Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

every truth, is certainly erroneous. As I said be-Custom, or the traditional observance of the practice fore, the good preacher should adopt no model, of their forefathers, was what directed the Romans write no sermons, study no periods; let him but as well in their public as private determinations. understand his subject, the language he speaks, Custom was appealed to in pronouncing sentence and be convinced of the truth he delivers. It is against a criminal, where part of the formulary was amazing to what heights eloquence of this kind more majorum. So Sallust, speaking of the expul may reach! This is that eloquence the ancients re-sion of Tarquin, says, mutato more, and not lege presented as lightning, bearing down every op mutato; and Virgil, pacisque imponere morem. So poser; this the power which has turned whole as- that, in those times of the empire in which the semblies into astonishment, admiration, and awe; people retained their liberty, they were governed by that is described by the torrent, the flame, and custom; when they sunk into oppression and tyevery other instance of irresistible impetuosity. ranny, they were restrained by new laws, and the laws of tradition abolished.

But to attempt such noble heights belongs only to the truly great, or the truly good. To discard As getting the ancients on our side is half a victhe lazy manner of reading sermons, or speaking tory, it will not be amiss to fortify the argument sermons by rote; to set up singly against the op- with an observation of Chrysostom's; "That the position of men who are attached to their own er- enslaved are the fittest to be governed by laws, rors, and to endeavour to be great, instead of being and free men by custom." Custom partakes of the prudent, are qualities we seldom see united. A nature of parental injunction; it kept by the minister of the Church of England, who may be people themselves, and observed with a willing possessed of good sense, and some hopes of prefer- obedience. The observance of it must therefore ment, will seldom give up such substantial advan-be a mark of freedom; and, coming originally to tages for the empty pleasure of improving society. a state from the reverenced founders of its liberty, By his present method, he is liked by his friends, will be an encouragement and assistance to it in admired by his dependants, not displeasing to his the defence of that blessing: but a conquered peobishop; he lives as well, eats and sleeps as well, as ple, a nation of slaves, must pretend to none of this if a real orator, and an eager assertor of his mis- freedom, or these happy distinctions; having by sion: he will hardly, therefore, venture all this to degeneracy lost all right to their brave forefathers' be called perhaps an enthusiast; nor will he de-free institutions, their masters will in a policy take part from customs established by the brotherhood, the forfeiture; and the fixing a conquest must be when, by such a conduct, he only singles himself done by giving laws, which may every moment out for their contempt. serve to remind the people enslaved of their conquerors; nothing being more dangerous than to trust a late subdued people with old customs, that presently upbraid their degeneracy, and provoko them to revolt.

CUSTOM AND LAWS COMPARED.

The wisdom of the Roman republic in their

WHAT, say some, can give us a more contemptible idea of a large state than to find it mostly gov-veneration for custom, and backwardness to introerned by custom; to have few written laws, and no duce a new law, was perhaps the cause of their boundaries to mark the jurisdiction between the long continuance, and of the virtues of which they senate and the people? Among the number who have set the world so many examples. But to show speak in this manner is the great Montesquieu, in what that wisdom consists, it may be proper to who asserts that every nation is free in proportion observe, that the benefit of new written laws is to the number of its written laws, and seems to merely confined to the consequences of their obser hint at a despotic and arbitrary conduct in the pre-vance; but customary laws, keeping up a venera sent king of Prussia, who has abridged the laws tion for the founders, engage men in the imitation of his country into a very short compass. of their virtues as well as policy. To this may be As Tacitus and Montesquieu happen to differ ascribed the religious regard the Romans paid to in sentiment upon a subject of so much importance their forefathers' memory, and their adhering for (for the Roman expressly asserts that the state is so many ages to the practice of the same virtues, generally vicious in proportion to the number of its which nothing contributed more to efface than the laws,) it will not be amiss to examine it a little introduction of a voluminous body of new laws over more minutely, and see whether a stat which, like the neck of venerable custom.

England, is burdened with a multiplicity of written The simplicity, conciseness, and antiquity of laws; or which, like Switzerland, Geneva, and custom, give an air of majesty and immutability some other republics, is governed by custom and that inspires awe and veneration; but new laws the determination of the judge, is best. are too apt to be voluminous, perplexed, and indeAnd to prove the superiority of custom to writ-terminate, whence must necessarily arise neglect ten law, we shall at least find history conspiring. contempt, and ignorance.

[ocr errors]

As every human institution is subject to gross by the prodigious numbers of mechanics who flock imperfections, so laws must necessarily be liable to to the races, gaming-tables, brothels, and all pub the same inconveniencies, and their defects soon lic diversions this fashionable town affords. discovered. Thus, through the weakness of one part, all the rest are liable to be brought into contempt But such weaknesses in a custom, for coat and a bag, fly to the E O table, throw away very obvious reasons, evade an examination; be- fifty pieces with some sharping man of quality · sides, a friendly prejudice always stands up in their while his industrious wife is selling a pennyworth favour. of sugar, or a pound of candles, to support her fashionable spouse in his extravagances.

You shall see a grocer, or a tallow-chandler sneak from behind the counter, clap on a laced

But let us suppose a new law to be perfectly equitable and necessary; yet if the procurers of it I was led into this reflection by an odd advenhave betrayed a conduct that confesses by-ends and ture which happened to me the other day at Epsom private motives, the disgust to the circumstances races, whither I went, not through any desire, I do disposes us, unreasonably indeed, to an irreverence assure you, of laying bets or winning thousands, of the law itself; but we are indulgently blind to but at the earnest request of a friend, who had the most visible imperfections of an old custom. long indulged the curiosity of seeing the sport, Though we perceive the defects ourselves, yet we very natural for an Englishman. When we had remain persuaded, that our wise forefathers had arrived at the course, and had taken several turns good reason for what they did; and though such to observe the different objects that made up this motives no longer continue, the benefit will still go whimsical group, a figure suddenly darted by us, along with the observance, though we do not know mounted and dressed in all the elegance of those how. It is thus the Roman lawyers speak: Non polite gentry who come to show you they have a omnium, que a majoribus constituta sunt, ratio little money, and, rather than pay their just debts reddi protest, et ideo rationes corum que constitu- at home, generously come abroad to bestow it on untur inquiri non oportet, alioquin multa ex his gamblers and pickpockets. As I had not an opquæ certa sunt subvertuntur. portunity of viewing his face till his return, I gently walked after him, and met him as he came back, when, to my no small surprise, I beheld in this gay Narcissus the visage of Jack Varnish, a humble vender of prints. Disgusted at the sight,

Those laws which preserve to themselves the greatest love and observance, must needs be best; but custom, as it executes itself, must be necessarily superior to written laws in this respect, which are to be executed by another. Thus, nothing can I pulled my friend by the sleeve, pressed him to

be more certain, than that numerous written laws are a sign of a degenerate community, and are frequently not the consequences of vicious morals in state, but the causes.

return home, telling him all the way, that I was so enraged at the fellow's impudence that I was resolved never to lay out another penny with him.

a

And now, pray sir, let me beg of you to give this a place in your paper, that Mr. Varnish may understand he mistakes the thing quite, if he imagines horse-racing recommendable in a tradesman; and that he who is revelling every night in the arms of a common strumpet (though blessed with an indulgent wife), when he ought to be minding

Hence we see how much greater benefit it would be to the state, rather to abridge than increase its laws. We every day find them increasing acts and reports, which may be termed the acts of judges, are every day becoming more voluminous, and loading the subject with new penalties.

Laws ever increase in number and severity, un-his business, will never thrive in this world. He til they at length are strained so tight as to break will find himself soon mistaken, his finances dethemselves. Such was the case of the latter em-crease, his friends shun him, customers fall off, and pire, whose laws were at length become so strict, himself thrown into a gaol. I would earnestly that the barbarous invaders did not bring servitude recommend this adage to every mechanic in Lonbut liberty. don, "Keep your shop, and your shop will keep you." A strict observance of these words will, I am sure, in time gain them estates. Industry is the road to wealth, and honesty to happiness; and he who strenuously endeavours to pursue them both, may never fear the critic's lash, or the sharp cries of penury and want.

OF THE PRIDE AND LUXURY OF THE
MIDDLING CLASS OF PEOPLE.

Of all the follies and absurdities under which this great metropolis labours, there is not one, I believe, that at present appears in a more glaring and ridiculous light, than the pride and luxury of the middling class of people. Their eager desire of being seen in a sphere far above their capacities

SABINUS AND OLINDA.

In a fair, rich, and flourishing country, whose and circumstances, is daily, nay hourly instanced, cliffs are washed by the German Ocean, lived Sa

inus, a youth formed by nature to make a con- Olinda to comfort him in his miseries. In this quest wherever he thought proper; but the con- mansion of distress they lived together with resigstancy of his disposition fixed him only with nation, and even with comfort. She provided the Olinda. He was indeed superior to her in fortune, frugal meal, and he read to her while employed in but that defect on her side was so amply supplied by the little offices of domestic concern. Their fellow. her merit, that none was thought more worthy of prisoners admired their contentment, and whenhis regards than she. He loved her, he was be-ever they had a desire of relaxing into mirth, and loved by her; and in a short time, by joining enjoying those little comforts that a prison affords, hands publicly, they avowed the union of their Sabinus and Olinda were sure to be of the party. hearts. But, alas! none, however fortunate, how- Instead of reproaching each other for their mutual ever happy, are exempt from the shafts of envy, wretchedness, they both lightened it, by bearing and the malignant effects of ungoverned appetite. each a share of the load imposed by Providence. How unsafe, how detestable are they who have Whenever Sabinus showed the least concern on this fury for their guide! How certainly will it his dear partner's account, she conjured him, by lead them from themselves, and plunge them in the love he bore her, by those tender ties which now errors they would have shuddered at, even in ap-united them forever, not to discompose himself; prehension! Ariana, a lady of many amiable that so long as his affection lasted, she defied all qualities, very nearly allied to Sabinus, and highly the ills of fortune and every loss of fame or friendesteemed by him, imagined herself slighted, and ship; that nothing could make her miserable but injuriously treated, since his marriage with Olinda. his seeming to want happiness; nothing please By incautiously suffering this jealousy to corrode but his sympathizing with her pleasure. A conin her breast, she began to give a loose to passion; tinuance in prison soon robbed them of the little she forgot those many virtues for which she had they had left, and famine began to make its horrid been so long and so justly applauded. Causeless appearance; yet still was neither found to mursuspicion and mistaken resentment betrayed her mur: they both looked upon their little boy, who, into all the gloom of discontent; she sighed with- insensible of their or his own distress, was playout ceasing; the happiness of others gave her in- ing about the room, with inexpressible yet silent tolerable pain; she thought of nothing but re- anguish, when a messenger came to inform them venge. How unlike what she was, the cheerful, that Ariana was dead, and that her will in favour the prudent, the compassionate Ariana! of a very distant relation, who was now in another country, might easily be procured and burnt; in which case all her large fortune would revert to him, as being the next heir at law.

She continually laboured to disturb a union so firmly, so affectionately founded, and planned every scheme which she thought most likely to disturb it.

A proposal of so base a nature filled our unhappy couple with horror; they ordered the messenger immediately out of the room, and falling upon each other's neck, indulged an agony of sor

Fortune seemed willing to promote her unjust intentions; the circumstances of Sabinus had been long embarrassed by a tedious law-suit, and the court determining the cause unexpectedly in favour row, for now even all hopes of relief were banished. of his opponent, it sunk his fortune to the lowest The messenger who made the proposal, however, pitch of penury from the highest affluence. From was only a spy sent by Ariana to sound the dispothe nearness of relationship, Sabinus expected sitions of a man she at once loved and persecuted. from Ariana those assistances his present situation This lady, though warped by wrong passions, was required; but she was insensible to all his en- naturally kind, judicious, and friendly. She found treaties and the justice of every remonstrance, un- that all her attempts to shake the constancy or the less he first separated from Olinda, whom she re- integrity of Sabinus were ineffectual; she had garded with detestation. Upon a compliance with therefore begun to reflect, and to wonder how she her desire in this respect, she promised that her could so long and so unprovokedly injure such unfortune, her interest, and her all, should be at his common fortitude and affection. command. Sabinus was shocked at the proposal; he loved his wife with inexpressible tenderness, reception given to the messenger, and could not and refused those offers with indignation which avoid feeling all the force of superior virtue; she were to be purchased at so high a price. Ariana therefore reassumed her former goodness of heart; was no less displeased to find her offers rejected, she came into the room with tears in her eyes, and and gave a loose to all that warmth which she had acknowledged the severity of her former treatment. long endeavoured to suppress. Reproach generally She bestowed her first care in providing them all produces recrimination; the quarrel rose to such the necessary supplies, and acknowledged them as a height, that Sabinus was marked for destruction, the most deserving heirs of her fortune. From and the very next day, upon the strength of an this moment Sabinus enjoyed an uninterrupted old family debt, he was sent to gaol, with none but happiness with Olinda, and both were happy in

She had from the next room herself heard the

the friendship and assistance of Ariana, who, dy- and that in their hearts they rather envy than coning soon after, left them in possession of a large demn that levity they affect to despise. estate, and in her last moments confessed, that The Spectator, whose constant object was the virtue was the only path to true glory; and that good of mankind in general, and of his own nation however innocence may for a time be depressed, in particular, should, according to his own princia steady perseverance will in time lead it to a cer- ples, place cheerfulness among the most desirable tain victory. qualities; and probably, whenever he contradicts himself in this particular, it is only to conform to the tempers of the people whom he addresses. THE SENTIMENTS OF A FRENCH- He asserts, that gaiety is one great obstacle to the MAN ON THE TEMPER OF THE prudent conduct of women. But are those of a melancholic temper, as the English women geneENGLISH. rally are, less subject to the foibles of love? I am NOTHING is so uncommon among the English acquainted with some doctors in this science, to as that easy affability, that instant method of ac- whose judgment I would more willingly refer than quaintance, or that cheerfulness of disposition, to his. And perhaps, in reality, persons naturally which make in France the charm of every socie-of a gay temper are too easily taken off by differty. Yet in this gloomy reserve they seem to pride ent objects, to give themselves up to all the exthemselves, and think themselves less happy if cesses of this passion.

obliged to be more social. One may assert, with- Mr. Hobbes, a celebrated philosopher of his naout wronging them, that they do not study the tion, maintains that laughing proceeds from our method of going through life with pleasure and pride alone. This is only a paradox if asserted of tranquillity like the French. Might not this be a laughing in general, and only argues that misanproof that they are not so much philosophers as thropical disposition for which he was remarkable, they imagine? Philosophy is no more than the To bring the causes he assigns for laughing unart of making ourselves happy: that is in seeking der suspicion, it is sufficinnt to remark, that proud pleasure in regularity, and reconciling what we people are commonly those who laugh least. owe to society with what is due to ourselves. Gravity is the inseparable companion of pride. To say that a man is vain, because the humour of a writer, or the buffooneries of a harlequin, excite his laughter, would be advancing a great absurdity. We should distinguish between laughter inspired by joy, and that which arises from mockery. The malicious sneer is improperly called laughter. It must be owned, that pride is the parent of such laughter as this: but this is in itself vicious; whereas the other sort has nothing in its principles or effects that deserves condemnation. We find this amiable in others, and is it unhappiness to feel a disposition towards it in ourselves?

This cheerfulness, which is the characteristic of our nation, in the eye of an Englishman passes almost for folly. But is their gloominess a greater mark of their wisdom? and, folly against folly, is not the most cheerful sort the best? If our gaiety makes them sad, they ought not to find it strange if their seriousness makes us laugh.

As this disposition to levity is not familiar to them, and as they look on every thing as a fault which they do not find at home, the English who live among us are hurt by it. Several of their authors reproach us with it as a vice, or at least as ridicule.

a

When I see an Englishman laugh, I fancy I rather see him hunting after joy than having

Mr. Addison styles us a comic nation. In my opinion, it is not acting the philosopher on this caught it: and this is more particularly remarkapoint, to regard as a fault that quality which con-ble in their women, whose tempers are inclined to tributes most to the pleasure of society and happi-melancholy. A laugh leaves no more traces on ness of life. Plato, convinced that whatever makes their countenance than a flash of lightning on the men happier makes them better, advises to neglect face of the heavens. The most laughing air is innothing that may excite and convert to an early stantly succeeded by the most gloomy. One habit this sense of joy in children. Seneca places would be apt to think that their souls open with it in the first rank of good things. Certain it is, difficulty to joy, or at least that joy is not pleased at least, that gaiety may be a concomitant of all with its habitation there. sorts of virtue, but that there are some vices with which it is incompatible.

In regard to fine raillery, it must be allowed that it is not natural to the English, and therefore those who endeavour at it make but an ill figure. Some of their authors have candidly confessed, that

As to him who laughs at every thing, and him who laughs at nothing, neither has sound judgment. All the difference I find between them is, pleasantry is quite foreign to their character; but that the last is constantly the most unhappy. according to the reason they give, they lose nothing 'Those who speak against cheerfulness, prove no- by this confession. Bishop Sprat gives the fol thing else but that they were born melancholic, lowing one; "The English,' says he, "have too

much bravery to be derided, and too much virtue what people ate, and drank, and saw, was not what and honour to mock others."

they ate, and drank, and saw, but something further, which they were fond of because they were ignorant of it. In short, nothing was itself, but something beyond itself; and by these artifices and amusements the heads of the world were so turned and intoxicated, that at last there was scarcely a sound set of brains left in it.

THE BEE, No. VIII.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1759.

ON DECEIT AND FALSEHOOD.

THE following account is so judiciously conceived that I am convinced the reader will be more pleased with it than with any thing of mine, so I shall make no apology for this new publication.

TO THE AUTHOR OF THE BEE.

In this state of giddiness and infatuation it was no very hard task to persuade the already deluded, that there was an actual society and communion between human creatures and spiritual demons, And when they had thus put people into the power and clutches of the devil, none but they alone could have either skill or strength to bring the prisoners back again.

But so far did they carry this dreadful drollery, and so fond were they of it, that to maintain it and themselves in profitable repute, they literally sacri

SIR,

DECEIT and falsehood have ever been an over-ficed for it, and made impious victims of numbermatch for truth, and followed and admired by the less old women and other miserable persons, who majority of mankind. If we inquire after the rea- either, through ignorance, could not say what they son of this, we shall find it in our own imagina- were bid to say, or, through madness, said what tions, which are amused and entertained with the they should not have said. Fear and stupidity perpetual novelty and variety that fiction affords, made them incapable of defending themselves, and but find no manner of delight in the uniform sim- frenzy and infatuation made them confess guilty plicity of homely truth, which still sues them un- impossibilities, which produced cruel sentences, der the same appearance. and then inhuman executions.

He, therefore, that would gain our hearts, must make his court to our fancy, which, being sovereign comptroller of the passions, lets them loose, and inflames them more or less, in proportion to the force and efficacy of the first cause, which is ever the more powerful the more new it is. Thus in mathematical demonstrations themselves, though they seem to aim at pure truth and instruction, and to be addressed to our reason alone, yet I think it is pretty plain, that our understanding is only made a drudge to gratify our invention and curiosity, and we are pleased, not so much because our discoveries are certain, as because they are new.

This weakness in human nature gave occasion to a party of men to make such gainful markets as they have done of our credulity. All objects and facts whatever now ceased to be what they had been for ever before, and received what make and meaning it was found convenient to put upon them:

Some of these wretched mortals, finding themselves either hateful or terrible to all, and befriended by none, and perhaps wanting the common necessaries of life, came at last to abhor themselves as much as they were abhorred by others, and grew willing to be burnt or hanged out of a world which was no other to them than a scene of persecution and anguish.

Others of strong imaginations and little understandings were, by positive and repeated charges against them, of committing mischievous and supernatural facts and villanies, deluded to judge of themselves by the judgment of their enemies, whose

I do not deny but the world is still pleased with weakness or malice prompted them to be accusers. things that pleased it many years ago, but it should And many have been condemned as witches and at the same time he considered, that man is na-dealers with the devil, for no other reason but their turally so much of a logician, as to distinguish be- knowing more than those who accused, tried, and tween matters that are plain and easy, and others passed sentence upon them. that are hard and inconceivable. What we un- In these cases, credulity is a much greater error derstand, we overlook and despise, and what we than infidelity, and it is safer to believe nothing know nothing of, we hug and delight in. Thus than too much. A man that believes little or no there are such things as perpetual novelties; for we thing of witchcraft will destroy nobody for being are pleased no longer than we are amazed, and nothing so much contents us as that which confounds us.

under the imputation of it; and so far he certainly acts with humanity to others, and safety to himself: but he that credits all, or too much, upon that article, is obliged, if he acts consistently with his persuasion, to kill all those whom he takes to be the killers of mankind; and such are witches. It would be a jest and a contradiction to say, tha he is for sparing them who are harmless of that tribe, since the received notion of their supposed

« VorigeDoorgaan »