Page images

LETTER CXXIV. From a gentleman to his friend, on happiness. Dear Sir, *.!!!:),"175 N 30403 IT T seems to be the fate of man to seek all his consolations

in futurity: The lime present is very seldom able to fill desire or imagination with immediate enjoyment, and we are therefore forced to supply the deficiencies by recollection or anticipation.

Every one so often experiences the fallaciousness of hope, and the inconveniences of teaching himself to expect what a thousand accidents may preclude, that, when time has abated the confidence with which youth rushes out to. take possession of the world, we naturally endeavour, or wish at least, to find entertainment in the review of life, and to repose-upon real facts, and certain experience.

But so full is the world of calamity, that every source of pleasure 1 polluted, and tranquillity disturbed. When time has supplied us with evenis sufficient to employ our thoughts, it has mingled them with so many disasters and afflictions, that we shrink from the remembrance of them, dread their intrusion on our minds, and fly from them to company and diversion. : No man that has past the middle point of life can sit down to feast upon the pleasures of youth, without finding the banquet em bittered by the cup of sorrow. Many days of harmless frolic, and many nights of honest festivity will recur; he

revive the

inemory of many lucky accidents, or pleasing extravagances; or, if he has engaged in scenes of action, and been acquainted with affairs of difficulty and vicissitudes of fortune, may enjoy the nobler pleasure of looking back upon distress firmly supported, upon danger resolutely encountered, and upon oppression artfully deleated. Æneas very properly comforts his companions, when, after the horrors of a storm, they have landed on an unknown and desolate country, with the hope that their miseries will, at some distant period, be recounted with delight. There are, perhaps, few higher gratifications than that of reflection on evils surmounted, when they are not incurred by our own fault, and neither reproach'us with cowardice nor guilt.

But this kind of felicity is always abated by the reflecs tion, that they with whom we should be most pleased to share it, are now in tfie grave. A few years make such havock amongst the human race, that we soon see ourselves deprived of those with whom we entered the world. The man of enterprize, when he has recounted his adventures, is forced, at the close of the narration, to pay a sigb to the niemory of those who contributed to his success; and he that has spent his life among the gayer part of mankind, has quickly his remembrance stored with the remarks and repartees of wits, whose sprightliness and merriment are now fost in perpetual silence. The trader, whose industry has supplied the want of inheritance, when he sits down to ena joy his fortune, repines in solitary plenty, and laments the absence of those companions with whom he had planned out amusements for his latter years: and the scholar, whose merit, after a long series of efforts, raises him from obscurity, looks raund in vain from his exalted state, for his old friends, to be witnesses of his long-sought-for affluence, and to partake of his bounty.

Such is the imperfection of all human happiness; and every period of life is obliged to borrowits enjoyments from the time to come. In youth we have nothing past 10 entersain us; and in age we derive nothing from the retrospect but fruitless sorrow. The loss of our friends and companions impresses hourly upon us the necessity of our own departure. We find that all our schemes are quickly at an end, and that we must lie down in the grave with the forgotten multitudes of former ages, and yield our places to others, who, like us, shall be driven awhile by hope or fear about the surface of the earth, and then, like us, be lost in the shades of death.

Beyond this termination of our corporeal existence, we are therefore obliged to extend our hopes, and every man indulges his imagination with something which is not to happen till he has lost the power of perceiving it. Some amuse themselves with entails and settlements, provide for the increase and perpeluation of families and honours, and contrive to obviate the dissipation of forlunes, which it has been the whole business of their lives to accumulate. Others, more refined and exalted, congratulate their own hearts upon the future extent of their reputalion, the lasting fame of their performances, the reverence of distant nations, and the gratitude of unprejudiced posterity.

It is not, therefore, from this world, that any ray of comfort can proceed to cheer the gloom of the last hour. But futurity has still its prospects; there is yet happiness


in reserve sufficient to support us under every amiction. Hope is the chief blessing of man, and that hope only is rational, which we are certain cannot deceive.

I am, sir, &c. LETTER CXXV. From his friend in answer, concerning the immortality of

the soul. My dear friend,

HE picture you have drawn of human nature is too

true to be denied, and what you have said of the impossibility of enjoying real happiness in this life, has led me to consider that pleasing subject, the immortality of the soul.

The soul has been treated of by many philosophers; several have pretended to define it, some to describe its substance, and, in a word, many have pretended to say what it really is in itself. For my part, I-fairly renounce every attempt to explain either its nature or connection with the body: I am content with my confidence, that I have a reasoning faculty within myself, of which, together with my visible body, I am composed and constituled. It must be allowed, that through all the parts of nature there appears a most benevolent intention in the Providence of God for man's preservation and comfort. The earth and waters ada ministering to his food and raiment, animals of various kinds are preserved for him in due season, as we every day expen rience. But these pleasures are but of a subordinate degree; he enjoys soinething of a far more sublime saidre, his power of contemplating on the goodness of his Maker in the creation of all these things which renders him désirous of something above and beyond them all.

Can it therefore be suggested, that beings capable of the. most refined contemplation on the works of the creation ; beings capable of being mored and affected even to an inex. pressible degree of pleasure, by the combined harmonies of sound; beings capable of increasing and advancing their knowledge and speculation in all things, even to thcir last moments; beings capable of conceiving notions which no part oftheir mortal frame can possibly convey to their undera: standing, and in which no instrumental influence can have any share; beings that are never satisfied in searching after truth through all the winding labyrinths and hidden recesses of nature; I say, can it be imagined, that such things shoulit: be deprived of all existence, in the midst of these growing speculations, which can have no origin but what is truly divine i its fulness must be in an hereafter. Our very imagination reaches to eternitv, in spite of all that can be said by the most obstinate atheist, or our own doubts can devise. Hope is a constant instinct which inspires men with a desire of finding some better state, and is a suré presage of futurity; nor could any man on earth be possessed of it, if that state were not certain, no more than he should shrink at committing a wicked act, if there were no power within himself that is to live hereafter. nother strong proof of the immortality of the soul flows from the infallible goodness and justice of the Divine Being; for if it were not immortal, and ever conscious of good and evil done in this life, that goodness and justice would be liable to be called inquestion. This notion has often confounded some of the greatest philosophers, and is at the same time one of the greatest considerations to prope a future state, when entered upon with deliberation. Can we hesitate to believe the immortality of the soul, when we see how the most abandoned miscreants live and prosper in affluence of fortune, carrying it with a high hand against their neighbours, distressing all in their power, enjoying and rioting on the substance of widows and orphans, and at last going to the grave unpunished; whilst the innocent and virtuous suffer a series of afflictions and miseries, by the means of these poweriu tyrants, all their lives, and, at length, lie down in the dust wri nyed and unredressed in this life? ifthen i bere be not an heitafier for the soul, and if it be not conscious of past good and evil, where is the justice, where is the goodness, where is the mercy, where is the benevolence in giving being to mankind, for no other end but to suffer pains anl miseries at the hands of another? and what but partially, which is injustice in itself, would have ordered sufferings like these for some, and a power of tyrannizing 10 others, for the short dale of the life of man here, were there no punishment for the unjust and base, no happiness for the virtuous and injured hereafter this is a considerafion dreadful in its very essence, if justice was nowhere to

But who can behold the beauties of all the pariş. of the creation? who can see himself and know he existig and at the same time observe not only the careful provie sion made for him, but also the numberless methods of pro


pagaling and preserving them for his use, without know. ing, al the same time, that they were created for him as well as the tyrant who deprives him of them; and the avaricious, who abuses the good things of this life by denying them not only to others, but even to himself. I say who can be sensible to those things, who observe this divine impartiality, and doubt of future rewards for the virtuous, and future punishments for the wicked? for millions ofevil deeds are unpunished, and as many wrongs done without restitution in this life; and, therefore, though a wicked man may escape punishment in this lite, it is impossible he should even shun the justice of that divine law, which necessarily points out, inat social virtues and benevolence should be the reciprocal commerce between man and man, during his short stay here, and that under the severest restrictions and penalties. Where then must the uncertain justice of the Divine Being take place: if not on this side the grave, it must certainly be after the soul is separated from the body. Such, my dear friend, are my thoughts on that most important subject, and I leave them with you as a testimony ut my unteigned affection.. lam, sir,

Yours ili the greatest affection.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

From a gentleman to his friend, concerning prejudice.
WAS lately in company wiih several gentlemen, and as

the conversation turned upon a variety of subjects, I was much surprised to find every one prejudiced 10 his own fär vourite opinion, without being able to assign a reason why they should so hastily take upon themselves to dogmatize with so much assurance:

Among the various errors, into which human nature is liable to fall, there are some which people of a true under standing are perfectly sensible of in themselves, yet either wanting a strength of resolution to break ihrough what by long custom has become habitual, or being of too indolent a temper 10 endeavour an alteration, still persist to act in contradiction to the dictates of even their own reason and judgment: What we call prejudice, or prepossession, is certainly that which stands foremost in the rank of servility It is the great ringleader of almost all the mistakes we are

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »