Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

worthy but heroic. The great foundation of civil virtue is self-denial; and there is no one above the necessities of life, but has opportunities of exercifing that noble quality, and doing as much as his circumstances will bear for the ease and convenience of other men; and he who does more than ordinary men practise upon such occafions as occur in his life, deserves the value of his friends as if he had done enterprizes which' are usually attended with the highest glory. Men of public spirit differ rather in their circumstances than their virtue ; and the man

; who does all he can in a low station, is more a hero than he who omits any worthy action he is able to accomplish in a great one. It is not many years ago since Lapirius, in wrong

of his elder brother, came to a great estate by gift of his father, by reason of the dissolute behaviour of the first-born. Shame and contrition reformed the life of the disinherited youth, and he became as remarkable for his good qualities as formerly for his errors. Lapirius, who observed his brother's amendment, sent him on a new-year's day in the morning the following letter:

« Honoured brother, " I INCLOSE to you the deeds whereby my father gave me this house and land : had he lived until now, • he would not have bestowed it in that manner ; he - took it from the man you were, and I restore it to the man you are. I am, Sir,

• Your affectionate brother,

and humble servant, P. T:

As great and exalted spirits undertake the pursuit of hazardous actions for the good of others, at the same tine gratifying their passion for glory ; fo do worthy minds in the domestic way of life deny themselves many advantages, to satisfy a generous benevolence which they bear to their friends oppressed with distresses and calamities. Such natures one may call stores of Providence, which are actuated by a secret celestial influence to undervalue the ordinary gratifications of wealth, to give comfort to an heart loaded with affliction, to save a falling family, to preserve a branch of trade in their neighbourhood, and give work to the industrious, preserve

the portion of the helplefs infant, and raise the head of the mourning father. People whose hearts are wbolly bent towards pleasure, or intent upon gain, never hear of the noble occurrences among men of industry and humanity. It would look like a city romance, to tell them of the generous merchant, who the other day sent this billet to an eminent trader under difficulties to support himself, in whose fall many hundreds befides himfelf had perished: but because I think there is more fpirit and true gallantry in it than in any letter I ever read from Strephon to Phillis, I shall infert it even in the mercantile honest style in which it was fent.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"I HAVE heard of the cafualties which have in• volved

you in extreme distress at this time; and knowing you to be a man of great good nature, industry, • and probity, have refolved to stand by you. Be of

good cheer, the bearer brings with him fíve thoufand pounds, and has my order to answer your drawing as * much more on my account.

I did this in haste, for * fear I should come too late for your relief; but you

may value yourself with me to the fum of fifty thou' sand pounds ; for I can very chearfully run the hazard

of being so much less rich than I am now, to save an " honeft man whom I love.

• Your friend and servant, W. P.

I think there is somewhere in Montaigne mention made of a family book, wherein all the occurrences that happened from one generation of that house to another were recorded. Were there such a method in the families which are concerned in this generofity, it would be an hard talk for the greateft in Europe to give, in their own, an instance of a benefit better placed, or conferred with a more gracefut air. It has been heretofore urged how barbarous and inhuman is any unjust step made to the disadvantage of a trader ; and by how much such an act towards him is detestable, by so much an aet of kindness towards hiin is laudable. I remember to have heard a bencher of the temple tell a story of a tradition in their house, where they had formerly a custom of choosing kings for such a season, and allowing him his expences at the charge of the society ; one of our kings, said my friend, carried his royal inclination a little too far, and there was a committee ordered to look into the management of his treasury. Among other things it appeared, that his majesty walking incog. in the cloister, had overheard a poor man say to another, such a small sum would make me the happiest man in the world. The king out of his royal compassion privately inquired into his character, and finding him a proper object of charity, sent him the money. When the committee read the report, the house passed his accounts with a plaudite without farther examination, upon the recital of this article in them,


d. T.

For making a man happy 19:00 : 00


N° 249

Saturday, December 15.


Γέλως άκαιρος εν βρoτους δεινόν κακόν. Frag. Vet. Poet.

Mirth out of season is a grievous ill. When I make choice of a subject that has not been treated on by others, I throw together my reflections on it without


order or method, so that they may appear rather in the looseness and freedom of an efsay, than in the regularity of a fet discourse. It is after this manner that I shall confider laughter and ridicule in my present paper.

Man is the merrieft fpecies of the creation, all above and below him are serious. He sees things in a different light from other beings, and finds his mirth arising from objects that perhaps cause something like pity or difpleafure in higher ratures. Laughter is indeed a very good counterpoise to the spleen ; and it feems but reasonable that we should be capable of receiving joy from what is no real good to us, since we can receive grief from what is no real evil.

I have in my forty-seventh paper raised a speculation on the notion of a modern philosopher, who describes the first motive of laughter to be a secret comparison which we make between ourselves, and the persons we laugh at ; or, in other words, that satisfaction which we receive from the opinion of some pre-eminence in ourselves, when we fee the absurdities of another, or when we reflect on any paft absurdities of our own. This seems to hold in most cases, and we may observe that the vainest part of mankind are the most addicted to this passion.

I have read a fermon of a conventual in the church of Rome, on thofe words of the wise man," I said of laugh

ter, it is mad; and of mirth, what does it ?” Upon which he laid it down as a point of doctrine, that laughter was the effect of original sin, and that Adam could not laugh before the fall.

Laughter, while it lafts, Nackens and unbraces the mind, weakens the faculties, and causes a kind of remissness and dissolution in all the powers of the soul : and thus far may it be looked upon as a weaknessin the composition of human nature. But if we consider the frequent reliefs we receive from it, and how often it breaks the gloom which is apt to depress the mind and damp our spirits, with transient unexpected gleams of joy, one would take care not to grow too wise for fo great a pleasure of life.

The talent of turning men into ridicule, and exposing to laughter those one converses with, is the qualification of little ungenerous tempers. A young man with this caft of mind cuts himself off from all manner of improvement. Every one has his flaws and weaknesses ; nay, the greatest blemishes are often found in the most shining characters ; but what an absurd thing is it to pass over all the valuable parts of a man, and fix our attention on his infirmities ? to observe his imperfections more than his virtues ? and to make use of him for the sport of others, rather than for our own improvement.

We therefore very often find, that persons the most accomplished in ridicule are those who are very shrewd at hitting a blot, without exerting any thing masterly in themselves. As there are many eminent critics who never writ a good line, there are many admirable buffoons that aninadvert upon every single defect in another,

[ocr errors]

without ever discovering the least beauty of their own. By this means, these unlucky little wits often gain reputation in the esteem of vulgar minds, and raise themselves above persons of much more laudable characters.

If the talent of ridicule were employed to laugh men out of vice and folly, it might be of some use to the world ; but instead of this, we find that it is generally made use of to laugh men out of virtue and good sense, by attacking every thing that is folemn and serious, de cent and praise-worthy in human life.

We may observe, that in the firft ages of the world, when the great souls and mafter-pieces of human nature were produced, men shined by a noble fimplicity of behaviour, and were strangers to those little embellishments which are so fashionable in our present converfation. And it is very remarkable, that notwithstanding we fall short at present of the ancients in poetry, painting, oratory, history, architecture, and all the noble arts and sciences which depend more upon genius than experience, we exceed them as much in doggerel, humour, burlesque, and all the trivial arts of ridicule. We meet with more raillery among the moderns, but more good sense among the ancients.

The two great branches of ridicule in writing are comedy and burlesque. The first ridicules persons by drawing them in their proper characters, the other by drawing them quite unlike themselves. Burlesque is therefore of two kinds ; the first represents mean persons in the accoutrements of heroes, the other describes great persons acting and speaking like the basest among the people. Don Quixote is an instance of the first, and Lucian's gods of the Second. It is a dispute among the critics, whether burlesque poetry runs best in heroic verse, like that of the Dispensary; or, doggerel, like that of Hudibras. I think where the low character is to be raised, the heroic is the proper measure ; but when an hero is to be pulled down and degraded, it is done beft in doggerel.

If Hudibras had been set out with as much wit and humour in heroic verse as he is in doggerel, he would have made a much more agreeable figure than he does; though the generality of his readers are so wor derfully pleased with the double rhimes, that I do not expect nany will be of my opinion in this particular.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »