« AnteriorContinuar »
No. 505. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 9.
Non habeo denique nauci Marsum augurem,
De divitiis deducant drachmam, reddant cætera. ENNIUS. THOSE who have maintained that men would be more miserable than beasts, were their hopes confined to this life only, among other considerations, take notice that the latter are only afflicted with the anguish of the present evil, whereas the former are very often pained by the reflection on what is past, and the fear of what is to come.
This fear of any future difficulties or misfortunes, is so natural to the mind, that were a man's sorrows and disquietudes summed up at the end of his life, it would generally be found that he had suffered more from the apprehension of such evils as never happened to him, than from those evils which had really befallen him. To this we may add, that among those evils which befall us, there are many that have been more painful to us in the prospect, than by their actual pressure.
This natural impatience to look into futurity, and to know what accidents may happen to us hereafter, has given birth to many ridiculous arts and inventions. Some found their prescience on the lines of a man's hand, others on the features of his face; some on the signatures which nature has impressed on his body, and others on his own hand-writing: some read men's fortunes on the stars, as others have searched after them in the entrails of beasts, or the flights of birds. Men of the best sense have been touched, more or less, with these groundless horrors and presages of futurity, upon surveying the most indifferent works of nature. Can anything be more surprising, than to consider Cicero, who made the greatest figure at the bar, and in the senate of the Roman commonwealth, and, at the same time, outshined all the philosophers of antiquity in his library and in his retirements, as busying himself in the college of augurs, and observing,
with a religious attention, after what manner the chickens pecked the several grains of corn which were thrown to them ?
Notwithstanding these follies are pretty well worn out of the minds of the wise and learned in the present age, multitudes of weak and ignorant persons are still slaves to them. There are numberless arts of prediction among the vulgar, which are too trifling to enumerate ; and infinite observations of days, numbers, voices, and figures, which are regarded by them as portents and prodigies. In short, everything prophesies to the superstitious man; there is scarce a straw or a rusty piece of iron that lies in his way by accident.
It is not to be conceived, how many wizards, gipsies, and cunning-men are dispersed through all the counties and market-towns of Great Britain, not to mention the fortunetellers and astrologers, who live very comfortably upon the curiosity of several well-disposed persons in the cities of London and Westminster.
Among the many pretended arts of divination, there is none which so universally amuses as that by dreams. I have indeed observed, in a late speculation, that there have been sometimes, upon very extraordinary occasions, supernatural revelations made to certain persons by this but as it is the chief business of this paper to root out popular errors, I must endeavour to expose the folly and superstition of those persons, who, in the common and ordinary course of life, lay any stress upon things of so uncertain, shadowy, and chimerical a nature. This I cannot do more effectually, than by the following letter, which is dated from a quarter of the town that has always been the habitation of some prophetic Philomath; it having been usual, time out of mind, for all such people as have lost their wits to resort to that place, either for their cure or for their instruction.
“Moorfields, October 4, 1712. " MR. SPECTATOR,
Having long considered whether there be any trade wanting in this great city, after having surveyed very attentively all kinds of ranks and professions, I do not find, in any quarter of the town, an Oneirocritic, or, in plain English,
an interpreter of dreams. For want of so useful a person, there are several good people who are very much puzzled in this particular, and dream a whole year together, without being ever the wiser for it. I hope I am pretty well qualified for this office, having studied by candlelight all the rules of art which have been laid down upon this subject. My greatuncle, by my wife's side, was a Scotch Highlander, and second-sighted. I have four fingers and two thumbs upon one hand, and was born on the longest night of the year. My Christian and surname begin and end with the same letters. I am lodged in Moorfields, in a house that for these fifty years has been always tenanted by a conjurer.
you had been in company, so much as myself, with ordinary women of the town, you must know that there are many of them who, every day in their lives, upon seeing or hearing of anything that is unexpected, cry, My dream is out;' and cannot go to sleep in quiet the next night, till something or other has happened, which has expounded the visions of the preceding one.
There are others who are in very great pain for not being able to recover the circumstances of a dream, that made strong impressions upon them while it lasted. In short, sir, there are many whose waking thoughts are wholly employed on their sleeping ones. For the benefit, therefore, of this curious and inquisitive part of my fellowsubjects, I shall, in the first place, tell those persons what they dreamt of, who fancy they never dream at all. In the next place, I shall make out any dream, upon hearing a single circumstance of it; and, in the last place, shall expound to them the good or bad fortune which such dreams portend. If they do not presage good luck, I shall desire nothing for my pains : not questioning, at the same time, that those who consult me will be so reasonable as to afford me a moderate share out of any considerable estate, profit, or emolument, which I shall thus discover to them. I interpret to the poor for nothing, on condition that their names may be inserted in public advertisements, to attest the truth of such my interpretations. As for people of quality, or others, who are indisposed, and do not care to come in person, I can interpret their dreams by seeing their water." I set aside one day in a week for lovers; and interpret by the great for any gentlewoman who is turned of sixty, after the rate of half a crown per week, with the usual allowances for good luck. I
have several rooms and apartments fitted up at reasonable rates, for such as have not conveniencies for dreaming at their own houses.
« TITUS TROPHONIUS." “ N. B. I am not dumb."
No. 507. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11, 1712.
Defendit numerus, junctæque umbone phalanges. Juv. THERE is something very sublime, though very fanciful, in Plato's description of the Supreme Being, that “ Truth is his body, and Light his shadow." According to this definition, there is nothing so contradictory to his nature, as error and falsehood.
The Platonists have so just a notion of the Almighty's aversion to everything which is false and
that they looked upon truth as no less necessary than virtue, to qualify a human soul for the enjoyment of a separate state. For this reason, as they recommended moral duties to qualify and season the will for a future life, so they prescribe several contemplations and sciences to rectify the understanding. Thus Plato has called mathematical demonstrations the cathartics or purgatives of the soul, as being the most proper means to cleanse it from error, and to give it a relish of truth; which is the natural food and nourishment of the understanding, as virtue is the perfection and happiness of the will.
There are many authors who have shown wherein the malignity of a lie consists, and set forth in proper colours the beinousness of the offence. I shall here consider one particular kind of this crime, which has not been so much spoken to; I mean that abominable practice of party-lying. This vice is so very predominant among us at present, that a man is thought of no principles, who does not propagate a certain system of lies. The coffee-houses are supported by them, the press is choked with them, eminent authors live upon them. Our bottle-conversation is so infected with them, that a party-lie is grown as fashionable an entertainment as a lively catch or a merry story: the truth of it is, half the great talkers in the nation would be struck dumb, were this fountain of discourse dried up. There is, however one advantage resulting from this detestable practice; the very appearances of truth are so little regarded, that lies are at present discharged in the air, and begin to hurt nobody. When we hear a party-story from a stranger, we consider whether he is a Whig or Tory that relates it, and immediately conclude they are words of course in which the honest gentleman designs to recommend his zeal, without any concern for his veracity. A man is looked upon as bereft of common sense, that gives credit to the relations of partywriters; nay, his own friends shake their heads at him, and consider him in no other light than as an officious tool or a well-meaning idiot. When it was formerly the fashion to husband a lie, and trump it up in some extraordinary emergency,
it generally did execution, and was not a little serviceable to the faction that made use of it: but at present every man is upon his guard, the artifice has been too often repeated to take effect.
I have frequently wondered to see men of probity, who would scorn to utter a falsehood for their own particular advantage, give so readily in to a lie when it is become the voice of their faction, notwithstanding they are thoroughly sensible of it as such. How is it possible for those who are men of honour in their persons, thus to become notorious liars in their party? If we look into the bottom of this matter, we may find, I think, three reasons for it, and at the same time discover the insufficiency of these reasons to justify so criminal a practice.
In the first place, men are apt to think that the guilt of a lie, and consequently the punishment, may be very much diminished, if not wholly worn out, by the multitudes of those who partake in it. Though the weight of a falsehood would be too heavy for one to bear, it grows light in their imaginations when it is shared among many. But in this case a man very much deceives himself; guilt, when it spreads through numbers, is not so properly divided as multiplied: every one is criminal in proportion to the offence which he commits, not to the number of those who are his companions in it. Both the crime and the penalty lie as heavy upon every individual of an offending multitude, as they would upon any single person, had none shared with him in the offence. In a word, the division of guilt is like that of matter; though it may be separated into infinite