When I consider the numberless indulgencies, which are the concomitants of a great fortune, and the facility it affords to the gratification of every generous passion, I am mortified to find how few, who are possessed of these advantages, avail themselves of their situation to any worthy purposes: That happy temper, which can preserve a medium between dissipation and avarice, is not often to be found, and where I meet one man, who can laudably acquit himself under the test of prosperity, I could instance numbers, who deport themselves with honour under the visitations [Page 14] of adversity. Man must be in a certain degree the artificer of his own happiness; the tools and materials may be put into his hands by the bounty of Providence, but the workmanship must be his own.
I lately took a journey into a distant county, upon a visit to a gentleman of fortune, whom I shall call Attalus. I had never seen him since his accession to a very considerable estate; and as I have met with few acquaintance in life of more pleasant qualities, or a more social temper than Attalus, before this great property unexpectedly devolved upon him, I flattered myself that fortune had in this instance bestowed her favours upon one who deserved them; and that I should find in Attalus's society the pleasing gratification of seeing all those maxims, which I had hitherto revolved in my mind as matter of speculation only, now brought forth into actual practice; for amongst all my observations upon human affairs, few have given me greater and more frequent disappointment, than the almost general abuse of riches. Those rules of liberal oeconomy, which would make wealth a blessing to it's owner and to all he were connected with, seem so obvious to me, who have no other interest in the subject than what meditation affords, that I am apt to wonder how men can make [Page 15] such false estimates of the true enjoyments of life, and wander out of the way of happiness, to which the heart and understanding seem to point the road too plainly to admit of a mistake.
Parrhasius, though born in the colony of Miletus on the coast of Asia, was an adopted citizen of Athens and in great credit there for his celebrated picture on the death of Epaminondas: He contributed to this collection by a very capital composition taken from a tragedy, which was the third in a series of dramas, founded by Aeschylus on the well-known story of Oedipus, all which are lost. The miserable monarch, whose misfortunes had overturned his reason, is here depicted taking shelter under a wretched hovel in the midst of a tremendous storm, where the elements seem conspiring against a helpless being in the last stage of human misery. The painter has thrown a very touching character of insanity into his features, which plainly indicates that his loss of reason has arisen from the tender rather than the inflammatory passions; for there is a majestic sensibility mixed with the wildness of his distraction, which still preserves the traces of the once benevolent monarch. In this desolate scene he has a few forlorn companions in his distress, which form a very peculiar group of personages; for they consist of a venerable old man in a very [Page 59] piteous condition, whose eyes have been torn from their sockets, together with a naked maniac, who is starting from the hovel, where he had housed himself during the tempest: The effect of this figure is described with rapture, for he is drawn in the prime of youth, beautiful and of a most noble air; his naked limbs display the finest proportions of the human figure, and the muscular exertion of the sudden action he is thrown into furnish ample scope to the anatomical science of the artist. The fable feigns him to be the son of the blind old man above described, and the fragment relates that his phrensy being not real but assumed, Parrhasius availed himself of that circumstance, and touched the character of his madness with so nice and delicate a discrimination from that of Oedipus, that an attentive observer might have discovered it to be counterfeited even without the clue of the story. There are two other attendant characters in the group: One of these is a rough, hardy veteran, who seems to brave the storm with a certain air of contemptuous petulance in his countenance, that bespeaks a mind superior to fortune, and indignant under the visitation even of the gods themselves. The other is a character, that seems to have been a kind of imaginary creature of the poet, and is a buffoon [Page 60] or jester upon the model of Homer's Thersites, and was employed by Aeschylus in his drama upon the old burlesque system of the Satyrs, as an occasional chorus or parody upon the severer and more tragic characters of the piece.
Here is another prediction connected with the plot and verified by it's catastrophe, for Sampson is commanded to come to the festival and entertain the revellers with some feats of strength: These commands he resists, but obeys an impulse of his mind by going afterwards and thereby fulfils the prophetic declaration he had made to his father in the second act. What incident can shew more management and address in the poet, than this of Sampson's refusing the summons of the idolaters and obeying the visitation of God's spirit.
Let any man cast his ideas back to this period, and ask his reason, if it was not natural to suppose, that the Almighty Being, to whom this general ruin and disorder must be visible, would in mercy to his creatures send some help amongst them; unless it had been his purpose to abandon them to destruction, we may presume to say he surely would: Is it then with man to prescribe in what particular mode and form that redemption should come Certainly it is not with man, but with God only; he, who grants [Page 195] the vouchsafement, will direct the means: Be these what they may, they must be praeternatural and miraculous, because we have agreed that it is beyond the reach of man by any natural powers of his own to accomplish: A special inspiration then is requisite; some revelation it should seem, we know not what, we know not how, nor where, nor whence, except that it must come from God himself: What if he sends a Being upon earth to tell us his immediate will, to teach us how to please him and to convince us of the reality of a future state That Being then must come down from him, he must have powers miraculous, he must have qualities divine and perfect, he must return on earth from the grave, and personally shew us that he has survived it, and is corporeally living after death: Will this be evidence demonstrative Who can withstand it He must be of all men most obstinately bent upon his own destruction, who should attempt to hold out against it; he must prefer darkness to light, falsehood to truth, misery to happiness, hell to heaven, who would not thankfully embrace so great salvation.
In what form and after what manner was he sent amongst us was it by natural or praeternatural means if his first appearance is ushered in by a miracle, will it not be an evidence in favour of God's special revelation If he is presented to the world in some mode superior to and differing from the ordinary course of nature, such an introduction must attract to his person and character a more than ordinary attention: If a miraculous and mysterious Being appears upon earth, so compounded of divine and human nature as to surpass our comprehension of his immediate essence, and at the same time so levelled to our earthly ideas, as to be visibly born of a human mother, not impregnated after the manner of the flesh, but by the immediate Spirit of God, in other words the son of a pure virgin, shall we make the mysterious incarnation of such a praeternatural being a reason for our disbelief in that revelation, which without a miracle we had not given credit to We are told that the birth of Christ was in this wise; the fact rests upon the authority of the evangelists who describe it: The Unitarians, who profess Christianity with this exception, may dispute the testimony of the sacred writers in this particular, [Page 197] and the Jews may deny their account in toto, but still if Christ himself performed miracles, which the Jews do not deny, and if he rose from the dead after his crucifixion, which the Unitarians admit, I do not see how either should be staggered by the miracle of his birth: for of the Jews I may demand, whether it were not a thing as credible for God to have wrought a miracle at the birth of Moses for instance, as that he should afterwards empower that prophet to perform, not one only, but many miracles To the Unitarians I would candidly submit, if it be not as easy to believe the incarnation of Christ as his resurrection, the authorities for each being the same Let the authorities therefore be the test!
These few traits of my friend's character will suffice to make my readers acquainted with him before I relate the particulars of a visit I paid him about three months ago. It was in compliance with the following letter, which I was favoured with from Mr. Driver.
We now were to set ourselves in order for our visit to honest Abrahams, and Ned began to [Page 249] shew some anxiety about certain articles of his dress and appearance, which did not exactly tally with the spruce air of the city sparks, whom he had reconnoitred in the streets: The whole was confessedly of the rustic order, but I encouraged him to put his trust in broad-cloth and country bloom, and seriously exhorted him not to trust his head to the sheers of a London hair-dresser. I now ordered a coach to be called, which was no sooner announced than Ned observed it was speedily got ready; but they do every thing in a hurry in this place, added he, and I wish to my heart the fat gentleman in the fine coach may order all the people to bed before our return, that I may stand some chance of getting a little rest and quiet amo