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this in the last act of Venice Preserved, where Pierre is brought to an infamous execution, and begs of his friend, as a reparation for past injuries, and the only favour he could do him, to rescue him from the ignominy of the wheel, by stabbing him. As he is going to make this dreadful request, he is not able to communicate it, but withdraws his face from his friend's ear, and bursts into tears. The melancholy silence that follows hereupon, and continues till he has recovered himself enough to reveal his mind to his friend, raises in the spectators a grief that is inexpressible, and an idea of such a complicated distress in the actor as words cannot utter. It would look as ridiculous to many readers to give rules and directions for proper silences, as for “ penning a whisper:" but it is certain, that in the extremity of most passions, particularly surprise, admiration, astonishment, nay, rage itself, there is nothing more graceful than to see the play stand for a few moments, and the audience fixed in an agreeable suspense during the silence of a skilful
But silence never shows itself to so great an advantage, as when it is made the reply to calumny and defamation, provided that we give no just occasion for them. We might produce an example of it in the behaviour of one in whom it appeared in all its majesty, and one whose silence, as well as his person, was altogether divine. When one considers this subject only in its sublimity, this great instance could not but occur to me; and since I only make use of it to show the highest example of it, I hope I do not offend in it. To forbear replying to an unjust reproach, and overlook it with a generous, or (if possible) with an entire neglect of it, is one of the most heroic acts of a great mind. And I must confess, when I reflect upon the behaviour of some of the greatest men of antiquity, I do not so much admire them that they deserved the praise of the whole age they lived in, as because they contemned the envy and detraction of it.
All this is incumbent on a man of worth, who suffers under so ill a treatment, is to lie by for some time in silence and obscurity, till the prejudice of the times be over, and his reputation cleared. I have often read, with a great deal of pleasure, a legacy of the famous Lord Bacon, one of the greatest geniuses that our own or any country has produced: after having bequeathed his soul, body, and estate, in the
usual form, he adds, "My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, and to my countrymen, after some time be passed over."
At the same time that I recommend this philosophy to others, I must confess, I am so poor a proficient in it myself, that if in the course of my lucubrations it happens, as it has done more than once, that my paper is duller than in conscience it ought to be, I think the time an age till I have an opportunity of putting out another, and growing famous again for two days.
I must not close my discourse upon silence, without informing my reader, that I have by me an elaborate treatise on the aposiopesis called an Et cætera, it being a figure much used by some learned authors, and particularly by the great Littleton, who, as my Lord Chief Justice Coke observes, had a most admirable talent at an &c.
No. 146. THURSDAY, MARCH 16, 1709.
Permittes ipsis expendere numinibus, quid
From my own Apartment, March 15. AMONG the various sets of correspondents who apply to me for advice, and send up their cases from all parts of Great Britain, there are none who are more importunate with me, and whom I am more inclined to answer, than the Complainers. One of them dates his letter to me from the banks of a purling stream, where he used to ruminate in solitude upon the divine Clarissa, and where he is now looking about for a convenient leap, which he tells me he is resolved to take, unless I support him under the loss of that charming perjured woman. Poor Lavinia presses as much for consolation on the other side, and is reduced to such an extremity of despair by the inconstancy of Philander, that she tells me she writes her letter with her pen in one hand, and her garter in the other. A gentleman of an ancient family in
Norfolk is almost out of his wits upon account of a greyhound, that, after having been his inseparable companion for ten years, is at last run mad. Another (who I believe is serious) complains to me, in a very moving manner, of the loss of a wife; and another, in terms still more moving, of a purse of money that was taken from him on Bagshot Heath, and which, he tells me, would not have troubled him if he had given it to the poor. In short, there is scarce a calamity in human life that has not produced me a letter.
It is, indeed, wonderful to consider, how men are able to raise affliction to themselves out of everything. Lands and houses, sheep and oxen, can convey happiness and misery into the hearts of reasonable creatures. Ñay, I have known a muff, a scarf, or a tippet, become a solid blessing or misfortune. A lap-dog has broke the hearts of thousands. Flavia, who had buried five children, and two husbands, was never able to get over the loss of her parrot. How often has a divine creature been thrown into a fit, by a neglect at a ball or an assembly! Mopsa has kept her chamber ever since the last masquerade, and is in greater danger of her life upon being left out of it, than Clarinda from the violent cold which she caught at it. Nor are these dear creatures the only sufferers by such imaginary calamities: many an author has been dejected at the censure of one whom he ever looked upon as an idiot; and many a hero cast into a fit of melancholy, because the rabble have not hooted at him as he passed through the streets. Theron places all his happiness in a running horse, Suffenus in a gilded chariot, Fulvius in a blue string, and Florio in a tulip-root. It would be endless to enumerate the many fantastical afflictions that disturb mankind; but as a misery is not to be measured from the nature of the evil, but from the temper of the sufferer, I shall present my readers, who are unhappy either in reality or imagination, with an allegory, for which I am indebted to the great father and prince of poets.
As I was sitting after dinner in my elbow chair, I took up Homer, and dipped into that famous speech of Achilles to Priam, in which he tells him, that Jupiter has by him two great vessels, the one filled with blessings, and the other with misfortunes; out of which he mingles a composition for every man that comes into the world. This passage so exceedingly pleased me, that as I fell insensibly into my after
noon's slumber, it wrought my imagination into the following dream.
When Jupiter took into his hands the government of the world, the several parts of nature, with the presiding deities, did homage to him. One presented him with a mountain of winds, another with a magazine of hail, and a third with a pile of thunder-bolts. The stars offered up their influences, the ocean gave in his trident, the earth her fruits, and the sun his seasons. Among the several deities who came to make their court on this occasion, the Destinies advanced with two great tuns carried before them, one of which they fixed at the right hand of Jupiter as he sat upon his throne, and the other on his left. The first was filled with all the blessings, and the other with all the calamities, of human life. Jupiter, in the beginning of his reign, finding the world much more innocent than it is in this iron age, poured very plentifully out of the tun that stood at his right hand; but as mankind degenerated, and became unworthy of his blessings, he set abroach the other vessel, that filled the world with pain and poverty, battles and distempers, jealousy and falsehood, intoxicating pleasures and untimely deaths.
He was at length so very much incensed at the great depravation of human nature, and the repeated provocations which he received from all parts of the earth, that having resolved to destroy the whole species, except Deucalion and Pyrrha, he commanded the Destinies to gather up the blessings which he had thrown away upon the sons of men, and lay them up till the world should be inhabited by a more virtuous and deserving race of mortals.
The three sisters immediately repaired to the earth, in search of the several blessings that had been scattered on it; but found the task which was enjoined them to be much more difficult than they had imagined. The first places they resorted to, as the most likely to succeed in, were cities, palaces, and courts; but instead of meeting with what they looked for here, they found nothing but envy, repining, uneasiness, and the like bitter ingredients of the left-hand vessel. Whereas, to their great suprise, they discovered content, cheerfulness, health, innocence, and other the most substantial blessings of life, in cottages, shades, and solitudes.
There was another circumstance no less unexpected than the former, and which gave them very great perplexity in the
discharge of the trust which Jupiter had committed to them. They observed, that several blessings had degenerated into calamities, and that several calamities had improved into blessings, according as they fell into the possession of wise or foolish men. They often found power with so much insolence and impatience cleaving to it, that it became a misfortune to the person on whom it was conferred. Youth had often distempers growing about it, worse than the infirmities of old age: wealth was often united to such a sordid avarice, as made it the most uncomfortable and painful kind of poverty. On the contrary, they often found pain made glorious by fortitude, poverty lost in content, deformity beautified with virtue. In a word, the blessings were often like good fruits planted in a bad soil, that by degrees fall off from their natural relish, into tastes altogether insipid or unwholesome; and the calamities, like harsh fruits, cultivated in a good soil, and enriched by proper grafts and inoculation, till they swell with generous and delightful juices.
There was still a third circumstance that occasioned as great a surprise to the three sisters as either of the foregoing, when they discovered several blessings and calamities which had never been in either of the tuns that stood by the throne of Jupiter, and were nevertheless as great occasions of happiness or misery as any there. These were that spurious crop of blessings and calamities which were never sown by the hand of the Deity, but grow of themselves out of the fancies and dispositions of human creatures. Such are dress, titles, place, equipage, false shame, and groundless fear, with the like vain imaginations that shoot up in trifling, weak, and irresolute minds.
The Destinies finding themselves in so great a perplexity, concluded, that it would be impossible for them to execute the commands that had been given them according to their first intention; for which reason they agreed to throw all the blessings and calamities together into one large vessel, and in that manner offer them up at the feet of Jupiter.
This was performed accordingly, the eldest sister presenting herself before the vessel, and introducing it with an apology for what they had done.
"O Jupiter! (says she,) we have gathered together all the good and evil, the comforts and distresses of human life, which we thus present before thee in one promiscuous heap.