« AnteriorContinua »
he insinuates, that it is befitting or unbecoming the claritas et nitor seculi, that period of time which was made illustrious by his reign. When we cast our eyes back on the history of mankind, and trace them through their several successions to their first original, we sometimes see them breaking out in great and memorable actions, and towering up to the utmost heights of virtue and knowledge; when, perhaps, if we carry our observation to a little distance, we see them sunk into sloth and ignorance, and altogether lost in darkness and obscurity. Sometimes the whole species is asleep for two or three generations, and then again awakens into action; flourishes in heroes, philosophers, and poets, who do honour to human nature, and leave such tracks of glory behind them, as distinguish the years, in which they acted their part, from the ordinary course of time.
Methinks a man cannot, without a secret satisfaction, consider the glory of the present age, which will shine as bright as any other in the history of mankind. It is still big with great events, and has already produced changes and revolutions, which will be as much admired by posterity, as any that have happened in the days of our fathers, or in the old times before them.' We have seen kingdoms divided and united, monarchs erected and deposed, nations transferred from one sovereign to another; conquerors raised to such a greatness, as has given a terror to Europe, and thrown down by such a fall, as has moved their pity.
But it is still a more pleasing view to an Englishman, to see his own country give the chief influence to so illustrious an age, and stand in the strongest point of light, amidst the diffused glory that surrounds it.
If we begin with learned men, we may observe,
to the honour of our country, that those who make the greatest figure in most arts and sciences, are universally allowed to be of the British nation; and what is more remarkable, that men of the greatest learning, are among the men of the greatest quality.
A nation may, indeed, abound with persons of such uncommon parts and worth, as may make them rather a misfortune than a blessing to the public. Those, who singly might have been of infinite advantage to the age they live in, may, by rising up together in the same crisis of time, and by interfering in their pursuits of honour, rather interrupt, than promote the service of their country. Of this we have a famous instance in the republic of Rome, when Cæsar, Pompey, Cato, Cicero, and Brutus, endeavoured to recommend themselves at the same time to the admiration of their contemporaries. Mankind was not able to provide for so many extraordinary persons at once, or find out posts suitable to their ambition and abilities. For this reason they were all as miserable in their deaths, as they were famous in their lives, and occasioned not only the ruin of each other, but also that of the commonwealth.
It is, therefore, a particular happiness to a people, when the men of superior genius and character are so justly disposed in the high places of honour, that each of them moves in a sphere which is proper to him, and requires those particular qualities in which he excels.
If I see a general commanding the forces of his country, whose victories are not to be paralleled in story, and who is as famous for his negociations as his victories*; and at the same time see the manage
* The duke of Marlborough, commander in chief of her Majesty's forces.
ment of a nation's treasury in the hands of one, has always distinguished himself by a generous contempt of his own private wealth, and an exact frugality of that which belongs to the public; I cannot but think a people under such an administration may promise themselves conquest abroad, and plenty at home. If I were to wish for a proper person to preside over the public councils, it should certainly be one as much admired for his universal knowledge of men and things, as for his eloquence, courage, and integrity, in the exerting of such extraordinary talents t.
Who is not pleased to see a person in the highest station in the law, who was the most eminent in his profession, and the most accomplished orator at the bart? Or at the head of the fleet a commander, under whose conduct the common enemy received such a blow, as he has never been able to recover§?
Were we to form to ourselves the idea of one, whom we should think proper to govern a distant kingdom, consisting chiefly of those who differ from us in religion, and are influenced by foreign politics; would it not be such a one, as had signalized himself by an uniform and unshaken zeal for the Protestant interest, and by his dexterity in defeating the skill and artifice of its enemies ||? In short, if we find a great man popular for his honesty and hu
* Sidney lord Godolphin was then lord high-treasurer of England.
+ The great lord Somers was at this time lord president of the
Lord Chancellor Cowper is here alluded to.
Edward Russel, earl of Orford, first lord commissioner of the Admiralty.
Thomas, earl of Wharton, had recently been honoured with the title of lord-lieutenant of Ireland; Addison was his secretary.
manity, as well as famed for his learning and great skill in all the languages of Europe, or a person eminent for those qualifications, which make men shine in public assemblies, or for that steadiness, constancy, and good sense, which carry a man to the desired point through all the opposition of tumult and prejudice, we have the happiness to behold them all in posts suitable to their characters.
Such a constellation of great persons, if I may so speak, while they shine out in their own distinct capacities, reflect a lustre upon each other, but in a more particular manner on their sovereign, who has placed them in those proper situations, by which their virtues become so beneficial to all her subjects. It is the anniversary of the birth-day of this glorious queen, which naturally led me into this field of contemplation, and, instead of joining in the public exultations that are made on such occasions, to entertain my thoughts with the more serious pleasure of ruminating upon the glories of her reign.
While I behold her surrounded with triumphs, and adorned with all the prosperity and success which Heaven ever shed on a mortal, and still considering herself as such; though the person appears to me exceeding great, that has these just honours paid to her; yet, I must confess, she appears much greater in that she receives them with such a glorious humility, and shows she has no further regard for them, than as they arise from these great events, which have made her subjects happy. For my own part, I must confess, when I see private virtues in so high a degree of perfection, I am not astonished at any extraordinary success that attends them, but look upon public triumphs as the natural consequences of religious retirements.
Finding some persons have mistaken Pasquin, who was mentioned in my last, for one who has been pilloried at Rome, I must here advertise them, that it is only a maimed statue so called, on which the private scandal of that city is generally pasted. Marforio is a person of the same quality, who is usually made to answer whatever is published by the other; the wits of that place, like too many of our own country, taking pleasure in setting innocent people together by the ears. The mentioning of this person, who is a great wit, and a great cripple, put me in mind of Mr. Estcourt, who is under the same circumstances. He was formerly my apothecary, and being at present disabled by the gout and stone, I must recommend him to the public on Thursday next; that admirable play of Ben Jonson's, called The Silent Woman, being appointed to be acted for his benefit. It would be indecent for me to appear twice in a season at these ludicrous diversions; but as I always give my man and my maid one day in the year, I shall allow them this, and am promised by Mr. Estcourt, my ingenious apothecary, that they shall have a place kept for them in the first row of the middle gallery.