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No. 598. FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 1714.
Jamne igitur laudas, quod de sapientibus alter
Will ye not now the pair of sages praise,
MANKINI ANKIND may be divided into the merry and the serious, who, both of them make a very good figure in the species so long as they keep their respective humours from degenerating into the neighbouring extreme; there being a natural tendency in the one to a melancholy moroseness, and in the other to a fantastic levity.
The merry part of the world are very amiable, while they diffuse a cheerfulness through conversation at proper seasons and on proper occasions; but, on the contrary, a great grievance to society when they infect every discourse with insipid mirth, and turn into ridicule such subjects as are not suited to it. For though laughter is looked upon by the philosophers as the property of reason, the excess of it has been always considered as the mark of folly.
On the other side, seriousness has its beauty whilst it is attended with cheerfulness and humanity, and does not come in unseasonably to pall the good humour of those with whom we converse.
These two sets of men, notwithstanding they each of them shine in their respective characters, are apt to bear a natural aversion and antipathy to one another.
What is more usual than to hear men of serious tempers, and austere morals, enlarging upon the vanities and follies of the young and gay part of the species, while they look with a kind of horror upon such pomps and diversions as are innocent in themselves, and only culpable when they draw the mind too much?
I could not but smile upon reading a passage in the account which Mr. Baxter gives of his own life, wherein
he represents it as a great blessing that in his youth he very narrowly escaped getting a place at court.
It must indeed be confessed that levity of temper takes a man off his guard, and opens a pass to his soul for any temptation that assaults it. It favours all the approaches of vice, and weakens all the resistance of virtue: for which reason a renowned statesman in queen Elizabeth's days, after having retired from court and public business, in order to give himself up to the duties of religion, when any of his old friends used to visit him, had still this word of advice in his mouth,' be serious.'
An eminent Italian author of this cast of mind, speaking of the great advantage of a serious and composed temper, wishes very gravely that for the benefit of mankind he had Trophonius's cave in his possession; which, says he, would contribute more to the reformation of manners than all the workhouses and bridewells in Europe.
We have a very particular description of this cave in Pausanias, who tells us that it was made in the form of a huge oven, and had many particular circumstances, which disposed the person who was in it to be more pensive and thoughtful than ordinary; insomuch that no man was ever observed to laugh all his life after, who had once made his entry into this cave. It was usual in those times, when any one carried a more than ordinary gloominess in his features, to tell him that he looked like one just come out of Trophonius's cave.
On the other hand, writers of a more merry complexion have been no less severe on the opposite party; and have had one advantage above them, that they have attacked them with more turns of wit and humour.
After all, if a man's temper was at his own disposal, I think he would not choose to be of either of these parties; since the most perfect character is that which is formed out of both of them. A man would neither choose to be a hermit nor a buffoon: human nature is not so miserable, as that we should be always melancholy; nor so happy, as that we should be always merry. In a word, a man should not live as if there was no God in the world; nor at the same time, as if there were no men in it.
No. 599. MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 1714.
Luctus, ubique pavor.
VIRG. Æn. ii. ver. 369.
All parts resound with tumults, plaints, and fears.
T has been my custom, as I grew old, to allow myself in some little indulgencies, which I never took in my youth. Among others is that of an afternoon's nap, which I fell into in the fifty-fifth year of my age, and have continued for the three years last past. By this means I enjoy a double morning, and rise twice a-day fresh to my speculations. It happens very luckily for me, that some of my dreams have proved instructive to my countrymen, so that I may be said to sleep as well as to wake, for the good of the public. I was yesterday meditating on the account with which I have already entertained my readers concerning the cave of Trophonius. I was no sooner fallen into my usual slumber, but I dreamed that this cave was put into my possession, and that I gave public notice of its virtue, inviting every one to it who had a mind to be a serious man for the remaining part of his life. Great multitudes immediately resorted to me. The first who made the experiment was a Merry-andrew, who was put into my hands by a neighbouring justice of peace, in order to reclaim him from that profligate kind of life. Poor Pickle-herring had not taken above one turn in it, when he came out of the cave, Mike a hermit from his cell, with a penitential look and a most rueful countenance. I then put in a young laughing fop, and, watching for his return, asked him with a smile, how he liked the place? He replied, Pr'ythee, friend, be not impertinent;' and stalked by me as grave as a judge. A citizen then desired me to give free ingress and egress to his wife, who was dressed in the gayest coloured ribbons I had ever seen. She went in with a flirt of her fan and a smirking countenance, but came out with the severity of a vestal; and, throwing from her
several female gewgaws, told me with a sigh, that she resolved to go into deep mourning, and to wear black all the rest of her life, As I had had many coquettes recommended to me by their parents, their husbands, and their lovers, I let them in all at once, desiring them to divert themselves together as well as they could. Upon their emerging again into day-light, you would have fancied my cave to have been a nunnery, and that you had seen a solemn procession of religious marching out, one behind another, in the most profound silence and the most exemplary decency. As I was very much delighted with so edifying a sight, there came towards me a great company of males and females, laughing, singing, and dancing, in such a manner, that I could hear them a great while before I saw them. Upon my asking their leader what brought them thither? they told me all at once that they were French protestants lately arrived in Great Bri tain, and that, finding themselves of too gay a humour for my country, they applied themselves to me, in order to compose them for British conversation. I told them, that to indulge them, I would soon spoil their mirth; upon which I admitted a whole shoal of them, who, af ter having taken a survey of the place, came out in very good order, and with looks entirely English. I afterwards put in a Dutchman, who had a great fancy to see the kelder, as he called it, but I could not observe that it had made any manner of alteration in him.
A comedian, who had gained great reputation in parts of humour, told me that he had a mighty mind to act Alexander the Great, and fancied that he should succeed very well in it if he could strike two or three laughing features out of his face. He tried the experiment, but contracted so very solid a look by it, that I am afraid he will be fit for no part hereafter but a Timon of Athens, or a Mute in the Funeral.
I then clapped up an empty fantastic citizen, in order to qualify him for an alderman. He was succeeded by a young rake of the Middle Temple, who was brought to me by his grandmother; but, to her great sorrow and surprise, he came out a quaker. Seeing myself surrounded with a body of freethinkers and scoffers at religion, who were making themselves merry at the sober looks and thoughtful brows of those who had been in the cave,
I thrust them all in, one after another, and locked the door upon them. Upon my opening it, they all looked as if they had been frightened out of their wits, and were marching away with ropes in their hands to a wood that was within sight of the place. I found they were not able to bear themselves in their first serious thoughts; but, knowing these would quickly bring them to a better frame of mind, I gave them into the custody of their friends till that happy change was wrought in them.
The last that was brought to me was a young woman, who at the first sight of my short face fell into an immoderate fit of laughter, and was forced to hold her sides all the while her mother was speaking to me. Upon this I interrupted the old lady, and, taking her daughter by the hand, Madam,' said I,' be pleased to retire into my closet while your mother tells me your case. I then put her into the mouth of the cave, when the mother, after having begged pardon for the girl's rudeness, told me that she often treated her father and the gravest of her relations in the same manner: that she would sit giggling and laughing with her companions from one end of a tragedy to the other; nay, that she would sometimes burst out in the middle of a sermon, and set the whole congregation a staring at her. The mother was going on, when the young lady came out of the cave to us with a composed countenance and a low curtsey. She was a girl of such exuberant mirth that her visit to Trophonius only reduced her to a more than ordinary decency of behaviour, and made a very pretty prude of her. After having performed innumerable cures, I looked about me with great satisfaction, and saw all my patients walking by themselves in a very pensive and musing posture, so that the whole place seemed covered with philosophers. I was at length resolved to go into the cave myself, and see what it was that had produced such wonderful effects upon the company: but as I was stooping at the entrance, the door being somewhat low, I gave such a nod in my chair, that I awaked. After having recovered myself from my first startle, I was very well pleased at the accident which had befallen me, as not knowing but a little stay in the place might have spoiled my Spectators.