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must be allowed to have a very large share of the first; and as to the second it has all entirely to itself.
Secondly, Nothing may be heard, of which the same proofs may be given as of the foregoing. A strong instance of this is, the Argive mentioned by Horace, who sitting in an empty theatre, imagined that he witnessed the performance of a play, and heard the applauses of the audience. Fiut haud ignobilis Argis
Qui se credebat miros audire Tragados
In vacuo lætus sessor, Plausorque theatro.
That Nothing may be tasted and smelt, is not only known to persons of delicate palates and nostrils. How commonly do we hear, that such a thing smells or tastes of Nothing? The latter I have heard asserted of a dish compounded of five or six savoury ingredients. And as to the former, I remember an elderly gentlewoman who had a great antipathy to the smell of apples, and who upon discovering that an idle boy had fastened a mellow apple to her train, contracted a habit of smelling them, whenever the boy came within her sight, though there were then none within a mile of her.
Lastly, feeling; and sure, if any sense seems more particularly the object of matter only, which must be allowed to be Something, this does.
Nay, I have heard it asserted (and with a colour of truth) of several persons, that they can feel Nothing but a cudgel. Notwithstanding which, some have felt the motions of the spirit; and others have felt very bitterly the misfortunes of their friends, without endeavouring to relieve them. Now these seem two plain instances that Nothing is an object of this sense. Nay, I have heard a surgeon declare, while he was cutting off a patient's leg, that he was sure he felt Nothing.
Nothing is as well the object of our passions as our senses. Thus there are many who love Nothing, some who hate Nothing, and some who fear Nothing.
We have already mentioned three of the properties of a noun to belong to Nothing; we shall find the fourth likewise, to be as justly claimed by it; and that Nothing is as often the object of the understanding as of the senses. Indeed, some have imagined that knowledge with the adjective human placed before it, is another word for Nothing; And one of the wisest men in the world declared he knew Nothing. But without carrying it so far, this I believe may be allowed, that it is at least possible for a man to know Nothing. And whoever has read over many works of our ingenious moderns, with proper attention
and emolument, will I believe confess, that if he understands them right, he understands Nothing.
This is a secret not known to all readers; and want of this knowledge has occasioned much puzzling; for when a book, or chapter, or paragraph, has seemed to the reader to contain Nothing, his modesty has sometimes persuaded him that the true meaning of the author has escaped him, instead of concluding, as in reality the fact was, that the author in the said book did truly and bona fide mean Nothing.
I remember once, at the table of a person of great eminence, and one no less distinguished by superiority of wit than fortune, when a very dark passage was read out of a poet, famous for being so sublime that he is often out of the sight of his reader; some persons present declared that they did not understand his meaning. The gentleman himself, casting his eyes over the performance, testified a surprise at the dullness of the company; seeing Nothing could, he said, possibly be plainer than the meaning of the passage which they could not comprehend. This puzzled us all again, to little purpose. We frankly owned that we could not find it out, and desired he would explain it; Explain it ! said the gentleman, why he means Nothing.
In fact this mistake arises from a too vulgar error among persons unacquainted with the mystery of writing, who imagine it impossible, that any one should sit down to write without any meaning at all; whereas in reality, Nothing is more common. For not to instance in myself, who have contentedly sat down to write this essay with Nothing in my head, or which is much the same thing, to write about Nothing, it may be incontestably proved ab effectu, that Nothing is commoner among the moderns. The inimitable author of a preface to the posthumous Eclogues of a late ingenious young gentleman says, there are men, who sit down to write what they think, and others to think what they shall write. But indeed there is a third, and a much more numerous sort, who never think either before they sit down or afterwards, and who when they produce on paper what was before in their heads, are sure to produce Nothing.
Thus we have endeavoured to demonstrate the nature of Nothing, by shewing first definitively what it is not, and secondly by describing what it is. The next thing therefore proposed is to shew its various kinds.
Now some imagine these kinds differ in name only.
But without endeavouring to refute
so absurd an opinion, especially as these different kinds of Nothing occur frequently in the best authors, I shall content myself with setting them down, and leave it to the determination of the distinguishing reader, whether it is probable, or indeed possible, that they all convey one and the same meaning.
These are Nothing per se Nothing; Nothing at all; Nothing in the least; Nothing in nature; Nothing in the world; Nothing in the whole world; Nothing in the whole universal world; and perhaps many others of which we say--Nothing.