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ancients had for trees. There is an old tradition, that Abraham planted a cypress, a pine, and a cedar; and that these three incorporated into one tree, which was cut down for the building of the temple of Solomon.
Isidorus, who lived in the reign of Constantius, assures us, that he saw, even in his time, that famous oak in the plains of Mamre, under which Abraham is reported to have dwelt; and adds, that the people looked upon it with a great veneration, and preserved it as a sacred tree.
· The heathens still went farther, and regarded it as the highest piece of sacrilege to injure certain trees which they took to be protected by some deity. The story of Erisicthon, the grove of Dodona, and that at Delphi, are all instances of this kind.
• If we consider the machine in Virgil, so much blamed by several critics, in this light, we shall hardly think it too violent.
• Æneas, when he built his feet in order to sail for Italy, was obliged to cut down the grove on mount Ida, which however he durst not do until he had obtained leave from Cybele, to whom it was dedicated. The goddess could not but think herself obliged to protect the ships, which were made of consecrated timber, after a very extraordinary manner, and therefore desired Jupiter, that they might not be obnoxious to the power of waves or winds. Jupiter would not grant this, but promised her that as many as came safe to Italy should be transformed into goddesses of the sea; which the poet tells us was accordingly executed.
« And now at length the number'd hours were come,
First, from the quarter of the morn there sprung
O Trojan race, your needless aid forbear:
• The common opinion concerning the nymphs, whom the ancients called Hamadryads, is more to the honour of trees than any thing yet mentioned. It was thought the fate of these nymphs had so near a dependence on some trees, more especially oaks, that they lived and died together. For this reason they were extremely grateful to such persons who preserved those trees with which their being subsisted. Apollonius tells us a very remarkable story to this purpose, with which I shall conclude my letter.
A certain man, called Rhæcus, observing an old oak ready to fall, and being moved with a sort of. compassion towards the tree, ordered his servants to pour in fresh earth at the roots of it, and set it upright. The Hamadryad, or nymph who must necessarily have perished with the tree, appeared to him the next day, and, after having returned him her thanks, told him she was ready to grant what
ever he should ask. As she was extremely beautiful, Rhæcus desired he might be entertained as her lover. The Hamadryad, not much displeased with the request, promised to give him a meeting, but commanded him for some days to abstain from the embraces of all other women, adding, that she would send a bee to him, to let him know when he was to be happy. Rhæcus was, it seems, too much addicted to gaming, and happened to be in a run of ill-luck when the faithful bee came buzzing about him; so that, instead of minding his kind invitation, he had like to have killed him for his pains. The Hamadryad was so provoked at her own disappointment, and the ill usage of her messenger, that she deprived Rhæcus of the use of his limbs. However, says the story, he was not so much a cripple, but he made a shift to cut down the tree, and consequently to fell his mistress'
N° 590. MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 1714.
- Assiduo labuntur tempora motu,
Ovid. Met. xv. 179.
The following discourse comes from the same hand
with the essays upon infinitude. • We consider infinite space as an expansion without a circumference: we consider eternity, or infinite duration, as a line that has neither a beginning nor an end. In our speculations of infinite space, we consider that particular place in which we exist as a kind of centre to the whole expansion. In our speculations of eternity, we consider the time which is present to us as the middle, which divides the whole line into two equal parts. For this reason
many witty authors compare the present time to an isthmus or narrow neck of land, that rises in the midst of an ocean, immeasurably diffused on either side of it.
Philosophy, and indeed common sense, naturally throws eternity under two divisions, which we may call in English that eternity which is past, and that eternity which is to come. The learned terms of Æternitas a parte ante, and Æternitas a parte post, may be more amusing to the reader, but can have no other idea affixed to them than what is conveyed to us by those words, an eternity that is past, and an eternity that is to come. Each of these eternities is bounded at the one extreme; or, in other words, the former has an end, and the latter a beginning.
** Let us first of all consider that eternity which is past, reserving that which is to come for the subject of another paper. The nature of this eternity is utterly inconceivable by the mind of man : our reason demonstrates to us that it has been, but at the same time can frame no idea of it, but what is big with absurdity and contradiction. We can have no other conception of any duration which is past, than that all of it was once present; and whatever was once present is at some certain distance from us, and whatever is at any certain distance from us, be the distance never so remote, cannot be eternity. The very notion of any duration being past, implies that it was once present, for the idea of being once . present is actually included in the idea of its being past. This therefore is a depth not to be sounded by human understanding. We are sure that there has been an eternity, and yet contradict ourselves when we measure this eternity by any notion which we can frame of it.
If we go to the bottom of this matter, we shall find that the difficulties we meet with in our concep