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still-born work, were immediately dismissed to their burial, and were followed by others, who, notwithstanding some sprightly issue in their life-time, had given proofs of their death, by some posthumous children, that bore no resemblance to their elder brethren. As for those who were the fathers of a mixed progeny, provided always they could prove the last to be a live child, they escaped with life, but not without loss of limbs; for in this case, i was satisfied with an amputation of the parts which were mortified.
These were followed by a great crowd of superannuated benchers of the inns of court, senior fellows of colleges, and defunct statesmen; all whom I ordered to be decimated indifferently, allowing the rest a reprieve for one year, with a promise of a free , pardon in case of resuscitation.
There were still great multitudes to be examined ; but finding it very late, I adjourned the court; not without the secret pleasure that I had done my duty, and furnished out an handsome execution.
Going out of the court, I received a letter, informing me, “ That, in pursuance of the edict of justice in one of my late visions, all those of the fair sex began to appear pregnant who had run any hazard of it; as was manifest by a particular swelling in the petticoats of several ladies in and about this great city. I must confess, I do not attribute the rising of this part of the dress to this occasion, yet must own, that I am very much disposed to be offended with such a new and unaccountable fashion. I shall, however, pronounce nothing upon it, till I have examined all that can be said for and against it. And in the mean time, think fit to give this notice to the fair ladies who are now making up their winter suits, that they may abstain from all dresses of that kind, till they shall find what judgment will be passed upon them; for it would very much trouble me, that they should put themselves to an unnecessary expence; and I could
not but think myself to blame, if I should hereafter forbid them the wearing of such garments, when they have laid out money upon them, without having given them any previous admonitions.”
Sir Richard Steele assisted in this paper.
No 111. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24, 1709.
-Procul 0! Procul este profani !
Sheer-Lane, December 23. The watchman, who does me particular honours, as being the chief man in the lane, gave so very great a thump at my door last night, that I awakened at the knock, and heard myself complimented with the usual salutation of “ Good morrow, Mr. Bickerstaffe; good morrow, my masters all.” The silence and darkness of the night disposed me to be more than ordinarily serious: and as my attention was not drawn out among exterior objects, by the avocations of sense, my thoughts naturally fell upon myself. I was considering, amidst the stillness of the night, what was the proper employment of a thinking being? What were the perfections it should
propose to itself? And, what the end it should aim at? My mind is of such a particular cast, that the falling of a shower of rain, or the whistling of the wind, at such a time, is apt to fill my thoughts with something awful and solemn. I was in this disposition, when our bellman began his midnight homily, (which he has been repeating to us every winter night for these twenty years,) with the usual exordium,
Oh! mortal thou that art born in sin! Sentiments of this nature, which are in themselves just and reasonable, however debased by the circumstances that accompany them, do not fail to
produce their natural effect in a mind that is not perverted and depraved by wrong notions of gallantry, politeness, and ridicule. · The temper which I now found myself in, as well as the time of the year, put me in mind of those lines in Shakespear, wherein, according to his agreeable wildness of imagination, he has wrought a country tradition into a beautiful piece of poetry. In the tragedy of Hamlét, where the ghost vanishes upon the cock's crowing, he takes occasion to mention its crowing all hours of the night about Christmas time, and to insinuate a kind of religious veneration for that
It saded on the crowing of the cock.
So hallowed and so gracious is the time. This admirable author, as well as the best and greatest men of all ages, and of all nations, seems to have had his mind thoroughly seasoned with religion, as is evident by many passages in his plays, that would not be suffered by a modern audience; and are therefore certain instances, that the
he lived in had a much greater sense of virtue than the present.
It is, indeed, a melancholy reflection to consider, that the British nation, which is now at a greater height of glory for its councils and conquests than it ever was before, should distinguish itself by a certain looseness of 'principles, and a falling off from those schemes of thinking, which conduce to the happiness and perfection of human nature. This evil comes upon us from the works of a few solemn blockheads, that meet together with the zeal and seriousness of apostles, to extirpate common sense, and propagate infidelity. These are the wretches, who, without any shew of wit, learning, or reason, publish their crude conceptions with the ambition of appearing more wise than the rest of mankind, upon no other pretence, than that of dissenting from them. One gets by heart a catalogue of title-pages and editions; and immediately to become conspicuous, declares that he is an unbeliever. Another knows how to write a receipe, or cut up a dog, and forthwith argues against the immortality of the soul. I have known many a little wit, in the ostentation of his parts, rally the truth of the Scriptures, who was not able to read a chapter in it. These
poor wretches talk blasphemy for want of discourse, and are rather the objects of scorn or pity, than of our indignation; but the grave disputant, that reads, and writes, and spends all his time in convincing himself and the world, that he is no better than a brute, ought to be whipped out of a government, as a blot to a civil society, and a defamer of mankind. I love to consider an infidel, whether dis. tinguished by the title of deist, atheist, or free. thinker, in three different lights; in his solitude, his afflictions, and his last moments.
A wise man, that lives up to the principles of reason and virtue, if one considers him in his solitude, as taking in the system of the universe, observing the mutual dependance and harmony by which the whole frame of it hangs together, beating down his passions, or swelling his thoughts with magnificent ideas of Providence, makes a nobler figure in the eye of an intelligent being, than the greatest conqueror amidst the pomps and solemnities of a triumph. On the contrary, there is not a more ridiculous animal than an atheist in his retirement. His mind is incapable of rapture or elevation : he can only consider himself as an insignificant figure in a landscape, and wandering up and down in a field or meadow, under the same terms as the meanest animals about him, and subject to as total
a mortality as they, with this aggravation, that he is the only one amongst them who lies under the apprehension of it.
THE TI 1.1. PU10W i3 In distresses, he must be of all creatures the most helpless and forlorn, he feels the whole pressure of a present calamity, without being relieved by the memory
of any thing that is passed, on the prospect of any thing that is to come. Annibilation is the greatest blessing that he proposes to himself, and an halter or a pistol the only refuge he can fly to. But if you would behold one of these gloomy miscreants in his poorest figure, you must consider him under the terrors, or at the approach of death. siipi
About thirty years ago I was on shipboard with one of these vermin, when there arose a brisk gale, which could frighten nobody but himself. Upon the rolling of the ship he fell upon his knees, and confessed to the chaplain, that he had been a vile atheist, and had denied a Supreme Being ever since he came to his estate. The good man was astonished ; and a report immediately ran through the ship, that there was an atheist
deck. Several of the common seamen, who had never heard the word before, thought it had been some strange fish; but they were more surprised when they saw it was a man, and heard out of his own mouth, “ That he never believed till that day that there was a God.” As he lay in the agonies of confession, one of the honest tars whispered to the boatswain, “ That it would be a good deed to heave him overboard.” But we were now within sight of port, when of a sudden the wind fell, and the penitent relapsed, begging all of us that were present, as we were gentlemen, not to say any thing of what had passed.
He had not been ashore above two days, when one of the company began to rally him upon his devotion on shipboard, which the other denied in such high terms, that it produced the lie on both sides, and ended in a duel. The atheist was run through