« VorigeDoorgaan »
• Another inquires, whether she hath not the right of widowhood, to dispose of herself to a gentleman of great merit, who presses very hard; her husband being irreco-verably gone in a consumption?
An unreasonable creature hath the confidence to ask, whether it be proper for her to marry a man who is younger than her eldest son?
A scrupulous well-spoken matron, who gives me a great many good words, only doubts whether she is not obliged in conscience to shut up her two marriageable daughters, until such time as she hath comfortably disposed of herself?
Sophronia, who seems by her phrase and spelling to be a person of condition, sets forth, that whereas she hath a great estate, and is but a woman, she desires to be informed whether she would not do prudently to marry Camillus, a very idle tall young fellow, who hath no fortune of his own, and consequently hath nothing else to do but to manage hers.'
Before I speak of widows, I cannot but observe one thing, which I do not know how to account for; a widow is always more sought after than an old maid of the same age. It is common enough among ordinary people, for a stale virgin to set up a shop in a place where she is not known; where the large thumb ring, supposed to be given her by her husband, quickly recommends her to some wealthy neighbour, who takes a liking to the jolly widow, that would have overlooked the venerable spinster.
The truth of it is, if we look into this set of women, we find, according to the different characters or circumstances wherein they are left, that widows may be divided into those who raise love, and those who raise compassion.
But not to ramble from this subject, there are two things in which consists chiefly the glory of a widow-the love. of her deceased husband, and the care of her children; to which may be added a third, arising out of the former, such a prudent conduct as may do honour to both.
A widow possessed of all these three qualities, makes not only a virtuous but a sublime character.
There is something so great and so generous in this state of life, when it is accompanied with all its virtues.
that it is the subject of one of the finest among our modern tragedies in the person of Andromache, and has met with an universal and deserved applause, when introduced upon our English stage by Mr. Philips.
The most memorable widow in history is Queen Artemisia, who not only erected the famous mausoleum, but drank up the ashes of her dead lord; thereby enclosing them in a nobler monument than that which she had built, though deservedly esteemed one of the wonders of architecture.
This last lady seems to have had a better title to a second husband than any I have read of, since not one dust of her first was remaining. Our modern heroines might think a husband a very bitter draught, and would have good reason to complain, if they might not accept of a second partner, until they had taken such a troublesome method of losing the memory of the first.
I shall add to these illustrious examples out of ancient story, a remarkable instance of the delicacy of our ancestors in relation to the state of widowhood, as I find it recorded in Cowell's Interpreter. At East and West Enborne, in the County of Berks, if a customary tenant die, the widow shall have what the law calls her freebench in all his copyhold lands, dum sola et casta fuerit; that is, while she lives single and chaste; but if she commit incontinency she forfeits her estate; yet if she will come into the court, riding backward upon a black ram, with his tail in her hand, and say the words following, the steward is bound by the custom to re-admit her to her freebench*:
*See Jacob's Law Dictionary, art. Free-bench.-Frank Bank or Free-bench, [Sedes Libera, or in Law-Latin Francus Bancus,] is that estate in copy hold lands, which the wife, being married a virgin, hath after the decease of her husband for her dower. Fitzherbert calls this a custom by which in some cities the wife shall have alt the lands of her husband for dower.-Les Termes de la Ley, ed. 667, p. 575.
And for my tail's game,
Have done this worldly shame;
The like custom there is in the manor of Torre, in Devonshire, and other parts of the West.
It is not impossible but I may in a little time present you with a register of Berkshire ladies, and other western dames, who rode publicly upon this occasion; and I hope the town will be entertained with a cavalcade of widows*.
No. 615. WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1714.
HOR. Od. ix. 1. 4. ver. 47.
Who spend their treasure freely, as 'twas giv'n
Smile at the doubtful tide of fate,
But kindly for their friend embrace cold death,
Ir T must be owned that fear is a very powerful passion, since it is esteemed one of the greatest of virtues to subdue it. It being implanted in us for our preservation, it is no wonder that it sticks close to us as long as we have
* See NO. 623. The custom in the manors of East and West Enborne, of Torre, and other parts in the west of England, is a kind of penance among jocular tenures, to purge the offence, and has there it seems the force and validity of statute law. Jacob's Dict, ut supra, edit. 1736, in folio.
any thing we are willing to preserve. But as life, and all its enjoyments, would be scarce worth the keeping, if we were under a perpetual dread of losing them, it is the business of religion and philosophy to free us from all unnecessary anxieties, and direct our fear to its proper object.
If we consider the painfulness of this passion, and the violent effects it produces, we shall see how dangerous it is to give way to it upon slight occasions. Some have frightened themselves into madness, others have given up their lives to these apprehensions. The story of a man who grew grey in the space of one night's anxiety is very famous.
"O! nox quam longa es, quæ facis una senen!
A tedious night indeed, that makes a young man old !"
These apprehensions, if they proceed from a consciousness of guilt, are the sad warnings of reason; and may excite our pity, but admit of no remedy. When the hand of the Almighty is visibly lifted against the impious, the heart of mortal man cannot withstand him. We have this passion sublimely represented in the punishment of the Egyptians, tormented with the plague of darkness, in the apocryphal book of Wisdom, ascribed to Solomon.
For when unrighteous men thought to oppress the holy nation; they being shut up in their houses, the prisoners of darkness, and fettered with the bonds of a long night, lay there exiled from the eternal Providence. For while they supposed to lie hid in their secret sins, they were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being horribly astonished and troubled with strange apparitions. -For wickedness, condemned by her own witnesses, is very timorous, and, being oppressed with conscience, always forecasteth grievous things. For fear is nothing else but a betraying of the succours which reason offereth -For the whole world shineth with clear light, and none were hindered in their labour. Over them only was spread a heavy night, an image of that darkness which should afterwards receive them; but yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness *.'
Wisd. xvii. passim.
To fear so justly grounded, no remedy can be proposed; but a man (who hath not great guilt hanging upon his mind, who walks in the plain path of justice and integrity, and yet, either by natural complexion or confirmed prejudices, or neglect of serious reflection, suffers himself to be moved by this abject and unmanly passion) would do well to consider that there is nothing which deserves his fear, but that beneficent Being who is his friend, his protector, his father. Were this one thought strongly fixed in the mind, what calamity would be dreadful? What load can infamy lay upon us when we are sure of the approbation of him who will repay the disgrace of a moment with the glory of eternity? What sharpness is there in pain and diseases, when they only hasten us on to the pleasures that will never fade? What sting is in death, when we are assured that it is only the beginning of life? A man who lives so, as not to fear to die, is inconsistent with himself if he delivers himself up to any incidental anxiety.
The intrepidity of a just good man is so nobly set forth by Horace, that it cannot be too often repeated:
"The man resolv'd, and steady to his trust,
'Not the rough whirlwind that deforms
Should the whole frame of nature round him break,
In ruin and confusion hurl'd,
He, unconcern'd, would hear the mighty crack,
The vanity of fear may be yet farther illustrated if we reflect,
First, What we fear may not come to pass. No human scheme can be so accurately projected, but some little