« PoprzedniaDalej »
force every thing he says, with weak hearers, better than the strongest argument he can make use of They keep the audience awake, and fix their attention to what is delivered to them; at the same time that they show the speaker is in earnest, and affected himself with what he so passionately recommends to others.
We are told that the great Latin orator very much impaired his health, by the vehemence of action with which he used to deliver himself. The Greek orator was likewise so very famous for this particular in rhetoric, that one of his antagonists, whom he had banished from Athens, reading over the oration which had procured his banishment, and seeing his friends admire it, could not forbear asking them--If they were so much affected by the bare reading it, how much more they would have been alarmed, had they heard him actually throwing out such a storm of eloquence.
How cold and dead a figure, in comparison of these two great men, does an orator often make at the British bar, holding up his head with the most insipid serenity, and stroking the sides of a long wig that reaches down to his middle! Nothing can be more ridiculous than the gestures of most of our English speakers. You see some of them running their hands into their pockets as far as ever they can thrust them, and others looking with great attention on a piece of paper that has nothing written on it; you may see many a smart rhetorician turning his hat in his hands, moulding it into several different cocks, examining sometimes the lining of it, and sometimes the button, during the whole course of his harangue. A deaf man would think that he was cheapening a beaver; when perhaps he was talking of the fate of the British nation. I remember, when I was a young man and used to frequent Westminster hall, there was a counsellor who never pleaded without a piece of pack-thread in his hand, which he used to twist about a thumb or finger all the while he was speaking; the wags of those days used to call it the thread of his discourse, for he was not able to utter a word without it. One of his clients, who was more merry than wise, stole it from him one day, in the midst of his pleading, but he had better have let it alone, for he lost his cause by the jest.
XI.-Advantages of History.-Hume.
HE advantages found in history seem to be of three kinds; as it amuses the fancy, as it improves the understanding, and as it strengthens virtue.
In reality, what more agreeable entertainment to the mind, than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to observe human society, in its infancy, making the first faint essays towards the arts and sciences? To see the policy of government and the civility of conversation refining by degrees, and every thing that is ornamental to human life, advancing towards its perfection? To mark the rise, progress, declension, and final extinction, of the most flourishing empires; the virtues which contributed to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin? In short, to see all the human race, from the beginning of time, pass as it were in review before us, appearing in their true colors, without any of those disguises, which, during their lifetime, so much perplexed the judgment of the beholders? What spectacle can be imagined so magnificent, so various, so interesting? What amusement, either of the senses or imagination, can be compared with it? Shall our trifling pastimes, which engross so much of our time, be preferred, as more satisfactory, and more fit to engage our attention? How perverse must that taste be, which is capable of so wrong a choice of pleasure?
But history is a most improving part of knowledge, as well as an agreeable amusement; and, indeed, a great part of what we commonly call erudition, and value so highly, is nothing but an acquaintance with historical facts. An extensive knowledge of this kind belongs to men of letters; but I must think it an unpardonable ignorance in persons, of whatever sex or condition, not to be acquainted with the histories of their own country, along with the histories of ancient Greece and Rome.
I must add, that history is not only a valuable part of knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts of knowledge, and affords materials to most of the sciences. And, indeed, if we consider the shortness of human life, and our limited knowledge, even of what passes in our own time, we must be sensible that we should be forever children in understanding, were it not for this invention
which extends our experience to all past ages, and to most distant nations, making them contribute as much to our improvement in wisdom, as if they had actually lain under our observation. A man, acquainted with history, may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every country.
There is also an advantage in that knowledge which is acquired by history above what is learned by the practice of the world, that it brings us acquainted with human affairs, without diminishing in the least from the most delicate sentiments of virtue. And, to tell the truth, I scarce know any study or occupation so unexceptionable as history in this particular. Poets can paint virtue in the most charming colors; but, as they address themselves entirely to the passions, they often become advocates to vice. Even philosophers are apt to bewilder themselves in the subtility of their speculations; and we have seen some go so far as to deny the reality of all moral distinctions. But I think it a remark worthy the attention of the speculative reader, that the historians have been, almost without exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always represented it in its proper colors, however they may have erred in their judgments of particular persons. Nor is this combination of historians, in favor of virtue, at all difficult to be accounted for. When a man of bu siness enters into life and action, he is more apt to consider the characters of men as they have relation to his interest, than as they stand in themselves, and has his judgment warped on every occasion by the violence of his passion. When a philosopher contemplates character and manners, in his closet, the general abstract view of the object leaves the mind so cold and unmoved, that the sentiments of nature have no room to play, and he scarce feels the difference between vice and virtue. History keeps in a just medium betwixt these extremes, and places the objects in their true point of view. The writers of history, as well as the readers, are sufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively sentiment of blame or praise; and, at the same time, have no particular interest or concern to pervert their judgment.
XII.-On the Immortality of the Soul SPECTATOR.
ity of the soul, there is one drawn from the perpetual progress of the soul to its perfection, without the possibility of ever arriving at it; which is a hint that I do not remember to have seen opened and improved by others who have written on this subject, though it seems to me to carry a great weight with it. How can it enter into the thoughts of man, that the soul, which is capable of such immense perfections, and of receiving new improvements to all eternity, shall fall away into nothing, almost as soon as it is created? Are such abilities made for no purpose?, A brute arrives at a point of perfection that he can never pass; in a few years be has all the endowments he is capable of; were he to live ten thousand more, he would be the same thing he is at present. Were a human soul thus at a stand in her accomplishments; were her faculties to be full blown, and incapable of further enlargements: I could imagine it might fall away insensibly, and drop at once into a state of annihilation. 'But, can we believe a thinking being, that is in a perpetual progress of improvements, and travelling on from perfection to perfection, after having just looked abroad into the works of its Creator, and made a few discoveries of his infinite goodness, wisdom and power, must perish at her first setting out, and in the very beginning of her inquiries?
Man, considered in his present state, does not seem born to enjoy life, but to deliver it down to others.-This is not surprising to consider in animals which are formed for our use, and can finish their business in a short life. The silk-worm, after having spun her task, lays her egg and dies. But in this life man can never take in his full measure of knowledge; nor has he time to subdue his passions, establish his soul in virtue, and come up to the perfection of his nature, before he is hurried off the stage. Would an infinitely wise Being make such glorious creatures for so mean a purpose? Can he delight in the production of such abortive intelligences, such short lived reasonable beings? Would be give us talents that are not to be exerted? Capacities that are never to be gratified? How can we find that wisdom which shines through all
his works, in the formation of man, without locking on this world as only a nursery for the next; and believing that the several generations of rational creatures, which rise up and disappear in such quick successions, are only to receive their first rudiments of all existence here, and afterwards to be transplanted into a more friendly climate, where they may spread and flourish to all eternity?
There is not, in my opinion, a more pleasing and triumphant consideration in religion than this, of the perpetaal progress which the soul makes towards the perfection of its nature, without ever arriving at a period in it. To look upon the soul as going on from strength to strength; to consider that she is to shine, with new accessions of glory, to all eternity; that she will be still adding virtue to virtue, and knowledge to knowledge; carries in it something wonderfully agreeable to that ambition which is natural to the mind of man.-Nay, it must be a prospect pleasing to God himself, to see his creation forever beautifying in his eyes, and drawing nearer to him, by greater degrees of resemblance.
Methinks this single coderation, of the progress of a finite spirit to perfection, will be sufficient to extinguish all envy in inferior natures, and all contempt in superior. That cherubim, which now appears as a God to a human soul, knows very well that the period will come about in eternity, when the human soul shall be as perfect as he himself now is; nay, when she shall look down upon that degree of perfection as much as she now falls short of it. It is true, the higher nature still advances, and by that means preserves his distance and superiority in the scale of being; but he knows, that how high soev er the station is of which he stands possessed at present, the inferior nature will at length mount up to it, and shine forth in the same degree of glory.
With what astonishment and veneration may we look into our souls, where there are such hidden stores of virtue and knowledge, such inexhausted sources of perfec tion ! We know not yet what we shall be, nor will it ev er enter into the heart of man to conceive the glory that will be always in reserve for him. The soul, considered in relation to its Creator, is like one of those mathemati