pliny err more, than when he says, that there are only two things, by which we ought to be actuated : “ a love of immortal fame; or continual inactivity.” But let no one be actuated by the opinion of Pliny, in this important particular. Idleness quickens the approach of disease and want; as naturally as the advance of astronomy accelerated the fall of astrology. Where idleness prevails, vice prevails; and where vice is long tolerated, crime walks with gigantic stride over all the land. To live without labour is destructive to the body; to be indolent is fatal to the mind; and both are destined to be the operative causes of each other's misery.
chose.—LET. Chois. liv. ii. v. 24. La Bruyère has a similar sentiment:- La solitude est certainement une belle chose ; mais il y a plaisir d'avoir quelqu'un qui sache répondremà qui on puisse dire de tems en tems que la solitude est une belle chose.-LA BRUYERE. De Lille, too, in the first canto of his Homme des Champs. Also La Fontaine:
Ma soeur, lui dit Progné, comment vous portez-vous !
Le désert est-il fait pour des talens si beaux ?
The listless torments of indolence are well described by Seneca, in his fine Treatise on the Tranquillity of the Mind; and even Pliny himself, in another part of his works, observing that the mental faculties are raised and enlarged by the activity of the body, exemplifies his argument, by drawing an excellent picture of an old senator, retiring into the country, and guarding himself from lassitude by continual occupation,
O Solitude !-romantic maid
You, Recluse, again I woo,
And again your steps pursue.-GRAINGER. Thus sings the poet! But the man of the world-Oh !—he will tell you that the poet dreams. “ Solitude,” he exclaims, “ is nothing better than a dreary waste, for idleness to linger in.” And does retirement indeed offer no objects to engage our attention? Does it not, on the other hand, present a succession of amusements and pleasures, ever changing and ever varied? Can he want exercise, who has a garden! Can he want mental recreation, who has a library? Can he be destitute of objects to engage his research, who has the volume of Nature always unfolded before him? On the contrary, so
yaried and so delightful are all these, that à votary to temperate solitude may triumphantly enquire, whether there is not a pleasure and a consolation in it, than which nothing can be more delightful ;—since they fade with no season. Is there a melancholy, which they do not soothe, or a sorrow, they do not relieve ? — Yes, my dear Lelius, retirement and a love of letters have charms to recommend them, far more transcendant than the vapid nonsense of a harsh, ignorant, and intemperate world.—Quit it therefore !--As to myself !—though I am aware, that the occasional contrast of real life is necessary to give us a goût for the more substantial enjoyments of a retired one ; knowing that the world has little of satisfaction, and still less of stability, unless I enjoy the opportunity of mixing in a society, that is suited to me, far better is it for my happiness to live alone! -Solitude is frequently“ best society;" let me, then, enjoy my books, my garden, my wife, and my children, in a quiet corner, in the environs of a large city; and let me have the honour of being classed with that enviable order of men,
- whom the world
Esteems that busy world an idler too. “ Nature,” says Cicero, “ abhors solitude ;” and many an ingenious argument has been adduced to prove, that a lover of solitude is a being, totally divested of the common sympathies of humanity. Among my papers, however, I find a remarkable account of a solitaire, that goes far towards invalidating this opinion. It is a verbal abridgment of a paper, published in a periodical work, about the year 1781. The name of this solitary was Angus Roy FLETCHER, who lived all his life in a farm at Glenorchy. He obtained his livelihood principally by fishing and hunting. His dog was his sole attendant; his gun and dirk his constant companions. At a distance from social life, his residence was in the wildest and most inaccessible parts of the lofty mountains, which separate the country
of Glenorchy from that of Rannoch. In the midst of these wilds he built his hut, and passed the spring, the summer, the autumn, and the principal part of the winter. He possessed a few goats, which browsed among the clifts. These were his sole property; and he desired no more. While his goats grazed among the rocks and heaths, he ranged the hills and the banks of rivulets, in quest of game and fish. In the evening he returned to his goats and led them to his solitary hut. There he milked them with his own hands ; and after taking his supper of the game or fish he had caught, and which he dressed after his own manner, he laid himself down in the midst of his dogs and his goats. He desired to associate with neither men nor women ; but if a casual stranger'approached his hut, he was generous and open, hospitable and charitable, even to his last morsel. Whatever he possessed he cheerfully bestowed upon his guest; at atime, too, when he knew not where to procure the next meal for himself. · When the severity of the winter obliged him to descend to the village, he entered with evident reluctance into society; where no one thought as he did; and where no one lived or acted after his manner. To relieve himself from all intercourse with his species, as much as possible, he went every morning before the dawn of day in search of game; and never returned till night, when he crept to bed without seeing any one. With all this, he dressed after the manner of a finished coxcomb! His belt, bonnet and dirk, fitted him with a wild and affected elegance ; his hair, which was naturally thick, was tied with a silken and variegated cord ; his look was lofty, his gait stately, his spirit to a degree haughty and high-minded : and were he starving for want, he would have asked no one for the slightest morsel of food ! He was truly the solitary man: and yet was he hospitable, charitable, and humane.
General Boon seems to have had an ardent love of deep seclusion. He was principally instrumental in the first settle
ment of Kentucky; and preferred the wildest solitudes to reside in. The country, in which he had fixed himself, however, having become gradually peopled, he retired beyond the Missouri. Population soon began even there: and at the age of seventy he removed two hundred miles beyond the abode of civilised man.
About the year 1814, a strange person was occasionally seen in Walston fields, about three miles from Carnwath, in the county of Lanark. He appeared with great emaciation of figure and countenance; and from his dress and general appearance seemed to have seen better days. He avoided all intercourse : was never seen in the day: and only occasionally early in the mornings. The peasantry were not a little surprised and even alarmed at such a circumstance: and at length watched him : when it was discovered that he had taken up his residence in a small cave, formed by Nature in a large hill in the neighbourhood. The curiosity of the country was increased by this circumstance : but no one dared to enter his habitation : and after a time he ceased to be talked of.
Atlength, on the 11th of April 1820, as a shepherd passed near the cave, he heard a deep groan : and upon advancing nearer he discovered him lying near the mouth of the cave, in the last agonies of death. The shepherd ran to the nearest house to procure assistance; and returning to the spot found that the unfortunate man had breathed his last, during his absence. On entering the cave, some heath was observed in a corner, arrayed in the form of a bed; some straw, from which, it was evident from the chaff, he had extracted corn; also some raw potatoes and turnips. A small leathern parcel laid on the floor, which upon investigation was found to contain several letters, so defaced, that only one of them was in the smallest degree legible. It was kept with two one pound notes, and wrapped up with great care ; but it had neither date, signature, nor direction. Of this letter the following is a literal copy :