Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

disparity is found among numbers of the same kind; and every individual in some instances, or at some times, is so unequal to himself, that man seems to be the most wavering and inconsistent being in the whole creation. So that the question in morality concerning the dignity of our nature may at first sight appear like some difficult questions in natural philosophy, in which the arguments on both sides seem to be of equal strength. But, as I began with considering this point as it relates to action, I shall here borrow an admirable reflexion from monsieur Paschal, which I think sets it in its proper light.

"It is of dangerous consequence," says he, "to represent to man how near he is to the level of beasts, without showing him at the same time his greatness. It is likewise dangerous to let him see his greatness without his meanness. It is more dangerous yet to leave him ignorant of cither; but very beneficial that he should be made sensible of both." Whatever imperfections we may have in our nature, it is the business of religion and virtue to rectify them, as far as is consistent with our present state. In the mean time, it is no small encouragement to generous minds to consider, that we shall put them all off with our mortality. That sublime manner of salutation with which the Jews approach their kings,

"O king, live for ever!"

may be addressed to the lowest and most despised mortal among us, under all the infirmities and distresses with which we see him surrounded. And whoever believes in the immortality of the soul, will not need a better argument for the dignity of his nature, nor a stronger incitement to actions suitable to it.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

'I am naturally led by this reflexion to a subject I have already touched upon in a former letter, and cannot without pleasure call to mind the thoughts of Cicero to this purpose, in the close of his book concerning old age. Every one who is acquainted with his writings will remember that the elder Cato is introduced in that discourse as the speaker, and Scipio and Lelius as his auditors, This venerable person is represented looking forward as it were from the verge of extreme old age into a future state, and rising into a contemplation on the unperishable part of his nature, and its existence after death. I shall collect part of his discourse. And as you have formerly offered some arguments for the soul's immortality, agreeable both to reason and the Christian doctrine, I believe your readers will not be displeased to see how the same great truth shines in the pomp of Roman eloquence.

'This, says Cato, is my firm persuasion, that since the human soul exerts itself with so great activity; since it has such a remembrance of the past, such a concern for the future; since it is enriched with so many arts, sciences, and discoveriès; it is impossible but the Being which contains all these must be immortal.

(

"The elder Cyrus, just before his death, is represented by Xenophon speaking after this manner: Think not, my dearest children, that when I depart from you I shall be no more; but remember, that my soul, even while I lived among you, was invisible to you: yet by my actions you were sensible it existed in this body. Believe it therefore existing still, though it be still unseen, How quickly would the honours of illustrious men perish after death, if their souls performed nothing to preserve their fame! For my own

:

part, I never could think that the soul while in a mortal body lives, but when departed out of it dies or that its consciousness is lost when it is discharged out of an unconscious habitation. But when it is freed from all corporeal alliance, then it truly exists. Further, since the human frame is broken by death, tell us what becomes of its parts? It is visible whither the materials of other beings are translated; namely, to the source from whence they had their birth. The soul alone, neither present nor departed, is the object of our eyes.'

"Thus Cyrus. But to proceed :—No one shall persuade me, Scipio, that your worthy father, or your grandfathers Paulus and Africanus, or Africanus his father or uncle, or many other excellent men whom I need not name, performed so many actions to be remembered by posterity, without being sensible that futurity was their right. And, if I may be allowed an old man's privilege to so speak of myself, do you think I would have endured the fatigue of so many wearisome days and nights, both at home and abroad, if I imagined that the same boundary which is set to my life must terminate my glory? Were it not more desirable to have worn out my days in ease and tranquillity, free from labour, and without emulation? But, I know not how, my soul has always raised itself, and looked forward on futurity, in this view and expectation, that when it shall depart out of life it shall then live for ever; and if this were not true, that the mind is immortal, the soul of the most worthy would not above all others have the strongest impulse to glory.

"What besides this is the cause that the wisest men die with the greatest equanimity, the ignorant with the greatest concern? Does it not seem that

[ocr errors]

those minds which have the most extensive views foresee they are removing to a happier condition, which those of a narrow sight do not perceive? I, for my part, am transported with the hope of seeing our ancestors, whom I have honoured and loved; and am earnestly desirous of meeting not only those excellent persons whom I have known, but those too of whom I have heard and read, and of whom I myself have written; nor would I be detained from so pleasing a journey. O happy day, when I shall escape from this crowd, this heap of pollution, and be admitted to that divine assembly of exalted spirits! when I shall go not only to those great persons I have named, but to my Cato, my son, than whom a better man was never born, and whose funeral rites I myself performed, whereas he ought rather to have attended mine. Yet has not his soul deserted me, but, seeming to cast back a look on me, is gone before to those habitations to which it was sensible I should follow him. And though I might appear to have borne my loss with courage, I was not unaffected with it; but I comforted myself in the assurance, that it would not be long before we should meet again and be divorced no more." "I am, sir, &c.'

[ocr errors]

No. 538. MONDAY, NOV. 17, 1712.

-Ultra

Finem tendere opus.

HOR. 2 Sat. i. 1.

To launch beyond all bounds.

SURPRISE is so much the life of stories, that eve ry one aims at it who endeavours to please by telling them. Smooth delivery, an elegant choice of words, and a sweet arrangement, are all beautifying graces, but not the particulars in this point of conversation which either long command the attention, or strike with the violence of a sudden passion, or occasion the burst of laughter which accompanies humour. I have sometimes fancied that the mind is in this case like a traveller who sees a fine seat in haste; he acknowledges the delightfulness of a walk set with regularity, but would be uneasy if he were obliged to pace it over, when the first view had let him into all its beauties from one end to the other.

However, a knowledge of the success which stories will have when they are attended with a turn of surprise, as it has happily made the characters of some, so has it also been the ruin of the characters of others. There is a set of men who outrage truth, instead of affecting us with a manner in telling it; who overleap the line of probability, that they may be seen to move out of the common road; and endeavour only to make their hearers stare by imposing upon them with a kind of nonsense against the philosophy of nature, or such a heap of wonders told upon their own knowledge, as it is not likely one man should have ever met with.

« PředchozíPokračovat »