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most gross and brutal ignorance. European slavery is indeed a state of liberty, if compared with that which prevails in the other three divisions of the world; and therefore it is no wonder that those who grovel under it have many tracks of light among them, of which the others are wholly destitute.
Riches and plenty are the natural fruits of liberty, and where these abound, learning and all the liberal arts will immediately lift up
their heads and flourish. As a man must have no slavish fears and apprehensions hanging upon his mind, who will indulge the flights of fancy or speculation, and push his researches into all the abstruse corners of truth; so it is necessary for him to have about him a competency of all the conveniences of life.
The first thing every one looks after, is to provide himself with necessaries. This point will engross our thoughts till it be satisfied. If this is taken care of to our hands, we look out: for pleasures and amusements; and among a great number of idle people, there will be many whose pleasures will lie in reading and contemplation. These are the two great sources of knowledge, and as men grow wise they naturally love to communicate their discoveries; and others seeing the happiness of such a learned life, and improving by their conversation, emulate, imitate, and surpass one another, till a nation is filled with races of wise and understanding persons. Ease and plenty are therefore the great cherishers of knowledge; and as most of the despotic governments of the world have neither of them, they are naturally overrun with ignorance and barbarity. In Europe, indeed, notwithstanding several of its princes are absolute, there are men famous for knowledge and learning, but the reason is because the subjects are many of them rich and wealthy; the prince not think. ing fit to exert himself in his full tyranny like the princes of the eastern nations, lest his subjects should be invited to new-mould their constitution, having so many prospects of liberty within
their view. But in all despotic governments, though a particular prince may favour art and letters, there is a natural degeneracy of mankind, as you may observe from Augustus's reign, how the Romans lost themselves by degrees till they fell to an equality with the most barbarous nations that surrounded them. Look upon Greece under its free states, and you would think its inhab. itants lived in different climates, and under different heavens, from those at present; so different are the geniuses which are formed under Turkish slavery, and Grecian liberty.
Besides poverty and want, there are other reasons that debase the minds of men, who live under slavery, though I look on this as the principal. This natural tendency of despotic power to ignorance and barbarity, though not insisted upon by others, is, I think, an unanswerable argument against that form of government, as it shews how repugnant it is to the good of mankind and the perfection of human nature, which ought to be the great ends of all civil institutions.
No. 289. THURSDAY, JANUARY 31.
Vitæ summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam.
HOR. 1 Od. iv. 15.
Life's span forbids us to extend our cares,
UPON taking my seat in a coffee-house I often draw the eyes of the whole room upon me, when in the hottest seasons of news and at a time that perhaps the Dutch mail is just come in, they hear me ask the coffee-man for his last week's bill of mortality. I find that I have been sometimes taken on this occasion for a parish-sexton, sometimes for an undertaker, and sometimes for a
doctor of physic. In this, however, I am guided by the spirit of a philosopher, as I take occasion from hence to reflect upon the regular increase and diminution of mankind, and consider the several various ways through which we pass from life to eternity. I am very well pleased with these weekly admonitions, that bring into my mind such thoughts as ought to be the daily entertainment of every reasonable creature; and can consider, with pleasure to myself, by which of those deliverances, or, as we commonly call them, distempers, I may possibly make my escape out of this world of sorrows, into that condition of existence, wherein I hope to be happier than it is possible for me at present to conceive.
But this is not all the use I make of the above-mentioned
weekly paper. A bill of mortality is in my opinion an unanswerable argument for a Providence; how can we, without supposing ourselves under the constant care of a Supreme Being, give any possible account for å that nice proportion which we find in every great city, between the deaths and births of its inhabitants, and between the number of males, and that of females, who are brought into the world? what else could adjust in so exact a manner the recruits of every nation to its losses, and divide these new supplies of people into such equal bodies of both sexes? Chance could never hold the balance with so steady a hand. Were we not counted out by an intelligent supervisor, we should sometimes be over-charged with multitudes, and at others waste away into a desert: we should be sometimes a populus virorum, as Florus elegantly expresses it, 'a generation of males,' and at others a species of women. We may extend this consideration to every species of living creatures, and consider the whole animal world as an huge army made up of an innumerable corps, if I may use taat term, whose quotas have been kept entire near five thousand years, in so wonderful a manner, that there is not probably a single species lost during this long tract of time. Could we have general bills of mortality of every kind of animal, or particular ones of every species in each continent and island, I could almost say in every wood, marsh, or mountain, what astonishing instances would they be of that Providence which watches over all its works?
* Account for. We say, to account for, but to give an account of.
I have heard of a great man in the Romish church, who upon reading those words in the fifth chapter of Genesis, 'And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died; and all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died; and all the days of Methusalah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died ;' immediately shut himself up in a convent, and retired from the world, as not thinking any thing in this life worth pursuing, which had not regard to another.
The truth of it is, there is nothing in history which is so improving to the reader, as those accounts which we meet with of the deaths of eminent persons, and of their behaviour in that dreadful season. I may also add, that there are no parts in his tory which affect and please the reader in so sensible a manner, The reason I take to be this, because there is no other single circumstance in the story of any person, which can possibly be the case of every one who reads it. A battle or a triumph are con junctures in which not one man in a million is likely to be engaged, but when we see a person at the point of death, we cannot forbear being attentive to every thing he says, or does, because we are sure, that some time or other we shall ourselves be in the same melancholy circumstances. The general, the statesman, or the philosopher, are perhaps characters which we may never act in; but the dying man is one whom, sooner or later, we shall cer tainly resemble.
It is, perhaps, for the same kind of reascn that few books
written in English, have been so much perused as Doctor Sherlock's discourse upon Death; though at the same time I must own, that he who has not perused this excellent piece, has not perhaps read one of the strongest persuasives to a religious life that ever was written in any language.
The consideration, with which I shall close this essay upon Death, is one of the most ancient and most beaten morals that has been recommended to mankind.
But its being so very common, and so universally received, though it takes away from it the grace of novelty, adds very much to the weight of it, as it shews that it falls in with the general sense of mankind. In short, I would have every one consider, that he is in this life nothing more than a passenger, and that he is not to set up his rest here, but keep an attentive eye upon that state of being to which he approaches every moment, and which will be for ever fixed and permanent. This single consideration would be sufficient to extinguish the bitterness of hatred, the thirst of avarice, and the cruelty of ambition.
I am very much pleased with the passage of Antiphanes, a very ancient poet, who lived near an hundred years before Socrates, which represents the life of man under this view, as I have here translated it word for word. Be not grieved,' says he, above measure, for thy deceased friends. They are not dead, but have only finished that journey which it is necessary for every one of us to take: we ourselves must go to that great place of recep tion in which they are all of them assembled, and in this general rendezvous of mankind, live together in another state of being.'
I think I have, in a former paper, taken notice of those beautiful metaphors in scripture, where life is termed a pilgrimage, and those who pass through it are called strangers and sojourners upon earth. I shall conclude this with a story, which I have some where read in the travels of Sir John Chardin; that gentleman,