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Ægritudinem laudare, unam rem maximè detestabilem, quorum est
tandem Philosophorum ? Cic. About an age ago it was the fashion in England, for every one that would be thought religious, to throw as much sanctity as possible into his face, and, in particular, to abstain from all appearances of mirth and pleasantry, which were looked upon as the marks of a carnal mind. The saint was of a sorrowful countenance, and generally eaten up with spleen and melancholy. A gentleman, who was lately a great ornament to the learned world, has diverted me more than once with an account of the reception which he met with from a very famous Independent minister, who was head of a college in those times. This gentleman was then a young adventurer in the republic of letters, and just fitted out for the university with a good cargo of Latin and Greek. His friends were resolved that he should try his fortune at an election which was drawing near in the college, of which the Independent minister, whom I have before mentioned, was governor. The youth, according to custom, waited on him in order to be examined. He was received at the door by a servant, who was one of that gloomy generation that were then in fashion. He conducted him, with great silence and seriousness, to a long, gallery which was darkened at noon-day, and had only a single candle burning in it. After a short stay in this melancholy apartment, he was led into a chamber hung with black, where he entertained himself for some time by the glimmering of a taper, till at length the head of the college came out to him, from an inner room, with half a dozen night-caps upon his head, and religious horror in his countenance. The young man trembled; but his fears increased, when, instead of being asked what progress he had made in learning, he was examined how he abounded in grace. His Latin and Greek stood him in little stead; he was to give an account only of the state of his soul, whether he was of the number of the elect; what was the occasion of his conversion ; upon what day of the month and hour of the day it happened; how it was carried on, and when completed.
The whole examination was summed up with one short question, namely, “ Whether he was prepared for death ?”. The boy, who had been bred up by honest parents, was frighted out of his wits at the solemnity of the proceeding, and especially by the last dreadful interrogatory; so that upon making his escape out of this house of mourning, he could never be brought a second time to the examination, as not being able to go through the terrors of it.
Notwithstanding this general form and outside of religion is pretty well worn out among us, there are many persons, who, by a natural uncheerfulness of heart, mistaken notions of piety, or weakness of understanding, love to indulge this uncomfortable way of life, and give up themselves a prey to grief and melancholy. Superstitious fears and groundless scruples cut them off from the pleasures of conversation, and all those social entertainments, which are not only innocent, but laudable; as if mirth was made for reprobates, and cheerfulness of heart denied those who are the only persons that have a proper title to it.
Sombrius is one of these sons of sorrow. He thinks himself obliged in duty to be sad and disconsolate. He looks on a sudden fit of laughter as a breach of his baptismal vow. An innocent jest startles him like blasphemy. Tell him of one who is advanced to a title of honour, he lifts
his hands and eyes ; describe a public ceremony, he shakes his head; show him a gay equipage, he blesses himself. All the little ornaments of life are pomps and vanities. Mirth is wanton, and wit profane. He is scandalized at youth for being lively, and at childhood for being playful. He sits at a christening,
or a marriage-feast, as at a funeral; sighs at the conclusion of a merry story, and grows devout when the rest of the company grow pleasant. After all, Sombrius is a religious man, and would have behaved himself very properly, had he lived when Christianity was under a general persecution.
I would by no means presume to tax such characters with hypocrisy, as is done too frequently; that being a vice which I think none but he, who knows the secrets of men's hearts, should pretend to discover in another, where the proofs of it do not amount to a demonstration. On the contrary, as there are many excellent persons who are weighed down by this habitual sorrow of heart, they rather deserve our compassion than our reproaches. I think, however, they would do well to consider, whether such a behaviour does not deter men from a religious life, by representing it as an unsocial state, that extinguishes all joy and gladness, darkens the face of nature, and destroys the relish of being itself.
I have, in former papers, shown how great a tendency there is to cheerfulness in religion, and howl such a frame of mind is not only the most lovely, but the most commendable in a virtuous person. In short, those who represent religion in so unamiable a light, are like the spies sent by Moses to make a discovery of the Land of Promise, when by their reports they discouraged the people from entering upon it. Those who show us the joy, the cheerfulness, the good-humour, that naturally spring up in this happy state, are like the spies bringing along with them the clusters of grapes, and delicious fruits, that might invite their companions into the pleasant country which produced them.
An eminent Pagan writer has made a discourse to show that the atheist, who denies a God, does him less dishonour than the man who owns his being, but at the same time believes him to be cruel, hard to please, and terrible to human nature. “For my own part, (says he,) I would rather it should be said of me, that there was never any such man as
1 The two hows in this sentence do not correspond to each other, either, in sense or construction. I have shown how great—that is—in what degree; I have shown how such a frame of mind is—that is—on what account. The first how is applied to the adjective ; the second how, to the verb. Both these anomalies may be avoided by altering thus—“I have shown how great a tendency there is to cheerfulness in religion, and how lovely, and even commendable, such a frame of mind is, in a virtuous person.”
Plutarch, than that Plutarch was ill-natured, capricious, or inhuman.
If we may believe our logicians, man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter. He has a heart capable of mirth, and naturally disposed to it. It is not the business of virtue to extirpate the affections of the mind, but to regulate them. It may moderate and restrain, but was not designed to banish gladness from the heart of man.
Religion contracts the circle of our pleasures, but leaves it wide enough for her votaries to expatiate in. The contemplation of the Divine Being, and the exercise of virtue, are in their own nature so far from excluding all gladness of heart, that they are perpetual sources of it. In a word, the true spirit of religion cheers, as well as composes the soul; it banishes, indeed, all levity of behaviour, all vicious and dissolute mirth, but in exchange fills the mind with a perpetual serenity, uninterrupted cheerfulness, and an habitual inclination to please others, as well as to be pleased in itself.
No. 495. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 27.
Duris ut ilex tonsa bipennibus
Ducit opes animumque ferro. HOR. As I am one, who, by my profession, am obliged to look into all kinds of men, there are none whom I consider with so much pleasure, as those who have anything new or extraordinary in their characters, or ways of living. For this reason I have often amused myself with speculations on the race of people called Jews, many of whom I have met with in most of the considerable towns I have passed through in the course of my travels. They are, indeed, so disseminated through all the trading parts of the world, that they are become the instruments by which the most distant nations converse with one another, and by which mankind are knit together in a general correspondence; they are like the pegs and nails in a great building, which, though they are but little valued in themselves, are absolutely necessary to keep the whole frame together.
That I may not fall into any common beaten tracks of observation, I shall consider this people in three views : first, with regard to their number; secondly, their dispersion; and, thirdly, their adherence to their religion : and afterwards endeavour to show, first, what natural reasons, and, secondly, what providential reasons, may be assigned for these three remarkable particulars.
The Jews are looked upon by many to be as numerous at present, as they were formerly in the land of Canaan.
This is wonderful, considering the dreadful slaughter made of them under some of the Roman emperors, which historians describe by the death of many hundred thousands in a war; and the innumerable massacres and persecutions they have undergone in Turkey, as well as in all Christian nations of the world. The Rabbins, to express the great havoc which has been sometimes made of them, tell us, after their usual manner of hyperbole, that there were such torrents of holy blood shed, as carried rocks of a hundred yards in circumference above three miles into the sea.
Their dispersion is the second remarkable particular in this people. They swarm over all the East, and are settled in the remotest parts of China : they are spread through most of the nations of Europe and Africa, and many
families of them are established in the West Indies ; not to mention whole nations bordering on Prester John's country, and some discovered in the inner parts of America, if we may give any credit to their own writers.
Their firm adherence to their religion, is no less remarkable than their numbers and dispersion, especially considering it as persecuted or contemned over the face of the whole earth. This is likewise the more remarkable, if we consider the frequent apostasies of this people, when they lived under their kings in the Land of Promise, and within sight of their temple.
If in the next place we examine, what may be the natural reasons for these three particulars which we find in the Jews, and which are not to be found in any other religion or people, I in the first place, attribute their numbers to nothing but their constant employment, their abstinence, their ex