Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

which I shall propose in another paper, for the employment of our dead, unactive hours, and which I shall only mention in general to be, the pursuit of knowledge.

No. 94. MONDAY, JUNE 18.

Hoc est Vivere bis, vita posse priore frui. MART. The last method which I proposed in my Saturday's paper, for filling up those empty spaces of life which are so tedious and burthensome to idle people, is the employing ourselves in the pursuit of knowledge. I remember Mr. Boyle, speaking of a certain mineral, tells us, that a man may consume his whole life in the study of it, without arriving at the knowledge of all its qualities. The truth of it is, there is

, not a single science, or any branch of it, that might not furnish a man with business for life, though it were much longer than it is.

I shall not here engage on those beaten subjects of the usefulness of knowledge, nor of the pleasure and perfection it gives the mind, nor on the methods of attaining it, nor recommend any particular branch of it, all which have been the topics of many other writers; but shall indulge myself in a speculation that is more uncommon,

and

may therefore, perhaps, be more entertaining.

I have before shown bow the unemployed parts of life appear long and tedious; and shall here endeavour to show how those parts of life which are exercised in study, reading, and the pursuits of knowledge, are long, but not tedious, and by that means discover a method of lengthening our lives, and at the same time of turning all the parts of them to our advantage.

Mr. Locke observes, “That we get the idea of time, or duration, by reflecting on that train of ideas which succeed one another in our minds : that for this reason, when we sleep soundly, without dreaming, we have no perception of time, or the length of it, whilst we sleep; and that the moment wherein we leave off to think, till the moment we begin to think again, seem to have no distance." To which the author adds, “ And so I doubt not but it would be to a waking man, if it were possible for him to keep only one idea in his

[ocr errors]

a

a

mind, without variation, and the succession of others : and we see, that one who fixes his thoughts very intently on one thing, so as to take but little notice of the succession of ideas that pass in his mind whilst he is taken up with that earnest contemplation, lets slip out of bis account a good part of that duration, and thinks that time shorter than it is.

We might carry this thought further, and consider a man as, on one side, shortening his time by thinking on nothing, or but a few things; so, on the other, as lengthening it, by employing his thoughts on many subjects, or by entertaining a quick and constant succession of ideas. Accordingly Monsieur Mallebranche, in his Inquiry after Truth, (which was published several years before Mr. Locke's Essay on Human Understanding) tells us, that it is possible some creatures

may think half an hour as long as we do a thousand years; or look upon

that
space

of duration which we call a minute, as an hour, a week, a month, or an whole

age. This notion of Monsieur Mallebranche is capable of some little explanation from what I have quoted out of Mr. Locke; for if our notion of time is produced by our reflecting on the succession of ideas in our mind, and this succession may

be infinitely accelerated or retarded, it will follow, that different beings may have different notions of the same parts of duration, according as their ideas, which we suppose are equally distinct in each of them, follow one another in a greater or less degree of rapidity.

There is a famous passage in the Alcoran, which looks as if Mahomet had been possessed of the notion we are now speaking of. It is there said, that the angel Gabriel took Mahomet out of his bed one morning to give him a sight of all things in the seven heavens, in paradise, and in hell, which the prophet took a distinct view of :1 and after having held ninety thousand conferences with God, was brought back again to his bed. All this, says the Alcoran, was transacted in so small a space of time, that Mahomet at his return found his bed still warm, and took up an earthen pitcher (which was thrown down at the very instant that the angel Gabriel carried him away) before the water was all spilt.

1 Which the prophet took a distinct view of.] This way of throwing the preposition to the end of a sentence, is among the peculiarities of Mr Addison's manner; and was derived from his nice ear. The secret deserves to be explained. The English tongue is naturally grave and majestic. The rhythm corresponds to the genius of it; and runs, almost whether we will or no, into iambics. But the continuity of this solemn measure has an ill effect where the subject is not of moment. Mr. Addison's delicate ear made him sensible of this defect in the rhythm of our language, and suggested to him the proper cure for it; which was, to break the continued iambic measure, especially at the end of a sentence, where the weight of it would be most felt, by a preposition, or other short word, of no emphasis in the sense, and without accent, thrown into that

There is a very pretty story in the Turkish Tales which relates to this passage of that famous impostor, and bears some affinity to the subject we are now upon.

A sultan of Egypt, who was an infidel, used to laugh at this circumstance in Mahomet’s life, as what was altogether impossible and absurd; but conversing one day with a great doctor in the law, who had the gift of working miracles, the doctor told him he would quickly convince him of the truth of this passage in the history of Mahomet, if he would consent to do what he should desire of him. Upon this the sultan was directed to place himself by an huge tub of water, which he did accordingly; and as he stood by the tub amidst a circle of his great men, the holy man bid him plunge his head into the water, and draw it up again ; the king accordingly thrust his head into the water, and at the same time found himself at the foot of a mountain on a sea-shore. The king immediately began to rage against his doctor for this piece of treachery and witchcraft; but at length, knowing it

66

[ocr errors]

part: whence a trochee, being introduced into the place of an iambus, would give that air of negligence, and what the French call “legereté,' which, in a work of gaiety or elegance, is found so taking. For instance, had the author said, of which the prophèt töök å distinct viēw”—the metre had been wholly iambic, or, what is worse, would have been loaded with a spondee in the last foot, and the accent must have fallen, with solemnity, on the word “view." But by reserving the preposition ofto the end of the sentence, he gains this advantage, that “view of” becomes a trochee; and the ear is not only relieved by the variety, but escapes the " ictus” of a too important close. For the same reason, he frequently terminates a sentence, or a paragraph, by such unpretending phrases, as, of itof him-to hěrfrom thěm, &c.; which have the same effect on the ear, (the accent, here, falling on the preposition,) and give a careless air to the rhythm, exactly suited to the subject and genius of these little essays: though the common reader, who does not enter into the beauty of this contrivance, is ready to censure the author, as wanting nerves and force.

In the formal style, it is evident, this liberty should be sparingly used : but in conversation, in letters, in narratives, and, universally, in all the lighter forms of composition, the Addisonian termination, as we may call it, has an extreme grace.

2 B

VOL. II.

:

was in vain to be angry, he set himself to think on proper methods for getting a livelihood in this strange country : accordingly be applied himself to some people whom he saw at work in a neighbouring wood; these people conducted him to a town that stood at a little distance from the wood, where, after some adventures, he married a woman of great beauty. and fortune. He lived with this woman so long that he had by her seven sons and seven 'daughters: he was afterwards reduced to great want, and forced to think of plying in the streets as à porter for his livelihood. One day as he was walking alone by the sea-side, being seized with many melancholy reflections upon his former and his present state of life, which had raised a fit of devotion in him, he threw off his clothes with a design to wash himself, according to the custom of the Mahometans, before he said his prayers.

After his first plunge into the sea, he no sooner raised his head above the water but he found himself standing by the side of the tub, with the great men of his court about him, and the holy man at his side. He immediately upbraided his teacher for having sent him on such a course of adventures, and betrayed him into so long a state of misery and servitude; but was wonderfully surprised when he heard that the state he talked of was only a dream and delusion; that he had not stirred from the place where he then stood; and that he had only dipped his head into the water, and immediately taken it out again.

The Mahometan doctor took this occasion of instructing the sultan, that nothing was impossible with God: and that He, with whom a thousand years are but as one day, can, if he pleases, make a single day, nay, a single moment, appear to any of his creatures as a thousand years.

I shall leave my reader to compare these eastern fables with the notions of those two great philosophers whom I have quoted in this paper ; and shall only, by way of application, desire him to consider how we may extend life beyond its natural dimensions, by applying ourselves diligently to the pursuits of knowledge.

The hours of a wise man are lengthened by his ideas, as those of a fool are by his passions : the time of the one is long, because he does not know what to do with it; so is that of the other, because he distinguishes every moment of it with useful or amusing thoughts: or, in other words, be

a

cause the one is always wishing it away, and the other always enjoying it.

How different is the view of past life, in the man who is grown old in knowledge and wisdom, from that of him who is grown old in ignorance and folly! The latter is like the owner of a barren country, that fills his eye with the prospect of naked hills and plains, which produce nothing either profitable or ornamental; the other beholds a beautiful and spacious landscape, divided into delightful gardens, green meadows, fruitful fields; and can scarce cast his eye on a single spot of his possessions that is not covered with some beautiful plant or flower.

No. 98. FRIDAY, JUNE 22.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

- Tanta est quærendi cura decoris. Juv. THERE is not so variable a thing in nature as a lady's head-dress : within my own memory I have known it rise and fall above thirty degrees. About ten years ago it shot up to a very great height, insomuch that the female part of our species were much taller than the men.

The women were of such an enormous stature, that “we appeared as grasshoppers before them :” at present the whole sex is in a manner dwarfed and shrunk into a race of beauties that seems almost another species. I remember several ladies, who were once very near seven foot high, that at present want some inches of five: how they came to be thus curtailed I cannot learn ; whether the whole sex be at present under any penance which we know nothing of, or whether they have cast their head-dresses in order to surprise us with something in that kind which shall be entirely new; or

The plain good sense which runs through the former of these two papers, on the employment of time, and the ingenuity of the last, may satisfy us that the author possessed, in an eminent degree, the two great qualities of a popular moralist

“-simul et jucunda et idonea dicere vitæ." It should further be observed, how exactly the style of these papers corresponds to the subject of them; simple, pure, perspicuous, in the highest degree; such, in a word, as shows the writer to be in earnest, and not, like Seneca, solicitous to illustrate himself, rather than the truths he delivers, (which are best seen by their own light,) in the false glare of an ambitious rhetoric,

« AnteriorContinuar »