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cinders, broken rocks, and fiery torrents, presenting to the eye the most dismal scene of horrour and desolation.
- Pliny the E. You paint it very truly. But has it never occurred to your philosophical mind, that this change is a striking emblem of that which must happen, by the natural course of things, to every rich, luxurious state? While the inhabitants of it are sunk in voluptuousness, while all is smiling around them, and they imagine that no evil, no danger is nigh, the latent seeds of destruction are fermenting within ; till, breaking out on a sudden, they lay waste all their opulence, all their boasted delights; and leave them a sad monument of the fatal effects of internal tempests and convulsions.
WHETHER THE ANCIENTS HAD MORE VIRTUE
THAN THE MODERNS.
SOCRATES AND MONTAIGNE.
Mont. It is you then, divine Socrates! How I am transported to see you! I am but newly come into these parts, and immediately upon my arrival I made it my business to find you out. In short, after having filled my book with your name and praises, I have now the happy opportunity of your conversation, and of informing myself from you, by what means you became possessed of such a native virtue, the motions of which were all so unaffected, and which had no such example before it, even in that happy age in which you lived.
Socr. I am very well pleased to meet with one of the dead, that seems to have been a philosopher. But because you are lately come from above, and it is a long time since I have seen any person here (for they leave me lonely enough, and I have no crowds, I will assure you, that press for my conversation) therefore give me leave to ask you what news? How goes the world? Is it not mightily changed ?
Mont. Extremely; you would not know it.
Socr. I am ravished to hear it; I was always of opinion it must of necessity grow better and wiser, than it was in my days.
Mont. What do you mean? Why, it is ten times more foolish and corrupt than ever ; that is the change I speak of; and I expected to hear from you the history of the times which you have seen, in which there reigned so much honesty and integrity.
Socr. On the contrary, I was prepared to hear wonders of the age, in which you have just finished your life. What! Have not men by this time shaken off the follies of antiquity?
Mont. You are an ancient yourself, and for that reason, I suppose, make so bold with antiquity: but be assured that men's manners are at present a large subject of lamentation, and that all things degenerate daily.
Socr. Is it possible? I thought in my time things went as perversely as could be, and was in hopes that at last they would fall into a more reasonable train- and that men would have made their advantage of so many years experience.
Mont. Alas! What regard have they
perience? Like silly birds, they suffer themselves to be taken in the same vets that have caught a hundred thousand of their kind already. There is not one but enters a perfect povice upon the stage of life; the follies of the fathers are all lost upon their children, and do not serve to instruct them at all.
Socr. But what is the reason of this? I should think that surely the world, in its old age, ought to become wiser and more regular than it was in its youth.
Mont. Mankind has, in all ages, the same inclinations, over which reason has not the least power. So that to the world's end there will be follies, and the same follies too, as long as there are men.
Socr. Then why would you put a greater value upon the ages of antiquity, than upon this present
Mont, Ah! Socrates! I know you to have a particular mastery in the art of reasoning, and to be able so ingeniously to beset those, with whom you dispute, with arguments whose conseq ences they do not foresee, that you can lead them whither you please. This is what may be called playing the midwife to their thoughts; I am sure I find myself delivered of a proposition directly opposite to what I had advanced, and yet I cannot give up the controversy neither. It is certain we find not now any of those robust and vigorous souls of antiquity: show me an Aristides, a Phocion, a Pericles, or to name one for all a Socrates.
Socr. Why, what hinders ? Is it because nature's exhausted, and has not spirits left to produce such great souls-If so, why is she yet exhausted in nothing else, but in reasonable men ? None of her other works are degenerated, and how comes it then to pass that mankind is degenerated alone?
Mont. That they are degenerated is matter of fact : it appears to me as if nature had sometimes shown such great men to the world, as patterns of what she could produce if she pleased, and after that formed all the rest with negligence enough.
Socr. Take care you are not deceived; antiquity is an object of a peculiar kind; its distance magnifies it: had you but known Aristides, Phocion, Pericles, and myself, (since you are pleased to place me in the number) you would certainly have found some to match us in your own age. That which commonly possesses people so in favour of antiquity, is their being out of humour with their own times, and antiquity takes advantage of their spleen; they cry up the ancients, in spite to their cotemporaries. Thus when we lived, we esteemed our ancestors more than they deserved; and, in requital, our posterity esteem us at present more than we deserve. But yet our an. cestors, and we, and our posterity, are all upon the level; and, I believe, the prospect of the world would be very dull and tiresome to any one, that should view it in a true light, because it is always the same.
Mont. I should have thought the world was always in motion, that every thing changed, and that ages, like men, had their different characters : and, in effect, do we not see that some ages are Jearned, and others illiterate; some barbarous,
others polite; some serious, others whimsical ; some ingenious, and others stupid?
Mont. And consequently are not some more virtuous, and others more wicked.
Socr. That does not follow. Men change their habits, but not the form of their bodies. Politeness, barbarism, learning or ignorance, more or less plainness, the grave genius or the buffoon; all these are no more than the dress, the outside of mankind; and these indeed are changed. But the heart, whichis the man himself,does not change at all. People are ignorant in one age, but learning may come into fashion in the next. People are interested, but disinterest will never be the mode. Among the prodigious number of men irrational enough, that are born in a hundred years, nature produces, it may be, thirty or forty rational; and these, like a prudent administratix, she is obliged to disperse through all the earth; and I leave you to judge, if they are likely to be found in any place in numbers sufficient to bring virtue and integrity into fashion.
Mont. But is this distribution of rational men made with equality ? Some ages, in all probability have been better used in the dividend than others.
Socr. Nature, without question, acts always with exact regularity, but we have not the skill to judge as she acts.