« PreviousContinue »
But how great would be his astonishment, when" he learnt that we were beings not designed to exift in this world above threescore and ten years ; and that the greatest part of this bufy species fall fhort even of that age ? How would he be lost in horror and admiration, when he should know that this set of creatures, who lay out all their endeavours for this life, which scarce deserves the name of existence, when, I say, he should know that this set of creatures are to exist to all eternity in another life, for which they make no preparations ? Nothing can be a greater disgrace to reason, than that men who are persuaded of these two different states of beings, should be perpetually employed in providing for a life of threescore and ten years, and neglecting to make provision for that, which after many myriads of years will be still new, and still beginning; efi pecially when we consider, that our endeavours for making ourselves great, or rich, or honourable, or whatever else we place our happiness in, may after all prove unsuccessful ; whereas, if we conftantly and fincerely endeavour to make ourfelves happy in the other life, we are sure that our enideavours will succeed, and that we shall not be dif appointed of our hope.
The following question is started by one of the schoolmen : Suppowing the whole body of the earth : were a great ball or mass of the finest sand, and that a single grain or particle of this fand should be annihilated every thousand years. Supposing then that you had it in your choice to be happy all the while this prodigious mafs of fand was consuming by this flow method, until there was not a grain of it left, on condition you were to be næserable for ever after; or, fuppofing that you might be happy for ever after, on condition you would be miserable until the whole mass of fand was thus annihilated, at the rate of one sand in a thousand years; Which of these two cases would you make your choice? H 3
It must be confefied in this case, so many thou. sands of years are to the imagination as a kind of eternity, though in reality they do not bear fo great a proportion to that duration, which is to fol, low them, as an unit does to the greatest number which you can put together in figures, or as one of those fands to the supposed heap. Reason therefore tells us, without any manner of hesitation, which would be the better part in this choice.. However, as I have before intimated, our reason might in fuch a case be fo: overset by the imagi. nation, as to dispose fome persons io sink under the confideration of the great length of the first part of this duration, and of the great distance of that fecond duration, which is to succeed it. The mind, I say, might give itself up to that happinefswhich is at hand, confidering that it is so very near, and that it would last fo very long. But when the choice we actually have before us is this, whether we will chuse to be happy only for the space of only. threescore and ten, nay, perhaps of only twenty or ten years, I might fay of only a day or an houry and miserable to all eternity; or, on the contrary, miferable for this fhort term of years, and happy for a whole eternity : What words are sufficient to express that folly and want of consideration, which in such a case makes a wrong choice?
I here put the case even at the worst, by fuppofing (what feldom happens) that a course of virtue makes us miserable in this life : But if we suppose (as.it generally happens) that virtue would make us more happy even in this life than a contrary course of vice; how can we sufficiently admire the stupidity or madnefs of thofe persons who are capable of making fo absurd a choice?
Every wise man therefore will confider this life only as it may conduce to the happiness of the other, and cheerfully facrifice the pleasures of a few years to those of an eternity.
NO 576. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 4.
Nitor in adverfum ; nec mé, que cætera, vincit
Ovid. Met. 1. ii. ver. 72.
ADDISON. I REMEMBER a young man of very lively parts, and
a sprightly turn in conversation, who had only one fault, which was an inordinate defire of appearing fashionable.
This ran him into many amours, and consequently into many diftempers, He never went to bed until two o'clock in the morning, because he would not be a queer fellow, and was every now and then knocked down by a constable, to fignalize his vivacity. He was initiated into half a dozen clubs before he was one and twenty, and so improved in them his natural gaiety of temper, that you might frequently trace him to his lodgings by a range of broken windows, and other the like monuments of wit and galantry. To be short, after having fully established his reputation of being a very agreeable rake, he died of old age at five and twenty.
There is indeed nothing which betrays a man into so many errors and inconveniencies, as the defire of not appearing fingular"; for which reason it is very necessary to form a right idea of fingulafity, that we may know when it is laudable, and when it is vicious. In the first place, every man of sense will agree with me, that fingularity is laudable, when, in contradiction to a multitude, it adheres to the dictates of conscience, morality, and honour. In these cases we ought to confider, that it is not custom, but duty, which is the rule of
action; and that we should be only fo far fociable, as we are reasonable creatures. Truth is never the lefs fo, for being attended to: And it is the nature of actions, not the number of actors, by which we ought to regulate our behaviour. Singularity, in concerns of this kind is to be looked upon as heroic bravery, in which a man leaves the species only as he foars above it. What greater instance can there be of a weak and pufillanimous temper, than for a man to pass his whole life in opposition to his own sentiments ? or not to dare to be what he thinks he ought to be ?
Singularity, therefore, is only vicious when it makes men act contrary to reason; or when it puts them upon distinguishing themselves by: trifles. As for the first of these, who are fingular in any thing that is irreligious, immoral, or dishonourable, I. believe every one will easily give them up. I shald therefore speak of those only who are remarkable for their fingularity in things of no importance, as in dress, behaviour, conversation, and all the little intercourses of life. In these cases there is a cer. tain deference due to custom; and notwithstanding there may be a colour of reason to deviate from the multitude in some particulars, a man ought to facrifice his private inclinations and opinions to the practice of the public. It must be confessed, that good sense often makes an humourift; but then it unqualifies him for being of any moment in the world, and renders him ridiculous to perfons of a much inferior understanding.
I have heard of a gentleman in the north of England, who was a remarkable instance of this foolish singularity. He had laid it down as a rule within himself, to act in the most indifferent parts of life, according to the most abftracted notions of reason and good sense, without any regard to fafhion or example. This humour broke out at first in many little oddaefles : He had never any stated
hours for his dinner, supper, or sleep; becaufe, said he, we ought to attend the calls of nature, and not set our appetites to our meals, but bring our meals to our appetites. In his conversation with country gentlemen, he would not make use of a phrase that was not strictly true : He never told any of them, that he was his humble servant, but that he was his well-wisher; and would rather be thought a malecontent than drink the king's health when he was not a-dry. He would thrust his head out of his chamber-window every morning, and after having gaped for fresh air about half an hour, repeat fifty vertes, as loud as he could bawl them, for the benefit of his lungs ; to which end he generally took them out of Homer; the Greek tongue, especially in that author, being more deep and fo. norous, and more conducive to expectoration than any other. He had many other particularities, for which he gave found and philosophical reasons. As this humour still grew upon him, he chose to wear a turban instead of a periwig ; concluding very justly, that a bandage of clean linen about his head was much more wholefome, as well as cleanly, than the caul of a wig, which is foiled with frequent perspirations. He afterwaads judiciously observed, that the many ligatures in our English dress must naturally check the circulation of the blood; for which reason, he made his breeches and his donb. let of one continued piece of cloth, after the manner of the Huffars. In short, by following the pure dictates of reason, he at length departed fo much from the rett of his countrymen, and indeed from his whole fpecies, that his friends would have clapped him into Bediam, and have begged his e. state ; but the judge being informed that he did na harm, contented himself with illuing out a commillion of lưnacy against him, and putting his, eftate into the hands of proper guardians. Tho fate of this philolopher puts me in mind of