Imágenes de páginas

with what will happen. It was indulged without reserve in dark times; and hence omens, auguries, dreams, judicial astrology, oracles, and prophecies, without end. It shows strange weakness not to fee, that such foreknowledge would be a gift more pernicious to man than Pandora's box it would deprive him of every motive to action; and leave no place for fagacity, nor for contriving means to bring about a defired event. Life is an enchanted castle, opening to interefting views that inflame the imagination and excite induftry. Remove the vail that hides futurity. -To an active, bustling, animating scene, fucceeds a dead ftupor, men converted into statues; paffive like inert matter, because there remains not a fingle motive to action. Anxiety about futurity roufes our fagacity to prepare for what may happen; but an appetite to know what fagacity cannot discover, is a weakness in nature inconsistent with every rational principle *.

* Foreknowledge of future events, differs widely from a conviction, that all events are fixed and immutable: the latter leaves us free to activity; the former annihilates all activity.


Propenfity to things rare and wonderful, is a natural bias no lefs univerfal than the former. Any strange or unaccountable event roufes the attention, and enflames the mind: we fuck it in greedily, wish it to be true, and believe it to be true upon the slightest evidence (a). A hart taken in the forest of Senlis by Charles VI. of France, bore a collar upon which was infcribed, Cafar hoc me donavit *. Every one believed that a Roman Emperor was meant, and that the beast must have lived at least a thousand years; overlooking that the Emperor of Germany is also styled Cafar, and that it was not neceffary to go back fifty years. This propenfity difplays itfelf even in childhood: ftories of ghosts and apparitions are anxiously listened to; and firmly believed, by the terror they occafion: the vulgar accordingly have been captivated with fuch ftories, upon evidence that would not be sufficient to afcertain the fimpleft fact. The abfurd and childish prodigies that are every where fcattered through the hiftory of Titus Li

"Cæfar gave me this."

(a) See Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 163. ed. 5.


vius, not to mention other ancient hiftorians, would be unaccountable in a writer of fenfe and gravity, were it not for the propensity mentioned. But human belief is not left at the mercy of every irregular bias our maker has fubjected belief to the correction of the rational faculty; and accordingly, in proportion as reafon advances towards maturity, wonders, prodigies, apparitions, incantations, witchcraft, and fuch ftuff, lofe their influence. That reformation however has been exceedingly flow, because the propenfity is exceedingly ftrong. Such abfurdities found credit among wife men, even as late as the last age. I am ready to verify the charge, by introducing two men of the first rank for understanding: were a greater number necessary, there would be no difficulty of. making a very long catalogue. The celebrated Grotius fhall lead the van. Procopius in his Vandal history relates, that fome orthodox Chriftians, whofe tongues were cut out by the Arians, continued miraculously to speak as formerly. And to vouch the fact, he appeals to fome of thofe miraculous perfons, alive in Conftantinople at the time of his writing. In VOL. III. L 1


the dark ages of Chriftianity, when different fects were violently enflamed against each other, it is not furprising that grofs abfurdities were fwallowed as real miracles: but is it not surprising, and also mortifying, to find Grotius, the greatest genius of the age he lived in, adopting fuch abfurdities? For the truth of the foregoing miracle, he appeals not only to Procopius, but to several other writers (a); as if the hearsay of a few writers were fufficient to make us believe an impoffibility. Could it feriously be his opinion, that the great God who governs by general laws, permitting the fun to shine alike upon men of whatever religion, would miraculously fufpend the laws of nature, in order to testify his displeasure at an honest fect of Christians, led innocently into error? Did he also believe what Procopius adds, that two of these orthodox Chriftians were again deprived of fpeech, as a punishment inflicted by the Almighty for cohabiting with prostitutes?

[ocr errors]

I proceed to our famous hiftorian, the Earl of Clarendon, the other person I had in view. A man long in public business,

(a) Prolegomena to his Hiftory of the Goths.


a confummate politician and well stored with knowledge from books as well as from experience, might be fortified against foolish miracles, if any man can be fortified and yet behold his fuperftitious credulity in childish stories; no lefs weak in that particular, than was his cotemporary Grotius. He gravely relates an incident concerning the affaffination of the Duke of Buckingham, the fum of which follows. "There were many fto"ries fcattered abroad at that time, of


prophecies and predictions of the Duke's "untimely and violent death; one of

which was upon a better foundation "of credit, than ufually fuch discourses are founded upon. There was an offi


[ocr errors]

cer in the King's wardrobe in Windfor "castle, of reputation for honesty and dif"cretion, and at that time about the age "of fifty. About fix months before the "miferable end of the Duke, this man

[ocr errors]


being in bed and in good health, there appeared to him at midnight a man of a venerable aspect, who drawing the curtains and fixing his eye upon him, faid, 66 Do you know me, Sir. The poor man, "half dead with fear, answered, That he thought


[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »