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our religion. Is there any thing so just, as that mode and gallantry should be built upon exerting ourselves in what is proper and agreeeble to the institutions of justice and piety among us! And yet is there any thing more common than that we run in perfect contradiction to them! All which is supported by no other pretension, than that it is done with what we call a good grace.
Nothing ought to be held laudable or becoming but what nature itself should prompt us to think so. Respect to all kind of superiors is founded, methinks, upon instinct; and yet what is so ridiculous as age! I make this abrupt transition to the mention of this vice more than any other, in order to introduce a little story; which I think a pretty instance that the most polite age is in danger of being the most vicious.
It happened at Athens, during a public represent• ation of some play exhibited in honour of the com
monwealth, that an old gentleman came too late for 6
a place suitable to his age and quality. Many of • the young gentlemen who observed the difficulty
and confusion he was in, made signs to him that " they would accommodate him if he came where ' they sat. . The good man bustled through the crowd
accordingly; but when he came to the seats to which • he was invited, the jest was to sit close, and expose
him, as he stood, out of countenance, to the whole ( audience : the frolic went round all the Athenian
benches. But on those occasions there were also
particular places assigned for foreigners. When " the good man skulked towards the boxes appointed • for the Lacedemonians, that honest people, more
virtuous than polite, rose up all to a man, and with
the greatest respect received him among them. • The Athenians being suddenly touched with a sense
of the Spartan virtue and theirown degeneracy, gave a thunder of applause; and the old mad cried out
• The Athenians understand what is good, but the Lace• demonians practise it.'
No. VII. THURSDAY, MARCH 8.
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas,
Visions and magic spells can you despise,
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 dreamt 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, which I should have been troubled for, had I not heard from vhence it proceeded. We were no sooner sat down, but after having looked 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: “ Thurs“ day?" says she; no, child, if it please God, you 6. shall not begin upon Childermas-day; tell your 56 writing-master that Friday 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 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 time 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 fa. mily. The lady, however, recovering herself after a little space, said to her husband, with a sigh, “ my “ dear, mifortunes never come single.” My friend, I found, acted but an under part at his table; and being a man of more good-nature that understanding, thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the passions and humours of his yoke-fellow : “ Do not you re“ member, 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 bat(tle of Almanza.' The reader may guess at the figure I made after having done all this mischief. I dispatched my dinner as soon as I could, 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 the 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 commited 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.
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 fol. lies 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 it, we turn the 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 mixt 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 big with child, affirmed that 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 not but half the women in the company would have fallen sick that very night.
An old maid, who is troubled with the vapours, produces infinite disturbances of this kind among her friends and neighbours. I knew a maiden aunt of a great family, who is one of those antiquated Sibyls, that forebodes and prophesies from one end of the year to the other. She is always seeing apparitions and hearing death-watches; and was the other day almost frighted 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 cast of mind engages multitudes of people not only in impertinent terrors, but in supernumerary duties of life ; and arises from that fear and ignorance wliich are natural to the soul of man. 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 them by the sentiments of superstition.
For my own part, I should be very much troubled were I endowed with this divining quality, though it should inform me truly of every thing that can befal
I would not anticipate the relish of any happiness, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actually arrives.
I know but one way of fortifying my soul against these gloomy presages and terrors of mind; and that is, by securing to myself the friendship and protection of that Being who disposes of events, and governs futurity. He sees at one view the whole thread of my existence; '
not only that part of it which I have already passed through, but that which runs forward into all the depths of eternity. When I lay me down to sleep, I recommend myself to his care; when I awake, I give myself up to his direction. Amidst all the evils that threaten me I will look up to him