« ForrigeFortsæt »
Cæsar to death, because I am not perpetually talking of the ides of March, as he is of the nones of December?" I need not acquaint my learned reader, that in the ides of March Brutus destroyed Cæsar, and that Cicero quashed the conspiracy of Catiline in the calends of December. How shocking soever this great man's talking of himself might have been to his contemporaries, I must confess I am never better pleased than when he is on this subject. Such openings of the heart give a man a thorough insight into his personal character,1 and illustrate several passages in the history of his life besides, that there is some little pleasure in discovering the infirmity of a great man, and seeing how the opinion he has of himself agrees with what the world entertains of him.
The gentlemen of Port-Royal, who were more eminent for their learning and their humility than any other in France, banished the way of speaking in the first
person out of all their works, as arising from vain-glory and self-conceit. To show their particular aversion to it, they branded this form of writing with the name of an egotism; a figure not to be found among the ancient rhetoricians.
The most violent egotism which I have met with in the course of my reading, is that of Cardinal Wolsey, Ego et rex meus, “I and my king; as perhaps the most eminent egotist that ever appeared in the world, was Montagne, the author of the celebrated Essays. This lively old Gascon has woven all his bodily infirmities into his works, and after having spoken of the faults or virtues of any other man, immediately publishes to the world how it stands with himself in that particular. Had he kept his own counsel, he might have passed for a much better man, though, perhaps, he would not have been so diverting an author. The title of an essay promises, perhaps, a discourse upon Virgil or Julius Cæsar; but when you look into it, you are sure to meet with more upon Monsieur Montagne than either of them. The younger Scaliger, who seems to have been no great friend to this author, after having acquainted the world that his father sold herrings, adds these words; La grande fadaise de Mon
Such openings of the heart give a man a thorough insight into his personal character-without doubt: and he might have said-raise one's ideas of it, when the writer or speaker has such a heart to lay open as Cicero had.
tagne, qui a escrit qu'il aimoit mieux le vin blancdiable a-t-on à faire de sçavoir ce qu'il aime? For my part, (says Montagne,) I am a great lover of your white wines. "What the devil signifies it to the public, (says Scaliger,) whether he is a lover of white wines or of red wines ?"
I cannot here forbear mentioning a tribe of egotists for whom I have always had a mortal aversion, I mean the authors of memoirs, who are never mentioned in any works but their own, and who raise all their productions out of this single figure of speech.
Most of our modern prefaces savour very strongly of the egotism. Every insignificant author fancies it of importance to the world to know that he writ his book in the country, that he did it to pass away some of his idle hours, that it was published at the importunity of friends, or that his natural temper, studies, or conversations, directed him to the choice of his subject.
-Id populus curat scilicet.
Such informations cannot but be highly improving to the
In works of humour, especially when a man writes under a fictitious personage, the talking of one's self may give some diversion to the public; but I would advise every other writer never to speak of himself, unless there be something very considerable in his character; though I am sensible this rule will be of little use in the world, because there is no man who fancies his thoughts worth publishing, that does not look upon himself as a considerable person.
I shall close this paper with a remark upon such as are egotists in conversation: these are generally the vain or shallow part of mankind, people being naturally full of themselves when they have nothing else in them. There is one kind of egotists which is very common in the world, though I do not remember that any writer has taken notice of them; I mean those empty, conceited fellows, who repeat as sayings of their own, or some of their particular friends, several jests which were made before they were born, and which every one who has conversed in the world has heard a hundred
times over. A forward young fellow of my acquaintance was very guilty of this absurdity: he would be always laying a new scene for some old piece of wit, and telling us, That
as he and Jack such-a-one were together, one or t'other of them had such a conceit on such an occasion;" upon which he would laugh very heartily, and wonder the company did not join with him. When his mirth was over, I have often reprehended him out of Terence," Tuumne, obsecro te, hoc dictum erat? vetus credidi." But finding him still incorrigible, and having a kindness for the young coxcomb, who was otherwise a good-natured fellow, I recommended to his perusal the Oxford and Cambridge jests, with several little pieces of pleasantry of the same nature. Upon the reading of them, he was under no small confusion to find that all his jokes had passed through several editions, and that what he thought was a new conceit, and had appropriated to his own use, had appeared in print before he or his ingenious friends were ever heard of. This had so good an effect upon him, that he is content at present to pass for a man of plain sense in his ordinary conversation, and is never facetious but when he knows his company.
No. 565. FRIDAY, JULY 9.
-Deum namque ire per omnes
Terrasque, tractusque maris, cœlumque profundum. VIRG.
I was yesterday about sun-set walking in the open fields, till the night insensibly fell upon me.2 I at first amused myself with all the richness and variety of colours, which appeared in the western parts of heaven: in proportion as
1 What he thought was a new conceit, and had appropriated to his own use.] The reader may, perhaps, think (for the writer himself, in a careless humour, appears to have done so) that the copulative and connects the verbs thought and appropriated, whereas it connects the verbs was and appropriated, and even then the last of these verbs has no substantive belonging to it. For the passage, if regularly pointed and filled up, stands thus-what [as] he thought was a new conceit, and [he] had appropriated to his own use. Still, to make what the nominative case in the former part of this passage, and the accusative in the latter, even though it had been repeated in its place, as it is not, is very irregular, and even barbarThe whole may be reformed by changing was into to be-" what he thought to be a new conceit, and had appropriated to his own use "Quod novum putabat esse dictum, et sibi vindicaverat.
2 The fine imagery of this introduction is presented to us in all the force and beauty of expression.
they faded away and went out, several stars and planets appeared one after another, till the whole firmament was in a glow. The blueness of the æther was exceedingly heightened and enlivened by the season of the year, and by the rays of all those luminaries that passed through it. The galaxy appeared in its most beautiful white. To complete the scene, the full moon rose at length in that clouded majesty, which Milton takes notice of, and opened to the eye a new picture of nature, which was more finely shaded, and disposed among softer lights, than that which the sun had before discovered to us.
As I was surveying the moon walking in her brightness, and taking her progress among the constellations, a thought rose in me which I believe very often perplexes and disturbs men of serious and contemplative natures. David himself fell into it, in that reflection, “When I consider the heavens, the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou regardest him?" In the same manner, when I considered that infinite host of stars, or, to speak more philosophically, of suns, which were then shining upon me, with those innumerable sets of planets or worlds, which were moving round their respective suns; when I still enlarged the idea, and supposed another heaven of suns and worlds rising still above this which we discovered, and these still enlightened by a superior firmament of luminaries, which are planted at so great a distance that they may appear to the inhabitants of the former as the stars do to us;-in short, whilst I pursued this thought, I could not but reflect on that little insignificant figure which I myself bore amidst the immensity of God's works.
Were the sun, which enlightens this part of the creation, with all the host of planetary worlds that move about him, utterly extinguished and annihilated, they would not be missed more than a grain of sand upon the sea-shore. The space they possess is so exceedingly little, in comparison of the whole, that it would scarce make a blank in the creation. The chasm would be imperceptible to an eye, that could take in the whole compass of nature, and pass from one end of the creation to the other, as it is possible there may be such a sense in ourselves hereafter, or in creatures which are at present more exalted than ourselves. We see many
stars by the help of glasses, which we do not discover with our naked eyes; and the finer our telescopes are, the more still are our discoveries. Huygenius carries this thought1 so far, that he does not think it impossible there may be 2 stars whose light is not yet travelled down to us since their first creation. There is no question but the universe has certain bounds set to it: but when we consider that it is the work of infinite power, prompted by infinite goodness, with an infinite space to exert itself in, how can our imagination set any bounds to it?
To return, therefore, to my first thought, I could not but look upon myself with secret horror, as a being that was not worth the smallest regard to one who had so great a work under his care and superintendency. I was afraid of being overlooked amidst the immensity of nature, and lost among that infinite variety of creatures, which in all probability swarm through all these immeasurable regions of matter.
In order to recover myself from this mortifying thought, I considered that it took its rise from those narrow conceptions, which we are apt to entertain of the Divine Nature. We ourselves cannot attend to many different objects at the same time. If we are careful to inspect some things, we must of course neglect others. This imperfection which we observe in ourselves, is an imperfection that cleaves in some degree to creatures of the highest capacities, as they are creatures, that is, beings of finite and limited natures. The presence of every created being is confined to a certain measure of space, and consequently his observation is stinted to a certain number of objects. The sphere in which we move, and act, and understand, is of a wider circumference to one creature than another, according as we rise one above another in the scale of existence. But the widest of these our spheres has its circumference. When, therefore, we reflect on the Divine Nature, we are so used and accustomed to this imperfection in ourselves, that we cannot forbear, in some measure, ascribing it to him, in whom there is no shadow of imperfection. Our reason, indeed, assures us, that his attributes are infinite, but the poorness of our conceptions is such, that it cannot forbear setting bounds to everything it contemplates, till
This thought-] I would say-this speculation. See the next note. 2 That he does not think it impossible [that] there may be-] Better thus-as to think it not improbable that there may be.