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which extinguishes all rational reflection, and engenders the most fantastic vifions.
Turn we awhile on lonely man our eyes,
* The abfurdities here pointed out, great and almost incredible as they may appear, were actually the confequences of an ill-formed and irrational Solitude, in St. Dominick, St. Caflino, St. Anthony, St. Colman, St. Francis, St. Munna, St. Firman, St. Columba, and Maria de la Vifitation, as may be seen by any who has fufficient phlegm to perufe "The Lives of the Saints ;" and ZIMMERMAN, in his original work on Solitude, has introduced an account of many other extravagances of the fame kind in the perfons of Molanus, Serapion, Hilarion, Jerome, and others; most of which we have forborne to introduce into
Harrafs'd by watchings, abstinence, and chains,
Men even of strong natural understandings, highly improved by education, have, in fome inftances, not been able to refift the fatal effects of intense application and long continued Solitude. The learned MOLANUS having, during a course of many years, detached his mind from all objects of fenfe, neglected all seasonable and falutary devotion, and given an uncontrouled licence to his imagination, fancied, in the latter part of his life, that he was a barley corn; and although he received his friends with great courtefy and politeness, and conversed upon fubjects both of science and devotion with great ease and ingenuity, he could never afterwards be perfuaded to ftir from home, left, as he expreffed his apprehenfion, he fhould be pecked up in the streets, and swallowed by a fowl.
The female mind is still more fubject to these delufions of disordered fancy; for, as their feelings are more exquifite, their paffions warmer, and
into this compilation, from the indecency of their illufions, and their tendency to corrupt the minds of youth.
and their imaginations more active than those of the other fex, SOLITUDE, when carried to excefs, affects them in a much greater degree. Their bofoms are much more fufceptible to the injurious influence of feclufion, to the contagion of example, and to the dangers of illufion. This may, perhaps, in fome degree, account for the fimilarity of difpofition which prevails in cloifters, and other inftitutions which confine women entirely to the company of each other. The force of example and habit is, indeed, in fuch retreats, furprizingly powerful. A French medical writer, of great merit, and undoubted veracity, relates, that, in a convent of nuns where the fifterhood was unusually numerous, one of these fecluded fair ones was feized with a ftrange impulfe to mew like a cat; that several others of the nuns in a fhort time followed her example; and that at length this unaccountable propenfity became general throughout the convent; the whole fifterhood joining, at stated periods, in the practice of mewing, and continuing it for feveral hours. But of all the extraordinary fancies recorded of the fex, nonet can exceed that which CARDAN relates to have happened in one of the convents of Germany during the fifteenth century. One of the nuns, who had long been fecluded from the fight of man, was seized with the strange propensity to M 2 bite
bite all her companions; and, extraordinary as it may feem, this difpofition fpread until the whole house was infected with the fame fury. The account, indeed, ftates, that this mania extended even beyond the walls of the convent, and that the disease was conveyed to such a degree from cloister to cloister, throughout Germany, Holland, and Italy, that the practice at length prevailed in every female convent in Eu
These inftances of the pernicious influence of a total dereliction of fociety, may poffibly appear to the understandings of the present generation extravagant and incredible; but they are certainly true; and many others, of a fimilar nature, might be adduced from the most authentic hiftories of the times. The fpecies, when prevented from enjoying a free intercourfe and rational fociety with each other, almost change their nature; and the mind, feeding continually on the melancholy mufings of the imagination in the cold and chearless regions of Solitude, engenders humours of the moft excentric caft. Excluded from those focial communications which nature enjoins, with no means of gratifying the understanding, amufing the fenfes, or interefting the affections, fancy roves at large into unknown spheres, and endeavours to find in ideal forms entertain
ment and delight. Angelic vifions, infernal phantoms, amazing prodigies, the delufions of alchemy, the frenzies of philosophy, and the madness of metaphyfics, fill the difordered brain. The intellect faftens upon fome abfurd idea, and fofters it with the fondeft affection, until its encreasing magnitude subdues the remaining powers of fenfe and reason. The slightest retrospect into the conduct of the folitary profeffions of every religious fyftem, proves the lamentable dangers to which they expose their mental faculties, by excluding themselves from the intercourses of rational fociety. From the prolific womb of Solitude fprung all the myfterious ravings and fenfelefs doctrines of the New Platonifts. The fame cause devoted the monks and anchorites of the Chriftian church to folly and fanaticifm. Fakirs, Bramins, and every other tribe of religious enthusiasts, originated from the fame fource. By abandoning the pleasures of fociety, and renouncing the feelings of nature, they facrificed REASON upon the altar of SUPERSTITION, and fupplied its place with extatic fancies and melancholy mufings. There is nothing more evident, than that our holy religion, in its original conftitution, was set so far apart from all refined fpeculations, that it seemed in a manner diametrically oppofite to it. The Great Founder of Chriftianity gave one fimple rule of M 3 life