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passions, from whence arise all the pleasures and pains that we see and hear of, if we analyze the mind of man, are very few; but those few agitated and combined, as external causes shall happen to operate, and modified by prevailing opinions and accidental caprices, make such frequent alterations on the surface of life, that the show, while we are busied in delineating it, vanishes from the view, and a new set of objects succeeds, doomed to the same shortness of duration with the former: thus curiosity may always find employment, and the busy part of mankind will furnish the contemplative with the materials of speculation to the end of time.
The complaint, therefore, that all topics are preoccupied, is nothing more than the murmur of ignorance or idleness, by which some discourage others and some themselves: the mutability of mankind will always furnish writers with new images, and the luxuriance of fancy may always embellish them with new decorations.
N° 96. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1753.
-Fortunalos nimium, sua si bona norint. VIRG. O happy, if ye knew your happy state! DRYDEN. In proportion as the enjoyment and infelicity of life depend upon imagination, it is of importance that this power
of the mind should be directed in its operations by reason; and, perhaps, imagination is more frequently busy, when it can only imbitter
disappointment and heighten calamity; and more frequently slumbers when it might increase the triumph of success, or animate insensibility to happiness, than is generally perceived.
An ecclesiastical living of considerable value became vacant, and Evander obtained a recommendation to the patron. His friend had too much modesty to speak with confidence of the success of an application supported chiefly by his interest, and Evander knew that others had solicited before him; as he was not, therefore, much elevated by hope, he believed he should not be greatly depressed by a disappointment. The gentleman to whom he was recommended, received him with great courtesy ; but upon reading the letter, he changed countenance, and discovered indubitable tokens of vexation and regret; then taking Evander by the hand,
Sir,' said he, “I think it scarce less a misfortune to myself than you, that you was not five minutes sooner in your application. The gentleman whose recommendation you bring, I wish more than any other to oblige; but I have just presented the living to the person whom you saw take his leave when you entered the room.
This declaration was a stroke, which Evander had neither skill to elude, nor force to resist. The strength of his interest, though it was not known time enough to increase his hope, and his being too late only a few minutes, though he had reason to believe his application had been precluded by as many days, were circumstances which imagination immediately improved to aggravate his disappointment: over these he mused perpetually with inexpressible anguish, he related them to every friend, and lamented them with the most passionate exclamations. And yet, what happened to Evander more than he expected ? nothing that he possessed was diminished, nor was any possibility of advantage cutoff; with respect to these and every other reality he was in the same state, as if he had never heard of the vacancy, which he had some chance to fill : but Evander groaned under the tyranny of imagination, and in a fit of causeless fretfulness cast away peace, because time was not stopped in its career, and a miracle did not interpose to secure him a living.
Agenor, on whom the living which Evander solicited was bestowed, never conceived a single doubt that he should fail in his attempt : his character was unexceptionable, and his recommendation such as it was believed no other could counterbalance; he, therefore, received the bounty of his patron without much emotion; he regarded his success as an event produced, like rain and sun shine, by the common and regular operation of natural causes ; and took possession of his rectory with the same temper, that he would have reaped a field he had sown, or received the interest of a sum which he had placed in the funds. But having, by accident, heard the report which had been circulated by the friends of Evander, he was at once struck with a sense of his good fortune ; and was so affected by a retrospect of his danger, that he could scarce believe it to be past. How providential,' said he,
was it, that I did not stay to drink another dishof tea at breakfast, that I found a hackney-coach at the end of the street, and that I met with no stop by the way! What an alteration was produced in Agenor's conception of the advantage of his situation, and the means by which it was obtained ! and yet at least he had gained nothing more than he expected ; his danger was not known time enough to alarm his fear; the value of his acquisition was not increased; nor had Providence interposed farther than to exclude chance from the government of the world. But Agenor did not before reflect that any gratitude was due to Providence but for a miracle; he did not enjoy his preferment as a gift, nor estimate his gain but by the probability of loss.
As success and disappointment are under the influence of imagination, so are ease and health ; each of which may be considered as a kind of negative good, that may either degenerate into wearisomeness and discontent, or be improved into complacency and enjoyment.
About three weeks ago I paid an afternoon visit to Curio. Curio is the proprietor of an estate which produces three thousand pounds a year, and the husband of a lady remarkable for her beauty and her wit; his age is that in which manhood is said to be complete, his constitution is vigorous, his person graceful, and his understanding strong. I found him in full health, lolling in an easy chair; his countenance was florid, he was gaily dressed, and surrounded with all the means of happiness which wealth well used could bestow. After the first ceremonies had passed, he threw himself again back in his chair upon my having refused it, looked wistfully at his fingers' ends, crossed his legs, inquired the news of the day, and in the midst of all possible advantages seemed to possess life with a listless indifference, which, if he could have preserved in contrary circumstances, would have invested him with the dignity of a stoic.
It happened that yesterday I paid Curio another visit. I found him in his chamber; his head was swathed in flannel, and his countenance was pale. I was alarmed at these appearances of disease; and inquired with an honest solicitude how he did. The moment he heard my question, he started from
bis seat, sprang towards me, caught me by the hand, and told me in an extasy, that he was in heaven.
What difference in Curio's circumstances produced this difference in his sensations and behaviour? What prodigious advantage had now accrued to the man, who before had ease and health, youth, affluence, and beauty? Curio, during the ten days that preceded my last visit, had been tormented with the tooth-ache; and had, within the last hour, been restored to ease, by having the tooth drawn.
And is human reason so impotent, and imagination so perverse, that ease cannot be enjoyed till it has been taken away? Is it not possible to improve negative into positive happiness, by reflection? Can he, who possesses ease and health, whose food is tasteful, and whose sleep is sweet, remember, without exultation and delight, the seasons in which he has pined in the languor of inappetence, and counted the watches of the night with restless anxiety?
Is an acquiescence in the dispensations of Unerring Wisdom, by which some advantage appears to be denied, without recalling trivial and accidental circumstances that can only aggravate disappointment, impossible to reasonable beings? And is a sense of the Divine Bounty necessarily languid, in proportion as that bounty appears to be less doubtful and interrupted ?
Every man, surely, would blush to admit these suppositions ; let every man, therefore, deny them by his life. He, who brings imagination under the dominion of reason, will be able to diminish the evil of life, and to increase the good; he will learn to resign with complacency, to receive with gratitude, and possess with cheerfulness: and as in this