« AnteriorContinuar »
They negociate affairs, conclude treaties, and maintain a good correspondence between those wealthy societies of men, that are divided from one another by seas and oceans, or live on the different extremities of a continent. I have often been pleased to hear disputes adjusted between an inhabitant of Japan and an alderman of London ; or to see a subject of the Great Mogul entering into a league with one of the Czar of Muscovy. I am infinitely delighted in mixing with these several ministers of commerce, as they are distinguished by their different walks and different languages. Sometimes I am jostled among a body of Armenians ; sometimes I am lost in a crowd of Jews; and sometimes make one in a group of Dutchmen. I am a Dane, Swede, or Frenchman, at different times, or rather fancy myself like the old philosopher, who, upon being asked what countryman he was, replied, that he was a citizen of the world.
Nature seems to have taken a particular care to disseminate her blessings among the different regions of the world, with an eye to this mutual intercourse and traffic among mankind, that the natives of the several parts of the globe might have a kind of dependance upon one another, and be united together by their common interests. Almost every degree produces something peculiar to it. The food often grows in one country, and the sauce in another. The fruits of Portugal are corrected by the products of Barbadoes ; the infusion of a China plant sweetened with the pith of an Indian cane. The Philippine islands give a flavour to our European bowls. The single dress of a woman of quality is often the product of a hundred climates. The muff and the fan come together from the different ends of the earth. The scarf is sent from the torrid zone, and the tippet from beneath the pole. The brocade petticoat rises out of the mines of Peru, and the diamond necklace out of the bowels of Indostan.
If we consider our own country in its natural prospect, without any of the benefits and advantages of commerce, what a barren uncomfortable spot of the earth falls to our share! Natural historians tell us, that no fruit grows originally among us, besides hips and haws, acorns and pignuts, with other delicacies of the like nature ; that our climate, of itself, and without the assistance of art, can make no further advances towards a plum, than a sloe, and carries an apple to no greater perfection than a crab; that our melons, our peaches, our figs, our apricots, and our cherries, are strangers among us, imported in different ages, and naturalized in our English gardens; and that they would all degenerate and fall away into the trash of our own country, if they were wholly neglected by the planter, and left to the mercy of our sun and soil.
Nor has traffic more enriched our vegetable world, than, it has improved the whole face of nature among us. Our ships are laden with the harvest of every climate ; our tables are stored with spices, and oils, and wines; our rooms are filled with pyramids of China, and adorned with the workmanship of Japan; our morning draught comes to us from the remotest corners of the earth; we repair our bodies by the, drugs of America, and repose ourselves under Indian canopies. My friend, Sir Andrew, calls the vineyards of France, our gardens ; the spice islands, our hot beds; the Persians, our silk weavers ; and the Chinese, our potters. Nature, indeed, furnishes us with the bare necessaries of life ; but traffic gives us a great variety of what is useful, and, at the same time, supplies us with every thing that is convenient and ornamental. Nor is it the least part of this our happiness, that, whilst we enjoy the remotest products of the north and south, we are free from those extremities of weather which give them birth; that our eyes are refreshed with the green fields of Britain, at the same time that our palates are feasted with fruits that rise between the tropics.
For these reasons, there are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature, find work for the poor, add wealth to the rich, and magnificence to the great. Our English mer! chant converts the tin of his own country into gold, and exchanges his wool for rubies. The Mahometans are clothed in our British manufacture, and the inhabitants of the frozen zone warmed with the fleeces of our sheep.
. X.-On Public Speaking. MOST foreign writers who have given any character of the English nation, whatever vices they ascribe to it, allow, in general, that the people are naturally modest. It proceeds, perhaps, from this our national virtue, that our orators are observed to make use of less gesture or action than those of other countries. Our preachers stand stock still in the pulpit, and will not so much as move a finger to set off the best sermons in the world. We meet with the same speaking statues at our bars, and in all public places of debate. Our words flow from us in a smooth continued stream, without those strainings of the voice, motions of the body, and majesty of the hand, which are so much celebrated in the orators of Greece and Rome. We can talk of life and death in cold blood, and keep our temper in a discourse which turns upon every thing, that is dear to us. Though our zeal breaks out in the finest tropes and figures, it is not able to stir a limb about us.
It is certain that proper gestures and exertions of the voice cannot be too much studied by a public orator. They are a kind of comment to what he utters; and enforcés every thing he says, with weak hearers, better than the strongest argument he can make use of. They keep the audience awake, and fix their attention to what is delivered to them; at the same time that they show the speaker is in earnest, and affected himself with what he so passionately recommends to others.
We are told that the great Latin orator very much impaired his health, by the vehemence of action with which he used to deliver himself. The Greek orator was likewise so very famous for this particular in rhetoric, that one of his antagonists, whom he had banished from Athens, reading over the oration which had procured his banishment, and seeing his friends admire it, could not forbear asking them -If they were so much affected by the bare reading of it, how much more they would have been alarmed, had they heard him actually throwing out such a storm of eloquence.
How cold and dead a figure, in comparison of these two great men, does an orator often make at the British bar, holding up his head with the most insipid serenity, and stroking the sides of a long wig that reaches down to his middle ! Nothing can be more ridiculous than the gestures of most of our English speakers. You see some of them running their hands into their pockets as far as ever they can thrust them, and others looking with great attention on a piece of paper that has nothing written on it; you may see many a smart rhetorician turning his hat in his hands, moulding it into several different cocks, examining sometimes the lining of it, and sometimeš the button, during the whole course of his harangue. A deaf man would think he was cheapening a beaver; when perhaps he was talking of the
fate of the British nation. I remember, when I was a young . man, and used to frequent Westminster-hall, there was a 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 ut. ter 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 imagi. nation, 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 linow. ledge, 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 tó 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 histori. ans, 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