« PreviousContinue »
He was well
the king, we will make merry." answered, "What hinders your doing that in the condition you are already?" The restless desire of exerting themselves above the common level of mankind is not to be resisted in some tempers; and minds of this make may be observed in every condition of life. Where such men do not make to themselves, or meet with employment, the soil of their constitution runs into tares and weeds. An old friend of mine, who lost a major's post forty years ago, and quitted, has ever since studied maps, encampments, retreats, and countermarches; with no other design but to feed his spleen and ill-humour, and furnish himself with matter for arguing against all the successful actions of others. He that, at his first setting out in the world, was the gayest man in our regiment; ventured his life with alacrity, and enjoyed it with satisfaction; encouraged men below him, and was courted by men above him, has been ever since the most froward creature breathing. His warm complexion spends itself now only in a general spirit of contradiction: for which he watches all occasions, and is in his conversation still upon centry, treats all men like enemies, with every other impertinence of a speculative warrior.
He that observes in himself this natural inquietude, should take all imaginable care to put his mind in some method of gratification; or he will soon find himself grow into the condition of this disappointed major. Instead of courting proper occasions to rise above others, he will be ever studious of pulling others down to him: it being the common refuge of disappointed ambition, to ease themselves by detraction. It would be no great argument against ambition, that there are such mortal things in the disappointment of it; but it certainly is a forcible exception, that there can be no solid happiness in the success of it. If we value popular praise, it
is in the power of the meanst of the people to disturb us by calumny. If the fame of being happy, we cannot look into a village, but we see crowds in actual possession of what we seek only the appearance. To this may be added, that there is I know not what malignity in the minds of ordinary men, to oppose you in what they see you fond of; and it is a certain exception against a man's receiving applause, that he visibly courts it. However, this is not only the passion of great and undertaking spirits but you see it in the lives of such as, one would believe, were far enough removed from the ways of ambition. The rural esquires of this nation even eat and drink out of vanity. A vain-glorious fox-hunter shall entertain half a county, for the ostentation of his beef and beer, without the least affection for any of the crowd about him. He feeds them, because he thinks it a superiority over them that he does so; and they devour him, because they know he treats them out of insolence. This indeed is ambition in grotesque; but may figure to us the condition of politer men, whose only pursuit is glory. When the superior acts out of a principle of vanity, the dependent will be sure to allow it him; because he knows it destructive of the very applause which is courted by the man who favours him, and consequently makes him nearer himself.
But as every man living has more or less of this incentive, which makes men impatient of an inactive condition, and urges men to attempt what may tend to their reputation; it is absolutely necessary they should form to themselves an ambition, which is in every man's power to gratify. This ambition would be independent, and would consist only in acting what, to a man's own mind, appears most great and laudable. It is a pursuit in the power of every man, and is only a regular prosecution of what he himself approves. It is what can be interrupted by no out
ward accidents; for no man can be robbed of his good intention. One of our society of the Trumpet* therefore started last night a notion, which I thought had reason in it. 66 It is, methinks," said he, unreasonable thing, that heroic virtue should, as it seems to be at present, be confined to a certain order of men, and be attainable by none but those whom fortune has elevated to the most conspicuous stations. I would have every thing to be esteemed as heroic, which is great and uncommon in the circumstances of the man who performs it." Thus there would be no virtue in human life, which every one of the species would not have a pretence to arrive at, and an ardency to exert. Since fortune is not in our power, let us be as little as possible in hers. Why should it be necessary that a man should be rich, to be generous? If we measured by the quality and not the quantity of things, the particulars which accompany an action is what should denominate it mean or great. The highest station of human life is to be attained by each man that pretends to it: for every man can be as valiant, as generous, as wise, and as merciful, as the faculties and opportunities which he has from Heaven and fortune will permit. He that can say to himself, "I do as much good, and am as virtuous as my most earnest endeavours will allow me," whatever is his station in the world, is to himself possessed of the highest honour. If ambition is not thus turned, it is no other than a continual succession of anxiety and vexation. when it has this cast, it invigorates the mind; and the consciousness of its own worth is a reward, which is not in the power of envy, reproach, or detraction, to take from it. Thus the seat of solid honour is in a man's own bosom; and no one can want support, who is in possession of an honest
The public-house in Sheer-lane.
conscience, but he who would suffer the reproaches of it for other greatness.
P.S. I was going on in my philosophy, when notice was brought me, that there was a great crowd in my antichamber, who expected audience. When they were admitted, I found they all met at my lodgings, each coming upon the same errand, to know whether they were of the fortunate in the lottery, which is now ready to be drawn. I was much at a loss how to extricate myself from their importunity; but observing the assembly made up of both sexes, I signified to them, that in this case it would appear Fortune is not blind, for all the lots would fall upon the wisest and the fairest. This gave so general a satisfaction, that the room was soon emptied, and the company retired with the best air, and the most pleasing grace, I had any where observed. Mr. Elliott of St. James's coffee-house now stood alone before me, and signified to me, he had now not only prepared his books, but had received a very great subscription already. His design was, to advertise his subscribers at their respective places of abode, within an hour after their number is drawn, whether it was a blank or benefit, if the adventurer lives within the bills of mortality; if he dwells in the country, by the next post.* I encouraged the man in his industry, and told him the ready path to good fortune was to believe there was no such thing.
* Hence the origin of registering tickets; and probably of insuring, since carried to so pernicious an excess.
N° 203. THURSDAY, JULY 27, 1710.
Ut tu fortunam, sic nos te, Celse, feremus.
HOR. 1 Ep. viii. ver. ult.
As Celsus bears this change of fortune,
From my own Apartment, July 26.
It is natural for the imaginations of men, who lead their lives in too solitary a manner, to prey upon themselves, and form, from their own conceptions, beings and things which have no place in nature. This often makes an adept as much at a loss, when he comes into the world, as a mere savage. To avoid therefore that ineptitude for society, which is frequently the fault of us scholars, and has, to men of understanding and breeding, something much more shocking and untractable than rusticity itself; I take care to visit all public solemnities, and go into assemblies as often as my studies will permit. This being therefore the first day of the drawing of the lottery, I did not neglect spending a considerable time in the crowd: but as much a philosopher as I pretend to be, I could not but look with a sort of veneration upon the two boys who received the tickets from the wheels, as the impartial and equal dispensers of fortunes which were to be distributed among the crowd, who all stood expecting the same chance. It seems at first thought very wonderful, that one passion should so universally have the preeminence of another in the possession of men's minds, as that in this case all in general have a secret hope of the great ticket: and yet fear in another instance, as in going into a battle, shall have so little influence, as that, though each man believes there will be many thousands slain, each is confident he himself shall escape. This certainly pro