« PreviousContinue »
I made an essay of them, by putting the weight of wisdom in one scale, and that of riches in another, upon which the latter, to shew its comparative lightness, immediately flew up and kick'd the beam.'
But before I proceed, I must inform my reader, that these weights did not exert their natural gravity, 'till they were laid in the golden balance, insomuch that I could not guess which was light or heavy, whilst I held them in my hand. This I found by several instances, for upon my laying a weight in one of the scales, which was inscribed by the word Eternity; though I threw in that of time, prosperity, affliction, wealth, poverty, interest, success, with many other weights, which in my hand seemed very ponderous, they were not able to stir the opposite balance, por could they have prevailed, though assisted with the weight of the sun, the stars, and the earth.
Upon emptying the scales, I laid several titles and honours, with pomps, triumphs, and many weights of the like nature, in one of them, and seeing a little glittering weight lie by me, I threw it accidentally into the other scale, when, to my great sur prise, it proved so exact a counterpoise, that it kept the balance in an equilibrium. . This little glittering weight was inscribed upon the edges of it with the word Vanity. I found there were several other weights which were equally heavy, and exact counterpoises to one another; a few of them I tried, as avarice and poverty, riches and content, with some others.
There were likewise several weights that were of the same figure, and seemed to correspond with each other, but were entirely different when thrown into the scales, as religion and hy. pocrisy, pedantry and learning, wit and vivacity, superstition and devotion, gravity and wisdom, with many others.
I observed one particular weight lettered on both sides, and upon applying myself to the reading of it, I found on one side
written, In the dialect of men,' and underneath it, 'CALAMITIES;' on the other side was written, 'In the language of the gods,' and underneath, "BLESSINGS.' I found the intrinsic value of this weight to be much greater than I imagined, for it over-powered health, wealth, good-fortune, and many other weights, which were much more ponderous in my hand than the other.
There is a saying among the Scotch, that 'an ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy;" I was sensible of the truth of this saying, when I saw the difference between the weight of natural parts and that of learning. The observation which I made upon these two weights opened to me a new field of discoveries, for notwithstanding the weight of natural parts was much heavier than that of learning; I observed that it weighed an hundred times heavier than it did before, when I put learning into the same scale with it. I made the same observation upon faith and morality;? for notwithstanding the latter outweighed the former separately, it received a thousand times more additional weight from its conjunction with the former, than what it had by itself. This odd phænomenon shewed itself in other particulars, as in wit and judgment, philosophy and religion, justice and humanity, zeal and charity, depth of sense and perspicuity of style, with innumerable other particulars, too long to be mentioned in this paper.
As a dream seldom fails of dashing seriousness with impertinence, mirth with gravity, methought I made several other ex
* See Beattie, on the Nature, &c., of Truth, ch. i. p. 45, second ed., 1771.-C.
Spect. No. 459.
• Depth of sense and perspicuity of style. One would think, the author, if his modesty were not so well known, had meant to pay himself a compliment, on the merit of these papers; in which the sense is, generally, excellent, that is, deep; though the perspicuity of his style, like a clear me. dium, brings it up to the eye, and tempts an ordinary observer to look upon it as shallow and superficial.-H.
1 periments of a more ludicrous nature, by one of which I found that an English octavo was very often heavier than a French folio; and by another, that an old Greek or Latin author weighed down a whole library of moderns. Seeing one of my Spectators lying by me, I laid it into one of the scales, and flung a twopenny piece into the other. The reader will not inquire into the event, if he remembers the first trial which I have recorded in
I afterwards threw both the sexes into the balance; but as it is not for my interest to disoblige either of them, I shall desire to be excused from telling the result of this experiment. Having an opportunity of this nature in my hands, I could not forbear throwing into one scale the principles of a tory, and in the other those of a whig; but as I have all along declared this to be a neutral paper, I shall likewise desire to be silent under this head also, though upon examining one of the weights, I saw the word TEKEL engraven on it in capital letters,
I made many other experiments, and though I have not room for them all in this day's speculation, I may perhaps reserve them for another. I shall only add, that upon my awaking I was sorry to find my golden scales vanished, but resolved for the future to learn this lesson from them, not to despise or value any things for their appearances, but to regulate my esteem and passions towards them according to their real and intrinsic value.
No. 464. FRIDAY, AUGUST 22.
Auream quisiquis mediocritatem
Hor. 2 Od. x. 5.
I am wonderfully pleased when I meet with any passage in an old Greek or Latin author, that is not blown upon," and which I have never met with in any quotation. Of this kind is a beautiful saying in Theognis; 'Vice is covered by wealth, and virtue by poverty ; ' or to give it in the verbal translation, ' Among men there are some who have their vices concealed by wealth, and others who have their virtues concealed by poverty. Every man's observation will supply him with instances of rich men, who have several faults and defects that are overlooked, if not entirely hidden, by means of their riches; and, I think, we cannot find a more natural description of a poor man, whose merits are lost in his poverty, than that in the words of the wise man. • There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he, by his wisdom, delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
Then said I, wisdom is better than strength; nevertheless, the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.'
* Blown upon. A metaphor from flowers, which, being breathed and blown upon, lose at once their fragrance and lustre. It is prettily applied here to a beautiful saying (which is a flower of discourse) flattened and tarnished by the public breath, i. e. frequent quotation.-H.
The middle condition seems to be the most advantageously situated for the gaining of wisdom. Poverty turns our thoughts too much upon the supplying of our wants, and riches upon enjoying our superfluities; and, as Cowley has said in another case, ' It is hard for a man to keep a steady eye upon truth, who is always in a battle or a triumph.'
If we regard poverty and wealth, as they are apt to produce virtues or vices in the mind of man, one may observe, that there is a set of each of these growing out of poverty, quite different from that which rises out of wealth. Humility and patience, industry and temperance, are often the good qualities of a poor man. Humanity and good-nature, magnanimity, and a sense of honour, are as often the qualifications of the rich. On the contrary, poverty is apt to betray a man into envy, riches into arrogance. Poverty is too often attended with fraud, vicious compliance, repining, murmur, and discontent. Riches exposes a man to pride and luxury, a foolish elation of heart, and too great a fondness for the present world. In short, the middle condition is most eligible to the man who would improve himself in virtue; as I have before shown, it is the most advantageous for the gaining of knowledge. It was upon this consideration that Agur founded his prayer, which for the wisdom of it is recorded in holy writ. 'Two things have I required of thee, deny me them not before I die. Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient
Lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord ? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
I shall fill the remaining part of my paper with a very pretty allegory, which is wrought into a play by Aristophanes the Greck comedian. It seems originally designed as a satire upon the rich, though, in some parts of it, it is like the foregoing discourse, a kind of comparison between wealth and poverty.