Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

might be said in their favour. But why do they trouble people with their meditations? Can it be of any consequence to the world what an idle man has been thinking?

Cad. Yes, it may. The most important and extensive advantages mankind enjoy, are greatly owing to men who have never quitted their closets. To them mankind are obliged for the facility and security of navigation. The invention of the compass has opened to them new worlds. The knowledge of the mechanical powers has enabled them to construct such wonderful machines, as perform what the united labour of millions, by the severest drudgery, could not accomplish. Agriculture too, the most useful of arts, has received its share of improvement from the same source. Poetry likewise is of excellent use, to enable the memory to retain with more ease, and to imprint with more energy upon the heart, precepts and examples of virtue. From the little root of a few letters, science has spread its branches over all nature, and raised its head to the heavens. Some philosophers have entered so far into the counsels of Divine Wisdom, as to explain much of the great operations of nature. The dimensions and distances of the planets, the causes of their revolutions, the path of comets, and the ebbing and flowing of tides, are understood and explained. Can anything raise the glory of the human species more, than to see a little creature, inhabiting a small spot, amidst innumerable worlds, taking a survey of the universe, comprehending its arrangement, and entering into the scheme of that wonderful connection and correspondence of things so

remote, and which it seems a great exertion of Omnipotence to have established? What a volume of wisdom, what a noble theology do these discoveries open to us! While some superiour geniuses have soared to these sublime subjects, other sagacious and diligent minds have been inquiring into the most minute works of the Infinite Artificer: the same care, the same providence is exerted through the whole, and we should learn from it, that, to true wisdom, utility and fitness appear perfection, and whatever is beneficial is noble.

Her. I approve of science as far as it is assistant to action. I like the improvement of navigation, and the discovery of the greater part of the globe, because it opens a wider field for the master spirits of the world to bustle in.

Cad. There spoke the soul of Hercules. But if learned men are to be esteemed for the assistance they give to active minds in their schemes, they are not less to be valued for their endeavours to give them a right direction, and moderate their too great ardour. The study of history will teach the legislator by what means states have become powerful; and in the private citizen, they will inculcate the love of liberty and order. The writings of sages point out a private path of virtue; and show that the best empire is self-government, and that subduing our passions is the noblest of conquests.

Her. The true spirit of heroism acts by a generous impulse, and wants neither the experience of history, nor the doctrines of philosophers to direct it. But do not arts and sciences render

men effeminate, luxurious, and inactive? and can you deny that wit and learning are often made subservient to very bad purposes?

Cad. I will own that there are some natures so happily formed, they scarcely want the assistance of a master, and the rules of art, to give them force or grace in every thing they do. But these favoured geniuses are few. As learning flourishes only where ease, plenty, and mild government subsist; in so rich a soil, and under so soft a climate, the weeds of luxury will spring up among the flowers of art: but the spontaneous weeds would grow more rank, if they were allowed the undisturbed possession of the field. Letters keep a frugal temperate nation from growing ferocious, a rich one from becoming entirely sensual and debauched. Every gift of Heaven is sometimes abused; but good sense and fine talents, by a natural law, gravitate towards virtue. Accidents may drive them out of their proper direction; but such accidents are an alarming omen, and of dire portent to the times. For if virtue cannot keep to her allegiance those men, who in their hearts confess her divine right, and know the value of her laws, on whose fidelity and obedience can she depend? May such geniuses never descend to flatter vice, encourage folly, or propagate irreli gion; but exert all their powers in the service of virtue, and celebrate the noble choice of those, who, like Hercules, preferred her to pleasure! Lord Lyttelton.

NOTHING IS GREAT THAT IS UNNATURAL AND AFFECTED.

PLINY THE ELDER AND PLINY THE YOUNGER.

Pliny the E. THE account that you give me, nephew, of your behaviour, amidst the terrours and perils that accompanied the first eruption of Vesuvius, does not please me much. There was

more of vanity in it than of true magnanimity. Nothing is great that is unnatural and affected. When the earth was shaking beneath you, when the whole heaven was darkened with sulphurous clouds; when all nature seemed falling into its final destruction, to be reading Livy, and making extracts, was an absurd affectation. To meet danger with courage, is manly; but to be insensible of it, is brutal stupidity; and to pretend insensibility, where it cannot be supposed, is ridiculous falseness. When you afterwards refused to leave your aged mother, and save yourself without her, you indeed acted nobly. It was also becoming a Roman to keep up her spirit, amidst all the horrours of that tremendous scene, by showing yourself undismayed.. But the real merit and glory of this part of your behaviour is sunk by the other, which gives an air of ostentation and vanity to the whole.

Pliny the Y. That vulgar minds should consider my attention to my studies, in such a conjuncture, as unnatural and affected, I should not much wonder. But that you would blame it as such, I did not apprehend; you, whom no business could separate from the Muses; you, who approached nearer to

the fiery storm, and fell by the suffocating heat of

the vapour.

Pliny the E. This happened in doing my duty. Let me recal to your remembrance all the particulars, and then you shall judge yourself on the difference of your behaviour and mine. I was the prefect of the Roman fleet, which then lay at Misenum. On the first account I received of the very unusual cloud that appeared in the air, I ordered a vessel to carry me out, to some distance from the shore, that I might the better observe the phænomenon, and endeavour to discover its nature and cause. This I did, as a philosopher, and it was a curiosity proper and natural to an inquisitive mind. I offered to take you with me, and surely you should have gone; for Livy might have been read at any other time, and such spectacles are not frequent. house, I found all the inhabitants of Misenum flying to the sea. That I might assist them, and all others who dwelt on the coast, I immediately commanded the whole fleet to be put out; and I sailed with it all round the Bay of Naples, steering particularly to those parts of the shore where the danger was greatest, and from whence the affrighted people were endeavouring to escape with the most trepidation. Thus I happily preserved some thousands of lives; noting at the same time, with an unshaken composure and freedom of mind, the several phænomena of the eruption. Towards night, as we approached to the foot of Mount Vesuvius, our galleys were covered with ashes, the showers of which grew continually hotter and hotter: then pumice-stones, and burnt and broken

When I came out from my

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »