Puslapio vaizdai

fecond marriage, was strongly inclined to lessen the time of her widowhood; because this circumstance added fewel to his passion; and he deludes himself by degrees into the opinion of an interval shorter than the real one :


That it should come to this ! But two months dead ! nay, not so much ; not two;So excellent a king, that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr: so loving to my mother, That he permitted not the wind of heav'n Visit her face too roughly. Heav'n and earth ! Must I remember - why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on; yet, within a month, Let me not think -- Frailty, thy name is Woman! A little month !' or ere those shoes were old, With which the follow'd my poor father's body, Like Niobe, all tears - Why she, ev'n she (O heav'n, a beast that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourn'd longer~) married with mine uncle, My father's brother; but no more like my father, Than I to Hercules. Within a month !. Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her gauled eyes, She married Oh, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets ! It is not, nor it cannot come to good. But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

AƐt 1. fc. 3

The power of passion to falsify the computation of time, is remarkable in this instance: because time, which hath an accurate measure, is less


K 4

obfequious to our desires and wishes, than objects which have no precise standard of less or


Good news are greedily swallowed upon very Slender evidence: our wishes magnify the probability of the event, as well as the veracity of the relater; and we believe as certain, what at best is doubtful :

Quel, che l'huom vede, amor li fa invisible
E l'invisibil fa veder amore.
Questo creduto fu, che'l mifer fuole
Dar facile credenza a' quel, che vuole.

Orland. Furioj. cant. 1. ft. 56.

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For the same reason, bad news gain also credit upon the flightest evidence: fear, if once alarmed, has the same effect with hope to magnify every circumstance that tends to conviction. Shakespear, who fhows more knowledge of liuman nature than any of our philofophers, hath in his Cymbeline * represented this bias of the mind; for he makes the person who alone was affected with the bad news, yield to evidence that did not convince any of his companions. And Othello f is convinced of his wife's infidelity from circumstances too flight to move any person lefs interested.

If the news interest us in fo low a degree as to give place to reason, the effect will not be alto

* Act 2. fc. 6.

+ Act 3. fc. 8.



gether the same: judging of the probability or improbability of the story, the mind settles in a rational conviction either that it is true or not. But even in this case, it is observable, that the mind is not allowed to rest in that degree of conviction which is produced by rational evidence: if the news be in any degree favourable, our belief is raised by hope to an improper height; and if unfavourable, by fear.

The observation holds equally with respect to future events: if a future event be either much wished or dreaded, the mind never fails to augment the probability beyond truth.

That easiness of belief which we find with re{pect to stories of wonders and prodigies, even the most absurd and ridiculous, is a strange phenomenon; because nothing can be more evident than the following proposition, That the more fingular any event is, the more evidence is required to produce belief : a familiar event daily occurring, being in itself extremely probable, finds ready credit, and therefore is vouched by the slightest evidence : but a strange and rare event, contrary to the course of nature, ought not to be easily believed; for it starts


without connection and without cause, fo far as we can discover, and to overcome the improbability of such an event, the very strongest evidence is required. It is certain, however, that wonders and prodigies are swallowed by the vulgar, upon evidence that would not be sufficient to ascertain


the most familiar occurrence.

It has been reckoned difficult to explain this irregular bias of the mind; but we are now made acquainted with the influence of passion upon opinion and belief: a story of ghosts or fairies, told with an air of gravity and truth, raiseth an emotion of wonder, and perlaps of dread; and these emotions imposing upon a weak mind, impress upon it a thorough conviction contrary to reason.

Opinion and belief are influenced by propensity as well as by passion. An innáte propensity is all we have to convince us, that the operations of nature are uniform : influenced by this propensity, we often rafhly think, that good or bad weather will never have an end; and in natural philosophy, writers, influenced by the same propensity, stretch commonly their analogical reasonings beyond just bounds.

Opinion and belief are influenced by affection as well as by propensity. The noted story of a fine lady and a curate viewing the moon through a telescope, is a pleasant illustration : I perceive, says the lady, two shadows inclining to each' other; they are certainly two happy lovers : Not at all, replies the curate, they are two steeples of a cathedral.

A po


The methods that nature hath afforded for com

puting time and space.


His subject follows naturally, because it affords

several curious examples of the influence of passion to bias the mind in its conceptions and opinions; a lesson that cannot be too much inculcated, as there is not perhaps another bias in human nature that hath an influence so universal to make us wander froni truth as well as from justice.

I begin with time; and the question is, What was the measure of time before artificial meafures were invented; and what is the measure at present when these are not at hand ? I speak not of months and days, which are computed by the moon and sun; but of hours, or in general of the time that runs between any two occurrences when there is not access to the fun. The only natural measure we have, is the succes fion of our thoughts; for we always judge the time to be long or short, in proportion to the number of perceptions and ideas that have passed during that interval. This measure is indeed far from being perfect; because in a quick and in a how fucceffion, it must evidently produce different


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