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It is with the utmost diffidence that I give my own sentiments in the Materia Medica, especially on a subject which has been expressly treated by such men as Dr. Bartholomeus Carrichters, and Dr. Hector Schlands. May I then be permitted hum. bly to propose this query, Is there not some reason to conjecture, that the recipe, so effectual in the case of bewitching, would answer equally well in the case of childblains ?
I am, &c.
N° 87. TUESDAY, MARCH 7, 1780.
Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark ; and as that
natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.
There is in the mind of man a fund of superstition, which, in all nations, in all ages, and in all religions, has been attended with effects powerful and extraordinary. In this respect, no one people seem entitled to boast of any superiority over the rest of mankind. All secm, at one time or other, to have been alike the slaves of a weak, a childish, or a gloomy superstition. When we behold the Romans, wise and great as they weré, regulating their conduct, in their most im, portant affairs, by the accidental flight of birds ; or, when threatened by some national calamity, creating a dictator for the sole purpose of driving a nail into a door, in order to avert the impending judgment of Heaven ; we are apt, according to the humour we are in, to smile at the folly, or to lament the weakness, of human nature.
A little reflection, however, is sufficient to shew, that, with all our advantages, we ourselves are, in this particular, equally weak and absurd. The modern citizen of Rome, who thinks he can appease an offended Deity, by creeping on his knees up the steps of St. Peter's so many times a day; or the pious Neapolitan, who imagines that carrying forth the relics of St. Januarius, is sufficient to stop an eruption of mount Vesuvius; are equal objects of pity with the good Roman, who devoutly assisted at driving the nail into the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
It is amusing to observe the conduct of our first reformers in this particular. Their penetration led them to discover the gross errors and manifold superstitions of the church of Rome , and their spirit and strength of mind, aided by fortunate circumstances, enabled them to set themselves free from those shackles in which Europe had been held for so many ages. But no sooner had they done so, than they and their followers adopted another mode of superstition, in the place of that which it had cost them so much pains to pull down. To masses and crucifixes, and images, were substituted a precise seves rily of manner, and long sermons, and a certain mode of sanctifying the Sabbath, which were inculcated as constituting the sum of virtue,and as comprehending the whole duty of a Christian. So ingenious are men in finding out something to put in the place of true piety and virtue! -Neither is this confined to one res ligion or to one sect. To the same cause will be attri. buted the broad brim and plain coat of the Quaker, the ablutions of the Gentoo, the pilgrimages of the Mahometan, the severe fasts observed in the Greek church, with numberless other instances that might be mentioned.
There is a species of superstition, which, perhaps might be traced back to a similar origin, that often lays strong hold of the imagination, and fills the mind with terrors and apprehensions, which reason and philosophy have not power to eradicate, when once they have fairly got hold of us. Of this sort is the dread of apparitions, of spirits, and of witches. Mr. Addison, in an excellent paper in the Spectator, bas shewn the folly of those apprehensions, and has cautioned parents to be particularly careful to preserve their children from those little horrors of imagination, which they are apt to contract when they are young, and are not able to shake off when they grow up. He justly observes, that next to a clear judgment and a good conscience, a sound imagination is the greatest blessing of life. Perhaps it might be going too far to attribute to this essay of Mr. Addison the reformation so strongly recommended by him. It is however, certain, that all these apprehensions, formerly productive of so much real uneasiness, are now, in a great measure, unknown. We have so far succeeded in plucking the old women out of our hearts ; and we no longer see a brave soldier afraid to walk through a dark passage, or an intrepid sailor shrink with horror at the thought of passing the night in a solitary apartment.
There is however, another weakness, somewhat a-kin to this, that, I am afraid, still prevails among us, which my fondness for children, and the pleasure
I find in prattling with them, give me frequent apportunities of observing. I mean, a custom of terrifying children, and filling their young minds with gloomy apprehensions of death. This is one of the most common methods employed by ignorant nurserymaids, and foolish parents, to frighten infants into obedience. But nothing can be more absurd, or attended with more pernicious consequences. Were a person of a timid frame of mind under a necessity of crossing the ocean, would it be the part of a friend to magnify the danger, and to amuse him, all the way to the port where he was to embark, with accounts of storms and tempests, and with a fearful picture of the many and various hazards to which he must be exposed on the voyage ?
A wise parent, attentive to the future happiness of his children, ought to follow a very different rule of conduct. From their earliest infancy, he ought to make the idea of death familiar to them; he ought to accustom them to look upon it, not only without fear, but with the same indifference as on any other unavoidable occurrence to which they are daily exposed. By this means they will, as they advance in life, he led to consider it as a friend ratber than an enemy: they will perceive that, but for death, this world would be a prison more dreadful than any the most cruel tyrant ever invented; they will look forward to it as the only period to the cares of this life,-as a happy passage to that better world, where only they can expect a complete reward for a faithful discharge of their duty in this.
However absurd a dread of witches and apparitions may be, the consequences attending it are not so bad as those that flow from the fear of death. The one, it is true, fills the mind with many dis
agreeable apprehensions, and causes many uneasy moments; but the other unfits a man for discharging his duty in society, and too often exposes him to infamy and disgrace. Courage is a quality that depends, in some measure, on the constitution of the body; and it has been observed, that the same individual is not, at all times, and upon all occasions, equally brave. I cannot help being of opinion, however, that if a boy, from his earliest infancy, were taught to view death in a just light; he would imperceptibly acquire a strength of mind that would enable him to face danger, and to do his duty, on all occasions, without being obliged to summon up his resolution, and to call reason to his aid, upon every trying emergence.
I have heard it said, that, if men were accustomed to despise death, they would be apt, through a sort of fool-hardiness, to throw away their lives on every slight occasion or idle quarrel. But, for my own part, I entertain a very different opinion ; that fool-har. diness is seldom to be met with in a man of a calm, firm, determined mind, who knows how to estimate the true value of life. In general, it proceeds from a secret consciousness, that leads a man to put too high a value on the quality of courage, and to in. dulge his vanity by a display of it; as we often see men most desirous to be thought to possess those virtues and those talents, to which, in reality, they have the least pretensions.
I was much pleased with a conversation I had on this subject, on a visit I lately paid to Lady
, the wife of my much valued friend General
i who is now abroad fighting the battles of his country. I found her in her dressing-room, surrounded by a group of the most lovely children, After they retired, she began to complain, that,