« AnteriorContinua »
examined all that can be said for and against it. And, in the mean time, think fit to give this notice to the fair ladies who are now making up their winter suits, that they may abstain from all dresses of that kind, until they shall find what judgment will be passed upon them; for it would very much trouble me, that they should put themselves to an unnecessary expense; and I could not but think myself to blame, if I should hereafter forbid them the wearing of such garments, when they have laid out money upon them, without having given them any previous admonition.
N. B. A letter of the sixteenth instant about one of the fifth, will be answered according to the desire of the party, which he will see in a few days.
No 111. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24, 1709.
-Procul, 0! Procul, este profani!-VIRG. Æn. vi. 258.
Sheer-lane, December 23. The watchman, who does me particular honours, as being the chief man in the lane, gave so very great a thump at my door last night, that I awakened at the knock, and heard myself complimented with the usual salutation of, 'Good-morrow, Mr. Bickerstaff; good-morrow, my masters all.' The silence and darkness of the night disposed me to be more than ordinarily serious ; and as my attention was not drawn out among exterior objects by the avocations of sense, my thoughts naturally fell upon myself. I was considering, amidst the stillness of the night, what was the proper employment of a thinking being? what were the perfections it should propose to itself? and what the end it should aim at? My mind is of such a particular cast, that the falling of a shower of rain, or the whistling of wind, at such a time, is apt to fill my thoughts with something awful and solemn. I was in this disposition, when our bellman began his midnight homily, which he has been repeating to us every winter-night for these twenty years, with the usual exordium:
Oh! mortal man, thou that art born in sin! Sentiments of this nature, which are in themselves just and reasonable, however debased by the circumstances that accompany them, do not fail to produce their natural effect in a mind that is not perverted and depraved by wrong notions of gallantry, politeness, and ridicule.
The temper which I now found myself in, as well as the time of the year, put me in mind of those lines in Shakspeare, wherein, according to his agreeable wildness of imagination, he has wrought a country tradition into a beautiful piece of poetry. In the tragedy of Hamlet, where the ghost vanishes upon the cock's crowing, he takes occasion to mention its crowing all hours of the night about Christmas time, and to insinuate a kind of religious veneration for that season.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time. This admirable author, as well as the best and greatest men of all ages, and of all nations, seems to have had his mind thoroughly seasoned with religion, as is evident by many passages in his plays, that would not be suffered by a modern audience; and are, therefore, certain instances that the age he lived in had a much greater sense of virtue than the present.
It is indeed a melancholy reflection to consider that the British nation, which is now at a greater height of glory for its councils and conquests than it ever was before, should distinguish itself by a certain looseness of principles, and a falling off from those schemes of thinking, which conduce to the happiness and perfection of human naturé. This evil comes upon us from the works of a few solemn blockheads, that meet together, with the zeal and seriousness of apostles, to extirpate common sense, and propagate infidelity. These are the wretches, who, without any show of wit, learning, or reason, publish their crude conceptions with an ambition of appearing more wise than the rest of mankind, upon no other pretence than that of dissenting from them. One gets by heart a catalogue of titlepages and editions; and, immediately, to become conspicuous, declares that he is an unbeliever. Another knows how to write a receipt, or cut up a dog, and forthwith argues against the immortality of the soul. I have known many a little wit, in the ostentation of his parts, rally the truth of the Scripture, who was not able to read a chapter in it. These poor wretches talk blasphemy for want of discourse, and are rather the objects of scorn or pity, than our indignation; but the grave disputant, that reads and writes, and spends all his time in convincing himself and the world that he is no better than a brute, ought to be whipped out of a government, as a blot to civil society, and a defamer of mankind. I love to consider an infidel, whether distinguished by the title of deist, atheist, or freethinker, in three dif,
ferent lights, in his solitudes, his afflictions, and his last moments.
A wise man, that lives up to the principles of reason and virtue, if one considers him in his solitude, as in taking in the system of the universe, observing the mutual dependance and harmony, by which the whole frame of it hangs together, beating down his passions, or swelling his thoughts with magnificent ideas of providence, makes a nobler figure in the eye of an intelligent being, than the greatest conqueror amidst all the pomps and solemnities of a triumph. On the contrary, there is not a more ridiculous animal than an atheist in his retirement. His mind is incapable of rapture or elevation. He can only consider himself as an insignificant figure in a landscape, and wandering up and down in a field or a meadow, under the same terms as the meanest animals about him, and as subject to as total a mortality as they; with this aggravation, that he is the only one amongst them, who lies under the apprehension of it.
In distresses, he must be of all creatures the most helpless and forlorn ; he feels the whole pressure of a present calamity, without being relieved by the memory of any thing past, or the prospect of any thing that is to come.
Annihilation is the greatest blessing that he proposes to himself, and a halter or a pistol the only refuge he can fly to. But, if you would behold one of these gloomy miscreants in his poorest figure, you must consider him under the terrors, or at the approach, of death.
About thirty years ago I was a-shipboard with one of these vermin, when there arose a brisk gale which could frighten nobody but himself. Upon the rolling of the ship, he fell upon his knees, and confessed to the chaplain, that he had been a vile atheist, and had denied a Supreme Being ever since he came to his estate.' The good man was astonished, and a report immediately ran through the ship, that there was an atheist upon
upperdeck. Several of the common seamen who had never heard the word before, thought it had been some strange fish ; but they were more surprised when they saw it was a man, and heard out of his own mouth, that he never believed until that day that there was a God. As he lay in the agonies of confession, one of the honest tars whispered to the boatswain, that it would be a good deed to heave him overboard.' But we were now within sight of port, when of a sudden the wind fell, and the
penitent relapsed, begging all of us that were present,
as we were gentlemen, not to say any thing of what had passed.?
He had not been ashore above two days, when one of the company began to rally him upon his devotion on shipboard, which the other denied in so high terms, that it produced the lie on both sides, and ended in a duel. The atheist was run through the body, and, after some loss of blood, became as good a Christian as he was at sea, until he found that his wound was not mortal. He is at present one of the freethinkers of the
and now writing a pamphlet against several received opinions concerning the existence of fairies.
As I have taken upon me to censure the faults of the
age and country in which I live, I should have thought myself inexcusable to have passed over this crying one, which is the subject of my present discourse. I shall, therefore, from time to time, give my countrymen particular cautions against this distemper of the mind, that is almost become fashionable, and by that means more likely to spread. I have somewhere either read or heard a very memorable sentence, that a man would be a most in