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No. 25. SATURDAY, JUNE 2.
Τ' αληθές εύρήσεις αριθμών --
An opulent merchant of Bagdad, being afflicted with a latent disorder which had baffled all the medical abilities of his native town, resolved to set out for a place, at the distance of a day's journey, which had long been famous for the number and the skill of its physicians. As he had wrought up his mind to the highest pitch of confidence in the art and experience of these professors, he entered the town in great gaiety of heart, notwithstanding the number of fresh graves which he observed in the buryingplaces, and the many pallid countenances he met in the streets; for, with respect to these last, said he to himself, “it needs no calculation to convince me that these are but a small part of the whole population of the city, and possibly these are all in a state of convalescence from a much lower condition."
As he proceeded, he inquired for the most eminent practitioner, and was directed to a very long irregular street, which, he was told, was inhabited entirely by physicians. On entering the street, he was struck with its gloomy appearance, as it was shaded with yew-trees from top to bottom; and so infested with owls and bats, that it was with difficulty he could make his way. His alarms were prodigiously increased, when, upon advancing towards the door of the largest house, he found himself in a throng of ghosts, who instantly made a passage for him by separating into two ranks. He pursued his way, as if he was running the gauntlet, till he came to the door, where, having given a modest rap, his business was inquired by a damsel who seemed far gone in a decline. “My dear,” said he, “ before I declare my errand, have the kindness to tell me the meaning of all this unsubstantial gentry, who press round your door like beggars the day after a feast?" “ Stranger,” she replied, " it is nothing more than a crowd of impudent ghosts, who are continually upbraiding my master with the failure of his prescriptions. Now as there were pretty nearly five hundred of this order, our young merchant, without troubling himself with any calculations, or staying to consider that this number was small or great in proportion to the extent of the physician's practice, or that his superior skill might have drawn to him all the most desperate cases, yielded to his first im. pressions, and marched away in great good-humour with his own penetration.
Before the next house there were not more than three hundred ghosts, which, however, was a formi. dable number, in our traveller's estimation, and fixed his opinion respecting the merit of the doctor. A circumstance that puzzled him not a little was, that the magnitude and respectability of the houses de creased in the same ratio with the number of the ghosts which were ranged before them; for it seemed reasonable to conclude, that the best physicians would be best lodged, on account of their superior gains. But this was entering too much into calculation; so on he went, till he came to the end of the street, where was a small house of one story, and with only one ghost before it. “Here,” said he, " without doubt lives the man whom the Prophet has destined to be my restorer : with only one ghost in all his practice, it is odds, indeed, against my being the second.” So saying, he knocked boldly at the door, and was introduced to the doctor by a very plump and rosy maid-servant. Having made his case known, he was promised a speedy deliverance; and accordingly was put to bed, and operated upon so many ways, that in a short time he was reduced to a most deplorable condition.
He did such honour to the doctor's medicines, that at the end of the fourth day he found it advisable to make his will. The notary could not help expressing his surprise that a person of such large property should put himself into such hands; and asked him, if any severe calamities had reduced him to this act of desperation ? This brought on a con versation, in which it transpired, that our young traveller was only the second patient that had fallen under the doctor's care since he had entered into the profession about three years ago.
The notary, who happened to be an honest man, was touched with compassion at the melancholy situation of the dying merchant. Having finished the business of the will, he proposed to him a trial of some more eminent physician ; and having satisfied the oneghost doctor with the pretence of changing the air, removed the patient with great care, in a litter, to the house where he had first applied, and had been frightened away by the five hundred ghosts. On entering the house, the merchant was astonished to see the poor consumptive maiden, who had opened the door to him a little time ago, converted into a very florid and healthy person. This raised in him great hopes, which were amply justified by the event : for in the course of two weeks he returned to Bagdad completely restored, whither he carried with him the notary's daughter, whom he married from motives of love towards herself, and gratitude to her father. He made also a resolution never to decide at first view, but always to bestow some pains on calculation before he fixed his adoption.
The story of the young merchant of Bagdad is the story of the greater part of my countrymen, both young and old. Few of us set a sufficient value upon our second thoughts, to wait for their decision; we prefer in general the easiest methods to the safest, and choose rather to err with despatch than to succeed with deliberation. On this im. patience of judgement, this inclination finally to determine on a general view of a subject, rather than trouble ourselves with an examination of the particulars, is the common success of many
lu. dicrous betts founded. To gather into a heap a hundred stones placed at the distance of a single yard from each other, seems to many a young man å task which he could with ease accomplish in an hour: but before him who calculates how many hundred yards of ground he must go over, ere the work can be completed, this appearance of ease retires. It is thus that computation supplies the place of experience, and forms a safeguard to those whose want of more extensive information lays them particularly open to deception.
A little acquaintance with history is enough to satisfy us, that numerous errors are discovered, and great misrepresentations detected, by the simple process of calculating and comparing dates and distances : and I am persuaded, that those among the younger part of my
readers, who will condescend to take the counsel I give, will hereafter thank me for advising them to bring all relations of important
circumstances to the test of numbers. Were this practice more frequently observed, many compilers, who owe no small portion of their credit to the idleness of their readers, would lose that fame which too confident a reliance on their fidelity or their knowledge has accumulated around them. Many received opinions, many plausible systems, would sink under this trial; nor is there any thing that would more strongly contribute to defend the cause of truth against the bold assumptions and vain assertions of the enemies of Revelation. How much calculation avails in matters of legal testimony, those conversant with the practice of our courts of justice will bear me witness. But for this, criminals, by suborning persons of trading consciences, might every session establish alibis, that would make the capital appear clear of thieves, and leave crimes without their perpetrators.
Nor is it of less advantage in civil causes, where, probably, still more impositions would be detected, if the technical part of arithmetic were better attended to in the education of those intended for the profession of the law. Neither shall we charge too much on the neglect of this basis of science, if we ascribe to it a large portion of the mistakes of economy, and the miscarriages of trade. When I hear, from one of my town correspondents, that a young man has ruined his fortune by his extravagance, and, to satisfy his creditors, 'is obliged to sell or mortgage his estate, I immediately conclude that he had never taken the trouble to calculate to what expense his income was adequate, that he might arrange his establishment so as not to exceed it: and when I lately learnt, that it had become å fashion among the Great not to rise till noon, then to dine at six in the evening for the sake of a VOL. XXXV.