« PreviousContinue »
thing that has a value set upon it by the world, we shall live and die in misery and repentance.
One would take more than ordinary care to guard one's self against this particular imperfection, because it is that which our nature very strongly inclines us to; for if we examine ourselves thoroughly, we shall find that we are the most changeable beings in the universe. In respect of our understanding, we often embrace and reject the very same opinions; whereas beings above and beneath us have probably no opinions at all, or, at least, no wavering and uncertainties in those they have. Our superiors are guided by intuition, and our inferiors by instinct. In respect of our wills, we fall into crimes and recover out of them, are amiable or odious in the eyes of our great Judge, and pass our whole life in offending and asking pardon. On the contrary, the beings underneath us are not capable of sinning, nor those above us of repenting. The one is out of the possibilities 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, until 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 blessing 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 va- : riable 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, today, and for ever.
As this mutability of temperand 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 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:
- Sardus habebat
HOR. 1 Sat. iii.
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:
N° 163. THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 1711,
Si quid ego adjuero, curamve levasso
Enn. apud TULLIUM.
And ease the torture of your troubled breast? 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 affliction. The utmost we can hope for in this world is contentment; if we aim at any thing higher, we shall meet with nothing but grief and disappointment. A man should direct all his studies and en
* From Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel. Perhaps it is needless to mention that this character was meant for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, author of the Rehearsal. VOL. VIII.
deavours at making himself easy now, and happy hereafter.
The trnth 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
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.
• 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
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
me, I desire
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 its foundation sapped, and immediately sinks under the weight of accidents that are disagreeable to its favourite passion.