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No. 393. SATURDAY, MAY 31.
Nescio quâ præter solitum dulcedine læti. VIRG.
LOOKING Over the letters that have been sent me, 1 chanced to find the following one, which I received about two years ago from an ingenious friend, who was then in Denmark.
Copenhagen, May 1, 1710.
The spring with you has already taken possession of the fields and woods: now is the season of solitude, and of moving complaints upon trivial sufferings: now the griefs of lovers begin to flow, and their wounds to bleed afresh. I too, at this distance from the softer climates, am not without my discontents at present. You perhaps may laugh at me for a most romantic wretch, when I have disclosed to you the occasion of my uneasiness; and yet I cannot help thinking my unhappiness real, in being confined to a region, which is the very reverse of Paradise. The seasons here are all of them unpleasant, and the country quite destitute of rural charms. I have not heard a bird sing, nor a brook murmur, nor a breeze whisper, neither have I been blest with the sight of a flowery meadow these two years. Every wind here is a tempest, and every water a turbulent ocean, I hope, when you reflect a little, you will not think the grounds of my complaint in the least frivolous and unbecoming a man of serious thought; since the love of woods, of fields and flowers, of rivers and fountains, seems to be a passion implanted in our natures the most early of any, even before the fair sex had a being.
66 I am, sir," &c.
Could I transport myself with a wish from one country to another, I should choose to pass my winter in Spain, my spring in Italy, my summer in England, and my autumn in France. Of all these seasons there is none that can vie with the spring for beauty and delightfulness. It bears the same figure among the seasons of the year, that the morning does among the divisions of the day, or youth among the stages of life. The English summer is pleasanter than that of any
other country in Europe, on no other account but because it has a greater mixture of spring in it. The mildness of our climate, with those frequent refreshments of dews and rains that fall among us, keep up a perpetual cheerfulness in our fields, and fill the hottest months of the year with a lively verdure.
In the opening of the spring, when all nature begins to recover herself, the same animal pleasure which makes the birds sing, and the whole brute creation rejoice, rises very sensibly in the heart of man. I know none of the poets who have observed so well as Milton those secret overflowings of gladness which diffuse themselves' through the mind of the beholder, upon surveying the gay scenes of nature; he has touched upon it twice or thrice in his Paradise Lost, and describes it very beautifully under the name of vernal delight, in that passage where he represents the devil himself as almost sensible of it.
Blossoms and fruits at once of golden hue
Appeared, with gay enamelled colours mixt;
On which the sun more glad impressed his beams
When God hath showered the earth, so lovely seemed
Meets his approach, and to the heart inspires
All sadness, but despair, &c.
Many authors have written on the vanity of the creature, and represented the barrenness of everything in this world, and its incapacity of producing any solid or substantial happiness. As discourses of this nature are very useful to the sensual and voluptuous; those speculations which show the bright side of things, and lay forth those innocent entertainments which are to be met with among the several objects that encompass us, are no less beneficial to men of dark and melancholy tempers. It was for this reason that I endeavoured to recommend a cheerfulness of mind in my two last Saturday's papers, and which I would still inculcate,2 not only from the
1 Overflowings which diffuse themselves.] The sense of the verb is anticipated in the substantive. He should either have said-overflowings of gladness in the mind of the beholder,—or, sensations of gladness which diffuse themselves.
It is hard to say whether the amiable turn of the writer's mind, or the elegance of his genius, be more conspicuous in these three papers.
consideration of ourselves, and of that Being on whom we depend, nor from the general survey of that universe in which we are placed at present, but from reflections on the particular season in which this paper is written. The creation is a perpetual feast to the mind of a good man, everything he sees cheers and delights him; Providence has imprinted 50 many smiles on nature, that it is impossible for a mind, which is not sunk in more gross and sensual delights, to take a survey of them without several secret sensations of pleasure. The Psalmist has in several of his Divine poems celebrated those beautiful and agreeable scenes which make the heart glad, and produce in it that vernal delight which I have before taken notice of.
Natural philosophy quickens this taste of the creation, and renders it not only pleasing to the imagination, but to the understanding. It does not rest in the murmur of brooks, and the melody of birds, in the shade of groves and woods, or in the embroidery of fields and meadows, but considers the several ends of Providence which are served by them, and the wonders of Divine wisdom which appear in them. It heightens the pleasures of the eye, and raises such a rational admiration in the soul as is little inferior to devotion.
It is not in the power of every one to offer up this kind of worship to the great Author of nature, and to indulge these more refined meditations of heart, which are doubtless highly acceptable in his sight; I shall therefore conclude this short essay on that pleasure which the mind naturally conceives from the present season of the year, by the recommending of a practice for which every one has sufficient abilities.
I would have my readers endeavour to moralize this natural pleasure of the soul, and to improve this vernal delight, as Milton calls it, into a Christian virtue. When we find ourselves inspired with this pleasing instinct, this secret satisfaction and complacency arising from the beauties of the creation, let us consider to whom we stand indebted for all these entertainments of sense, and who it is that thus opens his hand and fills the world with good. The apostle instructs us to take advantage of our present temper of mind,
Nor.] In beginning with "not only," he precluded himself from the use of the disjunctive "nor," and should have expressed himself thus"not only from the consideration of ourselves, of that Being from whom we depend, and of that universe in which we are placed, but," &:
to graft upon it such a religious exercise as is particularly conformable to it, by that precept which advises those who are sad to pray, and those who are merry to sirg psalms. The cheerfulness of heart which springs up in us from the survey of nature's works is an admirable preparation for gratitude. The mind has gone a great way towards praise and thanksgiving, that is filled with such a secret gladness: a grateful reflection on the Supreme Cause who produces it sanctifies it in the soul, and gives it its proper value. Such an habitual disposition of mind consecrates every field and wood, turns an ordinary walk into a morning or evening sacrifice, and will improve those transient gleams of joy, which naturally brighten up and refresh the soul on such occasions, into an inviolable and perpetual state of bliss and happiness.
As the Stoic philosophers discard all passions in general, they will not allow a wise man so much as to pity the afflic tions of another. "If thou seest thy friend in trouble, (says Epictetus,) thou mayest put on a look of sorrow, and condole with him, but take care that thy sorrow be not real." The more rigid of this sect would not comply so far as to show even such an outward appearance of grief; but when one told them of any calamity that had befallen even the nearest of their acquaintance, would immediately reply, "What is that to me?" If you aggravated the circumstances of the affliction, and showed how one misfortune was followed by another, the answer was still," All this may be true, but what is it to me?"
For my own part, I am of opinion, compassion does not only refine and civilize human nature, but has something in it more pleasing and agreeable than what can be met with in such an indolent happiness, such an indifference to mankind, as that in which the Stoics placed their wisdom. As love is the most delightful passion, pity is nothing else but love softened by a degree of sorrow: in short, it is a kind of pleasing anguish, as well as generous sympathy, that
knits mankind together, and blends them in the same cora mon lot.
Those who have laid down rules for rhetoric or poetry, advise the writer to work himself up, if possible, to the pitch of sorrow which he endeavours to produce in others. There are none, therefore, who stir up pity so much as those who indite their own sufferings. Grief has a natural eloquence belonging to it, and breaks out in more moving sentiments than can be supplied by the finest imagination. Nature on ' this occasion dictates a thousand passionate things which cannot be supplied by art.
It is for this reason that the short speeches or sentences which we often meet with in histories, make a deeper impression on the mind of the reader than the most laboured strokes in a well-written tragedy. Truth and matter of fact sets the person actually before us in the one, whom fiction places at a greater distance from us in the other. I do not remember to have seen any ancient or modern story more affecting than a letter of Ann of Bologne, wife to King Henry the Eighth, and mother to Queen Elizabeth, which is still extant in the Cotton library, as written by her own hand.
Shakspeare himself could not have made her talk in a strain so suitable to her condition and character. One sees in it the expostulations of a slighted lover, the resentments of an injured woman, and the sorrows of an imprisonedqueen. I need not acquaint my reader that this princess was then under prosecution for disloyalty to the king's bed, and that she was afterwards publicly beheaded upon the same account, though this prosecution was believed by many to proceed, as she herself intimates, rather from the king's love to Jane Seymour, than from any actual crime in Ann of Bologne.
Queen Ann Boleyn's last Letter to King Henry.1 "SIR,
Your Grace's displeasure, and my imprisonment, are things so strange unto me, as what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a truth, and so obtain your favour) by such an one, whom you know to be mine ancient pro
1 Cotton Lib. Otho. C. IC