« AnteriorContinua »
That wonderful faculty, which we call the memory, is perpetually looking back, when we have nothing present to entertain us. It is like those repositories in several animals that are filled with stores of their former food, on which they may ruminate when their present pasture fails.
As the memory relieves the mind in her vacant moments, and prevents any chasms of thought by ideas of what is passed, we have other faculties that agitate and employ her for what is to come. These are the passions of hope and fear.
By these two passions we reach forward into futurity, and bring up to our present thoughts objects that lie hid in the remotest depths of time. We suffer misery and enjoy happiness, before they are in being; we can set the sun and stars forward, or lose sight of them by wandering into those retired parts of eternity, when the heavens and earth shall be no inore.
By the way, who can imagine that the existence of a creature is to be circumscribed by time, whose thoughts are not? But I shall, in this paper, confine myself to that particular passion which goes by the name of hope.
Our actual enjoyments are so few and transient, that man would be a very miserably being, were he not endowed with this passion, which gives him a taste of those good things that may possibly come into his possession. We should hope for every thing that is good,' says the old poet Linus,
because there is nothing which may not be hoped for, and nothing but what the gods are able to give us.' Hope quickens all the still parts of life, and keeps the mind awake in her most re. miss and indolent hours. It gives habitual serenity and good humour, It is a kind of vital heat in the soul, that cheers and gladdens her, when she does not attend to it. It makes pain easy, and labour pleasant.
Beside these several advantages which rise from hope, there is another which is none of the least, and that is, its great efficacy in preserving us from setting too high a value on present enjoyments. The saying of Cæsar is very well known. When he had given away all his estate in gratuities amongst his friends, one of them asked what he had left for himself; to which that great man replied, Hope.' His natural magnanimity hindered him from prizing what he was certainly possessed of, and turned all his thoughts upon something more valuable that he had in view. I question not but every reader will draw a moral from this story, and apply it to himself without my direction.
The old story of Pandora's box (which many of the learned believe was formed among the heathens upon the tradition of the fall of man) shows us how deplorable a state they thought the present life, without hope. To set forth the utmost condition of misery, they tell us, that our forefather, according to the pagan theology, had a great vessel presented him by Pandora. Upon his lifting up the lid of it, says the fable, there flew out all the calamities and distempers incident to men, from which, till that time, they had been altogether exempt. Hope, who had been inclosed in the cup with so much bad company, instead of flying off with the rest, stuck so close to the lid' of it, that it was shut down upon her.
I shall make but two reflections upon what I have hitherto said. First, that no kind of life is so happy as that which is full of hope, especially when the hope is well grounded, and when the
object of it is of an exalted kind, and in its nature proper to make the person happy who enjoys it. This proposition must be very evident to those who consider how few are the present enjoyments of the most happy man, and how insufficient to give him an entire satisfaction and acquiescence in them.
My next observation is this, that a religious life is that which most abounds in a well-grounded hope, and such an one as is fixed on objects that are capable of making us entirely happy. This hope in a religious man is much more sure and certain than the hope of any temporal blessing, as it is strengthened not only by reason, but by faith. It has at the same time its eye perpetually fixed on that state, which implies in the very notion of it the most full and complete happiness.
I have before shown how the influence of hope in general :sweetens life, and makes our present condition supportable, if not pleasing; but a religious hope has still greater advantages. It does not only bear up the mind under her sufferings, but makes her rejoice in them, as they may be the instruments of procuring her the great and ultimate end of all her hope.
Religious hope has likewise this adyantage above any other kind of hope, that it is able to revive the dying man, and to fill his mind not only with secret comfort and refreshment, but sometimes with rapture and transport. He triumphs in his agonies, whilst the soul springs forward with delight to the great object which she has always had in view, and leaves the body with an expectation of being reunited to her in a glorious and joyful resurrection.
I shall conclude this essay with those emphatical expressions of a lively hope, which the psalmist made use of in the midst of those dangers and adversities which surrounded him ; for the following passage had its present and personal, as well as its future and prophetic sense. "I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth. My Aesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life. In thy presence is fullness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for everniore.'
No. 472. MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 1712.
VIRG. Æn. iji. 660.
I RECEIVED some time ago a proposal, which had a preface to it, wherein the author discoursed at large of the innumerable objects of charity in a nation, and admonished the rich, who were afllicted with any distemper of body, particularly to regard the poor in the same species of affliction, and confine their tenderness to them, since it is impossible to assist all who are presented to them. The proposer had been relieved from a malady in his eyes by an operation performed by Sir William Read, and, being a man of condition, had taken a resolution to maintain three poor blind men dur
ing their lives, in gratitude for that great blessing. This misfortune is so very great and unfrequent, that one would think an establishment for all the poor under it might be easily accomplished, with the addition of a very few others to those wealthy who are in the same calamity. However, the thought of the proposer arose from a very good motive; and the parcelling of ourselves out, as called to particular acts of beneficence, would be a pretty cement of society and virtue. It is the ordinary foundation for men's holding a commerce with each other, and becoming familiar, that they agree in the same sort of pleasure; and sure it may also be some reason for amity, that they are under one common distress. If all the rich who are lame in the gout, from a life of ease, pleasure, and luxury, would help those few who have it without a previous life of pleasure, and add a few of such laborious men, who are become lame froin unhappy blows, falls, or other accidents of age or sickness; I say, would such gouty persons administer to the necessities of men disabled like themselves, the consciousness of such a behaviour would be the best julep, cordial, and anodyne, in the feverish, faint, and tormenting vicissitudes, of that miserable distemper. The same may be said of all other, both bodily and intellectual evils. These classes of charity would certainly bring down blessings upon an age and people ; and, if men were not petrified with the love of this world, against all sense of the commerce which ought to be among them, it would not be an unreasonable bill for a poor man in the agony of pain, aggravated by want and poverty, to draw upon a sick alderman after this form: