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No 60. SATURDAY, AUGUST 21, 1779.
Quin ubi se a vulgo et scena in secreta remorant
I HAVE heard a story of an eminent philosopher who was invited to dine and spend the evening with some of the most distinguished men for learning and genius of the
in which he lived. Dinner being over, the conversation took a light and easy turn. While a cheerful glass went round, the common topic of the time, the joke of the day, or the occasional pleasantry of the minute, filled up their discourse. The philosopher, whose mind was constantly occupied with abstract studies and inquiries, took little share in the conversation, and felt no pleasure in it. After having sat a considerable time, one of the company proposed that they should take a game at cards. Although they played for a trifle, the philosopher refused to join in the party, and it was made up without him. While they were thus engaged, he "retired to a corner of the room, took out his pocketbook and pencil, and began to write. Upon being asked what he was writing ? he answered, that he had conceived high expectations of the instruction and entertainment he was to receive from the conversation of so many eminent and distinguished men ;
that he had resolved, before he came among them to take notes of what passed, lest he should - forget it; and that this was now his occupation. The company, considering the manner in which they had been employed, felt the rebuke, and were made a little uneasy by it.
People may think differently of this story. I, for my part, think the philosopher to blame, and that the company were in no respect the objects of cen
I have long been of opinion, that one of the most important lessons to be learned in life, is that of being able to trifle upon occasion. No character can possibly be more contemptible than that of a talking, empty, giggling fool, who is incapable of fixing his attention upon any thing that is important, and whose mind, like a microscope, sees only what is little, and takes in nothing that is great. But no character can be more respectable than that of a man of talents, whose thoughts are often employed upon the great and important objects of life, but who can nevertheless unbend his mind, and be amused with easy and simple recreations. A man, by taking false and improper views of life, may bring himself to think, that even those objects which are reckoned great and important, are, in reality, little ; the projects of ambition, the desire of fame, even the pursuits of study, may sink before him ; and, to such a man, the ordinary recreations of the world must appear too small to engage his attention. But, • 'twere to consider too curiously to consider so. He who thinks rightly, and adapts his mind to the circumstances in which he is placed, will soon be convinced, that, as activity and employment were intended for us, so we ought to be interested by the different objects around us. The projects of an honest ambition, if not carried too far, the desire of being thought well of, if kept within proper bounds, and the search after knowledge, if it does not lead to arrogance and conceit, will appear suited to our nature, and objects upon which it is right that we
should fix our attention. In the same manner, it will appear proper
that the mind, when there is place for it, should unbend and allow itself to be amused by those other objects which, compared with those of ambition, fame, or study, inay appear little or trifling.
The mind is very apt to receive a strong cast from the manner in which it is employed. When a man is constantly engaged in something which requires great study and application, which figures as an important object, and which agitates and interests him, he is in danger of acquiring a hardness of temper which will make him disagreeable, or a tone of mind which will render him incapable of going through the common duties of life as a friend, a relation, or a parent. Nothing will preserve him from these bad consequences so much as his taking advantage of an idle hour, and allowing himself to be unbent with recreations of an easy, and in themselves of a frivolous nature. This will not only afford him an agreeable relaxation, but will give his mind a gentleness and a sweetness which all the hardness of application, and all the agitation of his employments, will not be able to destroy.
There is no anecdote in antiquity which I have read with greater pleasure than that of Scipio and Lælius, related by the eloquent pen of Cicero, and put into the mouth of Crassus : Sæpe ex socero meo audivi (says Crassus in the dialogue de Oratore) cum is diceret, socerum suum Lælium, semper fere cum Scipione solitum rusticari, eosque incredibiliter repuerascere esse solitos, cum rus ex urbe, tanquam e vinculis, evolavissent. Non audeo dicere de talibus viris, sed tamen ita solet narrare Scavola, conchas eos et umbilicos ad Caietam et ad Laurentum legere consuêsse, et ad omnem animi remissionem ludumque descendere. Sic enim se res batet, ut quemadmodum volucres videmus, procreationis
atque utilitatis suæ causa, fingere et construere nidos
; easdem autem, cum aliquid effecerint levandi laboris sui causa, passim ac libere solutas opere volitare; sic nostri animi forensibus negotiis, atque'urbano opere defessi gestiunt, et volitare cupiunt, vacui cura atque labore.• I remember to have heard my father-in-law men
tion,' says Crassus, that his kinsman Lælius, and • the great Scipio, were frequently wont to fly from • the hurry of business and the bustle of the town to
a quiet retreat in the country, and there to grow, • as it were, boys again in their amusements. Nay
(though I should hardly venture to tell it of such men), we were assured by Scævola, that at Caieta and • Laurentum they used to pass their time in gathering • shells and pebbles, unbending their minds,
and amused with every trifle ; like birds, which after the • serious and important business of preparing nests • for their young, fly sportfully about, free and disengaged, as if to relieve themselves from their toils:
Nothing can be more truly delightful than to picture out the conqueror of Carthage, who had led to victory the triumphant armies of the Roman state, amusing himself with his friend Lælius, at Caieta or Laurentum, in gathering shells and pebbles on the sea-shore. Far from sinking their dignity in our estimation, it adds to it ; and it must give a high idea of the elegant simplicity and virtuous tranquil. lity of mind of which the illustrious friends were possessed, when from the cares of state, they could descend to, and feel amusement in, those innocent and simple-hearted pleasures. None but men of vir. tue, and who possessed an easy and an irreproachable mind, could have enjoyed them *. Men whose consciences upbraided them, who felt the agitation of
# See Melmoth's Cicero's Letters.
bad passions, and who were inwardly gnawed by the sensations of envy, jealousy, revenge or hatred, could not have thus indulged themselves. They must have buried their feelings, they must have got rid of their own minds, under less peaceful, less, simple, and less innocent amusements. That absorption of calm feeling which hard drinking produces, and that agitation created by deep gaming, must have been their
N. B. The Mirror is to be discontinued till Tues.
day the 7th of December, on which day will be published No LXI. and then continued, as for. merly, every Tuesday and Saturday.
During the late intermission of my labours, I paid a visit of some weeks to my friend Mr. Umphraville, whose benevolence and worth never fail to give me the highest pleasure, a pleasure not lessened, perhaps, by those little singularities of sentiment and manner, which, in some former papers, I have de. scribed that gentleman as possessing. At his house in the country, these appear to the greatest advantage; there they have room to shoot out at will; and, like the old yew-trees in his garden, though they do