« ForrigeFortsæt »
reached as to think he is directing himself, whilst he is following the dictates of another, and consequently is not sensible of that which is the most unpleasing circumstance in advice.
In the next place, if we look into human nature, we shall find that the mind is never so much pleased, as when she exerts herself in any action that gives her an idea of her own perfections and abilities. This natural pride and ambition of the soul is very much gratified in the reading of a fable: for in writings of this kind, the reader comes in for half of the performance; everything appears to him like a discovery of his own; he is busied all the while in applying characters and circumstances, and is in this respect both a reader and a composer. It is no wonder, therefore, that on such occasions, when the mind is thus pleased with itself, and amused with its own discoveries, it is highly delighted with the writing which is the occasion of it. For this reason the Absalon and Achitophel was one of the most popular poems that ever appeared in English. The poetry is indeed very fine, but had it been much finer it would not have so much pleased, without a plan which gave the reader an opportunity of exerting his own talents.
This oblique manner of giving advice is so inoffensive, that if we look into ancient histories, we find the wise men of old very often chose1 to give counsel to their kings in fables. To omit many which will occur to every one's memory, there is a pretty instance of this nature in a Turkish tale, which I do not like the worse for that little Oriental extravagance which is mixed with it.
We are told that the Sultan Mahmoud, by his perpetual wars abroad, and his tyranny at home, had filled his dominions with ruin and desolation, and half unpeopled the Persian empire. The vizier to this great sultan (whether an humourist or an enthusiast we are not informed) pretended to have learned of a certain dervise to understand the language of birds, so that there was not a bird that could open his mouth but the vizier knew what it was he said. As he was one evening with the emperor, on their return from hunting, they saw a couple of owls upon a tree that grew near an old wall, out of an heap of rubbish. "I would fain
1 Chose.] To avoid the fault just now taken notice of, we might say, choosing to give," &c.
2 Which I do which is.] The same fault again.
know," says the sultan, "what those two owls are saying to one another; listen to their discourse, and give me an account of it." The vizier approached the tree, pretending to be very attentive to the two owls. Upon his return to the sultan, "Sir," says he, "I have heard part of their conversation, but dare not tell you what it is." The sultan would not be satisfied with such an answer, but forced him to repeat word for word everything that the owls had said. "You must know then," said the vizier, "that one of these owls has a son, and the other a daughter, between whom they are now upon a treaty of marriage. The father of the son said to the father of the daughter, in my hearing, "Brother, I consent to this marriage, provided you will settle upon your daughter fifty ruined villages for her portion." To which the father of the daughter replied, "Instead of fifty, I will give her five hundred, if you please. God grant a long life to Sultan Mahmoud; whilst he reigns over us, we shall never want ruined villages."
The story says, the sultan was so touched with the fable, that he rebuilt the towns and villages which had been destroyed, and from that time forward consulted the good of his people.
To fill up my paper I shall add a most ridiculous piece of natural magic, which was taught by no less a philosopher than Democritus, namely, that if the blood of certain birds, which he mentioned, were mixed together, it would produce a serpent of such wonderful virtue, that whoever did eat it should be skilled in the language of birds, and understand everything they said to one another. Whether the dervise above-mentioned might not have eaten such a serpent, I shall leave to the determinations of the learned.
No. 513. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18.
-Afflata est numine quando
THE following letter comes to me from that excellent man in holy orders, whom I have mentioned more than once, as
"That-it would produce-of such virtue that."]. Still the same fault of a too complicated construction; whence we may conclude that this paper was written carelessly, and in haste.
one of that society who assist me in my speculations. It is a "Thought in Sickness," and of a very serious nature, for which reason I give it a place in the paper of this day.
The indisposition which has long hung upon me is at last grown to such a head, that it must quickly make an end of me, or of itself. You may imagine, that whilst I am in this bad state of health, there are none of your works which I read with greater pleasure than your Saturday's papers. I should be very glad if I could furnish you with any hints for that day's entertainment. Were I able to dress up several thoughts of a serious nature, which have made great impressions on my mind during a long fit of sickness, they might not be an improper entertainment for that occasion.
"Among all the reflections which usually rise in the mind of a sick man, who has time and inclination to consider his approaching end, there is none more natural than that of his going to appear naked and unbodied before him who made him. When a man considers, that as soon as the vital union is dissolved, he shall see that Supreme Being, whom he now contemplates at a distance, and only in his works: or, to speak more philosophically, when by some faculty in the soul he shall apprehend the Divine Being, and be more sensible of his presence than we are now of the presence of any object which the eye beholds, a man must be lost in carelessness and stupidity, who is not alarmed at such a thought. Dr. Sherlock, in his excellent treatise upon death, has represented, in very strong and lively colours, the state of the soul in its first separation from the body, with regard to that invisible world which everywhere surrounds us, though we are not able to discover it through this grosser world of matter, which is accommodated to our senses in this life. His words are as follow.
"That death, which is our leaving this world, is nothing else but our putting off these bodies, teaches us that it is only our union to these bodies which intercepts the sight of the other world: the other world is not at such a distance from us as we may imagine; the throne of God, indeed, is at a great remove from this earth, above the third heavens, where he displays his glory to those blessed spirits which encompass his throne; but as soon as we step out of these
bodies, we step into the other world, which is not so properly another world, (for there is the same heaven and earth still,) as a new state of life. To live in these bodies is to live in this world; to live out of them, is to remove into the next : for while our souls are confined to these bodies, and can look only through these material casements, nothing but what is material can affect us; nay, nothing but what is so gross, that it can reflect light, and convey the shapes and colours of things with it to the eye: so that though within this visible world there be a more glorious scene of things than what appears to us, we perceive nothing at all of it; for this veil of flesh parts the visible and invisible world: but when we put off these bodies, there are new and surprising wonders present themselves to our view; when these material spectacles are taken off, the soul with its own naked eyes sees what was invisible before; and then we are in the other world, when we can see it, and converse with it: thus St. Paul tells us, 'That when we are at home in the body, are absent from the Lord; but when we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord,' 2 Cor. v. 6, 8. And, methinks, this is enough to cure us of our fondness for these bodies, unless we think it more desirable to be confined to a prison, and to look through a grate all our lives, which gives us but a very narrow prospect, and that none of the best neither, than to be set at liberty to view all the glories of the world. What would we give now for the least glimpse of that invisible world, which the first step we take out of these bodies will present us with! There are such things as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive: death opens our eyes, enlarges our prospect, presents us with a new and more glorious world, which we can never see while we are shut up in flesh; which should make us as willing to part with this veil, as to take the film off of our eyes which hinders our sight.'
"As a thinking man cannot but be very much affected with the idea of his appearing in the presence of that Being, 'whom none can see and live,' he must be much more affected, when he considers that this Being whom he appears before will examine all the actions of his past life, and reward or punish him accordingly. I must confess, that I think there is no scheme of religion besides that of Christianity, which can possibly support the most virtuous person
under this thought. Let a man's innocence be what it will, let his virtues rise to the highest pitch of perfection attainable in this life, there will be still in him so many secret sins, so many human frailties, so many offences of ignorance, passion, and prejudice, so many unguarded words and thoughts, and, in short, so many defects in his best actions, that without the advantages of such an expiation and atonement as Christianity has revealed to us, it is impossible that he should be cleared before his Sovereign Judge, or that he should be able to stand in his sight. Our holy religion suggests to us the only means whereby our guilt may be taken away, and our imperfect obedience accepted.
"It is this series of thought that I have endeavoured to express in the following hymn, which I have composed during this my sickness.