By long Converse with this Man, I am, perhaps, in some Degree brought to feel the same immoderate Pleasure in the Contemplation of this delightful Season; but I have the Satisfaction of finding many, whom it can be no Shame to resemble, infected with the same Enthusiasm; for there is, I believe, scarce any Poet of Eminence, who has not left some Testimony of his Fondness for the Flowers, the Zephyrs, and the Warblers of the Spring.
Nor has the most luxuriant Imagination been able to describe the Serenity and Happiness of the golden Age otherwise than by giving a perpetual Spring, as the highest Reward of uncorrupted Innocence.
There is, indeed, something inexpressibly pleasing in the annual Renovation of the World, and the new Display of the Treasures of Nature.
The Cold and Darkness of Winter, with the naked Deformity of every Object on which we turn our Eyes, makes us necessarily rejoice at the succeeding Season, as well for what we have escaped, as for what we may enjoy; and every budding Flower, which a warm Situation brings early to our View, is considered by us as a Messenger, to inform us of the Approach of more joyous Days.
The Spring affords to a Mind, so free from the Disturbance of Cares or Passions as to be vacant to calm Amusements, almost every Thing that our present State makes us capable of enjoying. The variegated Verdure of the Fields and Woods, the Succession of grateful Odours, the Voice of Pleasure pouring out its Notes on every Side, with the Observation of the Gladness apparently conceived by every Animal, from the Growth of his Food, and the Clemency of the Weather, throw over the whole Earth an Air of Gayety, which is very significantly expressed by the Smile of Nature.
There are Men to whom these Scenes are able to give no Delight, and who hurry away from all the Varieties of rural Beauty, to lose their Hours, and divert their Thoughts by Cards, or publick Assemblies, a Tavern Dinner, or the Prattle of the Day.
It may be laid down as a Position which will seldom deceive, that when a Man cannot bear his own Company there is something wrong. He must fly from himself, either because he feels a Tediousness in Life from the Equipoise of an empty Mind, which, having no Tendency to one Motion more than another but as it is impelled by some external Power, must always have recourse to foreign Objects; or he must be afraid of the Intrusion of some unpleasing Ideas, and, perhaps, is always struggling to escape from the Remembrance of a Loss, the Fear of a Calamity, or some other Thought of greater Horror.
Those, who are incapacitated to enjoy the Pleasures of Contemplation, by their Griefs, may, very properly, apply to such Diversions, provided they are innocent, as lay strong hold on the Attention; and those, whom Fear of any future Calamity chains down to Misery, must endeavour to obviate the Danger.
My Considerations shall, on this Occasion, be turned on such as are burthensome to themselves merely because they want Subjects for Reflection, and to whom the Volume of Nature is thrown open without affording them Pleasure or Instruction, because they never learned to read the Characters.
A French Author has advanced this seeming Paradox, that _very few Men know how to take a Walk_; and, indeed, it is very true, that few Men know how to take a Walk with a Prospect of any other Pleasure, than the same Company would have afforded them in any other Circumstances.
There are Animals that borrow their Colour from the neighbouring Body, and, consequently, vary their Hue as they happen to change their Place. In like manner it ought to be the Endeavour of every Man to derive his Reflexions from the Objects about him; for it is to no purpose that he alters his Position, if his Attention continues fixt to the same Point.
The Mind should be kept open to the Access of every new Idea, and so far disengaged from the Predominance of particular Thoughts, as to be able to accommodate itself to emergent Occasions, and remark every Thing that offers itself to present Examination.
A Man that has formed this Habit of turning every new Object to his Entertainment, finds in the Productions of Nature an inexhaustible Stock of Materials, upon which he can employ himself, without any Temptations to Envy or Malevolence; Faults, perhaps, seldom totally avoided by those, whose Judgment is much exercised upon the Works of Art. He has always a certain Prospect of discovering new Reasons for adoring the Sovereign Author of the Universe, and probable Hopes of making some Discovery of Benefit to others, or of Profit to himself. There is no doubt but many Vegetables and Animals have Qualities that might be of great Use; to the Knowledge of which there is required no great Sagacity of Penetration, or Fatigue of Study, but only frequent Experiments, and close Attention. What is said by the Chymists of their darling Mercury, is, perhaps, true of every Body through the whole Creation, that, if a thousand Lives should be spent upon it, all its Properties would not be found out.
Mankind must necessarily be diversified by various Tastes, since Life affords and requires such multiplicity of Employments; and a Nation of Naturalists is neither to be hoped, or desired, but it is surely not improper to point out a fresh Amusement to those who langush in Health, and repine in Plenty, for want of some Source of Diversion that may be less easily exhausted, and to inform the Multitudes of both Sexes, who are burthened with every new Day, that there are many Shews which they have not seen.
He that enlarges his Curiosity after the Works of Nature, demonstrably multiplies the Inlets to Happiness, and, therefore, the younger Part of my Readers, to whom I dedicate this vernal Speculation, must excuse me for calling upon them to make use at once of the Spring of the Year, and the Spring of Life; to acquire, while their Minds may be yet impressed with new Images, a Love of innocent Pleasures, and an ardour for useful Knowledge; and to remember, that a blighted Spring makes a barren Year, and that the vernal Flowers, however beautiful and gay, are only intended by Nature as Preparatives to Autumnal Fruits.
_LONDON_: Printed for J. PAYNE, and J. BOUQUET, in Pater-noster-Row; where Letters for the RAMBLER are received, and the preceding Numbers may be had.
NUMB. 60. Price 2 _d._
_To be continued on_ TUESDAYS _and_ SATURDAYS.
SATURDAY, _October_ 13, 1750.
--_Quid fit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non, Plenius et melius_ Chrysippo _et_ Crantore _dicit_. HOR.
All Joy or Sorrow for the Happiness or Calamities of others is produced by an Act of the Imagination, that realises the Event however fictitious, or approximates it however remote, by placing us, for a Time, in the Condition of him whose Fortune we contemplate; so that we feel, while the Deception lasts, whatever Motions would be excited by the same Good or Evil happening to ourselves.
Our Passions are therefore more strongly moved, in proportion as we can more readily adopt the Pains or Pleasures proposed to our Minds, by recognising them as once our own, or considering them as naturally incident to our State of Life. It is not easy for the most artful Writer to give us an Interest in Happiness or Misery, which we think ourselves never likely to feel, and with which we have never yet been made acquainted. Histories of the Downfall of Kingdoms, and Revolutions of Empires are read with great Tranquillity; the imperial Tragedy pleases common Auditors only by its Pomp of Ornament, and Grandeur of Ideas; and the Man whose Faculties have been engrossed by Business, and whose Heart never fluttered but at the Rise or Fall of Stocks, wonders how the Attention can be seized, or the Affections agitated by a Tale of Love.
Those parallel Circumstances, and kindred Images to which we readily conform our Minds, are, above all other Writings, to be found in Narratives of the Lives of particular Persons; and there seems therefore no Species of Writing more worthy of Cultivation than Biography, since none can be more delightful, or more useful, none can more certainly enchain the Heart by irresistible Interest, or more widely diffuse Instruction to every Diversity of Condition.
The general and rapid Narratives of History, which involve a thousand Fortunes in the Business of a Day, and complicate innumerable Incidents in one great Transaction, afford few Lessons applicable to private Life, which derives its Comforts and its Wretchedness from the right or wrong Management of Things that nothing but their Frequency makes considerable, _Parva si non fiunt quotidie_, says _Pliny_, and which can have no Place in those Relations which never descend below the Consultation of Senates, the Motions of Armies, and the Schemes of Conspirators.
I have often thought that there has rarely passed a Life of which a judicious and faithful Narrative would not be useful. For, not only every Man has in the mighty Mass of the World great Numbers in the same Condition with himself, to whom his Mistakes and Miscarriages, Escapes and Expedients would be of immediate and apparent Use; but there is such an Uniformity in the Life of Man, if it be considered apart from adventitious and separable Decorations and Disguises, that there is scarce any Possibility of Good or Ill, but is common to Humankind. A great Part of the Time of those who are placed at the greatest Distance by Fortune, or by Temper, must unavoidably pass in the same Manner; and though, when the Claims of Nature are satisfied, Caprice, and Vanity, and Accident, begin to produce Discriminations, and Peculiarities, yet the Eye is not very heedful, or quick, which cannot discover the same Causes still terminating their Influence in the same Effects, though sometimes accelerated, sometimes retarded, or perplexed by multiplied Combinations. We are all prompted by the same Motives, all deceived by the same Fallacies, all animated by Hope, obstructed by Danger, entangled by Desire, and seduced by Pleasure.
It is frequently objected to Relations of particular Lives, that they are not distinguished by any striking or wonderful Vicissitude. The Scholar who passes his Life among his Books, the Merchant who conducted only his own Affairs, the Priest whose Sphere of Action was not extended beyond that of his Duty, are considered as no proper Objects of publick Regard, however they might have excelled in their several Stations, whatever might have been their Learning, Integrity, and Piety. But this Notion arises from false Measures of Excellence and Dignity, and must be eradicated by considering, that, in the Eye of uncorrupted Reason, what is of most Use is of most Value.
It is, indeed, not improper to take honest Advantages of Prejudice, and to gain Attention by a great Name; but the Business of the Biographer is often to pass slightly over those Performances and Incidents, which produce vulgar Greatness, to lead the Thoughts into domestick Privacies, and display the minute Details of daily Life, where exterior Appendages are cast aside, and Men excel each other only by Prudence, and by Virtue.
The Life of _Thuanus_ is, with great Propriety, said by its Author to have been written, that it might lay open to Posterity the private and familiar Character of that Man, _cujus Ingenium et Candorem ex ipsius Scriptis sunt olim simper miraturi_, whose Candour and Genius his Writings will to the End of Time preserve in Admiration.
There are many invisible Circumstances, which whether we read as Enquirers after natural or moral Knowledge, whether we intend to enlarge our Science, or encrease our Virtue, are more important than publick Occurrences. Thus _Salust_, the great Master, has not forgot, in his Account of _Catiline_, to remark that _his Walk was now quick, and again slow_, as an Indication of a Mind revolving something with violent Commotion. Thus the Story of _Melancthon_ affords a striking Lecture on the Value of Time, by informing us that when he made an Appointment, he expected not only the Hour, but the Minute to be fixed, that Life might not run out in the Idleness of Suspense; and all the Plans and Enterprizes of _De Wit_ are now of less Importance to the World, than that Part of his personal Character which represents him as careful of his Health, and negligent of his Life.
But Biography has often been allotted to Writers who seem very little acquainted with the Nature of their Task, or very negligent about the Performance. They rarely afford any other Account than might be collected from publick Papers, and imagine themselves writing a Life when they exhibit a chronological Series of Actions or Preferments; and so little regard the Manners or Behaviour of their Heroes, that more Knowledge may be gained of a Man's real Character, by a short Conversation with one of his Servants, than from a formal and studied Narrative, begun with his Pedigree, and ended with his Funeral.
If now and then they condescend to inform the World of particular Facts, they are not always so happy as to select those which are of most Importance. I know not well what Advantage Posterity can receive from the only Circumstance by which _Tickell_ has distinguished _Addison_ from the Rest of Mankind, the Irregularity of his Pulse: nor can I think myself overpaid for the Time spent in reading the Life of _Malherb_, by being enabled to relate, after the learned Biographer, that _Malherb_ had two predominant Opinions; one, that the Looseness of a single Woman might destroy all the Boast of ancient Descent; the other, that the _French_ Beggers made use very improperly and barbarously of the Phrase _noble Gentleman_, because either Word included the Sense of both.
There are, indeed, some natural Reasons why these Narratives are often written by such as were not likely to give much Instruction or Delight, and why most Accounts of particular Persons are barren and useless. If a Life be delayed till all Interest and Envy are at an End, and all Motives to Calumny or Flattery are suppressed, we may hope for Impartiality, but must expect little Intelligence; for the Incidents which give Excellence to Biography are of a volatile and evanescent Kind, such as soon escape the Memory, and are rarely transmitted by Tradition. We know how few can portray a living Acquaintance, except by his most prominent and observable Particularities, and the grosser Features of his Mind; and it may be easily imagined how much of this little Knowledge may be lost in imparting it, and how soon a Succession of Copies will lose all Resemblance of the Original.
If the Biographer writes from personal Knowledge, and makes haste to gratify the publick Curiosity, there is Danger left his Interest, his Fear, his Gratitude, or his Tenderness, overpower his Fidelity, and tempt him to conceal, if not to invent. There are many who think it an Act of Piety to hide the Faults or Failings of their Friends, even when they can no longer suffer by their Detection; we therefore see whole Ranks of Characters adorned with uniform Panegyrick, and not to be known from one another, but by extrinsick and casual Circumstances. "Let me remember, says _Hale_, when I find myself inclined to pity a Criminal, that there is likewise a Pity due to the Country." If there is a Regard due to the Memory of the Dead, there is yet more Respect to be paid to Knowledge, to Virtue, and to Truth.