« ForrigeFortsæt »
called rich, who have not more than they want;1 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 a higher rank live in a kind of splendid poverty, and are perpetually wanting, because, instead of acquiescing in the solid pleasures of life, they endeavour 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 pleasures 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 naturally sets himself to sale to any one that 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 imaginary 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 endeavours 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
1 For this reason, as there are none [who] can be properly called rich, who have not more than they want.] The irregularity of this sentence is made apparent by the insertion of who after none, where it must of necessity be understood. He should either have said-as none can be properly called rich, who, &c. or else—as there are none who can be properly called rich, unless they have, &c.
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 that it was not his neck.' To which, since I have 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, that 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 could effectually produce, in the mind of man, the virtue I have been hitherto speaking of. In order to make us content with our present condition, many of the ancient philosophers tell us, that our discontent only hurts ourselves, without being able to make any alteration in our circumstances; others, that whatever evil befalls us, is derived to us by a fatal necessity, to which the gods themselves are subject; whilst 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 show 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.
Upon the whole, a contented mind is the greatest blessing a man can enjoy in this world; and if, in the present life, his happiness arises from the subduing of his desires, it will arise in the next from the gratification of them.
A LEWD young fellow seeing an aged hermit go by him barefoot, "Father, (says he,) you are in a very miserable condition, if there is not another world."—"True, son, (said the hermit,) but what is thy condition if there is ?" Man is a creature designed for two different states of being, or rather, for two different lives. His first life is short and transient; his second, permanent and lasting. The question we are all concerned in is this, In which of these two lives it is our chief interest to make ourselves happy? or, in other words, Whether we should endeavour to secure to ourselves the pleasures and gratifications of a life which is uncertain and precarious, and, at its utmost length, of a very inconsiderable duration; or to secure to ourselves the pleasures of a life which is fixed and settled, and will never end? Every man, upon the first hearing of this question, knows very well which side of it he ought to close with. But however right we are in theory, it is plain that in practice we adhere to the wrong side of the question. We make provisions for this life, as though it were never to have an end, and for the other life, as though it were never to have a beginning.
Should a spirit of superior rank, who is a stranger to human nature, accidentally alight upon the earth, and take a survey of its inhabitants, what would his notions of us be? Would not he think that we are a species of beings made for quite different ends and purposes than what we really are?
Must not he imagine that we were placed in this world to get riches and honours? Would not he think that it was our duty to toil after wealth, and station, and title? Nay, would not he believe we were forbidden poverty, by threats of eternal punishment, and enjoined to pursue our pleasures under pain of damnation? He would certainly imagine, that we were influenced by a scheme of duties, quite opposite to those which are indeed prescribed to us. And truly, according to such an imagination, he must conclude that we are a species of the most obedient creatures in the universe; that we are constant to our duty; and that we keep a steady eye on the end for which we were sent hither.
But how great would be his astonishment, when he learnt that we were beings not designed to exist in this world above threescore and ten years! and that the greatest part of this busy species fall short even of that age! How would he be lost in horror and admiration when he should know that this set of creatures, who lay out all their endeavours for this life, which scarce deserves the name of existence, when, I say, he should know that this set of creatures, are to exist to all eternity in another life, for which they make no preparations! Nothing can be a greater disgrace to reason, than that men, who are persuaded of these two different states of being, should be perpetually employed in providing for a life of threescore and ten years, and neglecting to make provision for that, which, after many myriads of years, will be still new, and still beginning; especially when we consider, that our endeavours for making ourselves great, or rich, or honourable, or whatever else we place our happiness in, may after all prove unsuccessful; whereas, if we constantly and sincerely endeavour to make ourselves happy in the other life, we are sure that our endeavours will succeed, and that we shall not be disappointed of our hope.
The following question is started by one of the schoolmen. Supposing the whole body of the earth were a great ball or mass of the finest sand, and that a single grain or particle of this sand should be annihilated every thousand years. Supposing then that you had it in your choice to be happy all the while this prodigious mass of sand was consuming by this slow method till there was not a grain of it left, on condition you were to be miserable for ever after; or, supposing
that you might be happy for ever after, on condition you would be miserable till the whole mass of sand were thus annihilated, at the rate of one sand in a thousand years; which of these two cases would you make your choice?
It must be confessed in this case, so many thousands of years are, to the imagination, as a kind of eternity, though in reality they do not bear so great a proportion to that duration which is to follow them, as a unit does to the greatest number which you can put together in figures, or as one of those sands to the supposed heap. Reason, therefore, tells us, without any manner of hesitation, which would be the better part of this choice. However, as I have before intimated, our reason might in such a case be so overset by the imagination, as to dispose some persons to sink under the consideration of the great length of the first part of this duration,1 and of the great distance of that second duration which is to succeed it. The mind, I say, might give itself up to that happiness which is at hand, considering that it is so very near, and that it would last so very long. But when the choice we actually have before us is this, whether we will choose to be happy for the space of only threescore and ten, nay, perhaps, of only twenty or ten years, I might say of only a day or an hour, and miserable to all eternity; or, on the contrary, miserable for this short term of years, and happy for a whole eternity; what words are sufficient to express that folly and want of consideration which in such a case makes a wrong choice?
I here put the case even at the worst, by supposing (what seldom happens) that a course of virtue makes us miserable in this life; but if we suppose (as it generally happens) that virtue would make us more happy, even in this life, than a contrary course of vice; how can we sufficiently admire the stupidity or madness of those persons who are capable of making so absurd a choice?
Every wise man, therefore, will consider this life only as it
"Under the consideration of the great length of the first part of this this duration."] The connecting of so many genitive cases together, in this sentence, by means of the preposition of, though generally a fault, and for the most part studiously avoided by Mr. Addison, has here an extreme grace, as the length of the chain serves to express more emphatically the length of that duration which he describes.