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diverted me more than once with an account of the reception which he met with from a very famous independent minister, who was head of a college * in those times. This gentleman was then a young adventurer in the republic of letters, and just fitted out for the university with a good cargo of Latin and Greek. His friends were resolved that he should try his fortune at an election which was drawing near in the college, of which the independent minister whom I have before mentioned was governor. The youth, according to custom, waited on him in order to be examined. He was received at the door by a servant who was one of that gloomy generation that were then in fashion. He conducted him, with great silence and seriousness, to a long gallery, which was darkened at noon-day, and had only a single candle burning in it. After a short stay in this melancholy apartment, he was led into a chamber hung with black, where he entertained himself for some time by the glimmering of a taper, until at length the head of the college came out to him from an inner room, with half a dozen nightcaps upon his head, and a religious horror in his countenance. The young man trembled: but his fears increased, when, instead of being asked what progress he had made in learning, he was examined how he abounded in grace. His Latin and Greek stood him in little stead; he was to give an account only of the state of his soul; whether he was of the number of the elect; what was the occasion of the conversion ; upon what day of the month, and hour of the day it happened; how it was carried on, and when completed. The whole examination was
This head of a college was Dr. Thomas Goodwin, S. T.P. president of Magdalen college in Oxford, and one of the assembly of divines who sat at Westminster.
summed up with one short question, namely, whether he was prepared for death? The boy, who had been bred up by honest parents, was frighted out of his wits at the solemnity of the preceding, and by the last dreadful interrogatory; so that, upon making his escape out of this house of mourning, he could never be brought a second time to the examination, as not being able to go through the terrors of it.
Notwithstanding this general form and outside of religion is pretty well worn out among us, there are many persons who, by a natural uncheerfulness of heart, mistaken notions of piety, or weakness of understanding, love to indulge this uncomfortable way of life, and give up themselves a prey to grief and melancholy. Superstitious fears and groundless scruples cut them off from the pleasures of conversation, and all those social entertainments, which are not only innocent but laudable: as if mirth was made for reprobates, and cheerfulness of heart denied those who are the only persons that have a proper title to it.
Sombrius is one of these sons of sorrow. He thinks himself obliged in duty to be sad and disconsolate. He looks on a sudden fit of laughter as a breach of his baptismal vow. An innocent jest startles him like blasphemy. Tell him of one who is advanced to a title of honour, he lifts up his hands and eyes ; describe a public ceremony, he shakes his head; show him a gay equipage, he blesses himself. All the little ornaments of life are pomps and vani. ties. Mirth is wanton, and wit profane. He is scandalized at youth for being lively, and at childhood for being playful. He sits at a christening, or a marriage-feast, as aţ a funeral ; sighs at the conclusion of a merry story,
devout when the rest of the company grow pleasant. After all, Sombrius is
a religious man, and would have behaved himself very properly, had he lived when Christianity was under a general persecution.
I would by no means presume to tax such characters with hypocrisy, as is done too frequently; that being a vice which I think none but He who knows the secrets of men's hearts should pretend to discover in another, where the proofs of it do not amount to a demonstration. On the contrary, as there are many excellent persons who are weighed down by this habitual sorrow of heart, they rather deserve our compassion than our reproaches. I think, however, they would do well to consider whether such a behaviour does not deter men from a religious life, by representing it as an unsociable state, that extinguishes all joy and gladness, darkens the face of nature, and destroys the relish of being itself.
I have, in former papers, shown how great a tendency there is to cheerfulness in religion, and how such a frame of mind is not only the most lovely, but the most commendable in a virtuous person. In short, those who represent religion in so unamiable a light, are like the spies sent by Moses to make a discovery of the Land of Promise, when by their reports they discouraged the people from entering upon it. Those who show us the joy, the cheerfulness, the good humour, that naturally spring up in this happy state, are like the spies bringing along with them the clusters of grapes, and delicious fruits, that might invite their companions into the pleasant country which produced them *.
An eminent pagan writer + has made a discourse to show that the atheist, who denies a God, does
* Numb. ch. xiii. + Plut. Ilspi Arloudelipsovías. Plut. Opera, tom. i. p. 286. H. Steph. 1572, 12mo.
- For my
If we may
him less dishonour than the man who owns his being,
believe our logicians, man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter. He has a heart capable of mirth, and naturally disposed to it. It is not the business of virtue to extirpate the affections of the mind, but to regulate them. It may moderate and restrain, but was not designed to banish gladness from the heart of man. Religion contracts the circle of our pleasures, but leaves it wide enough for her votaries to expatiate in. The contemplation of the divine Being, and the exercise of virtue, are, in their own nature, so far from excluding all gladness of heart, that they are perpetual sources of it. In a word, the true spirit of religion cheers, as well as composes, the soul; it banishes indeed all levity of behaviour, all vicious and dissolute mirth; but in exchange fills the mind with a perpetual serenity, uninterrupted cheerfulness, and an habitual inclination to please others, as well as to be pleased in itself.
No. 495. SATURDAY, SEPT. 27, 1712.
Duris ut ilex tonsa bipennibus,
HOR. 4 Od. iv. 57.
As I am one who, by my profession, am obliged to look into all kinds of men, there are none whom I consider with so much pleasure, as those who have any thing new or extraordinary in their characters, or ways of living. For this reason I have often amused myself with speculations on the race of people called Jews, many of whom I have met with in most of the considerable towns which I have passed through in the course of my travels. They are, indeed, so disseminated through all the trading parts of the world, that they are become the instruments by which the most distant nations converse with one another, and by which mankind are knit together in a general correspondence. They are like the pegs and nails in a great building, which, though they are but little valued in themselves, are absolutely necessary to keep the whole frame together.
That I may not fall into any common beaten tracks of observation, I shall consider this people in three views. First, with regard to their number ; secondly, their dispersion; and, thirdly, their adherence to their religion: and afterwards endeavour to show,