« AnteriorContinuar »
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 ar. riving 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 coul, 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 believing 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 iş 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 agree. ment. 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 ;
but not being a match for three, though superior to any of them singly, he had recourse to a stratagem for dividing them. He betook himself to flight; rightly supposing, that they would follow him at unequal distances, as their . strength, after so much loss of blood, would permit. Having fled a considerable way from the spot where they fought, he looked back, and saw the Curiatii pursuing at a consi. derable distance from one another, and one of them very near him. He turned with all his fury upon the foremost; and, while the Alban army were crying out to his brothers to succour him, Horatius, having presently despatched his first enemy, rushed forward to a second victory. The Romans encourage their champion by such acclamations, as generally proceed from unexpected success. He, on the other hand, hastens to put an end to the second combat, and slew another before the third, who was not far off, could come up to his assistance. There now remained only one combatant on each side. The Roman, who had still received no hurt, fired with gaining a double victory, advances with great confidence to his third combat. His antagonist, on the other hand, being weakened by the loss of blood, and spent with running so far, could scarce drag his legs after bim, and being already dispirited by the death of his brothers, presents his breast to the victor, for it could not be called a contest. Two, (says the exulting Roman) two have I sacrificed to the manes of my brothers--the third I will offer up to my country, that henceforth Rome may give laws to Alba." Upon which he transfixed him with his sword, and stripped him of his armour. The Romans received Horatius, the victor, into their camp, with an exultation, great as their former fear. After this each army buried their respective dead, but with very different sentiments ; the one reflecting on the sovereignty they had acquired, and the other on their subjection to slavery, to the power of the Romans.
This combat became still more remarkable : Horatius. returning to Rome, with the arms and spoils of his enemy, met his sister, who was to have been married to one of the Curiatii. Seeing her brother dressed in her lover's coat of armour, wbich she herself had wrought, she could not contain her grief S he shed a flood of tears, she tore her hair, and in the transport of her sorrow, uttered the most violent imprecations against her brother. Horatius, warm with his victory, and enraged at the grief which his sister
expressed, with such ungeasonable passion, in the midst of the public joy, in the heat of his anger, drove a poignard to her heart. —-66 Begone to thy lover,” says he, 6 and carry him that degenerate passion which makes thee prefer a dead enemy to the glory of thy country.” Every body detested an action so cruel and inhuman. The murderer was immediately seized and dragged before the Duumviri, the proper judges of such crimes. Horatius was condemned to lose his life; and the very, dav of his triumph had been the day of his punishment, if he had not, by the advice of Tullus Hostilius, appealed from that judgment to the assembly of the people. He appeared there with the same courage and resolution that he had shown in the combat with the Curiatii. The people thought so great a service might justly excuse them, if for once they moderated the rigour of the law; and accordingly, he was acquitted, rather through admiration of his courage, than for the justice of his cause.
XIV.-On the Power of Custom. THERE is not a common saying which has a better turn of sense in it, than what we often hear in the mouths of the vulgar, that custom is second nature. It is, indeed, able to form the man anew, and give him inclinations and capacities altogether different from those he was born with. A person who is addicted to play or gaming, though he took but little delight in it at first, by degrees contracts so strong an inclination towards it, and gives himself up so entirely to it, that it seems the only end of his being. The love of a retired or busy life will grow upon a man insensibly, as he is conversant in the one or the other, till he is utterly unqualified for relishing that to which he has been for some time disused. Nay, a man may smoke, or drink, or take snuff, till he is unable to pass away his time without it; not to mention how our delight in any particular study, art or science, rises and improves, in proportion to the application which we bestow upon it. Thus, what was at first an exercise, becomes at length an entertainment. Our employments are changed into diversions. The mind grows fond of those actions it is accustomed to, and is drawn with reluctancy from those paths in which it has been used to walk.
If we consider, attentively, this property of human nature, it must instruct us in very fine moralities. In the first place, I would have no man discouraged with that kind