Imágenes de páginas

them gradually lose a sense of their holiness! Look at sextons, parish-clerks, singing boys, choir-men, (I need go no higher,) and see what sense or feeling they have of the holiness of the things about then).-Boys are taught to read in the Bible, because the Bible is a good book * : the school-house is often a part of the church, because the church is an holy place t. Surely our pious ancestors did not know that faniliarity breeds contempt; for more effectual means could not be contrived to extinguish or prevent all sense of holiness.

There is yet another reason why boys should not be taught to read by the use of the Bible, if there be any such thing as association of ideas. The Bible, distinct from its religious importance, is certainly a very curious as well as useful book: but the Bible is usually the last book men take up, either for instruction or amusenient. Why? because they have formerly been teazed, and buffeted, and flogged aboạt it; and because they hate the scenery which it naturally revives. 'Tis pity but a little knowledge of human nature had been cultirated by these good people, together with their piety. and learning.

[ocr errors]

SUPERSTITION AND DREAMS. The only certainty to, man in a savage state, of one eveut being the natural consequence of another, is its CONSTANTLY following it. He afterwards carries this idea to things that GENERALLY succeed each other, and hence he is able to form tolerably accurate prognostics of

* The benefit or utility arising from these wions is altogether imaginary. " Wanting an English book for my scholars to translate," says a learned school-master, “ which inight improve them « in sense and Latin at once (two things which should never be “ divided in teaching) I thought nothing more proper for that « purpose than Bacon's Essays." As if a school-boy would attend to, or (if he would) could comprehend, the strong deep sense of Bacon : just as well might it be, that boys should be taught in the Bible and at the church, because religion and learning should pever be divided. Pref. to Bacon's Essays, translated by Willymot, 1720. 2 vols. 8vo.

+ By this means the church-yard, which is also consecrated, and must certainly have some degree of holiness, as well as tbe church, becomes as it were a licensed play-ground for the school-boys, and at the same time a bear-garden for the parish.

the weather. But as these events, though they most com- . monly happen according to his foresight, are not so certajn as the revolution of the seasons; and as even these differ in some things, as in the forwardness of vegetation ; while in others, such as thelength of the days, and the relative position of the sun, they are perfectly regular; room is open for the imagination to suggest certain dependences of one thing on another, which in reality do not exist; and these notions will be strengthened from occasional coincidence between indifferent things, and occasional failure of coincidence in things that do in general coincide, as in the prognostics of the weather, and the influence of the seasons on vegetation. And here both the savage and the untutored rustic will frequently be unable to discriminate. The southern hill covered with clouds, though it generally portends rain, will sometimes be suddenly cleared hy a change of wind; and the hunter will sometimes find more gaine than usual when he has seen a crow perching on the elm before his cote tage.

Neither let the circles of the polite and the learned laugh with too much contempt at the ignorance of the savage, since there are few persons even in such circles quite free from prejudices equally absurd. Let me ask (in the words of a man of true genius, who thinks for bimself, and almost always rightly) ‘you, an enlightened philosopher, whether you are above choice of seats at whist? whether you have not really believed that your chance for winning was much bettered by taking fortunate chairs, and of course obliging your adversaries to sit, not in those of the scornful, but of the losers ? When you quit the game on a run of ill luck, what is it hut declaring your belief that the games already played have an influence upon those that are to come *? From the conversation of most people on the influence of the moon on the weather, one would be led to think, contrary to daily experience, that in this proverbially uncertain climate the variation of the elements was as periodically regular as that of the tidest. How common is the ob

* Jackson's Letters, xxvii.

† An ingenious gentleman (Mr. Sullivan) has lately deposed the moon from her influence over the tides. It is merely accideutal, it seems, that it happens to be high water in all longitudes when the

servation, that a plentiful produce of berries and mast in the autumn is a sure prognostic of a hard winter, on the idea of its being the act of a benevolent Providence to preserve the birds, who subsist on such food! But as the effect can never precede the cause, such an interference must be the immediate act of supernatural power, and as much a miracle as any recorded in the scripture. ! But the surprising faculty of dreaming has, more than any other cause whatever, afforded specious grounds for superstition. The faculty itself appears like the action of the soul, when unencumbered with the grosser powers of the body. Aod there is sometimes a very striking coincidence between dreams and succeeding events. This must frequently happen from chance; but still more frequently from natural causes. Our dreams are often, though certainly not always, influenced by our waking thoughts. What thep is more likely than for a person deeply interested in the welfare of a friend dangerously ill, to dream of his death or his convalescence ? Even if the direct contrary to the thing dreamed of comes to pass, the mind will still see some analogy: ayd hence has arisen a proverbial expression with regard to dreams, which tends to confirm the doubtful in their superstition, and is besides used to alleviate the fears of those who are acted on by the powerful impression of a frightful dream, an impression oftener felt than avowed. I much question, if a man of the firmest mind were to have a very clear dream, portending evil to a person he deeply loved, especially if he knew that person was in a dangerous situation, if he would not feel his fears too strong for his philosophy, and exclaim with Horace

Ego cui timebo,

! Providus auspex.? . We must also take into our account, that no argument

moon crosses the meridian of the place. But the phenomena of the tides are occasioned by the periodic melting of the polar ice. I know of but one hypothesis equally convincing. I mean that of Mr. William Ramsay, mentioned in the Spectator. This profound philosopher asserted, that the absence of the sun is not the cause of night; forasmuch as his light is so great, that it may illuminate the earth all over at once as clear as broad day; but there are tenebrificous and dark stars, by whose influence night is brought on, and which do ray out darkness and obscurity upon the earth, as the sun

does light.?

[ocr errors]

of the fallibility of dreams, brought from the millions of examples of no subsequent event the least analogous attending them, will have the least weight; as these, however striking at the timne, are all forgotten, while the smallest coincidence is always remembered, and frequently recorded.

I once heard a person of ability, who was anxious to prove that all dreams could be traced to the thoughts or incidents of the preceding day, account for the contrary appearance, which he could not deny, by the following ingenious though to me not satisfactory hypothesis. He contended, that as our ideas are connected, when waking, by a chain of thinking, so in sleeping they were .connected by mere juxtaposition, which he thus illustrated. I see an army reviewed, and hear of a terrible fire at the same time. . These ideas therefore become connected in the mind; and while they continue so, the appearance or the mention of one will generally produce the idea of the other, and the waking mind will then recollect the cause of their union : but in a dream the union will exist, though the cause of conuection may escape us; and a person whose, ideas have been so influenced, will dream of 'a fire after he has seen a review, and vice versa, though he should not recollect their coincidence at the tine.

In the European Magazine for November 1794, there is a very ingenious explanation by an anonymous writer, of a circumstance every one must have felt--the terrible impression we receive from a dream, though on recollecting it perfectly, after being awake some time, we can find no reason why it should have had so violent an effect. He accounts for it from the undiverted direction of our mind to a single object in our sleep, which never can happen in the events of real life. He carries this rational, and I believe new hypothesis, into the impressions we receive from works of imagination, where the same effect is perceptible. I should be ashamed that any actual suffering should so completely unman me, as I have been , by the fictitious distress of Mrs. Siddons in Isabella. Perhaps we may trace to this cause the disappointment we always feel in the attainment of the object of our warmest pursuits. Whatever we wish for is painted in the fairest and strongest colours; we take no attendant inconvenience into our consideration, but a thousand VOL. IV.


occur on possession, and our purest joys are liable to be poisoned by evils that have no immediate connection with them. The triumph of a conqueror, or the raptures of a bridegroom, may be totally destroyed by a fit of the colic. . For our comfort, however, the objects of our fears, as well as our hopes, diminish in a contrary ratio to the rules of perspective, and are never so much magnified as when they are at a distance.

Another great object of superstitious credit must not be omitted. I mean the re-appearance of the dead. This I believe is now totally discredited by every person who reasons; for every relation of the kind, and many there are still mentioned, will, on being scrupulously investigated, turn out to be unfounded on fact, This must stagger our faith as to every extraordinary event in history, received on human testimony only. We certainly know, if we reason at all, from a clearer conviction than any historic testimony can give, that these stories are false; and yet there is no historic fact better authenticated than some of these stories seem to be.

This is strikingly confirmed -by the passage of Lucretius - mentioned by Addison in the Spectator *. Lucretius,

though writing in defence of materialism, was so pressed, not indeed by the evidence of the real fact, as asserted by Addison, but by the universal testimony of tradition in favour of it, that, unable, or afraid to question it, he thought himself obliged to account for these appearances from natural causes; and accordingly does it by saying that the superficies of human bodies are continually flying off, and appearing to their friends either in their absence, or after their death t.

H. T. P.

THE ANTIQUITY OF DRINKING HEALTHS. It was a custom among the Greeks, and from them derived, like many others, especially of the religious kind, among the Romans, to make libations, to pour out wine, and even to drink wine in honour of the gods. Sometimes this ceremony was introduced to their meals, but in their more solemn entertainments it was performed in

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »