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Lying He who tells a lie is not sensible how great a task he undertakes; for he must be forced to invent twenty more to maintain one.
(Died in 1735.)
[DR. JOHN ARBUTHNOT, the friend of Pope, Swift, Gay, and Prior, was associated with his brother wits in some of the humorous productions of the day. The most durable monument of his humour was his History of John Bull, intended to ridicule the Duke of Marlborough. One of the severest of his occasional pieces is the following cpitaph on Colonel Chartres, a notorious gambler and money-lender, who was tried and condemned for attempting to commit an infamous crime.)
Epitaph. Here continueth to rot the body of Francis Chartres, who, with an inflexible constancy, and inimitable uniformity of life, persisted, in spite of age and infirmities, in the practice of every human vice, excepting prodigality and hypocrisy; bis insatiable avarice exempted him from the first, his matchless impudence from the second. Nor was he more singular in the undeviating pravity of his manners than successful in accumulating wealth; for, without trade or profession, without trust of public money, and without bribeworthy service, he acquired, or more properly created
a ministerial estate. He was the only person of his time who could cheat with the mask of honesty, retain his primeval meanness when possessed of ten thousand a-year, and having daily deserved the gibbet for what he did, was at last condemned to it for what he could not do. Ob, indignant reader! think not his life useless to mankind. Providence connived at his execrable designs, to give to after ages a conspicuous proof and example of how small estimation is exorbitant wealth in the sight of God, by his bestowing it on the most unworthy of all mortals.
(LORD BOLINGBROKE made a large figure among the distinguished men of his day. His writings, like his statesmanship, display more genius than correct principle. His chief works are Letters on the Study of History, Reflections on Exile, Idea of a Patriot King, &c.]
Absurdity of Useless Learning. Some [histories] are to be read, some are to be studied, and some may be neglected entirely, not only without detriment, but with advantage. Some are the proper objects of one man's curiosity, some of another's, and some of all men's; but all history is not an object of curiosity for any man.
He who improperly, wantonly, and absurdly makes it so, indulges a sort of canine appetite; the curiosity of one, like the hunger of the other, devours ravenously, and without
distinction, whatever falls in its way, but neither of them digests. They heap crudity upon crudity, and nourish and improve nothing but their distemper. Some such characters I have known, though it is not the most common extreme into which men are apt to fall. One of them I knew in this country. He joined to a more than athletic strength of body a prodigious memory, and to both a prodigious industry. He had read almost constantly twelve or fourteen hours a-day for five-and-twenty or thirty years, and had heaped together as much learning as could be crowded into a head. In the course of my acquaintance with him, I consulted him once or twice, not oftener; for I found this mass of learning of as little use to me as to the
The man was communicative enough ; but nothing was distinct in his mind. How could it be otherwise ? he had never spared time to think ; all was employed in reading. His reason had not the merit of common mechanism. When you press a watch, or pull a clock, they answer your question with precision; for they repeat exactly the hour of the day, and tell you neither more nor less than you desire to know. But when you asked this man a question, he overwhelmed you by pouring forth all that the several terms or words of your question recalled to his memory; and if he omitted anything, it was that very thing to which the sense of the whole question should have led him or confined him. To ask him a question was to wind up a spring in his memory, that rattled on with vast rápidity and confused noise, till the force of it was spent; and you went away with all the noise in your ears, stunned and uninformed.
He who reads with discernment and choice, will
acquire less learning, but more knowledge ; and as this knowledge is collected with design, and cultivated with art and method, it will be at all times of immediate and ready use to himself and others.
Thus useful arms in magazines we place,
You remember the verses my lord, in our friend's Essay on Criticism, which was the work of his childhood almost ; but as such a monument of good sense and poetry, as no other, that I know, has raised in his riper years.
He who reads without this discernment and choice, and, like Bodin's pupil, resolves to read all, will not have time, no, nor capacity neither, to do anything else. He will not be able to think, without which it is impertinent to read ; nor to act, without which it is impertinent to think. He will assemble materials with much pains, and purchase them at much expense, and have neither leisure nor skill to frame them into proper scantings, or to prepare them for use. To what purpose should he husband his time, or learn architecture ? he has no design to build. But then, to what purpose all these quarries of stone, all these mountains of sand and lime, all these forests of oak and deal?
Unreasonableness of Complaints of the Shortness of
I think very differently from most men, of the time we have to pass, and the business we have to do, in this world. I think we have more of one, and less of the other, than is commonly supposed. Our want of time, and the shortness of human life, are some of the principal commonplace complaints, which we prefer against the established order of things; they are the grumblings of the vulgar, and the pathetic lamentations of the philosopher; but they are impertinent and impious in both.
The man of business despises the man of pleasure for squandering his time away; the man of pleasure pities or laughs at the man of business for the same thing; and yet both concur superciliously and absurdly to find fault with the Supreme Being for having given them so little time. The philosopher, who misspends it very often as much as the others, joins in the same cry, and authorises this impiety. Theophrastus thought it extremely hard to die at ninety, and to go out of the world when he had just learned how to live in it. His master Aristotle found fault with nature for treating man in this respect worse than several other animals; both very unphilosophically! and I love Seneca the better for his quarrel with the Stagirite on this head.
We see, in so many instances, a just proportion of things, according to their several relations to one another, that philosophy should lead us to conclude this proportion preserved, even where we cannot discern it; instead of leading us to conclude that it is not preserved