Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

I have frequently compared the understandings of such men to their own glasses. Their field of vision is too contracted to take in the whole of any but minute objects; they view all nature bit by

The coquette, therefore, in some measure influenc-| Another shall swell his works with a description ed by the innocence of his looks, ventured to con- of the plumage on the wing of a butterfly; a third tradict her companion. "Upon my word, sister," shall see a little world on a peach leaf, and publish says she, "I see nothing in the animal so very ter- a book to describe what his readers might see more rible as you are pleased to apprehend; I think it clearly in two minutes, only by being furnished may serve well enough for a change. Always with eyes and a microscope. sharks, and sturgeons, and lobsters, and crawfish, make me quite sick. I fancy a slice of this, nicely grilladed, and dressed up with shrimp sauce, would be very pretty eating. I fancy mamma would like a bit with pickles above all things in the world; and bit; now the proboscis, now the antennæ, now the if it should not sit easy on her stomach, it will be time the pinne, of-a flea! Now the polypus comes enough to discontinue it when found disagreeable, to break fast upon a worm; now it is kept up to see you know." "Horrid!" cries the prude, "would how long it will live without eating; now it is the girl be poisoned? I tell you it is a Tanlang; turned inside outward, and now it sickens and I have read of it in twenty places. It is every dies. Thus they proceed, laborious in trifles, con where described as the most pernicious animal that stant in experiment, without one single abstrac ever infested the ocean. I am certain it is the most tion, by which alone knowledge may be properly insidious ravenous creature in the world; and is said to increase; till last their leas, ever emcertain destruction if taken internally." The ployed upon minute things, contract to the size of youngest sister was now therefore obliged to sub- the diminutive object, and a single mite shall fill mit: both assisted in drawing the hook with some the whole mind's capacity. violence from the diver's jaw; and he, finding himself at liberty, bent his breast against the broad wave, and disappeared in an instant.

Yet, believe me, my friend, ridiculous as these men are to the world, they are set up as objects of esteem for each other. They have particular Just at this juncture the mother came down to places appointed for their meetings; in which one the beach, to know the cause of her daughters shows his cockle-shell, and is praised by all the delay; they told her every circumstance, describ- society; another produces his powder, makes some ing the monster they had caught. The old lady experiments that result in nothing, and comes off was one of the most discreet women in the world; with admiration and applause: a third comes out she was called the black-eyed princess, from two with the important discovery of some new process black eyes she had received in her youth, being a in the skeleton of a mole, and is set down as the ittle addicted to boxing in her liquor. "Alas, my accurate and sensible; while one, still more fortuchildren," cries she, "what have you done? the nate than the rest, by pickling, potting, and prefish you caught was a man-fish; one of the most serving monsters, rises into unbounded reputation. tame domestic animals in the world. We could The labours of such men, instead of being calhave let him run and play about the garden, and culated to amuse the public, are laid out only in he would have been twenty times more entertain-diverting each other. The world becomes very ing than our squirrel or monkey."-"If that be little the better or the wiser, for knowing what is all," says the young coquette, "we will fish for the peculiar food of an insect, that is itself the him again. If that be all, I'll hold three tooth-food of another, which in its turn is eaten by a picks to one pound of snuff, I catch him when-third; but there are men who have studied themever I please." Accordingly they threw in their selves into a habit of investigating and admiring line once more, but with all their gilding, and such minutia. To these such subjects are pleasing, paddling, and assiduity, they could never after catch as there are some who contentedly spend whole the diver. In this state of solitude and disappoint-days in endeavouring to solve enigmas, or disenment, they continued for many years, still fishing, tangle the puzzling sticks of children.

but without success; till at last the Genius of But of all the learned, those who pretend to inthe place, in pity to their distresses, changed the vestigate remote antiquity have least to plead in prude into a shrimp, and the coquette into an their own defence, when they carry this passion to oyster. Adieu.

a faulty excess. They are generally found to supply by conjecture the want of record, and then by perseverance are wrought up into a confidence of the truth of opinions, which even to themselves al first appeared founded only in imagination.

LETTER LXXXIX.

From the Same.

I AM amused, my dear Fum, with the labours of some of the learned here. One shall write you a while folio on the dissection of a caterpillar, among them. They have even now in their India

The Europeans have heard much of the kingdom of China: its politeness, arts, commerce, laws, ant morals, are, however, but very imperfectly known

warehouses numberless utensils, plants, minerals, incrustated, it was clothed with verdure: this was a and machines, of the use of which they are entirely fine unembarrassed road for Noah to fly from his ignorant: nor can any among them even make a wicked children; he therefore did fly from them, probable guess for what they might have been de- and took a journey of two thousand miles for his signed. Yet though this people be so ignorant of own amusement: therefore Noah and Fohi are the present real state of China, the philosophers the same. am describing have entered into long, learned, laborious disputes about what China was two thou-the vulgar for very great scholars, assert, that the sand years ago. China and European happiness Chinese came neither from the colony of Sesosare but little connected even at this day; but Eu-tris, nor from Noah, but age descended from Maropean happiness and China two thousand years gog, Meshec, and Tubal, and therefore neither Seago have certainly no connexion at all. However, sostris, nor Noah, nor Fohi, are the same.

Another sect of literati, for they all pass among

Adieu.

LETTER XC.

From the Same.

the learned have written on and pursued the sub- It is thus, my friend, that indolence assumes the ject through all the labyrinths of antiquity: though airs of wisdom, and while it tosses the cup and the early dews and the tainted gale be passed away, ball with infantine folly, desires the world to look though no footsteps remain to direct the doubtful on, and calls the stupid pastime philosophy and chase, yet still they run forward, open upon the learning. uncertain scent, and though in fact they follow nothing, are earnest in the pursuit. In this chase, however, they all take different ways. One, for example, confidently assures us, that China was peopled by a colony from Egypt. Sesostris, he observes, led his army as far as the Ganges; therefore, if he went so far, he might still have gone as WHEN the men of this country are once turned far as China, which is but a thousand miles from of thirty, they regularly retire every year at proper thence; therefore he did go to China; therefore intervals to lie in of the spleen. The vulgar, unChina was not peopled before he went there; furnished with the luxurious comforts of the soft therefore it was peopled by him. Besides, the cushion, down bed, and easy chair, are obliged, Egyptians have pyramids; the Chinese have in when the fit is on them, to nurse it up by drinklike manner their porcelain tower: the Egyptians ing, idleness, and ill-humour. In such disposiused to light up candles upon every rejoicing; the tions, unhappy is the foreigner who happens to Chinese have lanterns upon the same occasion: cross them; his long chin, tarnished coat, or pinchthe Egyptians had their great river; so have the ed hat, are sure to receive no quarter. If they Chinese. But what serves to put the matter past meet no foreigner, however, to fight with, they a doubt is, that the ancient kings of China and are in such cases generally content with beating those of Egypt were called by the same names. each other. The Emperor Ki is certainly the same with King| The rich, as they have more sensibility, are opeAtoes; for if we only change K into A, and i into rated upon with greater violence by this disorder. toes, we shall have the name Atoes; and with Different from the poor, instead of becoming more equal ease Menes may be proved to be the same insolent, they grow totally unfit for opposition. A with the Emperor Yu; therefore the Chinese are general here, who would have faced a culverin a colony from Egypt. when well, if the fit be on him, shall hardly find courage to snuff a candle. An admiral, who could have opposed a broadside without shrinking, shall sit whole days in his chamber, mobbed up in double night-caps, shuddering at the intrusive breeze, and distinguishable from his wife only by his black beard and heavy eyebrows.

But another of the learned is entirely different from the last; and he will have the Chinese to be a colony planted by Noah just after the deluge. First, from the vast similitude there is between the name of Fohi, the founder of the Chinese monarchy, and that of Noah, the preserver of the human race; Noah, Fohi, very like each other truly; they In the country, this disorder mostly attacks the have each but four letters, and only two of the four fair sex; in town, it is most unfavourable to the happen to differ. But to strengthen the argument, men. A lady, who has pined whole years amidst Fohi, as the Chinese chronicle asserts, had no cooing doves and complaining nightingales, in rural father. Noah, it is true, had a father, as the Eu- retirement, shall resume all her vivacity in one ropean Bible tells us; but then, as this father was night at a city gaming-table; her husband, who probably drowned in the flood, it is just the same roared, hunted, and got drunk at home, shall grow as if he had no father at all; therefore Noah and splenetic in town in proportion to his wife's goodFohi are the same. Just after the flood the earth humour. Upon their arrival in London they exwas covered with mud; if it was covered with change their disorders. In consequence of her mud, it must have been incrustated mud; if it was parties and excursions, he puts on the furred cap and

scarlet stomacher, and perfectly resembles an In-restore him to his usual serenity of tempus, by per dian husband, who, when his wife is safely de-mitting him to expatiate upon all the mo. of nulivered, permits her to transact business abroad, man misery. while he undergoes all the formality of keeping his bed, and receiving all the condolence in her place.

"Some nights ago," says my friend, ' sitting alone by my fire, I happened to look into an account of a detection of a set of men called the thiefBut those who reside constantly in town, owe takers. I read over the many hideous cruelties of this disorder mostly to the influence of the weather. those haters of mankind, of their pretended friendIt is impossible to describe what a variety of trans-ship to wretches they meant to betray, of their mutations an east wind shall produce; it has been sending men out to rob, and then hanging them. known to change a lady of fashion into a parlour I could not avoid sometimes interrupting the narracouch; an alderman into a plate of custards; and a tive, by crying out, 'Yet these are men! As I dispenser of justice into a rat-trap. Even philoso- went on, I was informed that they had lived by this phers themselves are not exempt from its influence; practice several years, and had been enriched by it has often converted a poet into a coral and bells the price of blood; 'And yet,' cried I, 'I have been sent into this world, and am desired to call and a patriot senator into a dumb waiter. these men my brothers! I read, that the very man Some days ago I went to visit the man in black, who led the condemned wretch to the gallows, was and entered his house with that cheerfulness which he who falsely swore his life away; 'And yet,' the certainty of a favourable reception always in continued I, that perjurer had just such a nose, spires. Upon opening the door of his apartment, such lips, such hands, and such eyes as Newton.' I found him with the most rueful face imaginable, I at last came to the account of the wretch that in a morning-gown and flannel night-cap, earnestwas searched after robbing one of the thief-takers ly employed in learning to blow the German flute. of half-a-crown. Those of the confederacy knew Struck with the absurdity of a man in the decline that he had got but that single half-crown in the of life thus blowing away all his constitution and world; after a long search, therefore, which they spirits, even without the consolation of being mu- knew would be fruitless, and taking from him the sical, I ventured to ask what could induce him to half-crown, which they knew was all he had, one attempt learning so difficult an instrument so late of the gang compassionately cried out, 'Alas! poor in life; to this he made no reply, but groaning, and creature, let him keep all the rest he has got, it still holding the flute to his lips, continued to gaze will do him service in Newgate, where we are at me for some moments very angrily, and then sending him.' This was an instance of such comproceeded to practise his gamut as before. After plicated guilt and hypocrisy, that I threw down the having produced a variety of the most hideous book in an agony of rage, and began to think with tones in nature, at last turning to me, he demand-malice of all the human kind. I sat silent for some ed, whether I did not think he had made a sur-minutes, and soon perceiving the ticking of my prising progress in two days? "You see, con- watch beginning to grow noisy and troublesome, tinues he, "I have got the ambusheer already; and I quickly placed it out of hearing, and strove to reas for fingering, my master tells me, I shall have sume my serenity. But the watchman soon gave that in a few lessons more. I was so much astonish-me a second alarm. 1 had scarcely recovered from ed with this instance of inverted ambition, that this, when my peace was assaulted by the wind knew not what to reply, but soon discerned the at my window; and when that ceased to blow, cause of all his absurdities; my friend was under aI listened for death-watches in the wainscot. I metamorphosis by the power of spleen, and flute now found my whole system discomposed. I strove blowing was unluckily become his adventitious to find a resource in philosophy and reason; but passion. what could I oppose, or where direct my blow, when I could see no enemy to combat? I saw no

In order, therefore, to banish his anxiety imperceptibly, by seeming to indulge it, I began to des- misery approaching, nor knew any I had to fear, cant on those gloomy topics by which philosophers yet still I was miserable. Morning came, I sought often get rid of their own spleen, by communicating for tranquillity in dissipation, sauntered from one it; the wretchedness of a man in this life; the hap-place of public resort to another, but found myself piness of some wrought out of the miseries of disagreeable to my acquaintance, and ridiculous to others; the necessities that wretches should expire others. I tried at different times dancing, fencing under punishment, that rogues might enjoy afflu- and riding; I solved geometrical problems, shaped ence in tranquillity; I led him on from the inhu- tobacco-stoppers, wrote verses, and cut paper. manity of the rich to the ingratitude of the beggar; last I placed my affections on music, and find, that from the insincerity of refinement to the fierceness earnest employment, if it can not cure, at least will of rusticity; and at last had the good fortune to palliate every anxiety." Adieu.

At

them by ill-nature among themselves, and subjection to new penalties; but such considerations never weigh with them.

LETTER XCI.

From the Same.

It is no unpleasing contemplation, to consider the influence which soil and climate have upon the disposition of the inhabitants, the animals, and vegetables, of different countries. That among the brute creation is much more visible than in man, and that in vegetables more than either. In some places, those plants which are entirely poisonous at home, lose their deleterious quality by being coast, their perseverance is beyond what any other carried abroad; there are serpents in Macedonia so nation is capable of sustaining; if imprisoned for harmless as to be used as playthings for children; crimes, their efforts to escape are greater than and we are told that in some parts of Fez, there are among others. The peculiar strength of their lions so very timorous as to be scared away, though prisons, when compared to those elsewhere, argues their hardiness; even the strongest prisons I coming in herds, by the cries of women. have ever seen in other countries would be very in

I know of no country where the influence of climate and soil is more visible than in England; the sufficient to confine the untameable spirit of an Ensame hidden cause which gives courage to their glishman. In short, what man dares do in cirdogs and cocks, gives also fierceness to their men. cumstances of danger, an Englishman will. His But chiefly this ferocity appears among the vulgar. virtues seem to sleep in the calm, and are called out The polite of every country pretty nearly resem- only to combat the kindred storm. ble each other. But, as in simpling, it is among But the greatest eulogy of this people is the the uncultivated productions of nature we are to generosity of their miscreants, the tenderness in examine the characteristic differences of climate general, of their robbers and highwaymen. Perand soil, so in an estimate of the genius of the haps no people can produce instances of the same people, we must look among the sons of unpolished kind, where the desperate mix pity with injustice; rusticity. The vulgar English, therefore, may be still showing that they understand a distinction in easily distinguished from all the rest of the world, crimes, and, even in acts of violence, having still by superior pride, impatience, and a peculiar hardi- some tincture of remaining virtue. In every other country, robbery and murder go almost always toness of soul. Perhaps no qualities in the world are more sus-gether; here it seldom happens, except upon illceptible of a finer polish than these; artificial com- judged resistance or pursuit. The banditti of other plaisance and easy deference being superinduced countries are unmerciful to a supreme degree; the over these generally form a great character; some- highwayman and robber here are generous, at least, thing at once elegant and majestic; affable, yet in their intercourse among each other. Taking, sincere. Such, in general, are the better sort; but therefore, my opinion of the English from the virthey who are left in primitive rudeness are the tues and vices practised among the vulgar, they at least disposed for society with others, or comfort in- once present to a stranger all their faults, and keep their virtues up only for the inquiring eye of a phiternally, of any people under the sun. losopher.

But to recompense this strange absurdity, they are in the main generous, brave, and enterprising. They feel the slightest injuries with a degree of ungoverned impatience, but resist the greatest calamities with surprising fortitude. Those miseries under which any other people in the world would sink, they have often showed they were capable of enduring; if accidentally cast upon some desolate

Foreigners are generally shocked at their insolence upon first coming among them; they find themselves ridiculed and insulted in every street; they meet with none of those trifling civilities, sc

The poor indeed of every country, are but little prone to treat each other with tenderness; their own miseries are too apt to engross all their pity; and perhaps too, they give but little commiseration, as they find but little from others. But in England the poor treat each other upon every occa- frequent elsewhere, which are instances of mutual sion with more than savage animosity, and as if good-will, without previous acquaintance; they In travel through the country, either too ignorant or they were in a state of open war by nature. China, if two porters should meet in a narrow too obstinate to cultivate a closer acquaintance; street, they would lay down their burdens, make a meet every moment something to excite their disthousand excuses to each other for the accidental gust, and return home to characterise this as the interruption, and beg pardon on their knees; if two region of spleen, insolence, and ill-nature. In short, men of the same occupation should meet here, they England would be the last place in the world I would first begin to scold, and at last to beat each would travel to by way of amusement, but the first other. One would think they had miseries enough for instruction. I would choose to have others for resulting from penury and labour, not to increase my acquaintance, but Englismen for my friends.

LETTER XCII.

moment! Perhaps, while I write, this dreadful change has begun. Shield me from universal ruin! Yet, idiot man laughs, sings, and rejoices, in the very face of the sun, and seems no way touched with his situation.

From the Same.

THE mind is ever ingenious in making its own distress. The wandering beggar who has none to Tuesday. Went to bed in great distress, awaked protect, to feed, or to shelter him, fancies complete and was comforted, by considering that this change happiness in labour and a full meal; take him from was to happen at some indefinite time; and thererags and want, feed, clothe, and employ him, his fore, like death, the thoughts of it might easily be wishes now rise one step above his station; he borne. But there is a revolution, a fixed detercould be happy were he possessed of raiment, food, mined revolution, which must certainly come to and ease. Suppose his wishes gratified even in pass; yet which, by good fortune, I shall never feel, these, his prospects widen as he ascends; he finds except in my posterity. The obliquity of the equahimself in affluence and tranquillity indeed, but in- tor with the ecliptic is now twenty minutes less dolence soon breeds anxiety, and he desires not only than when it was observed two thousand years ago to be freed from pain, but to be possessed of pleasure; by Piteas. If this be the case, in six thousand the pleasure is granted him, and this but opens his soul obliquity will be still less by a whole degree. This. to ambition; and ambition will be sure to taint his being supposed, it is evident that our earth, as future happiness, either with jealousy, disappoint-Louville has clearly proved, has a motion, by which ment, or fatigue. the climates must necessarily change place, and, in But of all the arts of distress found out by man the space of about one million of years, England for his own torment, perhaps that of philosophic shall actually travel to the Antarctic pole. I shudmisery is most truly ridiculous; a passion nowhere der at the change! How shall our unhappy grandcarried to so extravagant an excess as in the coun- children endure the hideous climate! A million of try where I now reside. It is not enough to engage years will soon be accomplished; they are but a all the compassion of a philosopher here, that his moment when compared to eternity; then shall our own globe is harrassed with wars, pestilence, or charming country, as I may say, in a moment of barbarity; he shall grieve for the inhabitants of the time, resemble the hideous wilderness of Nova moon, if the situation of her imaginary mountains Zembla! happens to alter; and dread the extinction of the sun, if the spots on his surface happens to increase. One should imagine, that philosophy was introduced to make men happy; but here it serves to make hundreds miserable.

Wednesday. To-night, by my calculation, the long predicted comet is to make its first appearance. Heavens! what terrors are impending over our little dim speck of earth! Dreadful visitation! Are we to be scorched in its fires, or only smothered in the vapour of its tail? That is the question! Thoughtless mortals, go build houses, plant orchards, purchase estates, for to-morrow you die. But what if the comet should not come? That would be equally fatal. Comets are servants which periodically return to supply the sun with fuel. If our sun, therefore, should be disappointed of the expected supply, and all his fuel be in the meantime burnt out, he must expire like an exhausted taper.

Monday. In what a transient decaying situation are we placed; and what various reasons does philosophy furnish to make mankind unhappy! A single grain of mustard shall continue to produce What a miserable situation must our earth be in its similitude through numberless successions; without his enlivening rays! Have we not seen yet, what has been granted to this little seed, has several neighbouring suns entirely disappear? Has been denied to our planetary system; the mustard not a fixed star, near the tail of the Ram, lately seed is still unaltered, but the system is growing been quite extinguished?

old, and must quickly fall to decay. How terrible Thursday. The comet has not yet appeared; 1 will it be, when the motions of all the planets have am sorry for it: first, sorry because my calculation at last become so irregular as to need repairing; is false; secondly, sorry lest the sun should want when the moon shall fall into frightful paroxysms fuel; thirdly, sorry lest the wits should laugh at our of alteration; when the earth, deviating from its an- erroneous predictions; and fourthly, sorry because, cient track, and with every other planet forgetting if it appears to-night, it must necessarily come its circular revolutions, shall become so eccentric, within the sphere of the earth's attraction; and that unconfined by the laws of system, it shall fly Heaven help the unhappy country on which it hapoff into boundless space, to knock against some dis-pens to fall!

tant world, or fall in upon the sun, either extin- Friday. Our whole society have been out, all guishing his light, or burned up by his flames in a leager in search of the comet. We have seen not

My landlady, some days ago, brought the diary of a philosopher of this desponding sort, who had lodged in the apartment before me. It contains the history of a life, which seems to be one continued tissue of sorrow, apprehension and distress. A single week will serve as a specimen of the whole.

« VorigeDoorgaan »