« PreviousContinue »
by attending to the remarks which every paper
will produce, rectify his opinions. If he should with too little premeditation encumber himself by an unwieldy subject, he can quit it without confessing his ignorance, and pass to other topicks less dangerous, or more tractable. And if he finds, with all his industry, and all his artifices, that he cannot deserve regard, or cannot attain it, he may let the design fall at once, and, without injury to others or himself, retire to amusements of greator pleasure, or to studies of better prospect.
N° 2. SATURDAY, MARCH 24, 1750.
Stare loco nescit, perennt vestigia mille
POPE. THAT the mind of man is never satisfied with the cbjects immediately before it, but is always breaking away from the present moment, and losing itself in schemes of future felicity; and that we forget the proper use of the time now in our power, to provide for the enjoyment of that which perhaps may never be granted us, has been frequently remarked : and as this practice is a commodious subject of raillery to the gay, and of declamation to the serious, it has been ridiculed rith all the pleasantry of wit, and exaggerated wit i all
the amplifications of rhetorick. Every instance, by which its absurdity might appear most flagrant, has been studiously collected; it has been marked with every epithet of contempt, and all the tropes and figures have been called forth against it.
Censure is willingly indulged, because it always implies some superiority: men please themselves with imagining that they have made a deeper search, or wider survey, than others, and detected faults and follies which escape vulgar observation. And the pleasure of wantoning in common topicks is so tempting to a writer, that he cannot easily resign it ; a train of sentiments generally received enables him to shine without labour, and to conquer without a contest. It is so easy to laugh at the folly of him who lives only in idea, refuses immediate ease for distant pleasures, and, instead of enjoying the blessings of life, lets life glide away in preparations to enjoy them ; it affords such opportunities of triumphant exultation, to exemplify the uncertainty of the human state, to rouse mortals from their dream, and inform them of the silent celerity of time, that we may believe authors willing rather to transmit than examine so advantageous a principle, and more inclined to pursue a track so smooth and so flowery, than at. tentively to consider whether it leads to truth.
This quality of looking forward into futurity seems the unavoidable condition of a being whose motions are gradual, and whose life is progressive : as his powers are limited, he must use means for the attainment of his ends, and intend first what he performs last ; as by continual advances from his first stage of existence, he is perpetually varying
the horizon of his prospects, he must always discover new motives of action, new excitements of fear, and allurements of desire.
The end therefore which at present calls forth our efforts, will be found, when it is once gained, to be only one of the means to some remoter end. The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.
He that directs his steps to a certain point, must frequently turn his eyes to that place which he strives to reach ; he that undergoes the fatigue of . labour, must solace his weariness with the contemplation of its reward. In agriculture, one of the most simple and necessary employments, no man turns up the ground but because he thinks of the harvest, that harvest which blights may intercept, which inundations may, sweep away,
or which death or calamity may hinder him from reaping.
Yet, as few maxims are widely received or long retained but for some conformity with truth and nature, it must be confessed, that this caution against keeping our view too intent upon remote advantages is not without its propriety or usefulness, though it may have been recited with too much levity, or enforced with too little distinction : for, not to speak of that vehemence of desire which presses through right and wrong to its gratification, or that anxious inquietude which is justly chargeable with distrust of Heaven, subjects too solemn for my present purpose ; it frequently happens, that, by indulging early the raptures of success, we forgot the measures necessary to secure it, and suffer the imagination to riot in the fruition of
some possible good, till the time of obtaining it has slipped away,
There would however be few enterprises of great labour or hazard undertaken, if we had not the power of magnifying the advantages which we persuade ourselves to expect from them. When the knight of La Mancha gravely recounts to his companion the adventures by which he is to signalize himself, in such a manner that he shall be summoned to the support of empires, solicited to accept the heiress of the crown which he has preserved, have honours and riches to scatter about him, and an island to bestow on his worthy squire, very few readers, amidst their mirth or pity, can deny that they have admitted visions of the same kind; though they have not, perhaps, expected events equally strange, or by means equally inadequate. When we pity him, we reflect on our own lisappointments; and when we laugh, our hearts inform us that he is not more ridiculous than ourselves; except that he tells what we have only thought.
The understanding of a man naturally sanguine, may indeed be easily vitiated by the luxurious indulgence of hope, however necessary to the production of every thing great or excellent, as some plants are destroyed by too open exposure to that sun which gives life and beauty to the vegetable world.
Perhaps no class of the human species requires more to be cautioned against this anticipation of happiness, than those that aspire to the name of authors. A man of lively fancy no sooner finds a hint moving in his mind, than he makes momentaneous excursions to the press, and to the world;
and, with a little encouragement from flattery, pushes forward into future ages, and prognosticates the honours to be paid him, when envy is extinct, and faction forgotten, and those whom partiality now suffers to obscure him, shall have given way to the triflers of as short duration as themselves.
Those who have proceeded so far as to appeal to the tribunal of succeeding times, are not likely to be cured of their infatuation; but all endeavours ought to be used for the prevention of a disease, for which, when it has attained its height, perhaps no remedy will be found in the gardens of philoso phy, however she may boast her physick of the mind, her catharticks of vice, or lenitives of passion.
I shall, therefore, while I am yet but lightly touched with the symptoms of the writer's malady, endeavour to fortify myself against the infection ; not without some weak hope, that my preserva, tives may extend their virtue to others, whose employment exposes them to the same danger:
Laudis amore tumes. Sunt certa piacula, quæ te
Is fame your passion ? Wisdom's powerful charm,
It is the sage advice of Epictetus, that a man should accustom himself often to think of what is most shocking and terrible, that by such reflections he may be preserved from too ardent wishes for seeming good, and from too much dejection in real evil.