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No. CI. SATURDAY, MARCH 22, 1/60.
OMAR, the son of Hussan, had passed seventyfive years in honour and prosperity. The favour of three successive Califs had filled his house with gold and silver, and whenever he appeared, the benedictions of the people proclaimed his passage.
Terrestrial happiness is of short continuance. The brightness of the flame is wasting its fuel; the fragrant flower is passing away in its own odours. The vigour of Omar began to fail, the curls of beauty fell from his bead, strength departed from his hands, and agility from his feet. He gave back to the Calif the keys of trust and the seals of secrecy, and sought no other pleasure for the remains of life than the converse of the wise and the gratitude of the good.
The powers of his mind were yet unimpaired. His chamber was filled by visitants, eager to catch the dictates of experience, and officious to pay the tribute of admiration. Caled, the son of the viceroy of Egypt, entered every day early, and retired late. He was beautiful and eloquent; Omar admired his wit, and loved his docility. Tell me, said Caled, thou to whose voice nations have listened, and whose wisdom is known to the extremities of j\sia, tell me how I may resemble Omar the prudent, The arts by which you have gained power and preserved it, are to you no longer necessary or useful; impart to me the secret of your conduct, and teach me the plan upon which your wisdom has built your fortune.
Young man, said Omar, it is of little use to form plans of life. When I took my first survey of the world, in my twentieth year, having considered the various conditions of mankind, in the hour of solitude I said thus to myself, leaning against a cedar which spread its branches over my head: seventy years are
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allowed to man ; I have yet fifty remaining: ten years I will allot to the attainment of knowledge, and ten I will pass in foreign countries; I shall be learned, and therefore shall be honoured; every city will shout at my arrival, and every student will solicit my friendship. Twenty years thus passed will store my mind with" images, which I shall be busy through the rest of my life in combining and comparing. I shall revel in. inexhaustible accumulations of intellectual riches; I shall find new pleasures for every moment, and shall never more be weary of myself. I will, however, not deviate too far from the beaten track of life, but will try what can be found in female delicacy. I will marry a wife beautiful as the Houries, and wise as Zobeide; with her I will live twenty years within the suburbs of Bagdat, in every pleasure that wealth can purchase, and fancy can invent. I will then retire to a rural dwelling, pass my last days in obscurity and contemplation, and lie silently down on the bed of deathThrough my life it shall be my settled resolution, that I will never depend upon the smile of princes; that I will never stand exposed to the artifices of courts; I will never pant for public honours, nor disturb my quiet with affairs of state. Such was my scheme of life, which I impressed indelibly upon my memory.
The first part of my ensuing time was to be spent in search of knowledge, and I know not how I was diverted from my design. I had no visible impediments without, nor any ungovernable passions within. I regarded knowledge as the highest honour and the most engaging pleasure; yet day stole upon day, and month glided after month, till I found that seven years of the first ten had vanished and left nothing behind them. I now postponed my purpose of travelling; for why should I go abroad while so much remained to be learned at home? I immured myself for four years, and studied the laws of the empire. The fame of my skill reached the judges; I was found able to speak upon doubtful questions, and was commanded to stand at the footstool of the Calif. I was heard with attention, I was consulted with confidence, and the love of praise fastened on my heart.
I still wished to see distant countries, listened with rapture to the relations of travellers, and resolved some time to ask my dismission, that I might feast my soul with novelty; but my presence was necessary, and the stream of business hurried me along. Sometimes I was afraid lest I should be charged with ingratitude; but I still purposed to travel, and therefore would not confine myself by marriage.
In my fiftieth year I began to suspect that the time of travelling was past, and thought it best to lay hold on the felicity yet in my power, and indulge myself in domestic pleasures. But at fifty no man easily finds a woman beautiful as the Houries, and wise as Zobeide. I enquired and rejected, consulted and deliberated, till the sixty-second year made me ashamed 'of gazing upon girls. I had now nothing left but retirement, and for retirement I never found a time, till disease forced me from public employment.
Such was my scheme, and such has been it consequence. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge I trifled away the years of improvement; with a restless desire of seeing different countries, I have always resided in the same city; with the highest expectation of connubial felicity, I have lived unmarried; and with unalterable resolutions of contemplative retirement, I am going to die within the walls of Bagdat.
No. CII. SATURDAY, MARCH 29, 176©v
IT very seldom happens to man that his business is his pleasure. What is done from necessity, is so often to be done when against the present inclination, and so often fills the mind with anxiety, that an habitual dislike steals upon us, and we shrink involuntarily from the remembrance of our task. This is the reason why almost every one wishes to quit his employment; he does not like another state but is disgusted with his own.
From this unwillingness to perform more than is required of that which is commonly performed with reluctance, it proceeds that few authors write their own lives. Statesmen, courtiers, ladies, generals and seamen, have given to the world their own stories, and the events with which their different stations have made them acquainted. They retired to the closet as to a place of quiet and amusement, and pleased themselves with writing, because they could lay down the pen whenever they were weary. But the author, however conspicuous, or however important, either in the public eye or in his own, leaves his life to be related by his successors, for he cannot gratify his vanity but by sacrificing his ease.
It is commonly supposed that the uniformity of a studious life affords no matter for narration: but the truth is, that of the most studious life a great part passes without study. An author partakes of the common condition of humanity; he is born and married like another man; he has hopes and fears, expectations and disappointments, griefs and joys, and friends' and enemies, like a courtier or a statesman; nor can I conceive why his affairs should not excite curiosity as much as the whisper of a drawing-room, or the factions of a camp.
Nothing detains the reader's attention more powerfully than deep involutions of distress, or sudden vicissitudes of fortune; and these might be abundantly afforded by memoirs of the sons of literature. They are intangled by contracts which they know not how to fulfil, and obliged to write on subjects which they do not understand. Every publication is a new period of.thetime from which some encrease or declension"" of fame is to be reckoned. The gradations of a hero's life are from battle to battle, and of an author's from book to book.
Success and miscarriage have the same effects in all conditions. The prosperous are feared, hated, and flattered; and the unfortunate avoided, pitied, and despisedi No sooner is a book published, than the writer may judge of the opinion of the world. If his acquaintance press round him in public places, or salute him from the other side of the street; if invitations to dinner come thick upon him, and'those with whom he dines keep him to supper; if the ladies turn to him when his coat is plain, and the footmen serve him with attention and alacrity, he may be sure that his work has been praised by some leader of literary fashions.
Of declining reputation the symptoms are not less easily observed. If the author enters a coffee-house, he has a box to himself; if he calls at a book-seller's, the boy turns his back; and what is the most fatal of all prognostics, authors will visit him in a morning, and talk to him hour after hour of the malevolence of critics, the neglect of merit, the bad taste of the age, and the candour of posterity.
All this modified and varied by accident and custom would form very amusing scenes of biography, and might recreate many a mind which is very little de* lighted with conspiracies or battles, intrigues of a court, or debates of a parliament: Tothis might be added P2