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To Claudius Nero. SIR,
• Septimus, who waits upon you with this, is very well acquainted with the place you are pleased to allow me in your friendship. For when he beseeches me to recommend him to your notice, in such a manner to be received by you, who are delicate in the choice of your friends and domestics, he knows our intimacy, and understands my ability to serve him better than 1 do myself. I have defended myself against his ambition to be yours, as long as I possibly could; but fearing the imputation of hiding my power in you, out of mean and selfish considerations, I am at last prevailed upon to give you this trouble. Thus to avoid the appearance of a greater fault, I have put on this confidence. If you can for give this transgression of modesty in behalf of a friend, receive this gentleman into your interest and friendship, and take it from me that he is an honest and a brave man. STEELE.
No. 494. FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26.
Ægritudinem laudare, unam rem maxime detestabilem, quarum est tandem philosophorum?
Cic. What kind of philosophy is it, to extol melancholy, the most
detestable thing in nature? .
About an age ago it was the fashion in Enggland for every one that would be thought religious, to throw as much sanctity as possible into
his face, and in particular to abstain from all appearances of mirth and pleasantry, which were looked upon as the marks of a carnal mind. The saint was of a sorrowful countenance, and gene- ;* rally eaten up with spleen and melancholy. . A gentleman who was lately a great ornament to the learned world, has 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 noonday, 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, till at length the head of the college come out to him, from an inner room with half a dozen night-caps upon his head,
* Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the assembly of divines who sat at Westminster. He attended Cromwell, his friend and patron, on his death-bed, and continued in the hope that the protector was not to die till he had ocular proof that he was mistaken.
and 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 his 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 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 by the solemnity of the proceeding, 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 vanities. 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 at a marriage-feast, as at a funeral; sighs at the conclusion of a merry story, and grows 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 pone 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 docs not deter men from a religious life, by representing it as an unsociable state, that extinguishes all joy and gladnėss, 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 thr spies bringing along with them the clusters
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 him less dishonour than the man who owns his being, but at the same time believes him to be cruel, hard to please, and terrible to human nature. For my own part, says he, I would rather it should be said of me, that there was never any such man as Plutarch, than that Plutarch was ill-natured, capricious, or inhuman.'
If we may 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