« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
of men of wit, and the awkward imitation of the rest of mankind.
For this reason, Sir Roger was saying last night, that he was of opinion none but men of fine parts deserve to be hanged. The reflections of such men are so delicate upon all occurrences which they are concerned in, that they should be exposed to more than ordinary infamy and punishment, for offending against such quick admonitions as their own souls give them, and blunting the fine edge of their minds in such a manner, that they are no more shocked at vice and folly than men of slower capacities. There is no greater monster in being, than a very ill man of great parts. He lives like a man in a palsy, with one side of him dead. While perhaps he enjoys the satisfaction of luxury, of wealth, of ambition, he has lost the taste of good will, of friendship, of innocence. Scarecrow, the beggar in Lincoln's Inn Fields, who disabled him. self in his right leg, and asks alms all day to get himself a warm supper and a trull at night, is not half so despicable a wretch as such a man of sense. The beggar has no relish above sensations; he finds rest more agreeable than motion; and while he has a warm fire and his doxy, never reflects that he deserves to be whipped. Every man who terminates his satisfactions and enjoy. ments within the supply of his own necessities and passions, is, says Sir Roger, in my eye, as poor a rogue as Scarecrow. “But," continued he,“ for the loss of public and private virtue we are beholden to your men of fine parts forsooth : it is with them no matter what is done, so it be done with an air. But to me, who am so whimsical in a corrupt age as to act according to nature and reason, a selfish man, in the most shining circumstance and equipage, appears in the same condition with the fellow abovementioned, but more contemptible in proportion to what more be robs the public of, and enjoys above him. I lay it down therefore for a rule, that the whole man is to move together; that every action of any importance is to have a prospect of public good; and that the general tendency of our indifferent actions ought to be agreeable to the dictates of reason, of religion, of good breeding; without this, a man, as I have before hinted, is hopping instead of walking, he is not in his entire and proper motion.”
While the honest knight was thus bewildering bimself in good starts, I looked attentively upon him, which made him, I thought, collect his mind a little. “What I am at,” says he, “is to repre. sent, 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 fully of admitting wit and learning as merit in themselves, Fitbout considering the application of them. By this means it heures 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 shame and dishonour to employ excel. leur 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, tbat he undertook the writing of his poem* “ to rescue the Muses out of the bands of ravishers, to restore them to their sweet and etaste mansions, and to engage them in an employment suitable to their dignity." This certainly ought to be the purpose of every man who appears in public; and whoever does not proceed upon that foundation, injures his country as fast as he succeeds in his studies. When modesty ceases to be the chief ornament of one 31, and integrity of the other, society is upon a wrong basis, and se shall be ever after without rules to guide our judgment in what is really becoming and ornamental. Nature and reason direct one thing, passion and humour another. To follow the dictates of these 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 anyt so just, as that mode and gallantry should be built upon exerting ourselves in what is proper and agreeable to the institutions of justice and piety among us? And yet is there anything more common, than ihai we run in perfect contradiction to them? All which is supported by no other pretension, than that it is done with what we call a good grace.
Nothing ought to be held laudable or becoming, but what batore itself should prompt us to think so. Respect to all kind of superiors is founded, I think, 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 accom. modate 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 bim, as he stood, out of couutenance, to the whole audience. The frolic went round 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 Lacedemonians, 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 Lacedemonians practise it.'”
No. 7. THURSDAY, MARCH 8, 1710-11.
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas,
HOR. 2. EP. ii. 208.
And laugh at witches, ghosts, and prodigies ? 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 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 whence it proceeded. We were no sooner sat 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 candle 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 anybody 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 ber a little salt upon the point of my knife, which I did in such a trepidation and burry of obedience, that I let it drop by the way; at which she immediately startled, and said it fell to. wards 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 dispatched 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 bim. 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 my 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 circum. stances 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 omers and prognostics. A rusty nail, or a crooked pin, shoot up into prodigies.
I remember I was once in a mixed assembly, that was full of noise and mirth, when on a sudden an old woman unluckily observed there were thirteen of us in company. The remark struck a panic terror into several who were present, insomuch that one or two of the ladies were going to leave the room; but a friend of mine, taking notice that one of our female companions was big with child, affirmed there were fourteen in the room, and that, instead of portending one of the company should die, it plainly foretold one of them should be born. ‘Had not my friend found this expedient to break the omen, I question not but half the women in the company would have fallen sick that very night.
An old maid that is troubled with the vapours, produces infinite disturbances of this kind among her friends and neighbours. I know a maiden aunt of a great family, who is one of these antiquated Sybils, that forebodes and prophesies from one end of the year to the other. She is always seeing apparitions, and hearing death-watches; and was the other day almost frighted out of her wits by the great house-dog that howled in the stable, at a time when she lay ill of the tooth-ache. Such an extravagant cast of mind engages multitudes of people, not only in impertinent terrors, but in supernumerary duties of life; and arises from that fear and ignorance which are natural to the soul of man. The horror with which we entertain the thoughts of death (or indeed of any future evil), and the uncertainty of its approach, fill a melancholy mind with innumerable apprehensions and suspicions, and consequently dispose it to the observation of such groundless prodigies and predictions. For as it is the chief concern of wise men to retrench the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy; it is the employment of fools to multiply them by the sentiments of superstition.
For my own part, I should be very much troubled were I endowed with this divining quality, though it should inform me truly of everything that can befal me. I would not anticipate the relish of any happiness, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actually arrives.
I know but one way of fortifying my soul against these gloomy presages and terrors of mind, and that is, by securing to myself the friendship and protection of that Being who disposes of events, and governs futurity. He sees, at one vie the whole thread of my existence, not only that part of it which I have.