« AnteriorContinuar »
earth, and take a survey of its inhabitants, what would his notions of us be? Would not he think that we are a species of beings made for quite different ends and purposes than what we really are ? Must not he imagine that we were placed in this world to get riches and honours? Would not he think that it was our duty to toil after wealth, and station, and title? Nay, would not he believe we were forbidden poverty by threats of eternal
puo nishment, and enjoined to pursue our pleasures under pain of damnation. He would certainly imagine that we were influenced by a scheme of duties quite opposite to those which are indeed prescribed to us. And truly, according to such an imagination, he must conclude that we are a species of the most obedient creatures in the universe; that we are constant to our duty; and that we keep a steady eye on the end for which we were sent hither.
But how great would be his astonishment when he learned that we were beings not designed to exist in this world above threescore and ten years, and that the greatest part of this busy species fall short even of that age? How would he be lost in horror and admiration, when he should know that this set of creatures, who lay out all their endeavours for this life, which scarce deserves the name of existerce-when, I say, he should know that this set of creatures are to exist to all eternity in another life, for which they make no preparations? Nothing can be a greater disgrace to reason, than that men, who are persuaded of these two different states of being, should be perpetually employed in providing for a life of threescore and ten years, and neglecting to make provision for that which after many myriads of years will be still new, and still beginning; especially when we consider that our endeavours for making ourselves great, or rich, or honourable, or whatever else we place our happiness in, may after all prove unsuccessful ; whereas, if we constantly and sincerely endeavour to make ourselves happy in the other life, we are sure that our endeavours will succeed, and that we shall not be disappointed of our hope.
The following question is started by one of the schoolmen.-Supposing the whole body of the earth were a great ball or mass of the finest sand, and that a single grain or particle of this sand should be annihilated every thousand years? Supposing then that you had it in your choice to be happy all the while this prodigious mass of sand was consuming by this slow method until there was not a grain of it left, on condition you were to be miserable for ever after? Or, supposing that you might be happy for ever after on condition you would be miserable until the whole mass of sand were thus annihilated at he rate of one sand in a thousand years :-which of these two cases would
choice? It must be confessed in this case, so many thousands of years are to the imagination as a kind of eternity, though in reality they do not bear so great a proportion to that duration which is to follow them as an unit does to the greatest number which you can put together in figures, or as one of those sands to the supposed heap. Reason therefore tells us, without any manner of hesitation, which would be the better part in this choice. However, as I have before intimated, our reason might in such case be so overset by the imagination as to dispose some persons to sink under the consideration of the great length of the first part of this duration, and of the great distance of that second duration which is to succeed it. The mind, I say, might give it. self up to that happiness which is at hand, considering that it is so very near, and that it would last so very long. But when the choice we actually have before us is this, whether we will choose to be happy for the space of only threescore and ten, nay, perhaps of only twenty or ten years, I might say of only a day or an hour, and miserable to all eternity ; or, on the contrary, miserable for this short term of years, and happy for a whole eternity : what words are sufficient to express
that folly and want of consideration which in such a case makes a wrong choice?
I here put the case even at the worst, by sup. posing, what seldom happens, that a course of virtue makes us miserable in this life: but if we .suppose, as it generally happens, that virtue would make us more happy even in this life than a contrary course of vice, how can we sufficiently admire the stupidity or madness of those
who are capable of making so absurd a choice?
Every wise man therefore will consider this life only as it may conduce to the happiness of the other, and cheerfully sacrifice the pleasures of a few years to those of an eternity.
N° 576. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 4, 1714.
Nitor in adversum : nec me, qui cætera, vincit
OVID. Net, ji. 72.
I REMEMBER a young man of very lively parts, and of a sprightly turn in conversation, who had only one fault, which was an inordinate desire of appearing fashionable. This ran him into many amours, and consequently into many distempers. He never went to bed until two o'clock in the morning, because he would not be a queer fellow; and was every now and then knocked down by a constable, to signalize his vivacity. He was initiated into half a dozen clubs before he was one-andtwenty; and so improved in them his natural gaiety of temper, that you might frequently trace him to his lodging by a range of broken windows, and other the like monuments of wit and gallantry. To be short, after having fully established his reputation of being a very agreeable rake, he died of old age at five-and-twenty.
There is indeed nothing which betrays a man into so many errors and inconveniences as the desire of not appearing singular; for which reason it is very necessary to form a right idea of singularity, that we may know when it is laudable, and when it is vicious. In the first place, every man of sense will agree with me, that singularity is laudable when, in contradiction to a multitude, it adheres to the dictates of conscience, morality, and
honour. In these cases we ought to consider that it is not custom, but duty, which is the rule of action; and that we should be only so far sociable, as we are reasonable creatures. Truth is never the less so for not being attended to: and it is the nature of actions, not the number of actors, by which we ought to regulate our behaviour. Sin. gularity in concerns of this kind is to be looked upon as heroic bravery, in which a man leaves the species, only as he soars above it. What greater instance can there be of a weak and pusillanimous temper, than for a man to pass his whole life in opposition to his own sentiments ? or not to dare to be what he thinks he ought to be?
Singularity, therefore, is only vicious when it makes men act contrary to reason, or when it puts them upon distinguishing themselves by trifles. As for the first of these, who are singular in any thing that is irreligious, immoral, or dishonourable, believe every one will easily give them up. I shall therefore speak of those only who are remarkable for their singularity in things of no importance; as in dress, behaviour, conversation, and all the little intercourses of life. In these cases there is a certain deference due to custom; and, notwithstanding there may
be a colour of reason to deviate from the multitude in some particulars, a man ought to sacrifice his private inclinations and opinions to the practice of the public. It must be confessed that good sense often makes an humourist; but then it unqualifies him from being of any moment in the world, and renders him ridiculous to persons
of much inferior understanding.
I have heard of a gentleman in the north of England who was a remarkable instance of this foolish singularity. He had laid it down as a rule within himself, to act in the most indifferent parts