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On Satirical Wit.
STERNE. DR. LAWRENCE STERNE, born at Clonmel, in Ireland, in 1713, was more distinguished as a wit than as a clergyman. Combining a vivid perception of human frailties with an unfortunate incapability to avoid them, he is a character to be admired only in his writings. What he has written, leads us, by its very beauties, only to think of the insincerity by which it was dictated; but his wit and genius must remain to us as melancholy lessons as to the mighty gifts which God may bestow, and bestow in vain. The present quotation is a happy warning to those who prefer cleverness to good-nature, and who look rather to the dark side of their fellow-creatures, than to the brighter qualities which reconcile us to, and teach us to make allowance for, the failings of others. Of such feeling Sterne possessed little, in a practical sense; but no man has so deeply and forcibly expressed what man should feel.
Trust me, this unwary pleasantry of thine will sooner or later bring thee into scrapes and difficulties, which no afterwit can extricate thee out of. In these sallies, too oft, I see, it happens, that the person laughed at considers himself in the light of a person injured, with all the rights of such a situation belonging to him; and when thou viewest him in that light, too, and reckonest upon his friends, his family, his kindred and allies, and musterest up with them the many recruits, which will list under him from a sense of common danger; it is no extravagant arithmetic to say, that for every ten jokes, thou hast got a hundred enemies; and, till thou hast gone on, and raised a swarm of wasps about thine ears, and art half stung to death by them, thou wilt never be convinced it is so.
I cannot suspect it in the man whom I esteem, that there is the least spur from spleen or malevolence of intent in these sallies. I believe and know them to be truly honest and sportive; but consider, that fools cannot distinguish this, and that knaves will not; and thou knowest not what it is, either to provoke the one, or to make merry with the other; whenever they associate for mutual defence, depend upon it they will carry on the war in such a manner against thee, my dear friend, as to make thee heartily sick of it, and of thy life, too.
Revenge from some baneful corner shall level a tale of dishonour at thee, which no innocence of heart or integrity of conduct shall set right. The fortunes of thy house shall totter-thy character, which led the way to them, shall bleed on every side of it-thy faith questioned-thy works belied-thy wit forgottenthy learning trampled on. To wind up the last scene of thy tragedy, Cruelty and Cowardice, twin ruffians, hired and set on by Malice in the dark, shall strike together at all thy infirmities and mistakes; the best of us, my friend, lie open there; and trust me, when, to gratify a private appetite, it is once resolved upon, that an innocent and a helpless creature shall be sacrificed, it is an easy matter to pick up sticks enough from any thicket where it has strayed, to make a fire to offer it up with.
The Fallen State of Egypt.
Low wondrous Egypt lies! Come, royal heirs
But where the soul of science? where the font
So sink the monuments of ancient might,
*The pyramids of Jizeh are the most stupendous masses of building in stone that human labour has ever been known to accomplish. The date of their erection, according to Sir G. Wilkinson, was about 2100 B.C. The view on the opposite page represents the great pyramid at a distance of about five miles.
The Progress of Sin.
BORN of a poor, but respectable family, entered Caius College, Cambridge, on the 18th of August, 1626, and distinguished himself not only by his opposition to the Presbyterian party, but by his powerful and feeling writings on various theological subjects. After a life of various trouble and anxiety, he died at Lisburn, aged fifty-five, having for seven years fulfilled the office of a bishop.
I have seen the little purls of a spring sweat through the bottom of a bank, and intenerate* the stubborn pavement, till it hath made it fit for the impression of a child's foot; and it was despised, like the descending pearls of a misty morning, till it had opened its way and made a stream large enough to carry away the ruins of the undermined strand, and to invade the neighbouring gardens but then the despised drops were grown into an artificial river, and an intolerable mischief.
So are the first entrances of sin, stopped with the antidotes of a hearty prayer, and checked into sobriety by the eye of a reverend man, or the counsels of a single sermon: but when such beginnings are neglected, and our religion hath not in it so much philosophy as to think anything evil as long as we can endure it, they grow up to ulcers and pestilential evils; they destroy the soul by their abode, who at their first entry might have been killed with the pressure of a little finger.
He that hath passed many stages of a good life, to prevent his being tempted to a single sin, must be very careful that he never entertain his spirit with the remembrances of his past sin, nor amuse it with the fantastic apprehensions of the present. When the Israelites fancied the sapidness and relish of the flesh-pots, they longed to taste and to return.
So when a Libyan tiger, drawn from his wilder foragings, is shut up and taught to eat civil meat, and suffer the authority of a man, he sits down tamely in his prison, and pays to his keeper fear and reverence for his meat; but if he chance to come again, and taste a draught of warm blood, he presently leaps into his natural cruelty.
He scarce abstains from eating those hands that brought him discipline and food. So is the nature of a man made tame and gentle by the grace of God, and reduced to reason, and kept in awe by religion and laws, and by an awful virtue is taught to forget those alluring and sottish relishes of sin; but if he diverts from his path, and snatches handfuls from the wanton vineyards, and remembers the lasciviousness of his unwholesome food that pleased his childish palate, then he grows sick again, and hungry after unwholesome diet, and longs for the apples of Sodom.
*i. e., soften, make tender (Lat. tener).
The Pannonian bears, when they have clasped a dart in the region of their liver, wheel themselves upon the wound, and with anger and malicious revenge strike the deadly barb deeper, and cannot be quit from that fatal steel, but in flying bear along that which themselves make the instrument of a more hasty death.
So is every vicious person struck with a deadly wound, and his own hands force it into the entertainments* of the heart; and because it is painful to draw it forth by a sharp and salutary repentance, he still rolls and turns upon his wound, and carries his death in his bowels, where it first entered by choice, and then dwelt by love, and at last shall finish the tragedy by divine judgments and an unalterable decree.
The Great Fire of London.
Of Wotton, Surrey, the younger son of an ancient family. During a long life, he maintained a character for independence and honesty; and in a profligate age, displayed every virtue of an English gentleman. His "Memoirs" were found, in a mutilated state, in the old family mansion of Wotton, near Dorking; and they furnish some of the most curious pictures we possess of the events and manners of the seventeenth century. He died in 1706, aged eighty-six.
1666. 2nd Sept. This fatal night, about ten, began that deplorable fire near Fish-street in London.
3. The fire continuing, after dinner, I took coach with my wife and son and went to the Bank-side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in dreadful flames near the water-side; all the houses from the bridge, all Thames-street, and upwards towards Cheapside down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed.
The fire having continued all this night (if I may call that night which was as light as day for ten miles round about, after a dreadful manner), when conspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season; I went on foot to the same place, and saw the whole south part of the city burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill (for it kindled back against the wind as well as forward), Tower-street, Fenchurch-street, Gracechurch-street, and so along to Baynard's Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul's Church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that from the beginning, I know not by what despondency or fate, they hardly stirred to quench it, so that
*Rather strangely used for the "interior."