« AnteriorContinuar »
a story at the same time of another of his tenants, who, meeting this gentleman-like lady on the highway, was asked by her whether that was Coverley Hall? The honest man, seeing only the male part of the querist, replied, “Yes, sir;” but upon the second question, “Whether Sir Roger de Coverley was a married man 2" having dropped his eye upon the petticoat, he changed his note into “No, madam.” Had one of these hermaphrodites appeared in Juvenal's days, with what an indignation should we have seen her described by that excellent satirist He would have represented her in a riding habit, as a greater monster than the centaur. He would have called for sacrifices of purifying waters, to expiate the appearance of such a prodigy. He would have invoked the shades of Portia and Lucretia, to see into what the Roman ladies had transformed themselves. For my own part, I am for treating the sex with greater tenderness, and have all along made use of the most gentle methods to bring them off from any little extravagance into which they have sometimes unwarily fallen. I think it, however, absolutely necessary to keep up the partition between the two sexes, and to take notice of the smallest encroachments which the one makes upon the other. I hope, therefore, I shall not hear any more complaints on this subject. I am sure my she-disciples, who peruse these my daily lectures, have profited but little by them, if they are capable of giving into such an amphibious dress. This I should not have mentioned, had not I lately met one of these my female readers in Hyde-Park, who looked upon me with a masculine assurance, and cocked her hat full in my face. For my part, I have one general key to the behaviour of the fair sex. When I see them singular in any part of their dress, I conclude it is not without some evil intention ; and therefore question not but the design of this strange fashion is to smite more effectually their male beholders. Now, to set them right in this particular, I would fain have them consider with themselves whether we are not more likely to be struck by a figure entirely female, than with such an one as we may see every day in our glasses. Or, if they please, let them reflect upon their own hearts, and think how they would be affected should they meet a man on horseback, in his breeches and jack-boots, and at the same time dressed up in a commode and a night-raile. I must observe that this fashion was first of all brought to us from France, a country which has infected all the nations of Europe with its levity. Modesty is our distinguishing character, as vivacity is theirs: and when this our national virtue appears in that female beauty, for which our British ladies are celebrated above all others in the universe, it makes up the most amiable object that the eye of man can possibly behold. ADDISON.
ON THE LAW of HABIT. (No. 447).
THERE is not a common saying which has a better turn of sense in it, than what we often hear in the mouths of the vulgar, that custom is a second nature. It is indeed able to form the man anew, and to give him inclinations and capacities altogether different from those he was born with. Dr. Plot, in his History of Staffordshire, tells us of an idiot that chancing to live within the sound of a clock, and always amusing himself with counting the hour of the day whenever the clock struck, the clock being spoiled by some accident, the idiot continued to strike and count the hour without the help of it, in the same manner as he had done when it was entire. Though I dare not vouch for the truth of this story, it is very certain that custom has a mechanical effect upon the body, at the same time that it has a very extraordinary influence upon the mind.
I shall in this paper consider one very remarkable effect which custom has upon human nature, and which, if rightly observed, may lead us into very useful rules of life. What I shall here take notice of in custom, is its wonderful efficacy in making every thing pleasant to us. A person who is addicted to play or gaming, though he took but little delight in it at first, by degrees contracts so strong an inclination towards it, and gives himself up so entirely to it, that it seems the only end of his being. The love of a retired or busy life will grow upon a man insensibly, as he is conversant in the one or the other, till he is utterly unqualified for relishing that to which he has been for some time disused. Nay, a man may smoke, or drink, or take snuff, till he is unable to pass away his time without it; not to mention how our delight in any particular study, art, or science, rises and improves in proportion to the application which we bestow upon it. Thus, what was at first an exercise becomes at length an entertainment. Our employments are changed into our diversions. The mind grows fond of those actions she is accustomed to, and is drawn with reluctancy from those paths in which she has been used to walk. Not only such actions as were at first indifferent to us, but even such as were painful, will by custom and practice become pleasant. Sir Francis Bacon observes, in his Natural Philosophy, that our taste is never pleased better than with those things which at first created a disgust in it. He gives particular instances of claret, coffee, and other liquors, which the palate seldom approves upon the first taste; but, when it has once got a relish of them, generally retains it for life. The mind is constituted after the same manner, and, after having habituated herself to any particular exercise or employment, not only loses her first aversion towards it, but conceives a certain fondness and affection for it. I have heard one of the greatest geniuses this age has produced, + who had been trained up in all the polite studies of antiquity, assure me, upon his being obliged to search into several rolls and records, that, notwithstanding such an employment was at first very dry and irksome to him, he at last took an incredible pleasure in it, and preferred it even to the reading of Virgil or Cicero. The reader will observe, that I have not here considered custom as it makes things easy, but as it renders them delightful; and though others have often made the same reflections, it is possible they may not have drawn those uses from it, with which I intend to fill the remaining part of this paper. If we consider attentively this property of human nature, it may instruct us in very fine moralities. In the first place, I would have no man discouraged with that kind of life or series of action in which the choice of others, or his own necessities, may have engaged him. It may perhaps be very disagreeable to him at first; but use and application will certainly render it not only less painful, but pleasing and satisfactory. In the second place, I would recommend to every one that admirable precept which Pythagoras is said to have given to his disciples, and which that philosopher must have drawn from the observation I have enlarged upon, “Optimum vita genus eligito, nam consuetudo faciet jucundissimum,”—“Pitch upon that course of life which is the most excellent, and custom will render it the most delightful.” Men whose circumstances will permit them to choose their own way of life are inexcusable if they do not pursue that which their judgment tells them is the most laudable. The voice of reason is more to be regarded than the bent of any present inclination, since, by the rule above mentioned, inclination will at length come over to reason, though we can never force reason to comply with inclination. In the third place, this observation may teach the most sensual and irreligious man to overlook those hardships and difficulties which are apt to discourage him from the prosecution of a virtuous life. “The gods,” said Hesiod, “have placed labour before virtue; the way to her is at first rough and difficult, but grows more smooth and easy the further you advance in it.” The man who proceeds in it with steadiness and resolution, will in a little time find that “her ways are ways of pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace.” To enforce this consideration, we may further observe, that the practice of religion will not only be attended with that pleasure which naturally accompanies those actions to which we are habituated, but with those supernumerary joys of heart that rise from the consciousness of such a pleasure, from the satisfaction of acting up to the dictates of reason, and from the prospect of a happy immortality. In the fourth place, we may learn, from this observation which we have made on the mind of man, to take particular care, when we are once settled in a regular course of life, how we too frequently indulge ourselves in any the most innocent diversions and entertainments, since the mind may insensibly fall off from the relish of virtuous actions, and, by degrees, exchange that pleasure which it takes in the performance of its duty for delights of a much more inferior and unprofitable nature. The last use which I shall make of this remarkable property in human nature, of being delighted with those actions to which it is accustomed, is to show how absolutely necessary it is for us to gain habits of virtue in this life, if we would enjoy the pleasures of the next. The state of bliss we call Heaven will not be capable of affecting those minds which are not thus qualified for it; we must, in this world, gain a relish of truth and virtue, if we would be able to taste that knowledge and perfection which are to make us happy in the next. The seeds of those spiritual joys and raptures, which are to rise up and flourish in the soul to all eternity, must be planted in her during this her present state of probation. In short, heaven is not to be looked upon only as the reward, but as the natural effect of a religious life. On the other hand, those evil spirits, who, by long custom, have contracted in the body habits of lust and sensuality, malice and revenge, an aversion to everything that is good, just, or laudable, are naturally seasoned and prepared for pain and misery. Their torments have already taken root in them ; they cannot be happy when divested of the body, unless we may suppose that Providence will in a manner create them anew, and work a miracle in the rectification of their faculties. They may, indeed, taste a kind of malignant pleasure in those actions to which they are accustomed whilst in this life; but when they are removed from all those