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WHEN I am in a serious' humour, I very often walk by myself in Westminster Abbey', where the gloominess of the place', and the use' to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building', and the condition of the people' who lie in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy', or rather thoughtfulness', that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed the whole afternoon in the church'-yard, the cloisters', and the church', amusing myself with the tomb'-stones and inscriptions' that I met with in those several regions of the dead'. Most of them recorded nothing else' of the buried person, but that he was born' upon one' day, and died' upon another'; the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances', that are common to all' mankind. I could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether brass or marble', as a kind of satire upon the departed persons; who had left no other' memorial of them, but that they were born', and that they died'.
Upon my going into the church', I entertained myself with the digging of a grave', and saw in every shovel-full of it that was thrown up, the fragment of a bone' or skull', intermixed with a kind of a fresh mouldering earth', that some' time or other had a place in the composition of a human body'. Upon this I began to consider with myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused' together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral'; how men' and women', friends and enemies', priests' and soldiers', monks' and prebendaries', were crumbled amongst one another', and blended together in the same common mass'; how beauty', strength', and youth', with old age', weakness', and deformity'; lay undistinguished' in the same promiscuous heap of matter'.
After having thus surveyed this great magazine of mortality, as it were in the lump', I examined it more particularly by the accounts which I found on several of the monuments' which are raised in every quarter of
that ancient fabric'. Some of them were covered with such extravagant' epitaphs, that if it were possible for the dead person to be acquainted' with them, he would blush' at the praises which his friends have bestowed upon him. There are others so excessively modest', that they deliver the character of the person departed in Greek' or Hebrew', and by that' means are not understood once in a twelvemonth'. In the poetical' quarter I found there were poets' who had no monuments', and monuments' which had no poets'. I observed indeed that the present war had filled the church with many' of these uninhabited monuments, which had been erected to the memory of persons' whose bodies were perhaps buried in the plains of Blenheim', or in the bosom of the ocean'.
I know that entertainments of this' nature are apt to raise dark' and dismal' thoughts in timorous' minds, and gloomy' imaginations; but, for my own' part, though I am always serious', I do not know what it is to be melancholy'; and can therefore take a view of Nature in her deep' and solemn' scenes, with the same pleasure as in her most gay' and delightful' ones. By this means I can improve myself with objects which others' consider with terror'. When I look upon the tombs of the great', every emotion of envy' dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful', every inordinate desire goes out'; when I meet with the grief of parents' upon a tomb-stone, my heart melts with compassion'; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves', I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow: when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side', or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes', I reflect, with sorrow' and astonishment', on the little competitions', factions', and debates' of mankind. When I read the several dates' of the tombs, of some that died yesterday', and some six hundred years' ago, I consider that great' day when we shall all of us be contemporaries', and make our appearance together'.
11.-On Consistency in Behaviour.
NOTHING that is not a real crime makes a man appear so contemptible and little in the eyes of the world as inconstancy, especially when it regards religion or party.. In either of these cases, though a man perhaps does but his duty in changing his side, he not only makes himself hated by those he left, but is seldom heartily esteemed by those he comes over to.
In these great articles of life, therefore, a man's conviction ought to be very strong, and if possible so well timed that worldly advantages may seem to have no share in it, for mankind will be ill-natured enough to think he does not change sides out of principle, but either out of levity of temper or prospects of interest. Converts and renegadoes of all kinds should take particular care to let the world see they act upon honourable motives; for whatever approbation they may receive from themselves and applauses from those they converse with, they may be very well assured that they are the scorn of all good men, and the public marks of infamy and derision.
Irresolution on the schemes of life which offer themselves to our choice, and inconstancy in pursuing them, are the greatest and most universal causes of all our disquiet and unhappiness. When ambition pulis one way, interest another, inclination a third, and perhaps reason contrary to all, a man is likely to pass his time but ill who has so many different parties to please. When the mind hovers among such a variety of allurements, one had better settle on a way of life that is not the very best we might have chosen, than grow old without determining our choice, and go out of the world, as the greatest part of mankind do, before we have resolved how to live in it. There is but one method of setting ourselves at rest in this particular, and that is, by adhering stedfastly to one great end as the chief and ultimate aim of all our pursuits. If we are firmly resolved to live up to the dictates of reason, without any regard to wealth, reputation, or the like
considerations, any more than as they fall in with our principal design, we may go through life with steadiness and pleasure; but if we act by several broken views, and will not only be virtuous but wealthy, popular, and every thing that has a value set upon it by the world, we shall live and die in misery and repentance.
One should take more than ordinary care to guard one's self against this particular infection, because it is that which our nature very strongly inclines us to; for, if we examine ourselves thoroughly, we shall find that we are the most changeable beings in the universe. In respect of our understanding, we often embrace and reject the very same opinions; whereas beings above and beneath us have probably no opinions at all, or at least no wavering and uncertainties in those they have. Our superiors are guided by intention, and our inferiors by instinct. In respect of our wills, we fall into crimes and recover out of them, are amiable or odious in the eyes of our great Judge, and pass our whole life in of fending and asking pardon. On the contrary, the beings underneath us are not capable of sinning, nor those above us of repenting. The one is out of the possibilities of duty, and the other fixed in an eternal course of sin, or an eternal course of virtue.
There is scarce a state of life, or stage in it, which does not produce changes and revolutions in the mind of man. Our schemes of thought in infancy are lost in those of youth; these too take a different turn in manhood, till old age often leads us back into our former infancy. A new title or an unexpected success throws us out of ourselves, and in a manner destroys our identity. A cloudy day, or a little sunshine, has as great an influence on many constitutions, as the most real blessings or misfortunes. A dream varies our being, and changes our condition while it lasts; and every passion, not to mention health and sickness, and the greater alterations in body and mind, makes us appear almost different creatures. If man is so distinguished among other beings by this infirmity, what can we think of such as make themselves remarkable for it even among their own species? It is a very trif
ling character to be one of the most variable beings of the most variable kind, especially if we consider that he who is the great standard of perfection has in him no shadow of change, but is the same, yesterday, today, and for ever. Spectator.
12.—An Interview between an Old Major and a Young Officer.
WHEN I was a young man about this town, I fre quented the Ordinary of the Black Horse in Holborn, where the person that usually presided at the table was a rough old-fashioned gentleman, who, according to the customs of those times, had been the Major and Preacher of a regiment. It happened one day that a noisy young officer, bred in France, was venting some new-fangled notions, and speaking, in the gaiety of his humour, against the dispensations of Providence. The Major at first only desired him to talk more respectfully of one for whom all the company had an honour; but finding him run on in his extravagance, began to reprimand him after a more serious manner. Young man, said he, do not abuse your Benefactor whilst you are eating his bread. Consider whose air you breathe, whose presence you are in, and who it is that gave you the power of that very speech which you make use of to his dishonour. The young fellow, who thought to turn matters into a jest, asked him, if he was going to preach? But at the same time desired him to take care what he said when he spoke to a man of honour. A man of honour, says the Major, thou art an infidel and a blasphemer, and I shall use thee as such. In short, the quarrel ran so high, that the Major was desired to walk out. Upon their coming into the garden, the old fellow advised his antagonist to consider the place into which one pass might drive him; but finding him grow upon him to a degree of scurrility, as believing the advice proceeded from fear; Sirrah, says he, if a thunderbolt does not strike thee dead before I come at thee, I shall not fail to chastise thee for thy profaneness to thy Maker, and thy sauciness to his servant.