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counsellor who never pleaded without a piece of packthread in his hand, which he used to twist about a thumb or finger all the while he was speaking; the wags of those days used to call it the thread of his discourse, for he was not able to utter a word without it. One of his clients, who was more merry than wise, stole it from him one day, in the midst of his pleading; but he had better have let it alone, for he Tost his cause by the jest.
XI.-Advantages of History.
THE advantages found in history seem to be of three kinds; as it amuses the fancy, as it improves the understanding, and as it strengthens virtue.
In reality, what more agreeable entertainment to the mind, than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to observe human society, in its infancy, making the first faint essays towards the arts and sciences? To see the policy of government and the civility of conversation refining by degrees, and every thing that is ornamental to human life advancing towards its perfection? To mark the rise, progress, declension, and final extinction of the most flourishing empires; the virtues which contributed to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin? In short, to see all the human race, from the beginning of time, pass as it were in review before us, appearing in their true colours, without any of those disguises, which, during their life-time, so much perplexed the judgment of the beholders? What spectacle can be imagined so magnificent, so various, so interesting? What amusement, either of the senses or imagination, can be compared with it? Shall our trifling pastimes, which engross so much of our time, be preferred, as more satisfactory, and more fit to engage our attention? How perverse must that taste be, which is capable of so wrong a choice of pleasure?
But history is a most improving part of knowledge, as well as an agreeable amusement; and, indeed, a great part of what we commonly call erudition, and value so highly, is nothing but an acquaintance with historical facts. An extensive knowledge of this kind belongs to men of letters; but I must think it an unpardonable ignorance in persons, of whatever sex or condition, not to be acquainted with the histories of their own country, along with the histories of ancient Greece and Rome.
I must add, that history is not only a valuable part of
knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts of knowledge, and affords materials to most of the sciences. And, indeed, if we consider the shortness of human life, and our limited knowlege, even of what passes in our own time, we must be sensible that we should be forever children in understanding, were it not for this invention, which extends our experience to all past ages, and to most distant nations, making them contribute as much to our improvement in wisdom, as if they had actually lain under our observation A man acquainted with history, may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge, in every century.
There is also an advantage in that knowledge which is acquired by history, above what is learned by the practice of the world, that it brings us acquainted with human affairs, without diminishing in the least from the most delicate sentiments of virtue. And, to tell the truth, I scarce know any study or occupation so unexceptionable as history, in this particular. Poets can paint virtue in the most charming colours; but, as they address themselves entirely to the passions, they often become advocates to vice. Even philosophers are apt to bewilder themselves in the subtilty of their speculations; and we have seen some go so far, as to deny the reality of all moral distinctions. But I think it a remark worthy the attention of the speculative reader, that the historians have been almost without exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always represented it in its proper colours, however they may have erred in their judgments of particular persons. Nor is this combination of historians, in favour of virtue, at all difficult to be accounted for. When a man of business enters into life and action, he is more apt to consider the characters of men as they have relation to his interest, than as they stand in themselves, and has his judgment warped on every occasion, by the violence of his passion. When a philosopher contemplates character and manners, in his closet, the general abstract view of the objects leave the mind so cold and unmoved, that the sentiments of nature have no room to play, and he scarce feels the difference between vice and virtue. History keeps in a just medium bewixt these extremes, and places the objects in their true point of view. The writers of history, as well as the readers, are sufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively sentiment of blame or
praise; and, at the same time, have no particular interest or concern to pervert their judgment.
XII.—On the Immortality of the Soul.
AMONG other excellent arguments for the immortality of the soul, there is one drawn from the perpetual progress of the soul, to its perfection, without a possibility of ever arriving at it; which is a hint that I do not remember to have seen opened and improved by others who have written on this subject, though it seems to me to carry a great weight with it. How can it enter into the thoughts of man, that the soul, which is capable of such immense perfections, and of receiving new improvements to all eternity, shall fall away into nothing, almost as soon as it is created? Are such abilities made for no purpose? A brute arrives at a point of perfection that he can never pass; in a few years he has all the endowments he is capable of; and were he to live ten thousand more, he would be the same thing he is at present. Were a human soul thus at a stand in her accomplishments; were her faculties to be full blown, and incapable of further enlargements; I could imagine it might fall away insensibly, and drop at once into a state of annihilation. But, can we believe a thinking being, that is in a perpetual progress of improvement, and travelling on from perfection to perfection, after having just looked abroad into the works of its Creator, and made a few discoveries of his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power, must perish at her first setting out, and in the very beginning of her inquiries?
Man, considered in his present state, does not seem born to enjoy life, but to deliver it down to others.-This is not surprising to consider in animals, which are formed for our use, and can finish their business in a short life. The silkworm, after having spun her task, lays her eggs, and dies. But in this life man can never take in his full measure of knowledge; nor has he time to subdue his passions, establish his soul in virtue, and come up to the perfection of his nature, before he is hurried off the stage. Would an infinitely wise Being make such glorious creatures for so mean a purpose! Can he delight in the production of such abortive intelligences, such short lived reasonable beings? Would he give us talents that are not to be exerted? Capacities that are never to be gratified? How can we find that wisdom which shines through all his works, in the formation of man, without looking on this world as only a nursery for the next; and believ
ing that the several generations of rational creatures, which rise up and disappear in such quick successions, are only to receive their first rudiments of all existence here, and afterwards to be transplanted into a more friendly climate, where they may spread and flourish to all eternity.
There is not, in my opinion, a more pleasing and triumphant consideration in religion than this, of the perpetual progress which the soul makes towards the perfection of its nature, without ever arriving at a period in it. To look upon the soul as going on from strength to strength; to consider that she is to shine, with new accessions of glory, to all eternity; that she will be still adding virtue to virtue, and knowledge to knowledge; carries in it something wonderfully agreeable to that ambition which is natural to the mind of man.-Nay, it must be a prospect pleasing to God himself, to see his creation for ever beautifying in his eyes, and drawing nearer to him, by greater degrees of resemblance.
Methinks this single consideration, of the progress of a finite spirit to perfection, will be sufficient to extinguish all envy in inferior natures, and all contempt in superior. That cherubim, which now appears as a God to a human soul, knows very well that the period will come about in eternity, when the human soul shall be as perfect as he himself now is; nay, when she shall look down upon that degree of perfection, as much as she now falls short of it. It is true, the higher nature still advances, and by that means preserves his distance and superiority in the scale of being; but he knows, that how high soever the station is of which he stands possessed at present, the inferior nature will at length mount up to it, and shine forth in the same degree of glory.
With what astonishment and veneration may we look into our souls, where there are such hidden stores of virtue and knowledge, such inexhausted sources of perfection! We know not yet what we shall be, nor will it ever enter into the heart of man to conceive the glory that will be always in reserve for him. The soul, considered in relation to its Creator, is like one of those mathematical lines, that may draw nearer to another for all eternity, without a possibility of touching it; and can there be a thought so transporting, as to consider ourselves in these perpetual approaches to Him, who is not only the standard of perfection, but of happiness!
XIII. The Combat of the Horatii and the Curiatii. THE combat of the Horatii and Curiatii is painted in a very natural and animated manner by Livy. The cause was this. The inhabitants of Alba and Rome, roused by ambition and mutual complaints, took the field, and were on the eve of a bloody battle. The Alban general, to prevent the effusion of blood, proposed to Hostilius, then king of Rome, to refer the destiny of both nations to three combatants of each side, and that empire should be the prize of the conquering party. The proposal was accepted. The Albans named the Curiatii, three brothers, for their champions. The three sons of Horatius were chosen for the Romans.
The treaty being concluded, the three brothers, on each side, arrayed themselves in armour, according to agreement. Each side exhorts its respective champions; representing to them, that their gods, their country, their parents, every individual in the city and army, now fixed their eyes on their arms and valour. The generous combatants, intrepid in themselves, and animated by such exhortations, marched forth, and stood between the two armies. The armies placed themselves before their respective camps, and. were less solicitous for any present danger, than for the consequence of this action. They, therefore, gave their whole attention to a sight, which could not but alarm them. The signal is given. The combatants engage with hostile weapons, and show themselves inspired with the intrepidity of two mighty armies. Both parties, equally insensible of their own danger, had nothing in view but the slavery or liberty of their country, whose destiny depended upon their conduct. At the first onset, the clashing of their armour, and the terrific gleam of their swords, filled the spectators with such trepidation, fear, and horror, that the faculty of speech and breath seemed totally suspended, even while the hope of success inclined to neither side.-But when it came to a closer engagement, not only the motions of their bodies, and the furious agitation of their weapons, arrested the eyes of the spectators, but their opening wounds, and the streaming blood. Two of the Romans fell, and expired at the feet of the Albans, who were all three wounded. Upon their fall, the Alban army shouted for joy, while the Roman legions remained without hope, but not without concern, being eagerly anxious for the surviving Roman, then surrounded by his three adversaries. Happily, he was not wounded;