« VorigeDoorgaan »
CONTENTMENT produces, in some measure, all those effects which the alchemist usually ascribes to what he calls the philosopher's stone; and if it does not bring riches, it does the same thing, by banishing the desire of them. If it cannot remove the disquietudes arising out of a man's mind, body or fortune, it makes him easy under them. It has, indeed, a kindly influence on the soul of a man, in respect of every being to whom he stands related. It extinguishes all murmur, repining and ingratitude towards that Being, who has allotted him his part to act in this world. It destroys all inordinate ambition, and every tendency to corrup tion, with regard to the community wherein he is placed. It gives sweetness to his conversation, and perpetual serenity to all his thoughts.
Among the many methods which might be made use of for acquiring this virtue, shall only mention the two following. First of all, a man should always consider how much he has more than he wants; and, secondly, how much more unhappy he might be, than he really is.
First of all, a man should always consider how much he has more than he wants. I am wonderfully well pleased with the reply which Aristippus made to one who condoled him upon the loss of a farm: "Why," said he, "I have three farms still, and you have but one, so that I ought rather to be afflicted for you than you for me." On the contrary, foolish men are more apt to consider what they have lost, than what they possess ; and to fix their eyes upon those who are richer than themselves, rather than on those who are under greater difficulties. All the real pleasures and conveniencies of life lie in a narrow compass; but it is the humor of mankind to be always looking forward, and straining after one who has got the start of them in wealth and honor. For this reason, as there are none can be properly called rich who have not more than they want; there are few rich men, in any of the politer nations, but among the middle sort of people, who keep their wishes within their
fortunes, and have more wealth than they know how to enjoy. Persons of higher rank live in a kind of splendid poverty and are perpetually wanting, because, instead of acquiescing in the solid pleasures of life, they endeavor to outvie one another in shadows and appearances. Men of sense have at all times beheld, with a great deal of mirth, this silly game that is playing over their heads; and by contracting their desires, enjoy all that secret satisfaction which others are always in quest of. The truth is, this ridiculous chase after imaginary pleasure cannot be sufficiently exposed, as it is the great source of those evils which generally undo a nation. Let a man's estate be what it will, he is a poor man if he does not live within it, and naturaliy sets himself to sale to any one who can give him his price. When Pittacus, after the death of his brother, who had left him a good estate, was offered a great sum of money by the king of Lydia, he thanked him for his kindness, but told him he had already more by half than he knew what to do with. In short, content is equivalent to wealth, and luxury to poverty; or, to give the thought a more agreeable turn, "Content is natural wealth," says Socrates; to which I shall add, Luxury is artificial poverty. I shall therefore recommend to the consideration of those who are always aiming after superfluous and im aginary enjoyments, and will not be at the trouble of contracting their desires, an excellent saying of Bion the philosopher, namely, "That no man has so much care as he who endeavors after the most happiness."
In the second place every one ought to reflect how much more unhappy he might be than he really is. The former consideration took in all those who are sufficiently provided with the means to make themselves easy; this regards such as actually lie under some pressure or misfortune. These may receive great alleviation from such a comparison as the unhappy person may make between himself and others, or between the misfortune which he suffers, and greater misfortunes which might have befallen him.
I like the story of the honest Dutchman, who upon breaking his leg by a fall from the mainmast, told the
standers by, it was a great mercy it was not his neck. To which, since I am got into quotations, give me leave to add the saying of an old philosopher, who, after having invited some of his friends to dine with him, was ruffled by his wife, who came into the room in a passion, and threw down the table that stood before them: "Every one," says he," has his calamity, and he is a happy man that has no greater than this." We find an instance to the same purpose in the life of doctor Hammond, written by bishop Fell. As this good man was troubled with a complication of distempers, when he had the gout upon him, he used to thank God that it was not the stone; and, when he had the stone, that he had not both these distempers on him at the same time.
I cannot conclude this essay, without observing, that there was never any system, besides that of Christianity, which would effectually produce in the mind of man the virtue I have been hitherto speaking of. In order to make us contented with our condition, many of the present philosophers tell us, that our discontent only hurts ourselves, without being able to make any alteration in our circumfey are forothers, that whatever evil befals us is derived to usa fatal necessity, to which the gods themselves are subject; while others very gravely tell the man who is miserable, that it is necessary he should be so, to keep up the harmony of the universe, and that the scheme of Providence would be troubled and perverted were he otherwise. These, and the like considerations, rather silence than satisfy a man. They may shew him that his discontent is unreasonable, but are by no means sufficient to relieve it. They rather give despair than consolation. In a word, a man might reply to one of these comforters, as Augustus did to his friend, who advised him not to grieve for the death of a person whom he loved, because his grief could not fetch him again: "It is for that very reason," said the Emperor," that I grieve."
On the contrary, religion bears a more tender regard to human nature. It prescribes to every miserable man the means of bettering his condition: Nay it shows him that the bearing of his afflictions as he ought to do,
will naturally end in the removal of them. It makes him easy here, because it can make him happy hereafter.
XI.-Needle work recommended to the Ladies.—IB.
"I HAVE a couple of nieces under my direction, who so often run gadding abroad, that I do not know where to have them. Their dress, their tea, and their visits take up all their time, and they go to bed as tired with doing nothing as I am after quilting a whole underpetticoat. The whole time they are not idle, is while they read your Spectators; which being dedicated to the interest of virtue, I desire you to recommend the long neglected art of needlework. hours which in this age, are thrown away in dress, play, visits, and the like, were employed in my time in writing out receipts, or working beds, chairs, and hangings for the family. For my part, I have plied my needle these fifty years, and by my good will would never have it out of my hand. It grieves my heart to see a couple of proud idle flirts sipping their tea, for a whole afternoon, in a great r round with the
industry of their great grandtural weeray sir, take the Jaudable mystery of embroidery into your serious consideration, and as you have a great deal of the virtue of the last age in you, continue your endeavors to reform the present." I am, &c.
In obedience to the commands of my venerable correspondent, I have duly weighed this important subject, and promise myself from the arguments here laid down, that all the fine ladies in England will be ready, as soon as their mourning is over, to appear covered with the work of their own hands.
What a delightful entertainment must it be to the fair sex, whom their native modesty, and the tenderness of men towards them, exempts from public business, to pass their hours in imitating fruits and flowers, and transplanting all the beauties of nature into their own dress, or raising a new creation in their clothes and apartments. How pleasing is the amusement of walking among the shades and groves planted by themselves,
in surveying heroes slain by their needles,or little Cupids which they have brought into the world without pain.
This is methinks, the most proper way wherein a lady can show a fine genius, and I cannot forbear wishing that several writers of that sex, had chosen rather to apply themselves to tapestry than rhyme. Your pastoral poetesses may vent their fancy in rural landscapes, and place despairing shepherds under silken willows, or drown thein in a stream of mohair. The heroic writers may work up battles as successfully, and enflame them with gold or stain them with crimson. Even those who have only a turn to a song, or an epigram, may put many valuable stitches into a purse, and crowd a thousand graces into a pair of garters.
If I may without breach of good manners, imagine that any pretty creature is void of genius, and would perform her part herein but very awkwardly, I must nevertheless insist upon her working, if it be only to keep her out of harm's way.
Another argument for busying good women in works of fancy, is, because it takes them off from scandal, the usual attendant of teatables, and all other inactive scenes of life. While they are forming their birds and beasts, their neighbors will be allowed to be the fathers of their own children; and Whig and Tory will be but seldom mentioned, where the great dispute is whether blue or red is the more proper color. How much greater glory would Sophrona do to the general, if she would choose rather to work the battie of Blenheim in tapestry, than signalize herself, with so much vehemence, against those who are Frenchmen in their hearts.
A third reason that I shall mention, is the profit that is brought to the family where these pretty arts are encouraged. It is manifest, that this way of life not only keeps fair ladies from running out into expenses, but it is at the same time, an actual improvement. How memorable would that matron be,who shall have it inscribed upon her monument, "that she wrote out the whole Bible in tapestry, and died in a good old age, after hav