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renders religion more burthensome and difficult than it is in its own nature, betrays many into sins of omission which they would not otherwise be guilty of, and fixes the minds of the vulgar to the shadowy, unessential points, instead of the more weighty and more important matters of the law.
This zealous and active obedience, however, takes place in the great point we are recommending; for if, instead of scribing to ourselves indifferent actions as duties, we apply a good intention to all our most indifferent actions, we make our very existence one continued act of obedience, we turn our diversions and amusements to our eternal advantage, and are pleasing him (whom we are made to please) in all the circumstances and occurrences of life.
It is this excellent frame of mind, this "holy officiousness," (if I may be allowed to call it such,) which is recommended to us by the apostle in that uncommon precept, wherein he directs us to propose to ourselves the glory of our Creator in all our most indifferent actions, "whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do."
A person therefore who is possessed with such an habitual good intention, as that which I have been here speaking of, enters upon no single circumstance of life, without considering it as well-pleasing to the great Author of his being, conformable to the dictates of reason, suitable to human nature in general, or to the particular station in which Providence has placed him. He lives in a perpetual sense of the Divine presence, regards himself as acting, in the whole course of his existence, under the observation and inspection of that Being, who is privy to all his motions and all his thoughts, who knows his " down-sitting and his uprising, who is about his path, and about his bed, and spieth out all his ways.' In a word, he remembers that the eye of his Judge is always upon him, and in every action he reflects that he is doing what is commanded or allowed by Him, who will hereafter either reward or punish it. This was the character of those holy men of old, who in that beautiful phrase of Scripture, are said to have "walked with God."
When I employ myself upon a paper of morality, I generally consider how I may recommend the particular virtue which I treat of, by the precepts or examples of the ancient heathens; by that means, if possible, to shame those who have greater advantages of knowing their duty, and therefore
greater obligations to perform it, into a better course of life: besides that many among us are unreasonably disposed to give a fairer hearing to a pagan philosopher than to a Christian writer.
I shall therefore produce an instance of this excellent frame of mind in a speech of Socrates, which is quoted by Erasmus. This great philosopher, on the day of his execution, a little before the draught of poison was brought to him, entertaining his friends with a discourse on the immortality of the soul, has these words: "Whether or no God will approve of my actions I know not; but this I am sure of, that I have at all times made it my endeavour to please him, and I have a good hope that this my endeavour will be accepted by him.' We find in these words of that great man, the habitual good intention which I would here inculcate, and with which that divine philosopher always acted. I shall only add, that Erasmus, who was an unbigoted Roman Catholic, was so much transported with this passage of Socrates, that he could scarce forbear looking upon him as a saint, and desiring him to pray for him; or as that ingenious and learned writer has expressed himself in a much more lively manner, "When I reflect on such a speech pronounced by such a person, I can scarce forbear crying out, Sancte Socrates, ora pro nobis. O holy Socrates, pray for us."
No. 215. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6.
-Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.
I CONSIDER an human soul without education, like marble in the quarry, which shows none of its inherent beauties, till the skill of the polisher fetches out the colours, makes the surface shine, and discovers every ornamental cloud, spot, and vein, that runs through the body of it. Education, after the same manner, when it works upon a noble mind, draws out to view every latent virtue and perfection, which without such helps are never able to make their appearance.
If my reader will give me leave to change the allusion so soon upon him, I shall make use of the same instance to illustrate the force of education, which Aristotle has brought to explain his doctrine of substantial forms, when he tells us
that a statue lies hid in a block of marble; and that the art of the statuary only clears away the superfluous matter, and removes the rubbish. The figure is in the stone, the sculptor only finds it. What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to an human soul. The philosopher, the saint, or the hero, the wise, the good, or the great man, very often lie hid and concealed in a plebeian, which a proper education might have disinterred, and have brought to light. I am, therefore, much delighted with reading the accounts of savage nations, and with contemplating those virtues which are wild and uncultivated; to see courage exerting itself in fierceness, resolution in obstinacy, wisdom in cunning, patience in sullenness and despair.
Men's passions operate variously, and appear in different kinds of actions, according as they are more or less rectified and swayed by reason. When one hears of negroes, who, upon the death of their masters, or upon changing their service, hang themselves upon the next tree, as it frequently happens in our American plantations, who can forbear admiring their fidelity, though it expresses itself in so dreadful a manner? What might not that savage greatness of soul, which appears in these poor wretches, on many occasions, be raised to, were it rightly cultivated? And what colour of excuse can there be for the contempt with which we treat this part of our species, that we should not put them upon the common foot of humanity, that we should only set an insignificant fine upon the man who murders them; nay, that we should, as much as in us lies, cut them off from the prospect of happiness in another world, as well as in this, and deny them that which we look upon as the proper means for
Since I am engaged on this subject, I cannot forbear mentioning a story which I have lately heard, and which is so well attested, that I have no manner of reason to suspect the truth of it: I may call it a kind of wild tragedy that passed about twelve years ago at St. Christopher's, one of our British Leeward Islands. The negroes who were concerned in it were all of them the slaves of a gentleman who is now in England.
This gentleman, among his negroes, had a young woman, who was looked upon as a most extraordinary beauty by those of her own complexion. He had at the same time two
young fellows, who were likewise negroes and slaves, remarkable for the comeliness of their persons, and for the friendship which they bore to one another. It unfortunately happened that both of them fell in love with the female negro above-mentioned, who would have been very glad to have taken either of them for her husband, provided they could agree between themselves which should be the man. But they were both so passionately in love with her, that neither of them could think of giving her up to his rival; and at the same time were so true to one another, that neither of them would think of gaining her without his friend's consent. The torments of these two lovers were the discourse of the family to which they belonged, who could not forbear observing the strange complication of passions which perplexed the hearts of the poor negroes, that often dropped expressions of the uneasiness they underwent, and how impossible it was for either of them ever to be happy.
After a long struggle between love and friendship, truth and jealousy, they one day took a walk together into a wood, carrying their mistress along with them; where, after abundance of lamentations, they stabbed her to the heart, of which she immediately died. A slave, who was at his work not far from the place where this astonishing piece of cruelty was committed, hearing the shrieks of the dying person, ran to see what was the occasion of them. He there discovered the woman lying dead upon the ground, with the two negroes on each side of her kissing the dead corpse, weeping over it, and beating their breasts in the utmost agonies of grief and despair. He immediately ran to the English family with the news of what he had seen; who, upon coming to the place, saw the woman dead, and the two negroes expiring by her with wounds they had given themselves.
We see in this amazing instance of barbarity, what strange disorders are bred in the minds of those men whose passions are not regulated by virtue, and disciplined by reason. Though the action which I have recited is in itself full of guilt and horror, it proceeded from a temper of mind which might have produced very noble fruits, had it been formed and guided by a suitable education.
It is, therefore, an unspeakable blessing to be born in those parts of the world where wisdom and knowledge flourish; though it must be confessed, there are, even in these parts,
several poor uninstructed persons, who are but little above the inhabitants of those nations of which I have been here speaking; as those who have had the advantages of a more liberal education, rise above one another by several different degrees of perfection. For, to return to our statue in the block of marble, we see it sometimes only begun to be chipped, sometimes rough-hewn, and but just sketched into an human figure; sometimes we see the man appearing distinctly in all his limbs and features, sometimes we find the figure wrought up to a great elegancy, but seldom meet with any to which the hand of a Phidias or a Praxiteles could not give several nice touches and finishings.
Discourses of morality, and reflections upon human nature, are the best means we can make use of to improve our minds, and gain a true knowledge of ourselves, and consequently to recover our souls out of the vice, ignorance, and prejudice, which naturally cleave to them. I have all along professed myself in this paper a promoter of these great ends; and I flatter myself that I do from day to day contribute something to the polishing of men's minds; at least my design is laudable, whatever the execution may be. I must confess I am not a little encouraged in it by many letters which I receive from unknown hands, in approbation of my endeavours; and must take this opportunity of returning my thanks to those who write them, and excusing myself for not inserting several of them in my papers, which I am sensible would be a very great ornament to them. Should I publish the praises which are so well penned, they would do honour to the persons who write them; but my publishing of them would, I fear, be a sufficient instance to the world, that I did not deserve them.
No. 219. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10.
Vix ea nostra voco
THERE are but few men who are not ambitious of distinguishing themselves in the nation or country where they live, and of growing considerable among those with whom they converse. There is a kind of grandeur and respect, which the meanest and most insignificant part of mankind endeavour to procure in the little circle of their friends and ac