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ed by some national calamity, creating a dictator for the sole purpose of driving a nail into a door, in order to avert the imperding judgement 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 show, 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 severity 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 religion or to one sect. To the same cause will be attributed 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, has shown 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 judgement 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 pro• ductive of so much real uneasiness, are now, in a great measure, unknown. We have so far succeeded in plucking the old woman 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 opportunities 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 nursery.maids, 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, be led to consider it as a friend rather 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 disagreeable 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 foolhardiness 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 indulge 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
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
with all the attention a parent could bestow, it was often impossible to prevent children from receiving bad and improper impressions from servants and attendants. It was but just now,' said she, "your favourite, little Charles, told his brother, that if he was a bad boy, he would be put
into a black box, carried to the church-yard, thrown into a hole, and covered over with earth. After some observations on the bad tendency of representing death in frightful colours, she said, she had often been disposed to think the poets to blame in this particular, who, by dwelling on all the circumstances attending our dissolution, and presenting them to the imagination in strong and lively colours, often leave an impression which reason is not able entirely to wear off. She instanced the 'well-known lines of Shakspeare:
• Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
'It is impossible,' said she, to read those lines without being affected by them. Yet, were I to judge from my own feelings, I should think the sentiments unjust. If to me,' continued she, stealing a glance at the picture of my friend, while an