Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Avarice, Superstition, Despair, Love, with the like cares and passions that infest human life.'

"I here fetched a deep sigh. 'Alas,' said I, 'man was made in vain! how is he given away to misery and mortality! tortured in life, and swallowed up in death !'—The Genius, being moved with compassion towards me, bid me quit so uncomfortable a prospect. 'Look no more,' said he,'on man in the first stage of his existence, in his setting out for Eternity, but cast thine eye on that thick mist into which the tide bears the several generations of mortals that fall into it. I directed my sight as I was ordered, and (whether or no the good Genius strengthened it with any supernatural force, or dissipated part of the mist that was before too thick for the eye to penetrate) I saw the valley opening at the farther end, and spreading forth into an immense ocean, that had a huge rock of adamant running through the midst of it, and dividing it into two equal parts. The clouds still rested on one half of it, in so much that I could discover nothing in it; but the other appeared to me a vast ocean planted with innumerable islands, that were covered with fruits and flowers, and interwoven with a thousand little shining seas that ran among them. I could see persons dressed in glorious habits with garlands upon their heads, passing among the trees, lying down by the sides of fountains, or resting on beds of flowers; and could hear a confused harmony of singing birds, falling waters, human voices, and musical instruments. Gladness grew in me upon the discovery of so delightful a scene. I wished for the wings of an eagle, that I might fly away to those happy seats; but the Genius told me there was no passage to them except through the gates of Death 3that I saw opening every moment upon the bridge. 'The islands,' said he,'that lie so fresh and green before thee, and with which the whole face of the ocean appears spotted as far as thou canst see, are more in number than the sands on the sea-shore; there are myriads of islands behind those which thou here discoverest, reaching farther than thine eye, or even thine imagination can extend itself. These are the mansions of good men after death, who, according to the degree and kinds of virtue in which they excelled, are distributed among these several islands, which abound with pleasures of different kinds and degrees, suitable to the relishes and perfections of those who are settled in them: every island is a paradise accommodated to its respective inhabitants. Are not these, O Mirza, habitations worth contending for? Does life appear miserable, that gives thee opportunities of earning such a reward t Is death to be feared, that will convey thee to so happy an existence? Think not man was made in vain, who has such an eternity reserved for him.'—I gazed with inexpressible pleasure on these happy islands. At length said I, 'Show me now, I beseech thee, the secrets that lie hid under those dark clouds which cover the ocean on the other side of the rock of adamant.' The Genius making me no answer, I turned about to address myself to him a second time, but I found that he had left me; I then turned again to the vision which I had been so long contemplating; but instead of the rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy islands, I saw nothing but the long hollow valley of Bagdat, with oxen, sheep, and camels grazing upon the sides of it."

No. 349.—ON CONSTANCY IN DEATH.

I am very much pleased with a consolatory letter of 1Phalaris to one who had lost a son that was a young man of great merit. The thought with which he comforts the afflicted father is, to the best of my memory, as follows: That he should consider death had set a kind of seal upon his son's character, and placed him out of the reach of vice and infamy: that, while he lived, he was still within the possibility of falling away from virtue, and losing the fame of which he was possessed. Death only closes a man's reputation, and determines it as good or bad.

This, among other motives, may be one reason why we are naturally averse to the launching out into a man's praise till his head is laid in the dust. Whilst he is capable of changing, we may be forced to retract our opinions. He may forfeit the esteem we have conceived of him, and some time or other appear to us under a different light from what he does at present. In short, as 2the life of any man cannot be called happy or unhappy, so neither can it be pronounced vicious or virtuous, before the conclusion of it.

It was upon this consideration that Epaminondas, being asked whether Chabrias, Iphicrates, or he himself deserved most to be esteemed, "You must first see us die," saith he, "before that question can be answered."

As there is not a more melancholy consideration to a good man than his being obnoxious to such a change, so there is nothing more glorious than to keep up an uniformity in his actions, and preserve the beauty of his character to the last.

The end of a man's life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the principal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo. 3There is scarce a great person in the Grecian or Roman history whose death has not been remarked upon by some writer or other, and censured or applauded according to the genius or principles of the person who has descanted it. 4Monsieur de St. Evremond is very particular in setting forth the constancy and courage of Petronius Arbiter during his last moments, and thinks he discovers in them a greater firmness of mind and resolution than in the death of Seneca, Cato, or Socrates. There is no question but this polite author's affectation of appearing singular in his remarks, and making discoveries which had escaped the observation of others, threw him into this course of reflection. It was Petronius's merit that he died in the same gaiety of temper in which he lived; but as his life was altogether loose and dissolute, the indifference which he showed at the close of it is to be looked upon as a piece of natural carelessness and levity rather than fortitude. The resolution of Socrates proceeded from very different motives—the consciousness of a well-spent life, and the prospect of-a happy eternity. If the ingenious author above mentioned was so pleased with gaiety of humour in a dying man, he might have found a much nobler instance of it in our countryman Sir Thomas More.

This great and learned man was famous for enlivening his ordinary discourses with wit and pleasantry; and, as Erasmus tells him in an epistle dedicatory, acted in all parts of life like a second Democritus.

He died upon a point of religion, and is respected as a martyr by that side for which he suffered. That innocent mirth, which had been so conspicuous in his life, did not forsake him to the last. He maintained the same cheerfulness of heart upon the scaffold which he used to show at his table; and, upon laying his head on the block, gave instances of that good humour with which he had always entertained his friends in the most ordinary occurrences. His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected. He did not look upon the severing his head from his body as a circumstance that ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind; and as he died under a fixed aud settled hope of immortality, he thought any unusual degree of sorrow and concern improper on such an occasion as had nothing in it which could deject or terrify him. s

There is no great danger of imitation from this example. Men's natural fears will be a sufficient guard against it. I shall only observe, that what was philosophy in this extraordinary man would be frenzy in one who does not resemble him as well in the cheerfulness of his temper as in the sanctity of his life and manners.

I shall conclude this paper with the instance of a person who seems to me to have shown more intrepidity and greatness of soul in his dying moments than what we meet with among any of the most celebrated Greeks and Romans. I met with this instance in the History of the Revolutions in Portugal, written by the 5 Abbe de Vertot.

When Don Sebastian, King of Portugal, had invaded the territories of Muli Moluc, Emperor of Morocco, in order to dethrone him and set the crown upon the head of his nephew, Moluc was wearing away witii a distemper which he himself knew was incurable. However, he prepared for the reception of so formidable an enemy. He was, indeed, so far spent with his sickness, that he did not expect to live out the whole day, when the last decisive battle was given; but, knowing the fatal consequences that would happen to his children and people in case he should die before he put an end to that war, he commanded his principal officers that if he died during the engagement, they should conceal his death from the army, and that they should ride up to the litter in -which his corpse was carried, under pretence of receiving orders from him as usual. Before the battle began, he was carried through all the ranks of his army in an open litter as they stood drawn up in array, encouraging them to fight valiantly in defence of their religion and country. Finding afterwards the battle to go against him, though he was very near his last agonies, he threw himself out of his litter, rallied his army, and led them on to the charge; which afterwards ended in a complete victory on the side of the Moors. He had no sooner brought his men to the engagement, but, finding himself utterly spent, he was again replaced in his litter, where, laying his finger on his mouth, to enjoin secrecy to his officers who stood about him, he died a few moments after in that posture.

No. HI— THE FORCE OF HABIT, AND ITS USE IN THE FORMATION OF CHARACTER.

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 a second nature." It is indeed able to form the man anew, and to give him inclinations and capacities altogether different from those he was born with. Dr. Plot, in his History of Staffordshire, tells us of an idiot that, chancing to live within the sound of a clock, and always amusing himself with counting the hour of the day whenever the clock struck, the clock being spoiled by accident, the idiot continued to strike and count the hour without the help of it, in the same manner as he had done when it was entire. Though I dare not vouch for the truth of this story, it is very certain that custom has a mechanical effect upon the body, at the same time that it has a very extraordinary influence upon the mind.

I shall in this paper consider one very remarkable effect which custom has upon human nature, and which, if rightly observed, may

« AnteriorContinuar »