The wish universally felt, and expressed in every variety of form, to remain in the memory of our fellow-creatures after our passage from the present scene, has rightly been adduced as an intimation of the desire of immortality, and has sometimes been explained as being founded on an instinctive belief that we are destined to be immortal by the Creator.
The hope of remaining embalmed in the fond recollection of those we held most dear in life, and even of being remembered by our [82/83] more immediate descendants, has something in it nearly connected with self; but the wish for more extended reputation,—the desire that our name should pass in after times from mouth to mouth, cherished and admired by those whose applause is won by no personal recollections: or the still more fervent aspirations, that we may stamp indelibly on the age we live in some mark of our individual existence which shall form an epoch in the history of man: these hopes, these longings, receive no interpretation from the all-dominant principle of self; unless indeed we suppose the sentient principle of our nature not merely to exist, but also to be conscious of, and gratified by, the earthly immortality it had achieved. Yet the more distant and the higher the objects We pursue, the less is it possible to suppose the mind, so occupied on earth, can, in another stage of its existence, derive pleasure from such perceptions.
To support this opinion, it is only necessary [83/84] to examine the states of mind in the various classes of the aspirants after fame.
Through every form of society, and through every rank of each, may be traced this universal passion. Examine the most highly civilized inhabitants of earth; search through it for the most cultivated and refined in taste; for the most sagacious in penetrating the passions of mankind, the most skilful in wielding them, or the most powerful in intellectual might. Taste, feeling, passion, ambition, genius, severed or combined, equally yield [84/85] obedience to its sway, and present, under different appearances, the effects of its all-controlling power.
Look at the highest productions of the poet or the novelist. By connecting his story with the scenery, the traditions, or the history of his country, he may ensure for it a local interest, a domestic and transitory popularity; but it is that deeper penetration into the secrets of the human heart, which enables him to select from amongst the same materials, those feelings that are common to the race which have, as occasion called them forth, appeared, and will continue to reappear, as long as the same affections and passions shall continue to animate and agitate our frames. [85/86]
From the examination of these its highest forms, we may gather some common principles, and be enabled to perceive that the love of fame is far different from that passion for vulgar applause with which it is too frequently confounded. We may learn, that the higher the intellectual powers devoted to the task, the more remote the period for which ambition delights to raise its far distant altar.