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While the honest knight was thus bewildering himself in good starts, I looked intentively upon him, which made him, I thought, collect his mind a little.
- What I aim at,' says he, is to represent, that I am of opinion, to polish our understandings and neglect our manners is of all things the most inexcusable. Reason should govern passion ; but, instead of that, you see, it is often subservient to it; and, as unaccountable as one would think it, a wise man is not always a good man.' This degeneracy is not only the guilt of particular persons, but also at some times of a whole people; and perhaps it may appear upon examination that the most polite ages are the least virtuous. This may be attributed to the folly of admitting wit and learning as merit in themselves, without considering the application of them. By this means it becomes a rule, not so much to regard what we do, as how we do it. But this false beauty will not pass upon men of honest minds and true taste. Sir Richard Blackmore says, with as much good sense as virtue, · It is a mighty dishonour and shame to employ excellent faculties and abundance of wit, to humour and please men in their vices and follies. The great enemy of mankind, notwithstanding his wit and angelic faculties, is the most odious being in the whole creation. He goes on soon after to say, very generously, that he undertook the writing of his poem
to rescue the Muses out of the hands of ravishers; to restore them to their sweet and chaste mansions ; and to engage them in an employment suitable to heir dignity. This certainly onght to be the purose of every man who
appears in public; and whoer does not proceed upon that foundation, injures is country as fast as he succeeds in his studies. Vhen modesty ceases to be the chief ornament of one sex, and integrity of the other, society is upon
a wrong basis ; and we shall be ever after without rules to guide our judgement in what is really becoming and ornamental. Nature and reason direct one thing, passion and humour another. To follow the dictates of the two latter, is going into a road that is both endless and intricate ; when we pursue the other, our passage is delightful, and what we aim at easily attainable.
I do not doubt but England is at present as polite a nation as any in the world; but any man who thinks, can easily see, that the affectation of being gay and in fashion has very near eaten up our good sense and our religion. Is there any thing so just, as that mode and gallantry should be built erting ourselves in what is proper and agreeable to the institutions of justice and piety among us? And yet is there any thing more common, than that we run in perfect contradiction to them? All which is supported by no other pretension, than that it done with what we call a good grace.
Nothing ought to be held laudable or becoming, but what nature itself should prompt us to think so. Respect to all kind of superiors is founded, methinks, upon instinct ; and yet what is so ridiculous as age? I make this abrupt transition to the mention of this vice more than any other, in order to introduce a little story, which I think a pretty instance, that the most polite age is in danger of being the most vicious.
• It happened at Athens, during a public representation of some play exhibited in honour of the commonwealth, that an old gentleman came too late for a place suitable to his age and quality. Many of the young gentlemen who observed the difficulty and confusion he was in, made signs to him that they would accommodate him if he came where they sat. The good man bustled through the crowd accordingly; but when he came to the seats to which he was invited, the jest was to sit close and expose him, as he stood out of countenance, to the whole audience. The frolic went round all the Athenian benches. But on those occasions there were also particular places assigned for foreigners. When the good man skulked towards the boxes appointed for the Lacedæmonians, that honest people, more virtuous than polite, rose up all to a man, and with the greatest respect received him among them. The Athenians, being suddenly touched with a sense of the Spartan virtue and their own degeneracy, gave a thunder of applause ; and the old man cried out, “The Athenians understand what is good, but the Lacedæmonians practise it.'
No.7. THURSDAY, MARCH 8, 1710-11.
Somnia, terrores, magicos, miracula, sagas,
HOR. EP. ii. 2. 208.
GOING yesterday to dine with an old acquaintance, I had the misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon asking him the occasion of it, he told me that his wife had dreamt a very strange dream the night before, which they were afraid portended some misfortune to themselves or to their children. At her coming into the room, I observed a settled melancholy in her countenance, which I should have been troubled for, had I not heard from point of
whence it proceeded. We were no sooner sate down, but, after having looked upon me a little while, · My dear,' says she, turning to her husband, you may now see the stranger that was in the candie last night.' Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little boy at the lower end of the table told her that he was to go into join-hand on Thursday. Thursday!' says she ; "No, child; if it please God, you shall not begin upon Childermas-day ; tell your writing-master that Friday will be soon enough. I was reflecting with myself on the oddness of her fancy, and wondering that any body would establish it as a rule, to lose a day in every week. In the midst of these my musings, she desired me to reach her a little salt
the my knife, which I did in such a trepidation and hurry of obedience that I let it drop by the way; at which she immediately startled, and said it fell towards her. Upon this I looked very blank; and observing the concern of the whole table, began to consider myself, with some confusion, as a person that had brought a disaster upon the family. The lady, however, recovering herself after a little space, said to her husband with a sigh, “My dear, misfortunes never come single.' My friend, I found, acted but an under part at his table ; and, being a man of more good-nature than understanding, thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the passions and humours of his yoke-fellow. · Do not you remember, child,' says she, that the pigeon-house fell the very
afternoon that our careless wench spilt the salt upon
the table?' - Yes,' says he,' my dear; and the next post brought us an account of the battle of Almanza. The reader may guess at the figure I made, after having done all this mischief. I despatched my dinner as soon as I could
, with my usual taciturnity; when to my utter confusion, the lady seeing me quitting my knife and
fork, and laying them across one another upon my plate, desired me that I would humour her so far as to take them out of that figure, and place them side by side. What the absurdity was which I had committed I did not know, but I suppose there was some traditionary superstition in it; and therefore, in obedience to the lady of the house, I disposed of my knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I shall always lay them in for the future, though I do not know any reason for it.
It is not difficult for a man to see that a person has conceived an aversion to him. For my own part, I quickly found, by the lady's looks, that she regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an unfortunate aspect : for which reason I took
leave immediately after dinner, and withdrew to my own lodgings. Upon my return home, I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils that attend these superstitious follies of mankind; how they subject us to imaginary afflictions, and additional sorrows, that do not properly come within our lot. As if the natural calamities of life were not sufficient for it, we turn the most indifferent circumstances into misfortunes, and suffer as much from trifling accidents as from real evils. I have known the shooting of a star spoil a night's rest; and have seen a man in love grow pale, and lose his appetite, upon the plucking of a merry-thought. A screech-owl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers ; nay, the voice of a cricket hath struck more terror than the roaring of a lion. There is nothing so inconsiderable, which may not appear dreadful to an imagination that is filled with omens and prognostics : a rusty nail or a crooked pin shoot up into prodigies.
I remember I was once in a mixt assembly, that was full of noise and mirth, when on a sudden an