« ПредишнаНапред »
The manner in which external force acts upon the body is very little subject to the regulation of the will; no man can at pleasure obtund or invigorate his senses, prolong the agency of any im. pulse, or continue the presence of any image traced upon the eye, or any sound infused into the ear. But our ideas are more subjected to choice; we can call them before us, and command their stay, we can facilitate and promote their recurrence, we can either repress their intrusion, or hasten their retreat. It is therefore the business of wisdom and virtue, to select among numberless objects striving for our notice, such as may enable us to exalt our reason, extend our views, and secure our happi.
But this choice is to be made with very little regard to rareness or frequency; for nothing is valu. able merely because it is either rare or common, but because it is adapted to some useful purpose, and enables us to supply some deficiency of our nature.
Milton has judiciously represented the father of mankind, as seized with horror and astonishment at the sight of death, exhibited to him on the mount of vision. For surely, nothing can so much disturb the passions, or perplex the intellects of man, as the disruption of his union with visible nature; a sepa. ration from all that has hitherto delighted or engaged him ; a change not only of the place, but the man. ner of his being; an entrance into a state not simply which he knows not, but which perhaps he has not faculties to know; an immediate and perceptible, communication with the supreme Being, and, what is above all distressful and alarming, the final sen. tence, and unalterable allotment.
Yet we to whom the shortness of life has given freqnent occasions of contemplating mortality, can,
without emotion, see generations of men pass away, and are at leisure to establish modes of sorrow, and adjust the ceremonial of death. We
upon funeral pomp as a common spectacle in which we have no concern, and turn away from it to trifles and amusements, without dejection of look, or in. quietude of heart.
It is, indeed, apparent from the constitution of the world, that there must be a time for other thoughts; and a perpetual meditation upon the last hour, however it may become the solitude of a monastery, is inconsistent with many duties of common life. But surely the remembrance of death ought to predominate in our minds, as an habitual and settled principle, always operating, though not always perceived; and our attention should seldom wander so far from our own condition, as not to be recalled and fixed by sight of an event, which must soon, we know not how soon, happen likewise to ourselves, and of which, though we cannot appoint the time, we may secure the consequence.
Every instance of death may justly awaken our fears and quicken our vigilance, but its frequency so much weakens its effect, that we are seldom alarmed unless some close connection is broken, some scheme frustrated, or some hope defeated. Many therefore seem to pass on from youth to de. crepitude without any reflection on the end of life, because they are wholly involved within themselves, and look on others only as inhabitants of the com. mon earth, without any expectation of receiving good, or intention of bestowing it.
Events, of which we confess the importance, oxcite little sensibility, unless they affect us more nearly than as sharers in the common interest of mankind; that desire which every man feels of be.
ing remembered and lamented, is often mortified when we remark how little concern is caused by the eternal departure even of those who have passed their lives with publick honours, and been distinguished by extraordinary performances. It is not possible to be regarded with tenderness except by a few. That merit which gives greatness and renown, diffuses its influence to a wide compass, but acts weakly on every single breast; it is placed at a distance from common spectators, and shines like one of the remote stars, of which the light reaches us, but not the heat. The wit, the hero, the philosopher, whom their tempers or their fortunes have hindered from intimate relations, die, without any other effect than that of adding a new topic to the conversation of the day. They impress none with any fresh conviction of the fragility of our nature, because none had any particular interest in their lives, or was united to them by a reciprocation of benefits and endearments.
Thus it often happens, that those who in their lives were applauded and admired, are laid at last in the ground without the common honour of a stone; because by those excellencies with which many were delighted, none had been obliged, and though they had many to celebrate, they had none to love them.
Custom so far regulates the sentiments, at least of common minds, that I believe men may be generally observed to grow less tender as they advance in age. He, who, when life was new, melted at the loss of every companion, can look in time, without concern, upon the grave into which his last friend was thrown, and into which himself is ready to fall; not that he is more willing to die than for. merly, but that he is more familiar to the death of others, and therefore is not alarmed so far as to consider how much nearer he approaches to his end. But this is to submit tamely to the tyranny of accident, and to suffer our reason to lie useless. Every funeral may justly be considered as a summons to prepare for that state, into which it shows us that we must some time enter; and the summons is more loud and piercing, as the event of which it warns us is at less distance. To neglect at any time preparation for death, is to sleep on our post at a siege, but to omit it in old age, is to sleep at an attack.
It has always appeared to me one of the most striking passages in the visions of Quevedo, which stigmatises those as fools who complain that they failed of happiness by sudden death. he, can death be sudden to a being who always " knew that he must die, and that the time of his « death was uncertain ?".
Since business and gaiety are always, drawing our attention away from a future state, some admoni. tion is frequently necessary to recal it to our minds, and what can more properly renew the impression than the examples of mortality which every day supplies ? The great incentive to virtue is the rellection that we must die; it will therefore be useful to accustom ourselves, whenever we see a funeral, to consider how soon we may be added to the number of those whose probation is past, and whose happi. ness or misery shall endure for ever.
6. How,” says N° 79. TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 1750.
Tam sæpe nostrum decipi Fabullum, quid
SUSPICION, however necessary it may be to our safe passage through ways beset on all sides by fraud and malice, has been always considered, when it exceeds the common measures, as a token of depravity and corruption; and a Greek writer of sentences has laid down as a standing maxim, that he who believes not another on his oath, knows himself to be perjured.
We can form our opinions of that which we know not, only by placing it in comparison with something that we know; whoever therefore is over-run with suspicion, and detects artifice and stratagem in every proposal, must either have learned by experi. ence or observation the wickedness of mankind, and been taught to avoid fraud by having often suffered or seen treachery, or he must derive his judgment from the consciousness of his own disposition, and impute to others the same inclinations, which he feels predominant in himself.
To learn caution by turning our eyes upon life, and observing the arts by which negligence is surprised, timidity overborne, and credulity amused,