Sources of Moralism - Romanticism and Autobiography i...

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Romanticism and Autobiography i) Memory and the sources of moral character In a deliberate view of all that we can remember of past life...whatever tendencies nature may justly be deemed to have imparted in the first instance, you would probably find the greater part of the moral constitution of your being composed of the contributions of many years and events, consolidated by degrees into what we call character...While I anticipate the endless progress of life, and wonder through what unknown scenes it is to take its course, its past years lose that character of vanity which would seem to belong to a train of fleeting moments, and I see them assuming the dignity of a commencing eternity. In them I have begun to be that conscious existence which I am to be through infinite duration... If we had practised habitual self-observation, we could not have failed to make important discoveries. There have been thousands of feelings, each of which, if strongly seized upon, and made the subject of reflection, would have shewn us what our character was, and what it was likely to become...But unfortunately the mind is generally too much occupied by the feeling or the incident itself, to have the slightest care or consciousness that any thing could be learnt, or is disclosed. In very early youth it is almost inevitable for it to be thus lost to itself even among its own feelings, and the external objects of attention; but it seems a contemptible thing, and certainly it is a criminal and dangerous thing, for a man in mature life to allow himself this thoughtless escape from self-examination... We may justly wonder how our minds could pass away successively from so many scenes and moments which seemed to us important, each in its time, and retain so slight an impression, that we have now nothing to tell about what once excited our utmost emotion...I have just been observing several children of eight or ten years old, in all the active vivacity which enjoys the plenitude of the moment without "looking before or after"; and while observing, I attempted, but without success, to recollect what I was at that age. I can indeed remember the principal events of the period, and the actions and projects, to which my feelings impelled me; but the feelings themselves, in their pure juvenility, cannot be revived, so as to be described and placed in comparison with those of maturity... But many of the propensities which still continue, probably originated then: and our not being able to explore them up to those remote sources renders a complete investigation of our moral and intellectual character for ever impossible. How little, in those years, we were aware, when we met with the incident, or heard the conversation, or saw the spectacle, or felt the emotion, which were the first causes of some of the chief permanent tendencies of future life, how much and how vainly we might, long afterward, wish to ascertain the origin of those tendencies.
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  • Fall '13
  • Montwieler
  • Romanticism, ten years, John Foster

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