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But this could not last very long. She struggled; she endured; she died.
Everard was now left alone in the world. The thread of human sympathy was broken. He betook himself, for consolation, to his books. And the sufferings of Everard Sinclair commenced at that hour.
But was Mr. Sinclair blessed with a library? He certainly had a few volumes, a scant collection indeed. He had Tusser's Five Hundred pointes of good Husbandrie (a reprint of course): he had a certain erudite work called Every man his own Farrier; then he had Every man his own Lawyer, and Every man his own Every thing,—notable empiricisms all. A copy of Daniell's Rural sports, a set of Sporting Magazines from the commencement, with the Family Bible and Prayer Book, made up the sum of Mr. Sinclair's bibliotheca.
There was nothing, saving the two sacred volumes, for poor Everard there; but still he had many books to read. His mother, during her life-time, had possessed a small, but a well-selected library. They were, however, exclusively her own; and when she died, she bequeathed them to Everard. She had nothing else to give the poor boy but her blessing.
What a pity that the blessing should have been accompanied by a curse!
Were the books a curse? Everard thought otherwise. They were to him an inexhaustible treasure. Hitherto there had been a check upon his inclinations; he acknowledged that it was proper, though he felt that it was irksome; but now he was a free agent. Up to this point, he had only been suffered to peruse certain books, and them only at periodical intervals. But now he was entirely at liberty; he ran wild in the wilderness of literature; there was no one to direct his wandering footsteps, and the poor boy was lost in its mazes. A syren voice called to him,-a syren hand beckoned to him, and he followed. He was as one of the children, in the fairy tale, who lost their way in the forest. He saw a light shining from afar off; he mistook it for the cheering light of truth. He went on till he came to the postern; he entered the gates that were open to him, and found himself in the castle of the ogre. That ogre was the monster of infidelity. Did he incarcerate Everard? You shall see.
The first book, after the death of his mother, to which the young student seriously applied himself, was the one, of all others, the most likely to delude a young and enthusiastic understanding,- a work full of eloquent sophistries and plausible untruths, the emptiness of whose arguments is glossed over
by the oratorical fervour of its language. It was Volney's Ruins of Empires.
Now, if Everard had been a little older; if the glowing enthusiasm of his temperament had been a little more tempered by judgment; if his understanding had been of a less imaginative and a more logical nature, it is probable that Volney's book might have been perused without any dangerous consequences. But his intellect was precisely in that condition, which is most prone to be deluded and led astray by the plausible,--the eloquent,the sophistical.
The young student read and was staggered; but very far was he from being convinced. A new light had burst in upon his brain; and many things undreamt of before rose up on the arena of his consciousness. He resolved to inquire more minutely; he was not contented with a partial illumination. "This is strange," he said, "but is it true?" as he laid down the Ruins of Empires.
From Volney he turned to Helvetius, and his orthodoxy received an additional shock: next Diderot was consulted, and our Hume; the edifice of his faith, tottered more; the belief of his forefathers was undermined and shaken to the very base. Up to this point the truth had been shut
out from him,-up to this point he had been walking in darkness. He abandoned his old creed, but he did not immediately take up a new one. He was in doubt, he was perplexed; he knew not what he was doing. He asked himself whether he was entering the true Canaan,-the Land of Promise he had been seeking so long.
He was very young; he believed that he was doing right. There was no one whose opinion he could ask; he was obliged to rely upon the strength, or the weakness rather, of his own intellect. He had no other object but the acquisition of truth. He thought, for he was no casuist, that he was treading the right path; but he was not.— He said to himself, "Prejudice is the sworn foe of truth. I must dispossess myself of all prejudice." He had been, from his cradle upwards, imbibing the doctrines of a particular creed; he had sucked in orthodoxy with his mother's milk. He was prejudiced; it behoved him to throw aside all foregone conclusions, and to set out in search of truth with a mind quite denuded of bias.
But endeavouring, in all sincerity as he did, to set the scales of his judgment in equilibrio, he only emptied the balance on one side to make that on the other preponderate. There is nothing more difficult in the world than to force one's-self to be unprejudiced. Prepossessions are spon
taneous, not voluntary. We cannot control them at will.
Let no man condemn Everard. He thought that he was doing right. But he was ignorant; he was quite a child; it did not occur to him that the knowledge which we acquire by our own exertions, by our own patient and methodical investigations, takes root in the mind with a stability, which is not possessed by that which is communicated to us, through another, by fitful and irregular starts. A man may throw a cloak over your shoulders, but you must draw it tightly around you with your own hands, or you will lose it. Besides, Everard was wiser and older than he was when the parish minister was the oracle of his youthful understanding; his intellect was now more cultivated; the soil was in a fitter state to receive whatever seeds might fall upon it: but the poor boy forgot all this. He took up the Systême de la Nature; he read a few chapters; but he did not like it; the style was too inornate: he threw aside the volume, and took up (I know not how it got there) Sir William Drummond's Edipus Judaicus.
How much better it would have been for her son if Mrs. Sinclair had burnt all these books. "A little philosophy," saith Bacon, "inclineth men's minds to atheism; but depth in philosophy