Page images

be of some importance, when it is considered that eloquence is one of the most considerable auxiliaries of truth? Nothing, indeed, contributes more to subdue the mind to the force of reason, than her being supported by the powerful assistance of masculine and vigorous oratory: as on the contrary the most legitimate arguments may be disappointed of their deserved success by spiritless and enfeebled expressions. Accordingly that most elegant of writers, the inimitable Mr. Addison, well observes in one of his essays; "there is as much difference between "comprehending a thought clothed in Cicero's language and that of an ordinary writer, as be"tween seeing an object by the light of a taper "and the light of the sun."


It is, surely then, a strange conceit of the celebrated Malbranche, who seems to think that the pleasure which afises from a well written piece, is of the criminal kind, and has its source in the weakness and effeminacy of the human heart. A man must have a very uncommon severity of temper indeed, who can find any thing to .condemn in adding charms to truth, and gaining the heart by captivating the ear; in uniting roses with the thorns of science, and joining pleasure with instruction.

The truth is, the mind is delighted with a fine

style upon the same principle that it prefers regularity to confusion, and beanty to deformity. A taste of this sort is indeed so far from being a mark of any depravity of our nature, that I should rather consider it as an evidence, in some degree, of the moral rectitude of its constitution; as it is a proof of its retaining some relish at least of harmony and order.

We might be apt, indeed, to suspect that certain writers among us had considered all beauties of this sort, in the same gloomy view with Malbranche; or at least that they avoided every refinement in style, as unworthy a lover of truth and philosophy. Their sentiments are sunk by the lowest expressions, and seem condemned to the first curse, of "creeping upon the ground all "the days of their life." Others, on the contrary, mistake pomp for dignity; and in order to raise their expressions above the vulgar language, lift them up beyond common apprehensions, esteeming it (one should imagine) a mark of their genius, that it requires some ingenuity to penetrate their meaning.

But how few writers know how to hit that true medium which lies between those distant extremes. How seldom do we meet with au author, whose expressions are glowing but not glaring; whose metaphors are natural, but not

common; whose periods are harmonious, but not poetical; in a word whose sentiments are well set, and shewn to the understanding in their truest and most advantageous lustre.

ESSAY 100.


Nolint atqui licet esse beatis. Hor. lib. 1. Sat. 1.


I AM much inclined to think that the misfortunes, as they are termed, of life, are not so often owing to the want of care, as being over solicitous to acquire what nature would effect for us, if we were contented to follow her dictates. The brutes, led on by that inward impulse we call instinct, never err in their pursuit after what is good for

[blocks in formation]

them; but man, enlightened by reason, that particular mark of Providence which distinguishes him from the rest of beings, obstinately refuses to be conducted to happiness, and often travels towards misery with labour and fatigue.

It would be absurd to say, that a rational creature would voluntarily chuse misery; but we too frequently do it blindly. Every thing, as the philosophical emperor* observes, is fancy; but as that faucy is in our own power to govern, we are justly punished if we suffer it to wander at will, or to deceive us into uneasiness.

The most sure and speedy way to detect any mental imposture is by soliloquy or self examination, in the way laid down by our great restorer of ancient learning. If our fancy stands the test of this mirror, which represents all objects in their true colours, it is genuine, and may be accepted by the mind with safety; but if it recedes from the trial, or changes in the attempt, it is spurious, and ought to be rejected. This will inform us that the great mistake of mankind in the pursuit after happiness, is casting their looks at a distance after lands of Paradise, while the prospect so much sought after blooms unbeheld around them.

*Antoninus Pius.

At Ispahan in Persia, there lived a young man of noble family and great fortune, named Achmet, who from his infancy shewed the earliest signs of a restless and turbulent spirit; and though by na› ture endowed with an understanding superior to any of his age, was led away with every gust of passion to precipitate himself into the greatest dangers. After having experienced the misfortunes that accrue from such a disposition, he became somewhat more diffident of his own abilities, and determined to take the advice of those who had been most conversant with human nature how to proceed for the future.

There dwelt not far from the city, in a little cell among a ridge of mountains, an old hermit, who many years before had retired from the world to spend there the rest of his days in prayer and contemplation. This good man became so famous for his wisdom and exemplary life, that all who had any uneasiness of mind, consulted Abudah (for so he was called) and never failed receiving consolation, in the deepest affliction, from his prudent counsel, which made the superstitious imagine, that there was a charm in the sound of his words to drive away despair and all her gloomy attendants.

Hither Achmet repaired, and as he was enter

« EelmineJätka »