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I think a pretty inftance that the most polite age is in danger of being the most vicious.
It happened at Athens, during a public reprefentation of fome play exhibited in honour of the commonwealth, that an old gentleman came too late for a place fuitable to his age and quality. Many of the young gentlemen who obferved the difficulty and confufion he was in, made figns to him that they would accommodate him if he came where they fat. The good man buftled through the crowd accordingly; but when he came to the feats to which he was invited, the jeft was 6 to fit close, and expofe him, ,.as he ftood out of counte6 nance, to the whole audience: the frolic went round all 'the Athenian benches. But on thofe occafions there were alfo particular places affigned for foreigners. When the good man fkulked towards the boxes appointed for the 'Lacedemonians, that honeft people, more virtuous than polite, rofe up all to a man, and with the greatest refpect received him among them. The Athenians being fuddenly touched with a sense of the Spartan virtue and their own degeneracy, gave a thunder of applaufe; and 'the old man cried out,-The Athenians understand what
is good, but the Lacedemonians practise it.'
No. VII. THURSDAY, MARCH 8.
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, fagas,
Vifions and magic fpells can you despise,
GOING yefterday to dine with an old acquaitance, I had the misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon afking him the occafion of it, he told me that his wife had dreamt a ftrange dream the night before, which they were afraid portended fome misfortune to themfelves or to their children. At her coming into the room I obferved a fettled melancholy in her countenance, which I fhould have been troubled for,
had I not heard from whence it proceeded. We were no fooner fat down, but after having looked upon me a little while, "My dear," fays fhe, turning to her husband, " you may now fee the ftranger that was in the "candle last night." Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little boy at the lower end of the table told her, that he was to go into join-hand on Thursday: "Thurfday?" fays fhe;." no, child, if it "please God, you shall not begin upon Childermas"day; tell your writing-mafter that Friday will be foon "enough." I was reflecting with myfelf on the oddnefs of her fancy, and wondering that any body would establish it as a rule to lose a day in every week. In the midst of these my mufings, the defired me to reach her a little falt upon the point of my knife, which I did in such a trepidation and hurry of obedience, that I let it drop by the way; at which the immediately startled, and faid it fell towards her. Upon this I looked very blank; and obferving the concern of the whole table, began to confider myself, with fome confufion, as a perfon that had brought a difafter upon the family. The lady, however, recovering herself after a little space, faid to her husband, with a figh, "my dear, misfortunes never come "fingle." My friend, I found, acted but an underpart at his table; and being a man of more good-nature than understanding, thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the paffions and humours of his yoke-fellow: "Do not you remember, child," fays fhe, "that the "pigeon-house fell the very afternoon that our careless "wench fpilt the falt upon the table?" "Yes,' fays he, 6 my dear, and the next poft brought us an account of the battle of Almanza.' The reader may guefs at the figure I made after having done all this mifchief. I dif patched my dinner as foon as I could, with my usual taciturnity; when, to my utter confufion, the lady feeing me quitting my knife and fork, and laying them acrofs one another upon the plate, defired me that I would humour her fo far as to take them out of that figure, and place them fide by fide. What the abfurdity was which I had committed I did not know, but I fupE 3
pofe there was fome traditionary superstition in it; and therefore, in obedience to the lady of the houfe, I difpofed of my knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I fhall always lay them in for the future, tho' I do not know any reafon for it.
It is not difficult for a man to fee that a perfon has conceived an averfion to him. For my own part, I quickly found, by the lady's looks, that the regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an unfortunate afpect for which reafon I took my leave immediately after dinner, and withdrew to my own lodgings. Upon my return home, I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils that attend thefe fuperftitious follies ofmankind; how they subject us to imaginary afflictions and additional forrows, that do not properly come within our lot. As if the natural calamities of life were not fufficient for it, we turn the most indifferent circumstances into misfortunes, and fuffer as much from trifling accidents as from real evils. I have known the shooting of a ftar spoil night's rest; and have feen a man in love grow pale and lofe his appetite upon the plucking of a merry thought. A fcreech-owl at midnight has alarined a family more than a band of robbers; nay, the voice of a cricket hath ftruck more terror than the roaring of a ion. There is nothing fo inconfiderable which may not appear dreadful to an imagination that is filled with omens and prognoftics; a rufty nail or a crooked pin fhoot up into prodigies.
I remember I was once in a mixt affembly that was full of noife and mirth, when on a fudden an old woman unluckily obferved there were thirteen of us in company. This remark ftruck a panic terror into feveral who were prefent, infomuch that one or two of the ladies were going to leave the room; but a friend of mine taking notice that one of our female companions was big with child, affirmed that there were fourteen in the room; and that, inftead of portending one of the company fhould die, it plainly foretold one of them should be born. Had not my friend found out this expe dient to break the omen, I queftion not but half the
women in the company would have fallen fick that very night..
An old maid, who is troubled with the vapours, produces infinite difturbances of this kind among her friends and neighbours. I knew a maiden aunt, of a great family, who is one of thefe antiquated Sibyls, that forebodes and prophefies from one end of the year to the other. She is always feeing apparitions and hearing deathwatches; and was the other day almoft frighted out of her wits by the great houfe-dog, that howled in the stable at a time when the lay ill of the tooth-ach. Such an extravagant caft of mind engages multitudes of people not only in impertinent terrors, but in fupernumerary duties of life; and arifes from that fear and ignorance which are natural to the foul of man. The horror with which we entertain the thoughts of death (or indeed of any future evil) and the uncertainty of its approach, fill a melancholy mind with innumerable apprehenfions and fufpicions, and confequently difpofe it to the obfervation of fuch groundlefs prodigies and predictions. For as it is the chief concern of wife men to retrench the evils of life by the reafonings of philofophy, it is the employment of fools to multiply then by the fentiments of fuperftition.
For my own part, I fhould be very much troubled were I endowed with this divining quality, though it fhould inform me truly of every thing that can befal me. I would not anticipate the relish of any happinefs, nor feel the weight of any mifery, before it actually
I know but one way of fortifying my foul against these gloomy prefages and terrors of mind; and that is, by fecuring to myfelf the friendship and protection of that Being who difpofes of events, and governs futurity. He fees at one view the whole thread of my exiftence; not only that part of it which I have already paffed through, but that which runs forward into all the depths of eternity. When I lay me down to fleep, I recommend myfelf to his care; when I awake, I give myself up to his direction. Amidst all the evils that threaten me
I will look up to him for help, and question not but he will either avert or turn them to my advantage.Though I know neither the time nor the manner of the death I am to die, I am not at all folicitous about it; because I am fure that he knows them both, and that he will not fail to comfort and fupport me under them. C.
No. VIII. FRIDAY, MARCH 9.
At Venus obfcuro gradientes aere fepfit,
They march obfcure, for Venus kindly fhrouds
Shall here communicate to the world a couple of letters, which I believe will give the reader as good an entertainment as any that I am able to furnish him with; and therefore shall make no apology for them.
To the Spectator.
IAM one of the directors of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, and therefore think myself a proper perfon for your correfpondence. I have thoroughly examined the prefent ftate of religion in Creat Britain, and am able to acquaint you with the predominant vice of every market-town in the whole island. I can tell you the progress that virtue has made in all our cities, boroughs, and corporations; and know as well the evil practices that are committed in Berwick or Exeter, as what is done in my own family. In a word, Sir, I have my correfpondents in the remotest " parts of the nation, who fend me up punctual accounts from time to time of all the little irregularities that