« AnteriorContinuar »
sibilities of duty, and the other fixed in an eternal course of sin, or an eternal course of virtue.
There is scarce a state of life, or stage in it, which does not produce changes and revolutions in the mind of man. Our schemes of thought in infancy are lost in those of youth; these too take a different turn in manhood, till old age often leads us back into our former infancy. A new title, or an unexpected success, throws us out of ourselves, and in a manner destroys our identity. A cloudy day, or a little sun-shine, have as great an influence on many constitutions, as the most real blessings or misfortunes. A dream varies our being, and changes our condition while it lasts; and every passion, not to mention health and sickness, and the greater alterations in body and mind, makes us appear almost different creatures. If a man is so distinguished among other beings by this infirmity, what can we think of such as make themselves remarkable for it even among their own species ? It is a very trifling character to be one of the most variable beings of the most variable kind, especially if we consider that he who is the great standard of perfection, has in him no shadow of change, but is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
As this mutability of temper and inconsistency with ourselves is the greatest weakness of human nature, so it makes the person who is remarkable for it, in a very particular manner more ridiculous than any other infirmity whatsoever, as it sets him in a greater variety of foolish lights, and distinguishes him from himself by an opposition of party-coloured characters. The most humorous character in Horace is founded upon this unevenness of temper, and irregularity of conduct.
Junonis sacra ferret. Habebat sæpe ducentos,
Hor. Sat. 3. lib. I. Instead of translating this passage in Horace, I shall entertain my English reader with the description of a parallel character, that is wonderfully well finished by Mr. Dryden, and raised upon the same foundation.
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand:
No. 163. THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 6.
Si quid ego adjuero, curamde lerasso,
INQUIRIES after happiness, and rules for attaining it, are not so necessary and useful to mankind as the arts of consolation, and supporting one's self under affiction. The utmost we can hope for in this world is contentment; if we aim at any thing higher, we shall meet
* We may say,--the arts of consolation, and the arts of supporting ones-self,—but not both together. It had been better thus : the arts of consolation and directions for supporting ones-self.
with nothing but grief and disappointments. A man should direct all his studies and endeavours at making himself easy now, and happy hereafter.
The truth of it is, if all the happiness that is dispersed through the whole race of mankind in this world were drawn together, and put into the possession of any single man, it would not make a very happy being. Though, on the contrary, if the miseries of the whole species were fixed in a single person, they would make a very miserable one.
I am engaged in this subject by the following letter, which, though subscribed by a fictitious name, I have reason to believe is not imaginary.
“ MR. SPECTATOR, “ I am one of your disciples, and endeavour to live up to your rules, which I hope will incline you to pity my condition; I shall open it to you in a very few words. About three years since a gentleman, whom, I am sure, you yourself would have approved, made his addresses to me. He had every thing to recommend him but an estate, so that my friends, who all of them applauded his person, would not for the sake of both of us favour his passion. For my own part, I resigned myself up entirely to the direction of those who knew the world much better than myself, but still lived in hopes that some juncture or other would make me happy in the man whom, in my heart, I preferred to all the world; being determined, if I could not have him, to have nobody else. About three months ago
I received a letter from him, acquainting me, that by the death of an uncle he had a considerable estate left him, which he said was welcome to him upon no other account, but as he hoped it would remove all difficulties that lay in the way to our mutual happiness. You may well suppose, sir, with how much joy I received this letter, which was followed by several others filled with those expressions of love and joy, which I verily believe nobody felt more sincerely, nor knew better how to describe, than the gentleman I am speaking of But, sir, how shall I be able to tell it you! By the last week's post I received a letter from an intimate friend of this unhappy gentleman, acquainting me, that as he had just settled his affairs, and was preparing for his journey, he fell sick of a fever and died. It is impossible to express to you the distress I am in upon this occasion, I can only have recourse to my devotions, and to the reading of good books for my consolation; and as I always take a particular delight in those frequent advices and admonitions which you give the public, it would be a very great piece of charity in you to lend me your assistance in this conjuncture. If, after the reading of this letter, you find yourself in a humour rather to rally and ridicule, than to comfort me, I desire you would throw it into the fire, and think no more of it; but if you are touched with my misfortune, which is greater than I know how to bear, your counsels may very much support, and will infinitely oblige the afflicted
A disappointment in love is more hard to get over than any other; the passion itself so softens and subdues the heart, that it disables it from struggling or bearing up against the woes and distresses which befal it. The mind meets with other misfortunes in her whole strength; she stands collected within herself, and sustains the shock with all the force which is natural to her; but a heart in love has it foundations sapped, and immediately sinks under the weight of accidents that are disagreeable to its favourite passion.
In afflictions, men generally draw their consolations out of books of morality, which, indeed, are of great use to fortify and strengthen the mind against the impressions of sorrow. Monsieur St. Evremont, who does not approve of this method, recommends authors who are apt to stir up mirth in the mind of the readers, and fancies Don Quixote can give more relief to an heavy heart, than Plutarch or Seneca, as it is much easier to divert grief than to conquer it. This doubtless may
have its effects on some tempers. I should rather have recourse to authors of a quite contrary kind, that give us instances of calamities and misfortunes, and shew human nature in its greatest distresses.
If the affliction we groan under be very heavy, we shall find some consolation in the society of as great sufferers as ourselves, especially when we find our companions men of virtue and merit. If our afflictions are light, we shall be comforted by the comparisons we make between ourselves and our fellow-sufferers. A loss at sea, a fit of sickness, or the death of a friend, are such trifles when we consider whole kingdoms laid in ashes, families put to the sword, wretches shut up in dungeons, and the like calamities of mankind, that we are out of countenance for our own weakness, if we sink under such little strokes of fortune.
Let the disconsolate Leonora consider, that at the very time in which she languishes for the loss of her deceased lover, there are persons in several parts of the world just perishing in a shipwreck; others crying out for mercy in the terrors of a death-bed repentance; others lying under the tortures of an infamous execution, or the like dreadful calamities, and she will find her sorrows vanish at the appearance of those which are so much greater and more astonishing. I would further propose to the consideration of my
afflicted disciple, that possibly what she now looks upon as the greatest misfortune, is not really such in itself. For my own part, I question not but our souls, in a separate state, will look back on their lives in quite another view, than what they had of them in the body; and that what they now consider as misfortunes and disappointments, will very often appear to have been escapes and blessings.
The mind that hath any cast towards devotion, naturally flies to it in its afflictions.
When I was in France, I heard a very remarkable story of two lovers, which I shall relate at length in my to-morrow's paper, not only because the circumstances of it are extraordinary, but because it may serve as an VOL. III.