페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

the stranger that was in tbe candle last night.” I was reflecting with myself on the oddness of the fancy. 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 obedi. ence, 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 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 pigeonhouse 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."

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 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 absur. dity was which I had committed I did not know, but I suppose there was some traditionary superstition in it; and therefore, in obedience 10 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, thongh I do not know any reason for it.

It is vot 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

[ocr errors]

122 GLOOMY PRESAGES RIDICULED.
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 contem.
plation on the evils that attend these superstitious follies
of mankind; how they subject us to imaginary afflic-
tions, and additional sorrows, that do not properly
come within our lot. As if the patural calamities of
life were not sufficient for it, we turn the most indif
ferent 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 alarıued 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 apo
pear dreadfal 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 as 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 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 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, that is troubled with the vapours, produces infinite disturbances of this kind among ber friends and neighbours. I know a maiden aant, of a great family, who is one of these antiquated sybils, that forebodes and prophesies from one end of the

year to the other. She is always seeing apparitions, 1 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-ache. Such an extravagant cast of mind en

gages multitudes of people, not only in impertinent rad terrors, but in supernamerary duties of life; and arises to be from that fear aud ignorance which 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 is 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 conceru 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

me. I would not anticipate the relish of any happi. * bess, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actu

ally arrives.

I know but one way of fortifying my soul against one on 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 of a futurity. He sees, at one view, the whole thread of fine my existence, not only that part of it wbich I have

already passed through, but that which runs forward

into all the depths of eternity. When I lay me down i to sleep, I recommend myself to his care; wben I

awake, I give myself up to his direction. Amidst all

the evils that threaten me, I will look up to him for to your belp, and question not but he will either avert them,

or turn them to my advantage. Though I know neither the time nor the manner of the death I am to die,

I am not at all solicitous about it; because I am sure that he knows them both, and that he will not fail to comfort and support me under them.

C.

AN ABSENT MAN.

Non convivere licet, nec urbe tota
Quisquam est tam prope tam proculque nobis.

MART. What correspondence can I hold with you,

Who are so near and yet so distant too? HAVING reflected on the little absences and dis.

tractions in mankind, I have resolved to make them the subject of this speculation. I have been the more confirmed in my design, when I bave consider. ed that they were very often blemishes in the characters of men of excellent sense; and helped to keep up the reputation of that Latin proverb, which Mr. Dry. den has translated in the following lines:

“ Great wit to madness sure is near ally'd,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide."

My reader 'will, I hope, perceive, that I distinguish a man who is absent because he thinks of something else, from one who is absent because he thinks of nothing at all. The latter is too innocent a creature to be taken notice of; but the distractions of the former may, I believe, be generally accounted for from one of these reasons.

Either their minds are wholly fixed on some parti. cular science, which is often the case of mathemati

*“ Nullum magnum ingenium- sine mixtura de mentiæ." Seneca de Tranquil. Anim. cap. xv.

cians and other learned men; or are wholly taken up with some violent passion, such as anger, fear, or love, which ties the mind to some distant object; or, lastly, these distractions proceed from a certain vivacity and fickleness in a man's temper, which, while it raises up infinite numbers of ideas in the mind, is continually pushing it on, without allowing it to rest on any particular image. Nothing therefore is more unnatural than the thoughts and conceptions of such a - man, which are seldom occasioned either by the company he is in, or any of those objects which are placed be. fore him. While you fancy he is admiring a beautiful woman, it is an even wager that he is solving a position in Euclid; and while you may imagine he is reading the Paris Gazette, it is far from heing impossible, that he is pulling down and rebuilding the front of his country house.

At the same time that I am endeavoaring to expose this weakness in others, I shall readily confess that I once laboured under the same infirmity myself. The method I took to conquer it was a firm resolution to learn something from whatever I was obliged to see, or hear. There is a way of thinking, if a man can attain to it, by which he may strike somewhat out of any thing. I can at present observe those starts of good sense, and struggles of unimproved reason in the conversation of a clown, with as much satisfaction as the most shining periods of the most finished orator; and can make a shift to command my attention at a puppet-show or an opera, as well as at Hamlet or Othello. I always make one of the company I am in; for though I say little myself, my attention to others, and those nods of approbation which I never bestow unmerited, sufficiently show that I am among them. Whereas an absent man, though of good sense, is every day doing and saying an hundred things, which he afterwards confesses, were somewhat mal a-propos, and undesigned. Monsieur Bruyere bas given us the character of an

« 이전계속 »