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sion of many sins, by which a man arrives to it; so it has this farther property of old age: that, as when a man comes once to be old, he never retreats, but still goes on, and grows every day older and older; so when a man comes once to such a degree of wickedness as to delight in the wickedness of other men, it is more than ten thousand to one odds, if he ever returns to a better mind, but grows every day worse and worse. For he has nothing else to take up his thoughts, and nothing to entertain his desires with; which, by a long estrangement from better things, come at length perfectly to loathe and fly off from them.
A notable instance of which we have in Tiberius Caesar, who was bad enough in his youth, but superlatively and monstrously so in his old age: and the reason of this was, because he took a particular pleasure in seeing other men do vile and odious things. So that all his diversion at his beloved Caprese was, to be a spectator of the devil's actors, representing the worst of vices upon that infamous stage.
And therefore let not men flatter themselves, as no doubt some do, that though they find it difficult at present to combat and stand out against an ill practice, and upon that account give way to a continuance in it; yet that old age shall do that for them, which they in their youth could never find in their heart to do for themselves; I say, let not such persons mock and abuse themselves with such false and absurd presumptions. For they must know that an habit may continue, when it is no longer able to act; or rather the elicit, internal acts of it may be quick and vigorous, when the external, imperate acts of the same habit utterly cease: and let men but reflect upon their own observation, and consider impartially with themselves, how few in the world they have known made better by age. Generally they will see, that such leave not their vice, but their vice leaves them; or rather retreats from their practices, and retires into their fancy; and that, we know, is boundless and infinite: and when vice has once settled itself there, it finds a vaster and a wider compass to act in, than ever it had before. I scarce
know any thing that calls for a more serious consideration from us than this: for still men are apt to persuade themselves, that they shall find it an easy matter to grow virtuous as they grow old- But it is a way of arguing highly irrational and fallacious. For this is a maxim of eternal truth; that nothing grows weak with age, but that which will at length die with age ; which sin never does. The longer a blot continues, the deeper it sinks. And it will be found a work of no small difficulty to dispossess and throw out a vice from that heart, where long possession begins to plead prescription. It is naturally impossible for an old man to grow young again; and it is next to impossible for a decrepit aged sinner to become a new creature, and be born again.
4thly and lastly, We need no other argument of the malign effects of this disposition of mind, than this one consideration, that many perish eternally, who never arrived to such a pitch of wickedness as to take any pleasure in, or indeed to be at all concerned about, the sins of other men. But they perish in the pursuit of their own lusts, and the obedience they personally yield to their own sinful appetites; and that, questionless, very often not without a considerable mixture of inward dislike of themselves for what they do: yet for all that, their sin, we see, proving too hard for them, the overpowering stream carries them away, and down they sink into the bottomless pit, though under the weight of a guilt, by vast degrees inferior to that which we have been discoursing of. For doubtless many men are finally lost, who yet have no men's sins to answer for, but their own; who never enticed nor perverted others to sin, and much less applauded or encouraged them in their sin: but only being slaves to their own corrupt affections, have lived and died under the killing power of them, and so passed to a sad eternity.
But that other devilish way of sinning, hitherto spoken of, is so far beyond this, that this is a kind of innocence, or rather a kind of charity compared to it. For this is a solitary, single; that a complicated, multiplied guilt. And indeed, if we consider at what
a rate some men sin nowadays; that man sins charitably, who damns nobody but himself. But the other sort of sinners, who may properly enough be said to people hell, and, in a very ill sense, to bear the sins of many; as they have a guilt made up of many guilts, what can they reasonably expect, but a damnation equivalent to many damnations?
Born 1664—Died 1721.
SPECTATOR, No. 7.
Upon my return home, I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils that attend these superstitious follies of mankind; how they subject us to imaginary afflictions, and additional sorrows, that do not properly come within our lot. As if the natural calamities of life were not sufficient for it, we turn the most indifferent circumstances into misfortunes, and suffer as much from trifling accidents as from real evils. I have known the shooting of a star spoil a night's rest; and have seen a man in love grow pale, and lose his appetite, upon the plucking of a merry thought. A screechowl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers; nay, the voice of a cricket hath struck more terror than the roaring of a lion. There is nothing so inconsiderable, which may not appear dreadful to an imagination that is filled with omens and prognostics. A rusty nail, or a crooked pin, shoot up into prodigies.
Such an extravagant cast of mind engages multitudes of people, not only in impertinent terrors, but in supernumerary duties of life; and arises from that fear and ignorance which are natural to the soul of man. The horror with which we entertain the thoughts of death, or indeed of any future evil, and the uncertainty of its approach, fill a melancholy mind with innumerable
apprehensions and suspicions, and consequently dispose it to the observation of such groundless prodigies and predictions. For as it is the chief concern of wise men to retrench the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy; it is the employment of fools to multiply them by the sentiments of superstition.
For my own part, I should be very much troubled were I endowed with this divining quality, though it should inform me truly of every tiling that can befal me. I would not anticipate the relish of any happiness, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actually arrives.
I know but one way of fortifying my soul against these gloomy presages and terrors of mind, and that is, by securing to myself the friendship and protection of that Being, who disposes of events, and governs futurity. He sees, at one view, the whole thread of my existence, not only that part of it which I have already passed through, but that which runs forward into all the depths of eternity. When I lay me down -to sleep, I recommend myself to his care; when I awake, I give myself up to his direction. Amidst all the evils that threaten me, I will look up to him for help, and question not but he will either avert them, or turn them to my advantage. Though I know neither the time nor the manner of the death I am to die, I am not at all solicitous about it; because I am sure that he knows them both, and that he will not fail to comfort and support me under them.
SPECTATOR, No. 26.
When I am in a serious humour, I very often walk by myself in Westminster-abbey; where the gloominess of the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed a whole afternoon in the church-yard, the cloisters, and the church, amusing myself with the tomb-stones and inscriptions that I met with in those several regions of
the dead. Most of them recorded nothing else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day and died upon another; the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances that are common to all mankind. I could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether of brass or marble, as a kind of satire upon the departed persons; who had left no other memorial of them, but that they were born, and that they died. They put me in mind of several persons mentioned in the battles of heroic poems, who have sounding names given them, for no other reason but that they may be killed, and are celebrated for nothing but being knocked on the head.
rXavKov re, MiSovrd re, Qepaikoxpv Tt.—Hour. Glaucumque, Medontaque, Thersilochumque.—Vibg. Glaucus, and Medon, and Thersilochus.
The life of these men is finely described in holy writ by 'the path of an arrow,' which is immediately closed up and lost.
Upon my going into the church I entertained myself with the digging of a grave; and saw in every shovelful of it that was thrown up, the fragment of a bone or skull intermixt with a kind of fresh mouldering earth that some time or other had a place in the composition of an human body. Upon this I began to consider with myself, what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another, and blended together in the same common mass; how beauty, strength, and youth, with old age, weakness, and deformity, lay undistinguished, in the same promiscuous heap of matter.
I have left the repository of our English kings for the contemplation of another day, when I shall find my mind disposed for so serious an amusement. I know that entertainments of this nature are apt to raise dark and dismal thoughts in timorous minds, and gloomy