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wit, in the ostentation of his parts, rally the truth of the Scripture, who was not able to read a chapter in it. These poor wretches talk blasphemy for want of discourse, and are rather the objects of scorn or pity, than of our indignation ; but the grave disputant, that reads and writes, and spends all his time in convincing himself and the world that he is no better than a brute, ought to be whipped out of a government, as a blot to civil society, and a defamer of mankind. I love to consider an infidel, whether distinguished by the title of deist, atheist, or free-thinker, in three different lights, in his solitudes, his afflictions, and his last moments.
A wise man, that lives up to the principles of reason and virtue, if one considers him in his solitude, as in taking in the system of the universe, observing the mutual dependence and harmony, by which the whole frame of it hangs together, beating down his passions, or swelling his thoughts with magnificent ideas of Providence, makes a nobler figure in the eye of an intelligent being, than the greatest conqueror amidst all the pomps and solemnities of a triumph. On the contrary, there is not a more ridiculous animal than an atheist in his retirement. His mind is incapable of rapture or elevation. He can only consider himself as an insignificant figure in a landscape, and wandering up and down in a field or a meadow, under the same terms as the meanest animals about him, and as subject to as total a mortality as they ; with this aggravation, that he is the only one amongst them, who lies under the apprehension of it.
In distresses, he must be of all creatures the most helpless and forlorn ; he feels the whole pressure of a present calamity, without being relieved by the memory of any thing that is past, or the prospect of any thing that is to come. Annihilation is the greatest blessing that he proposes to himself, and an halter or a pistol the only refuge he can fly to. But, if you would behold one of these gloomy miscreants in his poorest figure, you must consider him under the terrors, or at the approach of death.
About thirty years ago I was a-shipboard with one of these vermin, when there arose a brisk gale, which could frighten nobody but himself. Upon the rolling of the ship, he fell upon his knees, and confessed to the chaplain, 6 that he had been a vile atheist, and had denied a Supreme Being ever since he came to his estate." The good man was astonished, and a report immediately ran through the ship, “ that there was an atheist upon the upperdeck." Several of the common seamen, who had never heard the word before, thought it had been some strange fish ; but they were more surprised when they saw it was a man, and heard out of his own mouth, that he never believed until that day that there was a God. As he lay in the agonies of confession, one of the honest tars whispered to the boatswain, “ that it would be a good deed to heave him overboard.” But we were now within sight of port, when of a sudden the wind fell, and the penitent relapsed, begging all of us that were present, as we were gentlemen, not to say any thing of what had passed."
He had not been ashore above two days, when one of the company began to rally him upon his devotion on shipboard, which the other denied in so high terms, that it produced the lye on both sides, and ended in a duel. The atheist was run through the body, and, after some loss of blood, became as good a Christian as he was at sea, until he found that his wound was not mortal. He is at present one of the free-thinkers of the age, and now writing
a pamphlet against several received opinions concerning the existence of fairies.
As I have taken upon me to censure the faults of the
age and country in which I live, I should have thought myself inexcusable to have passed over this crying one, which is the subject of my present dis
I shall, therefore, from time to time, give my countrymen particular cautions against this distemper of the mind, that is almost become fashionable, and by that means more likely to spread. I have somewhere either read or heard a very memorable sentence, “ that a man would be a most insupportable monster, should he have the faults that are incident to his years, constitution, profession, family, religion, age, and country ;” and yet every man is in danger of them all. For this reason, as I am an old man, I take particular care to avoid being covetous, and telling long stories. As I am choleric, I forbear not only swearing, but all interjections of fretting, as pugh! or pish! and the like. As I am a lay-man, I resolve not to conceive an aversion for a wise and good man, because his coat is of a different colour from mine. As I am descended of the ancient family of the Bickerstaffs, I never call a man of merit an upstart. As a protestant, I do not suffer my zeal so far to transport me, as to name the Pope and the Devil together. As I am fallen into this degenerate age, I guard myself particularly against the folly I have now been speaking of. And as I am an Englishman, I am very cautious not to hate a stranger, or despise a
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 1709.
Accedat suavitas quædam oportet sermonum, a tque inorum,
haudquaquam mediocre condimentum amicitiæ : tristitia autem, et in omni re severitas absit. Habet illa quidem gravitatem, sed amicitia remissior esse debet, et liberior, et dulcior, et ad omnem comitatem facilitatemque proclivior.
Cic. De Amicitia. There should be added a certain sweetness of discourse and
manners, which is no inconsiderable sauce to friendship. But by all means throw out sadness and severity in every thing. There is something of gravity indeed in it; but friendship requires a greater remissness, freedom, and pleasantness, and an inclination to good temper and affability.
Sheer-lane, December 26. As I was looking over my letters this morning, I chanced to cast my eye upon the following one, which came to my hands about two months ago from an old friend of mine, who, as I have since learned, was the person that writ the agreeable epistle inserted in my paper of the third of the last month. It is of the same turn with the other, and may be looked upon as a specimen of right country letters.
“ This sets out to you from my summer-house upon the terrace, where I am enjoying a few hours sun-shine, the scanty sweet remains of a fine autumn. The year is almost at the lowest; so that, in all appearance, the rest of my letters between this and spring will be dated from my parlour fire, where the little fond prattle of a wife and children will so often break in upon the connexion of my thoughts, that you will easily discover it in my style. If this winter should prove as severe as the last, I can tell you before-hand, that I am likely to be a very miserable man, through the perverse temper of my eldest boy.
When the frost was in its extremity, you must know that most of the blackbirds, robins, and finches of the parish, whose music has entertained me in the summer,
took refuge under my roof. Upon this, my care was, to rise every morning before day, to set open my windows for the reception of the cold and the hungry, whom at the same time I relieved with a very plentiful alms, by strewing corn and seeds upon the floors and shelves. But, Dicky, without any regard to the laws of hospitality, considered the casements as so many traps, and used every bird as a prisoner at discretion. Never did exercise more various cruelties. Some of the poor creatures he chased to death about the room; others he drove into the jaws of a blood-thirsty cat ; and even in his greatest acts of mercy, either clipped the wings, or singed the tails, of his innocent captives. You will laugh, when I tell you I sympathized with every bird in its misfortunes; but I believe
will think me in the right for bewailing the child's unlucky humour. On the other hand, I am extremely pleased to see his younger brother carry an universal benevolence towards every thing that has life. When he was between four and five years old, I caught him weeping over a beautiful butterfly, which he chanced to kill as he was playing with it; and I am informed, that this morning he has given his brother three half-pence, which was his whole estate, to spare the life of a Tom-tit. These are at present the matters of greatest moment within my observation, and I know are too trifling to be communicated to