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N° 71. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1750.
Vivere quod propero pauper, nec inutilis annis
Many words and sentences are so frequently heard in the mouths of men, that a superficial observer is inclined to believe, that they must contain some primary principle, some great rule of action, which it is proper always to have present to the attention, and by which the use of every hour is to be adjusted. Yet, if we consider the conduct of those sententious philosophers, it will often be found that they repeat these aphorisms, merely because they have somewhere heard them, because they have nothing else to say, or because they think veneration gained by such appearances of wisdom, but that no ideas are annexed to the words, and that, according to the old blunder of the followers of Aristotle, their souls are mere pipes or organs, which transmit sounds, but do not understand them.
Of this kind is the well-known and well-attested position, that life is short, which may be heard among mankind by an attentive auditor, many times a day, but which never yet within my reach of observation left any impression upon the mind; and perhaps, if my readers will turn their thoughts back upon their old friends, they will find it difficult to ca a single man to remembrance, who appeared to know that life was short till he was about to lose it.
It is observable that Horace, in his account of the characters of men, as they are diversified by the va. rious influence of time, remarks, that the old man is dilator, spe longus, given to procrastination, and inclined to extend his hopes to a great distance. So far are we generally from thinking what we of. ten say of the shortness of life, that at the time when it is necessarily shortest, we form projects which we delay to execute, indulge such expectations as nothing but a long train of events can gra.. tify, and suffer those passions to gain upon us, which are only excusable in the prime of life.
These reflections were lately excited in my mind, by an evening's conversation with my friend Pro. spero, who, at the age of fifty-five, has bought an estate, and is now contriving to dispose and cultivate it with uncommon elegance. His great plea. sure is to walk among stately trees, and lie nrusing in the heat of noon under their shade; he is there. fore maturely considering how he shall dispose his walks and his groves, and has at last determined to send for the best plans from Italy, and forbear planting till the next season.
Thus is life trifled away in preparations to do what never can be done, if it be left unattempted. till all the requisites wbich imagination can suggest
are gathered together. Where our design termi. nates only in our own satisfaction, the mistake is of no great importance; for the pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment; but when many others are interested in an undertaking, when any design is formed, in which the improvement or security of mankind is involved, nothing is more unworthy either of wisdom or benevolence, than to delay it from time to time, or to forget how much every day that passes over us takes away from our power, and how soon an idle purpose to do an action, sinks into a mournful wish that it had once been done.
We are frequently importuned, by the bacchana. lian writers, to lay hold on the present hour, to catch the pleasures within our reach, and remember that futurity is not at our command.
Το ρόδον ακμάζει βαιον χρόνον. ήν δε παρέλθου,
Ζητών ευρήσεις ο ρόδον, αλλά βάτου,
But surely these exhortations may, with equal propriety, be applied to better purposes; it may be at least inculcated that pleasures are more safely post. poned than virtues, and that greater loss is suffered by missing an opportunity of doing good, than an hour of giddy frolick and noisy merriment.
When Baxter had lost a thousand pounds, which he had laid up for the erection of a school, he used frequently to mention the misfortune as an incite. ment to be charitable while God gives the power of bestowing, and considered himself as culpable in some degree for having left a good action in the