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« Now let us consider what happens to us when we arrive at these imaginary points of rest. Do we stop our motion, and sit down satisfied in the settlement we have gained ? or are we not removing the boundary, and marking out new points of rest, to which we press forward with the like eagerness, and which cease to be such as fast as we attain them? Our case is like that of a traveller upon the Alps, who should fancy that the top of the next hill must end his journey, because it terminates his prospect; but he no sooner arrives at it, than he sees new ground and other hills beyond it, and continues to travel on as before.
« This is so plainly every man's condition in life, that there is no one who has observed any thing, but may observe, that as fast as his time wears away, his appetite to something future remains. The use therefore I would make of it is this, that since Nature, as some love to express it, does nothing in vain, or, to speak properly, since the Author of our being has planted no wandering passion in it, no desire which has not its object, futurity is the proper object of the passion so constantly exercised about it; and this restlessness in the present, this assigning ourselves over to further stages of duration, this successive grasping at somewhat still to come, appears to me, whatever it may to others, as a kind of instinct or natural symptom which the mind of man has of its own immortality.
“ I take it at the same time for granted, that the immortality of the soul is sufficiently established by other arguments: and if so, this appetite, which otherwise would be very unaccountable and absurd, seems very reasonable, and adds strength to the conclusion. But I am amazed when I consider there are creatures capable of thought, who, in spite of every argument, can form to themselves a sullen
satisfaction in thinking otherwise. There is something so pitifully mean in the inverted ambition of that man who can hope for annihilation, and please himself to think that his whole fabric shall one day crumble into dust, and mix with the mass of inanimate beings, that it equally deserves our admiration and pity. The mystery of such men's unbelief is not hard to be penetrated; and indeed amounts to nothing more than a sordid hope that they shall not be immortal, because they dare not be so.
“ This brings me back to my first observation, and gives me occasion to say further, that as worthy actions spring from worthy thoughts, so worthy thoughts are likewise the consequence of worthy actions. But the wretch who has degraded himself below the character of immortality, is very willing to resign his pretensions to it, and to substitute in its room a dark negative happiness in the extinction of his being.
« The admirable Shakspeare has given us a strong image of the unsupported condition of such a person in his last minutes, in the Second Part of King Henry the Sixth, where Cardinal Beaufort, who had been concerned in the murder of the good Duke Humphry, is represented on his death-bed. After some short confused speeches, which show an imagination disturbed with guilt, just as he is expiring, King Henry, standing by him, full of compassion, says,
Lord Cardinal! if thou think'st on heaven's bliss,
He dies, and makes no sign!“ The despair which is here shown, without a word or action on the part of a dying person, is beyond what can be painted by the most forcible expressions whatever.
“I shall not pursue this thought further, but only add, that as an annihilation is not to be had with a wish, so it is the most abject thing in the world to wish it. What are honour, fame, wealth, or power, when compared with the generous expectation of a being without end, and a happiness adequate to that being ?
“ I shall trouble you no further; but with a certain gravity which these thoughts have given me, I reflect upon some things people say of you, as they will of all men who distinguish themselves, which I hope are not true, and wish you as good a man as you are an author.
“ I am, SIR,
« T. D.”
No. 211. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 1711.
Fictis meminerit nos jocari fabulis.
PHÆDR, 1. PROL.
Let it be remembered that we sport in fabled stories.
HAVING lately translated the fragment of an old poet, which describes womankind under several characters, and supposes them to have drawn their different manners and dispositions from those animals and elements, out of which he tells us they were compounded, I had some thoughts of giving the sex their revenge, by laying together, in another paper, the many vicious characters which prevail in the male world, and showing the different ingredients that go to the making up of such different humours and constitutions. Horace has a thought which is something akin to this, when, in order to excuse himself to his mistress, for an invective which he had written against her, and to account for that unreasonable fury with which the heart of man is often transported, he tells us, that, when Prometheus made his man of clay, in the kneading up of the heart he seasoned it with some furious particles of the lion. But upon turning this plan to and fro in my thoughts, I observed so many unaccountable humours in man, that I did not know out of what animals to fetch them. Male souls are diversified with so many characters, that the world has not variety of materials sufficient to furnish out their different tempers and inclinations. The creation, with all its animals and elements, would not be large enough to supply their several extravagances.
Instead, therefore, of pursuing the thought of Simonides, I shall observe, that as he has exposed the vicious part of women from the doctrine of pre-existence, some of the ancient philosophers have in a manner satirized the vicious part of the human species in general, from a notion of the soul's postexistence, if I may so call it; and that, as Simonides describes brutes entering into the composition of women, others have represented human souls as entering into brutes. This is commonly termed the doctrine of transmigration, which supposes that human souls, upon their leaving the body, become the souls of such kinds of brutes as they most resemble in their manners; or, to give an account of it as Mr. Dryden has described it, in his translation of Pythagoras's speech, in the fifteenth book of Ovid, where that philosopher dissuades his hearers from eating flesh:
Thus all things are but alter'd, nothing dies,
Plato, in the vision of Erus the Armenian, which I may possibly make the subject of a future speculation, records some beautiful transmigrations; as that the soul of Orpheus, who was musical, melancholy, and a woman-hater, entered into a swan ; the soul of Ajax, which was all wrath and fierceness, into a lion; the soul of Agamemnon, that was rapacious and imperial, into an eagle; and the soul of Thersites, who was a mimic and a buffoon, into a monkey.
Mr. Congreve, in a prologue to one of his comedies, has touched upon this doctrine with great humour:
Thus Aristotle's soul of old that was,
Is doing painful penance in some beau. I shall fill up this paper with some letters which my last Tuesday's speculation has produced. My following correspondents will show, what I there observed, that the speculation of that day affects only the lower part of the sex.