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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.
may conduce to the happiness of the other, and cheerfully sacrifice the pleasures of a few years to those of an eternity.1
No. 576. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 4.
Nitor in adversum; nec me, qui cætera, vincit
I REMEMBER a young man of very lively parts, and of a sprightly turn in conversation, who had only one fault, which was an inordinate desire of appearing fashionable. This ran him into many amours, and consequently into many distempers. He never went to bed till two a-clock in the morning, because he would not be a queer fellow; and was every now and then knocked down by a constable, to signalize his vivacity. He was initiated into half a dozen clubs before he was one and twenty, and so improved in them his natural gaiety of temper, that you might frequently trace him to his lodgings by a range of broken windows, and other the like monuments of wit and gallantry. To be short, after having fully established his reputation of being a very agreeable rake, he died of old age at five and twenty.
There is, indeed, nothing which betrays a man into so many errors and inconveniences, as the desire of not appearing singular; for which reason it is very necessary to form a right idea of singularity, that we may know when it is laudable and when it is vicious. In the first place, every man of sense will agree with me, that singularity is laudable, when, in contradiction to a multitude, it adheres to the dictates of conscience, morality, and honour. In these cases we ought to consider, that it is not custom, but duty, which is the rule of action; and that we should be only so far sociable, as we are reasonable creatures. Truth is never the less so for not being attended to; and it is the nature ci
These two moral papers, though on the commonest of all subjects, and without the appearance of a new sentiment to recommend them, are, perhaps, as pleasing as any in the Spectator. The reason is, that they are exquisitely well written; by which I only mean, that the style is perfectly clear and pure; that is, such as it should be on the occasion, which requires, and only permits, that plain good sense should be suitably expressed.
Tantùm de medio sumptis accedit honoris !
According to Addison