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HOR. 2 SAT. i. 75.
FIND some of the most polite Latin authors, who wrote at a time when Rome was in its glory, speak with a certain noble vanity of the brightness and splendour of the age in which they lived. Pliny
often compliments his emperor, Trajan, upon this head; and when he would animate him to anything great, or dissuade him from anything that was improper, he insinuates that it is befitting or unbecoming the claritas et nitor feculi, that period of time which was made illustrious by his reign. When we cast our eyes back on the history of mankind, and trace them through their several successions to their first original, we sometimes see them breaking out in great and memorable actions, and towering up to the utmost heights of virtue and knowledge; when, perhaps, if we carry our observations to a little distance, we see them funk into sloth and ignorance, and altogether loft in darkness and obscurity. Sometimes the whole species is alleep for two or three generations, and then again awakens into action—Aourishes in heroes, philosophers, and poets, who do honour to human nature, and leave such tracks of glory behind them as distinguish the years in which they acted their part from the ordinary course of time.
Methinks a man cannot without a secret satisfaction consider the glory of the present age, which will shine as bright as any other in the history of mankind. It is still big with great events, and has already produced changes and revolutions which will be as much admired by posterity as any that have happened in the days of our fathers, or in the old times before them.' We have seen kingdoms divided and united, monarchs erected and deposed, nations transferred from one sovereign to another, conquerors raised to such greatness as has given a terror to Europe, and thrown down by such a fall as has moved their pity.
But it is still a more pleasing view to an Englishman to see his own country give the chief influence to so illustrious an age, and stand in the strongest point of light amidst the diffused glory that surrounds it.
If we begin with learned men, we may observe, to the honour of our country, that those who make the greatest figure in most arts and sciences are universally allowed to be of the Britifh nation ; and what is more remarkable, that men of the greatest learning are among the men of the greatest quality. A nation
may indeed abound with persons of such uncommon parts and worth as may make them rather a misfortune than a blessing to the publick. Those who singly might have been of infinite advantage to the age they live in, may, by rising up together in the same crisis of time, and by interfering in their pursuits of honour, rather interrupt than promote the service of their country. Of this we have a famous instance in the republic of Rome, when Cæsar, Pompey, Cato, Cicero, and Brutus endeavoured to recommend themselves at the same time to the admiration of their contemporaries. Mankind are not able to provide for so many extraordinary persons at once, or find out posts suitable to their ambition and abilities. For
this reason they were all as miserable in their deaths as they were famous in their lives, and occasioned not only the ruin of each other, but of the commonwealth.
It is therefore a particular happiness to a people when the men of superior genius and character are so justly disposed in the high places of honour, that each of them moves in a sphere which is proper to him, and requires those particular qualities in which he excels.
If I see a general commanding the forces of his country, whose victories are not to be parallelled in story, and who is as famous for his negociations as his victories, and at the same time see the management of a nation's treasury in the hands of one, who has always distinguished himself by a generous contempt of his own private wealth, and an exact frugality of that which belongs to the publick, I cannot but think a people under such an administration may promise themselves conquests abroad and plenty at home. If I were to wish for a proper person to preside over the publick councils, it should certainly be one as much admired for his universal knowledge of men and things, as for his eloquence, courage, and integrity, in the exerting of such extraordinary talents.
Who is not pleased to see a person in the highest station in the law, who was the most eminent in his profession, and the most accomplished orator at the bar ? Or at the head of the fleet, a commander under whose conduct the common enemy received such a blow, as he has never been able to recover.
Were we to form to ourselves the idea of one whom we should think proper to govern a distant kingdom, consisting chiefly of those who differ
from us in religion, and are influenced by foreign politics, would it not be such a one as had
signalised himself by a uniform and unshaken zeal for the Protestant interest
, and by his dexterity in defeating the skill and artifice of its enemies? In short, if we find a great man popular for his honesty and humanity, as well as famed for his learning and great skill in all the languages of Europe; or a person eminent for those qualifications which make men shine in public assemblies, or for that steadiness, constancy, and good sense, which carry a man to the desired point through all the opposition of tumult and prejudice, we have the happiness to behold them in all posts suitable to their characters.
Such a constellation of great persons, if I may so speak, while they shine out in their own distinct capacities, reflect a lustre upon each other, but, in a more particular manner upon their fovereign, who has placed them in those proper situations, by which their virtues become so beneficial to all her subjects. It is the anniversary of the birth-day of this glorious Queen, which naturally led me into this field of contemplation, and, instead of joining in the publick exultations that are made on such occafions, to entertain my thoughts with the more serious pleasure of ruminating upon the glories of her reign.
While I behold her surrounded with triumphs, and adorned with all the prosperity and success which heaven ever shed on a mortal, and still considering herself as such, though the person appears to me exceeding great, that has these just honours paid her, yet, I must confess, she appears much greater in that she receives them with such a glorious humility, and shews she has no further regard for them, than as they arise from these great events which have made her subjects happy. For my own part, I must confess, when I see private virtues in so high a degree of perfection, I am not astonished at any extraordinary success that attends them, but look upon public triumphs as the natural consequences of religious retirements.
After the lassitude of a day spent in the strolling manner, which is usual with men of pleasure in this town, and with a head full of a million of impertinences, which had danced round it for ten hours together, I came to my lodging, and hastened to bed. My valet de chambre knows my university trick of reading there, and he being a good scholar for a gentleman, ran over the names of Horace, Tibullus, Ovid, and others, to know which I would have. “Bring Virgil,” said I, “and if I fall asleep, take care of the candle." I read the sixth book over with the most exquisite delight, and had gone half through it a second time, when the pleasant ideas of Elysian Fields, deceased worthies walking in them, sincere lovers enjoying their languishment without pain, compassion for the unhappy spirits who had mispent their short day-light,
and were exiled from the seats of bliss for ever ; I say, I was deep again in my reading, when this mixture of images had taken place of all others in my imagination before, and lulled me into a dream, from which I am just awake, to my great disadvantage. The happy mansions of Elysium, by degrees, seemed to be wafted from me, and the very traces of my
late waking thoughts began to fade away, when I was cast by a sudden whirlwind upon an island, encompassed with a roaring and troubled sea, which shaked its very centre, and rocked its inhabitants as in a cradle. The islanders lay on their faces without offering to look up, or hope for preservation ; all her harbours were crowded with mariners, and tall vessels of war lay in danger of being driven to pieces on her shores. “Bless me !” said I, “ why have I lived in such a manner, that the convulsion of nature should be so terrible to me, when I feel in myself that the better part of me is to survive it? Oh! may that be in happiness.” A sudden shriek, in which the whole people on their faces joined, interrupted my foliloquy, and turned my eyes and attention to the object which had given us that sudden start, in the midst of an inconsolable and speechless affliction. Immediately the winds grew calm, the waves subsided, and the people stood up, turning their faces upon a magnificent pile in the midst of the island. There we beheld an hero of a comely and erect aspect, but pale and languid, fitting under a canopy of state. By the faces and dumb sorrow of those who attended, we thought him in the article of death. At a distance sat a lady, whose life seemed to hang upon the fame thread with his : she kept her eyes fixed upon him, and seemed to smother ten thousand thousand nameless things, which urged her tenderness to clasp him in her arms; but her greatness of spirit overcame those sentiments, and gave her power to forbear disturbing his last moment, which immediately approached. The hero looked up with an air of negligence and fatiety of being, rather than of pain to leave it, and leaning back his head, expired.
When the heroine, who sat at a distance, saw his last instant come, she threw herself at his feet, and kneeling, pressed his hand to her lips, in which posture she continued