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June 18, 1712. You have obliged me with a very kind letter, by which I find you shift the scenes of your life from the town to the country, and enjoy that mixed state which wise men both delight in, and are qualified for. Methinks the moralists and philosophers have generally run too much into extremes in commending entirely either solitude, or public life. In the former, men for the most part grow useless by too much rest, and in the latter are destroyed by too much precipitation; as waters lying still, putrify, and are good for nothing, and running violently on do but the more mischief in their passage to others, and are swallowed up and lost the sooner themselves. Those indeed who can be useful to all states, should be like gentle streams, that not only glide through lonely valleys and forests amidst the flocks and the shepherds, but visit populous towns in their course, and are at once of ornament and service to them. But there are another sort of people who seem designed for solitude, such, I mean, as have more to hide than to show. As for my own part, I am one of those of whom Seneca says, Tam umbratiles sunt, ut putent in turbido esse quicquid in luce est. Some men, like some
• There are too many common-place sentences and reflections in this letter, and an air of solemn declamation, unsuited to a familiar epistle. The same may be said of the succeeding letter.
pictures, are fitter for a corner than a full light; and I believe, such as have a natural bent to solitude (to carry on the former similitude) are like waters, which may be forced into fountains, and exalted into a great height, may make a noble figure and a louder noise, but after all they would run more smoothly, quietly, and plentifully, in their own natural course upon the ground. The consideration of this would make me very well contented with the possession only of that Quiet with Cowley calls the companion of Obscurity. But whoever has the Muses too for his companions, can never be idle enough, to be uneasy. Thus, Sir, you see, I would flatter myself into a good opinion of my own way of living. Plutarch just now told me, that 'tis in human life as in a game at tables, where a man may wish for the highest cast, but, if his chance be otherwise, he is e’en to play it as well as he can, and to make the best of it. I am,
TO MR. STEELE.
July 15, 1712. You formerly observed to me that nothing made a more ridiculous figure in a man's life than the dis
The foregoing Similitudes our Author had put into verse some years before, and inserted into Mr. Wycherley's poem on Mixed Life. We find them in the versification very distinct from the rest of that poem. See his posthumous works, octavo, page 3 and 4. P.
parity we often find in him sick and well ; thus ope of an unfortunate constitution is perpetually exhibiting a miserable example of the weakness of his mind, and of his body, in their turns. I have had frequent opportunities of late to consider myself in these different views, and, I hope, have received some advantage by it, if what Waller says be true, that
The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,
Lets in new Light thro' chinks that time has made. Then surely sickness, contributing no less than old age to the shaking down this scaffolding of the body, may discover the inward structure more plainly. Sickness is a sort of early old age; it teaches us a diffidence in our earthly state, and inspires us with the thoughts of a future, better than a thousand volumes of philosophers and divines. It gives so warning a concussion to those props of our vanity, our strength and youth, that we think of fortifying ourselves within, when there is so little dependance upon our out-works. Youth at the very best is but a betrayer of human life in a gentler and smoother manner than age : ’tis like a stream that nourishes a plant upon a bank, and causes it to flourish and blossom to the sight, but at the same time is undermining it at the root in secret. My youth has dealt more fairly and openly with me, it has afforded several prospects of my danger, and given me an advantage not very common to young men, that the attractions of the World have not dazzled me very much ; and I begin, where most people end, with a full conviction of the emptiness of all sorts of ambition, and the unsatisfactory nature of all human pleasures. When
a smart fit of sickness tells me this scurvy tenement of my body will fall in a little time, I am e'en as unconcerned as was that honest Hibernian, who being in bed in the great storm some years ago, and told the house would tumble over his head, made answer What care I for the house? I am only a lodger. I fancy it is the best time to die when one is in the best humour; and so excessively weak as I now am, I may say with conscience, that I am not at all uneasy at the thought, that many men, whom I never had any esteem for, are likely to enjoy this world after me. When I reflect what an inconsiderable little atom every single man is, with respect to the whole creation, methinks, 'tis a shame to be concerned at the removal of such a trivial animal as I am. The morning after my exit, the sun will rise as bright as ever, the flowers smell as sweet, the plants spring as green, the world will proceed in its old course, people will laugh as heartily, and marry as fast, as they were used to do. The memory of man (as it is elegantly expressed in the Book of Wisdom) passeth away as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but one day. There are reasons enough, in the fourth chapter of the same book, to make any young man contented with the prospect of death. “ For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, or is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair to man, and an unspotted life is old age. He was taken away speedily, lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul,”
- Your, etc.
November 7, 1712. I was the other day in company with five or six men of some learning; where chancing to mention the famous verses which the Emperor Adrian spoke on his death-bed, they were all agreed that it was a piece of gaiety unworthy of that prince in those circumstances. I could not but differ from this opinion: methinks it was by no means a gay, but a very serious soliloquy, to his soul at the point of its departure; in which sense I naturally took the verses at my first reading them, when I was very young, and before I knew what interpretation the world generally put upon them.
Animula vagula, blandula,
Quæ nunc abibis in loca?
Nec (ut soles) dabis joca! “ Alas, my soul ! thou pleasing companion of this body, thou fleeting thing that art now deserting it! whither art thou flying? to what unknown scene? all trembling, fearful, and pensive? what now is become of thy former wit and humour ? thou shalt jest and be gay no more.”
I confess I cannot apprehend where lies the trifling in all this: it is the most natural and obvious reflection imaginable to a dying man: and if we consider the