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ON THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL.
in the crowd of life without a companion. He that can only be useful on great occasions, may die without exerting his abilities, and stand a helpless spectator of a thousand vexations, which fret away happiness, and which nothing is required to remove but a little dexterity of conduct and readiness of expedients.
No degree of knowledge attainable by man is able to set him above the want of hourly assistance, or to extinguish the desire of fond endearments and tender officiousness; and therefore no one should think it unnecessary to learn those arts by which friendship may be gained. Kindness is preserved by a constant reciprocation of benefits, or interchange of pleasures; but such benefits only can be bestowed, as others are capable of receiving, and such pleasures only imparted, as others are qualified to enjoy.
By this descent from the pinnacles of art, no honour will be lost: for the condescensions of learning are always overpaid by gratitude. An elevated genius employed in little things appears, to use the simile of Longinus, like the sun in his evening declination; he remits his splendour, but retains his magnitude ; and pleases more, though he dazzles less.
On the Immortality of the Soul.
THE “SPECTATOR. AMONG other excellent arguments for the immortality of the soul, there is one drawn from the perpetual progress of the soul to its perfection, without a possibility of ever arriving at it; which is a hint that I do not remember to have seen opened and im proved by others who have written on this subject, though it seems to me to carry a great weight with it. How can it enter into the thoughts of man, that the soul, which is capable of such immense perfections, and of receiving new improvements to all eternity, shall fall away into nothing almost as soon as it is created ? Are such abilities made for no purpose? A brute arrives at a point of perfection that he can never pass; in a few years he has all the endowments he is capable of, and, were he to live ten thousand more, would be the same thing he is at present. Were a human soul thus at a stand in her accomplishments, were her faculties to be full blown, and incapable of farther enlargement, I could imagine she might fall away insensibly, and drop at once into a state of annihilation. But can we believe a thinking being, that is in a perpetual progress of improvement, and travelling on from perfection to perfection, after having just looked abroad into the works of her Creator, and made a few discoveries of his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power, must perish at her first setting out, and in the very beginning of her inquiries.
* A notice of various contributors to this invaluable collection of essays will be given in their proper places.
Man, considered in his present state, seems only sent into the world to propagate his kind. He provides himself with a successor, and immediately quits his post to make room for him.
He does not seem born to enjoy life, but to deliver it down to others. This is not surprising to consider in animals, which are formed for our use, and can finish their business in a short life. The silkworm, after having spun her task, lays her eggs and dies. But in this life, man can never take in his full measure of knowledge; nor has he time to subdue his passions, establish his soul in virtue, and come up to the perfection of his nature, before he is hurried off the stage. Would an infinitely wise Being make such glorious creatures for so mean a purpose ? Can He delight in the production of such abortive intelligences, such short-lived reasonable beings? Would He give us talents that are not to be exerted: capacities that are never to be gratified ? How can we find that wisdom, which shines through all His works, in the formation of man, without looking on this world as only a nursery for the next: and believing that the several generations of rational creatures, which rise up and disappear in such quick succession, are only to receive their first rudiments of existence here, and afterward to be transplanted into a more friendly climate, where they may spread and flourish to all eternity ?
There is not, in my opinion, a more pleasing and triumphant consideration in religion, than this of the perpetual progress which the soul makes toward the perfection of its nature, without ever arriving at a period in it. To look upon the soul as going on from strength to strength; to consider that she is to shine for ever with new accessions of glory, and brighten to all eternity; that she will be still adding virtue to virtue, and knowledge to knowledge; carries in it something wonderfully agreeable to that am, bition which is natural to the mind of man. Nay, it must be a prospect pleasing to God himself, to see his creation for ever beautifying in his eyes, and drawing nearer to him by greater degrees of resemblance.
Methinks, this single consideration of the progress of a finite spirit to perfection will be sufficient to extinguish all envy in inferior natures, and all contempt in superior. That cherub, which now appears as a god to a human soul, knows very well that the period will come about in eternity when the human soul shall be as perfect as he himself now is: nay, when she shall look down upon that degree of perfection, as much as she now falls short of it. It is true, the higher nature still advances, and by that means preserves his distance and superiority in the scale of being; but he knows that, how high soever the station is of which he stands possessed at present, the inferior nature will at length mount up to it, and shine forth in the same degree of glory.
With what astonishment and veneration may we look into our souls, where there are such hidden stores of virtue and knowledge,
such inexhausted sources of perfection! We know not yet what we shall be, nor will it ever enter into the heart of man to conceive the glory that will be always in reserve for him. The soul, considered in relation to its Creator, is like one of those mathematical lines, that may draw nearer to another for all eternity, without a possibility of touching it: and can there be a thought so transporting, as to consider ourselves in these perpetual approaches to Him, who is not only the standard of perfection, but of happiness?
On the Being of a God.
RETIRE ;-the world shut out-thy thoughts call home :-
What am IP and from whence? I nothing know,
Judgment, and genius ? is it deeply learn'd
Wolsey and Cromwell.
Wol. FAREWELL, a long farewell to all my greatness ! This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth The tender leaves of hopes ; to-morrow blossoms, And bears his blushing honours thick upon him: The third day comes a frost, a killing frost; And, when he thinks, good easy man, full surely His greatness is a ripening, nips his root, And then he falls, as I do. I have ventured, Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders, These many summers in a sea of glory; But far beyond my depth : my high-blown pride At length broke under me; and now has left me, Weary, and old with service, to the mercy Of a rude stream, that must for ever hide me. Vain pomp and glory of the world, I hate ye! I feel my heart new open’d. Oh, how wretched Is that poor man that hangs on princes' favours ! There is betwixt that smile he would aspire to, That sweet aspéct of princes, and their ruin, More pangs and fears than war or women have; And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer, Never hope again: Why, how now, Cromwell ?
Crom. I have no power to speak, sir.
Wol. What, amazed
Crom. How does your grace?
Wol. Why, well;