Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

in many cases so

IO

of madness and despair. The fear of shame in the fair sex was in those days more prevalent than that of death. If modesty has so great an influence over our actions, and is

impregnable a fence to virtue, what can more undermine morality than that politeness which reigns among the unthinking part of mankind, and treats as unfashionable the most ingenuous part of our behaviour? which recommends impudence as good breeding, and keeps a man always in countenance, not because he is innocent, but because he is shameless ?

Seneca n thought modesty so great a check to vice, that he prescribes to us the practice of it in secret, and advises us to raise it in ourselves, upon imaginary occasions, when such as are real do not offer themselves: for this is the meaning of his precept, that when we are by ourselves, and in our greatest solitudes, we should fancy that Cato stands before us, and sees every thing we do. In short, if you banish modesty out of the world, she carries away with her half the virtue that is in it.

After these reflexions on modesty, as it is a virtue, I must observe that there is a vicious modesty, which justly deserves to be 20 ridiculed, and which those persons very often discover, who value themselves most upon a well-bred confidence.

This happens when a man is ashamed to act up to his reason, and would not upon any consideration be surprised in the practice of those duties, for the performance of which he was sent into the world. Many an impertinent libertine would blush to be caught in a serious discourse, and would scarce be able to shew his head after having disclosed a religious thought. Decency of behaviour, all outward shew of virtue, and abhorrence of vice, are carefully avoided by

this set of shame-faced people, as what would disparage their gaiety 30 of temper, and infallibly bring them to dishonour.

This is such a poorness of spirit, such a despicable cowardice, such a degenerate, abject state of mind, as one would think human nature incapable of, did we not meet with frequent instances of it in ordinary conversation.

There is another kind of vicious modesty which makes a man ashamed of his person, his birth, his profession, his poverty, or the like misfortunes, which it was not in his choice to prevent, and is not in his power to rectify. If a man appears ridiculous by any

of the afore-mentioned circumstances, he becomes much more so 40 by being out of countenance for them. They should rather give

him occasion to exert a noble spirit, and to palliate those imperfections which are not in his power, by those perfections which are; or, to use a very witty allusion of an eminent author, he should imitate Cæsar, who, because his head was bald, covered that defect with laurels n.-C.

No. 289. On Death; the one thing that all men have in common;
Dr. Sherlock's discourse; beautiful story of the Dervish.
Vitæ summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam.

Hor. Od. i. 4. 15. 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 perhaps that the Dutch mail is just come in, they

hear me ask the coffee-man for his last week's bill of mortality: 10 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 20 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 that nice proportion which we find in every great city, between the deaths and births of its inhabit

ants, and between the number of males and that of females who 30 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. a species of women.

DEATH.

183 Were we not counted out by an intelligent Supervisor, we should sometimes be overcharged 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

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 that term, whose quotas have been kept entire near five thousand

years, in so wonderful a manner, that there is not probably a 10 single species lost during this long tract of time. Could we have

general bills of mortality of every kind of animals, 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?

I have heard of a great man in the Romish church, who upon reading those words in the 5th 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, 20 and he died; and all the days of Methuselah 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 anothern.

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 áreadful season. I may also add, that there are no parts in history which affect and please the reader in so sensible a manner.

The reason I take to be this, because there is no other single 30 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 conjunctures 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 certainly resemble.

It is, perhaps, for the same kind of reason, that few books,

40

written in English, have been so much perused as Dr. Sherlock’s n 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 10 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 to 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 20 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 is necessary for every one of us to take : we ourselves must go to that great place of reception 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 30 and those who pass through it are called strangers and sojourners

upon earth. I shall conclude this with a story, which I have somewhere read in the travels of Sir John Chardin : that gentleman, after having told us that the inns which receive the caravans, in Persia and the eastern countries, are called by the name of Caravansaries, gives us a relation to the following purpose.

A dervise, travelling through Tartary, being arrived at the town of Balk, went into the king's palace by mistake, as thinking it to be a public inn or caravansary. Having looked about him for some

time, he entered into a long gallery, where he laid down his wal40 let, and spread his carpet, in order to repose himself upon it after

[blocks in formation]

the manner of the eastern nations. He had not been long in this posture before he was discovered by some of the guards, who asked him what was his business in that place? The dervise told them he intended to take up his night's lodging in that caravansary. The guards let him know, in a very angry manner, that the house he was in was not a caravansary, but the king's palace. It happened that the king himself passed through the gallery during this debate, and smiling at the mistake of the dervise, asked him how he could

possibly be so dull as not to distinguish a palace from a caravansary? 10 'Sir,' says the dervise, 'give me leave to ask your Majesty a question

or two. Who were the persons that lodged in this house when it was first built ?' The king replied, his ancestors. • And who,' says the dervise, 'was the last person who lodged here?' The king replied, his father. “And who is it,' says the dervise, 'that lodges here at present ?' The king told him, that it was he himself. * And who,' says the dervise, 'will be here after you?' The king answered, the young prince his son. 'Ah, Sir,' said the dervise, 'a house that changes its inhabitants so often, and receives such a perpetual succession of guests, is not a palace but a caravansary.'

L.

20

No. 349. Death sets the seal on life ; fortitude in meeting death ;
Petronius, Sir Thomas More, ihe Emperor of Morocco.

Quos ille timorum
Maximus haud urget lethi metus ; inde ruendi
In ferrum mens prona viris, animæque capaces
Mortis.

Lucan. i. 454. I am very much pleased with a consolatory letter of Phalaris , to one who had lost a son that was a young man of great merit. The thought, with which he comforts the afflicted father, is, to the best of my memory, as follows: That he should consider death had set a kind of seal upon his son's character, and placed him out of the reach of vice and infamy: that while he lived he was still within the possibility of falling away from virtue, and losing the fame of which he was possessed. Death only closes a man's reputation, and determines it as good or bad.

This, among other motives, may be one reason why we are 30 naturally averse to the launching out into a man's praise till his

head is laid in the dust. While he is capable of changing, we

« ForrigeFortsett »