Obrázky na stránke

extraordinary merit in the person on whom they descended.

Those who believe a future state of rewards and punishments act very absurdly, if they form their opinions of a man's merit from his successes. But certainly, if I thought the whole circle of our being was concluded between our births and deaths, I should think a man's good fortune the measure and standard of his real merit, since Providence would have no opportunity of rewarding his virtue and perfections, but in the present life. A virtuous unbeliever, who lies under the pressure of misfortunes, has reason to cry out, as they say Brutus did a little before his death: ' O virtue, I have worshipped thee as a substantial good, but I find thou art an empty name.'

But to return to our first point. Though prudence does undoubtedly in a great measure produce our good or ill fortune in the world, it is certain there are many unforeseen accidents and occurrences which very often pervert the finest schemes that can be laid by human wisdom. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.' Nothing less than infinite wisdom can have an absolute command over fortune; the highest degree of it which man can possess is by no means equal to fortuitous events, and to such contingencies as may rise in the prose→ cution of our affairs. Nay, it very often happens, that prudence, which has always in it a great mixture of caution, hinders a man from being so fortunate, as he might possibly have been without it. A person who only aims at what is likely to succeed, and follows closely the dictates of human prudence, never meets with those great and unforeseen successes, which are often the effect of a sanguine tem

per, or a more happy rashness; and this perhaps may be the reason, that, according to the common obser vation, Fortune, like other females, delights rather in favouring the young than the old.

Upon the whole, since man is so short-sighted a creature, and the accidents which may happen to him so various, I cannot but be of Dr. Tillotson's opinion in another case, that were there any doubt of a Providence, yet it certainly would be very desirable there should be such a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness, on whose direction we might rely in the conduct of human life.

It is a great presumption to ascribe our successes to our own management, and not to esteem ourselves upon any blessing, rather as it is the bounty of heaven, than the acquisition of our own prudence. I am very well pleased with a medal which was struck by queen Elizabeth, a little after the defeat of the invincible armada, to perpetuate the memory of that extraordinary event. It is well known how the king of Spain, and others who were the enemies of that great princess, to derogate from her glory, ascribed the ruin of their fleet rather to the violence of storms and tempests, than to the bravery of the English. Queen Elizabeth, instead of looking upon this as a diminution of her honour, valued herself upon such a signal favour of Providence, and accordingly, in the reverse of the medal above-mentioned, has represented a fleet beaten by a tempest, and falling foul upon one another, with that religious inscription, Afflavit Deus, et dissipantur.' blew with his wind, and they were scattered.'


It is remarked of a famous Grecian general, whose name I cannot at present recollect 2, and who had

2 Timotheus, son of Conon the Athenian. See Plutarch,


been a particular favourite of Fortune, that, upon recounting his victories among his friends, he added at the end of several great actions, And in this Fortune had no share.' After which it is observed in history, that he never prospered in any thing he undertook.

arrogance and a conceitedness of our own abilities are very shocking and offensive to men of sense and virtue, we may be sure they are highly displeasing to that Being who delights in an humble mind, and by several of his dispensations seems purposely to shew us, that our own schemes, or pru dence, have no share in our advancements.


Since on this subject I have already admitted several quotations, which have occurred to my me◄ mory upon writing this paper, I will conclude it with a little Persian fable. A drop of water fell out of a cloud into the sea, and, finding itself lost in such an immensity of fluid matter, broke out into the following reflection: Alas! What an inconsiderable creature am I in this prodigious ocean of waters! My existence is of no concern to the universe; I am reduced to a kind of nothing, and am less than the least of the works of God.' It so happened, that an oyster, which lay in the neighbourhood of this drop, chanced to gape and swallow it up in the midst of this its humble soliloquy. The drop, says the fable, lay a great while hardening in the shell, until by degrees it was ripened into a pearl, which falling into the hands of a diver, after a long series of adventures, is at present that famous pearl which is fixed on the top of the Persian diadem.



N°294. WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 1711-12.

Difficile est plurimùm virtutem revereri qui semper secundâ fortunâ sit usus.

TULL. ad Herennium.

The man who is always fortunate, cannot easily have a great reverence for virtue.


INSOLENCE is the crime of all others which every man is apt to rail at; and yet there is one respect in which almost all men living are guilty of it, and that is in the case of laying a greater value upon the gifts of fortune than we ought. It is here in England come into our very language, as a propriety of distinction, to say, when we would speak of persons to their advantage, They are people of condition." There is no doubt but the proper use of riches im plies, that a man should exert all the good qualities imaginable; and if we mean by a man of condition or quality, one who according to the wealth he is master of, shews himself just, beneficent, and charitable, that term ought very deservedly to be had in the highest veneration; but when wealth is used only as it is the support of pomp and luxury, to be rich is very far from being a recommendation to honour and respect. It is indeed the greatest insolence imagina→ ble, in a creature who would feel the extremes of thirst and hunger if he did not prevent his appe tites before they call upon him, to be so forgetful of the common necessity of human nature, as never to cast an eye upon the poor and needy. The fellow who escaped from a ship which struck upon a rock in VOL. IV.


the west, and joined with the country people to destroy his brother sailors, and make her a wreck, was thought a most execrable creature; but does not every man who enjoys the possession of what he naturally wants, and is uninindful of the unsupplied distress of other men, betray the same temper of mind? When a man looks about him, and with regard to riches and poverty, beholds some drawn in pomp and equipage, and they, and their very servants, with an air of scorn and triumph, overlooking the multitude that pass by them; and in the same street, a creature of the same make, crying out in the name of all that is good and sacred, to behold his misery, and give him some supply against hunger and nakedness; who would believe these two beings were of the same species? But so it is, that the consideration of fortune has taken up all our minds; and as I have often complained, poverty and riches stand in our imaginations in the places of guilt and innocence. But in all seasons there will be some instances of persons who have souls too large to be taken with popular prejudices, and while the rest of mankind are contending for superiority in power and wealth, have their thoughts bent upon the necessities of those below them. The charity-schools, which have been erected of late years, are the greatest instances of public spirit the age has produced. But indeed, when we consider how long this sort of beneficence has been on foot, it is rather from the good management of those institutions, than from the number or value of the benefactions to them, that they make so great a figure. One would think it impossible that in the space of fourteen years there should not have been five thousand pounds bestowed in gifts this way, nor sixteen hundred children, includ

« PredošláPokračovať »