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put myself into his hands to be disposed of according to his particular will and pleasure.
It is odd to consider the connexion between despotic government and barbarity, and how the making of one person more than man, makes the rest less. About nine parts of the world in ten are in the lowest state of slavery, and consequently sunk in the most gross and brutal ignorance. European slavery is indeed a state of liberty, if compared with that which prevails in
the other three divisions of the world; and therefore it is no 10 wonder that those who grovel under it have many tracks of light among them, of which the others are wholly destitute.
Riches and plenty are the natural fruits of liberty, and where these abound, learning and all the liberal arts will immediately lift up their heads and flourish. As a man must have no slavish fears and apprehensions hanging upon his mind, who will indulge the flights of fancy or speculation, and push his researches into all the abstruse corners of truth, so it is necessary for him to have about him a competency of all the conveniences of life.
The first thing every one looks after, is to provide himself 20 with necessaries. This point will engross our thoughts till it
be satisfied. If this is taken care of to our hands, we look out for pleasures and amusements; and among a great number of idle people, there will be many whose pleasures will lie in reading and contemplation. These are the two great sources of knowledge; and as men grow wise, they naturally love to communicate their discoveries; and others, seeing the happiness of such a learned life, and improving by their conversation, emulate, imitate, and surpass one another, till a nation is filled with races of
wise and understanding persons 1. Ease and plenty are therefore 30 the great cherishers of knowledge; and as most of the despotic
governments of the world have neither of them, they are naturally over-run with ignorance and barbarity. In Europe, indeed, notwithstanding several of its princes are absolute, there are men famous for knowledge and learning ; but the reason is, because the subjects are many of them rich and wealthy, the prince not thinking fit to exert himself in his full tyranny like the princes of the eastern nations, lest his subjects should be invited to newmould their constitution, having so many prospects of liberty
within their view. But in all despotic governments, though a 40 particular prince may favour arts and letters, there is a natural
degeneracy of mankind, as you may observe from Augustus's reign, how the Romans lost themselves by degrees till they fell to an equality with the most barbarous nations that surrounded them. Look upon Greece under its free state, and you would think its inhabitants lived in different climates, and under different heavens, from those at present; so different are the geniuses which are formed under Turkish slavery and Grecian liberty n.
Besides poverty and want, there are other reasons that debase the minds of men, who live under slavery, though I look on it 10 as the principal. This natural tendency of despotic power to
ignorance and barbarity, though not insisted upon by others, is, I think, an unanswerable argument against that form of government, as it shews how repugnant it is to the good of mankind and the perfection of human nature, which ought to be the great ends of all civil institutions.-L.
No. 7. Belief in omens ; thirteen at table ; reflections on the inconvenience and folly of superstition,
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas,
HOR. Epist. ii. 2. 208.
FRANCIS. Going yesterday to dine with an old acquaintance, I had the misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon asking him the occasion of it, he told me, that his wife had dreamed a strange dream the night before, which they were afraid portended some misfortune to themselves, or to their children. At her coming into the room, I observed a settled melancholy in her countenance, I should have been troubled for, had I not heard from whence it proceeded. We were no sooner sat down, but after looking upon me a little while,
“My dear,' says she, turning to her husband, you may now see the stranger that was in the candle last night.'
Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little boy at the lower end of the table told her that he was to go into join-hand on Thursday.
• Thursday ?' says she, “ No, child, if it please God, you shall not begin upon Childermas-day n; tell your writing-master that Fri will be soon enough.'
I was reflecting with myself on the oddness of her fancy, and wondering that any body would establish it as a rule to lose a day 20 in every week.
In the midst of these my musings she desired
me to reach her a little salt upon the point of my knife, which I did in such a trepidation, and hurry of obedience, that I let it drop by the way; at which she immediately startled, and said it fell towards her. Upon this I looked very blank; and, observing the concern of the whole table, began to consider myself with some confusion as a person that had brought a disaster upon the family. The lady, however, recovering herself after a little space, said to her husband, with a sigh, 'My dear, misfortunes never
come single.' My friend, I found, acted but an under part at his 10 table, and being a man of more good-nature than understanding,
thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the passions and humours of his yoke-fellow.
'Do not you remember, child,' says she, 'that the pigeon-house fell the very afternoon that our careless wench spilt the salt upon the table ?'
'Yes,' says he, 'my dear, and the next post brought us an account of the battle of Almanza n.'
The reader may guess at the figure I made, after having done all this mischief. I dispatched my dinner as soon as I could, 20 with my usual taciturnity, when, to my utter confusion, the lady
seeing me quitting my knife and fork, and laying them across one another upon my plate, desired me that I would humour her so far as to take them out of that figure, and place them side by side. What the absurdity was which I had committed I did not know, but I suppose there was some traditionary superstition in it; and therefore, in obedience to the lady of the house, I disposed of my knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I shall always lay them in for the future, though I do not
know any reason for it. 30 It is not difficult for a man to see that a person has conceived
an aversion to him. For my own part, I quickly found by the lady's looks that she regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an unfortunate aspect. For which reason I took my leave immediately after dinner, and withdrew to my own lodgings. Upon my return home, I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils that attend these superstitious follies of mankind; how they subject us to imaginary afflictions, and additional sorrows, that do not properly come within our lot. As if the
natural calamities of life were not sufficient for us, we turn the 40 most indifferent circumstances into misfortunes, and suffer as
much from trifling accidents, as from real evils. I have known the shooting of a star spoil a night's rest; and have seen a man in love grow pale, and lose his appetite, upon the plucking of a merry-thought. A screech-owl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers; nay, the voice of a cricket hath struck more terror than the roaring of a lion. There is nothing so inconsiderable, which may not appear dreadful to an imagination that is filled with omens and prognostics. A rusty nail, or a crooked pin, shoot up into prodigies.
I remember I was once in a mixed assembly, that was full of noise and mirth, when on a sudden an old woman unluckily observed there were thirteen of us in company. This remark struck a panic terror into several who were present, insomuch that one or two of the ladies were going to leave the room : but a friend of mine, taking notice that one of our female companions was near her confinement, affirmed there were fourteen in the room, and that, instead of portending one of the company should die, it plainly foretold one of them should be born. Had not
my friend found out this expedient to break the omen, I question 20 not but half the women in the company would have fallen sick that very night.
An old maid, that is troubled with the vapours, produces infinite disturbances of this kind among her friends and neighbours. I know a maiden aunt, of a great family, who is one of these antiquated Sibyls, that forebodes and prophecies from one end of the year to the other.
She is always seeing apparitions, and hearing death-watches; and was the other day almost frightened out of her wits by the great house-dog, that howled in the stable,
at a time when she lay ill of the tooth-ach. Such an extravagant 30 cast of mind engages multitudes of people, not only in imperti
nent terrors, but in supernumerary duties of life; and arises from that fear and ignorance which are natural to the soul of
The horror with which we entertain the thoughts of death or indeed of any future evil, and the uncertainty of its approach, fill a melancholy mind with innumerable apprehensions and suspicions, and consequently dispose it to the observation of such groundless prodigies and predictions. For as it is the chief concern of wise men, to retrench the evils of life by the
reasonings of philosophy, it is the employment of fools to multiply 40 them by the sentiments of superstition.