« PreviousContinue »
tionable as history in this particular. Poets can paint virtue in the moít charming colours; but, as they address themselves entirely to the paflions, they often become advocates for vice. Even philo!ophers are apt to be wil. der themselves in the subtilty of their speculations; and we have seen some go so far as to deny the reality of all moral distinctions. But I think it a remark worthy the attention of the speculative reader, that the historians have been, almost without exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always represented it in its paper colours, however they may have erred in their judgments of particular persons. Nor is this combination of hiftorians in favour of virtue at all difficult to be accounted for. When a man of business enters into life and action, be is more apt to consider the characters of men as they have relation to his interest than as they stand in themselves, and has his judgment warped on every occasion by the violence of his passion, "When a philofopher contemplates characters and manners in his closet, the general abstract view of the objects leaves the mind so cold and unmoved, that the fentiments of nature have no room to play, and he scarce. feels the difference be. twixt vice and virtue. History keeps in a just medium betwist these extremes, and places the objects in their true point of view. The writers of history, as well as the readers, are sufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively sentiment of blame or praise ; and, at the same time, have no particular interest or concern to pervert their judgment.
XII. On the Immortality of the Soul. AMONG other excellent arguments for the immorta.
lity of the foul, there is one drawn from the perpetual progress of the soul to its perfection, without a poflibility of ever arriving at it'; which is a hint that I do not remember to have seen opened, and improved 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, thall fall away into nothing almost as soon as it is created! Are such abis
lities 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 enlargements; I could imagine it "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 improvements, and travelling on from perfection to perfection, after having just looked abroad into the works of its Creator, and made a few difcoveries of His infinite goodness, wisdom, and power, must perish-at her first setting out, and in the very beginning of her inquiries?
Man, considered in his present state, does not seem born to enjoy life, bút 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 fhort life. The filk-worm, after having spun her task, Jays her eggs and díes. But in this life man can never take in his full measure of knowledge; nor has he time to subdue his paffions, 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 lie 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 difappear in such quick successions, are only to receive their first rudiments of existence here, and afterwards 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 pérpetual progress which the soul makes towards 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, with new acceflions of glory, to all eternity; that she will be ftill adding virtụe to virtue, and knowledge to knowledge ; carries in it something wonderfully agreeable to that ambition 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 fpirit to perfection, will be sufficient to extinguish all envy in inferiorir natnres, and all contempt in fuperiour. That cherubim, which now appears as a God to a human soul, knows very well that the period will come about in eternity, when the human fon) shall be as perfect as he himself now is ; nay, when the thall look down upon that degree of perfection as much as she now falls thort of it. It is true, the higher nature itill advances, aud by that mean's preserves his distance and superiority in the scale of being ; but he knows, that, how high foever the station is of which he stands poffe ed at present, the inferiour nature will at length mount up to it, and thine 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 gloty that will be always in reserve for him. The foul, 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?
XIII. The Combat of the Horatii and the Guriati:. THE combat of the Horatii and Curiatii is painted in were on the eve of a bloody battle. The Alban
a very natural and animated manner by Livy. The cause was this. The inhabitants of Alba and Rome, roufed by ambition and mutual complaints, took the field, and
genieral, to prevent the effusion of blood, proposed to Hostilius, then king of Rome, to refer the destiny of both nations to three combatants of each side, and that empire fhould be the prize of the conquering party. The propofal was accepted. The Albans named the Curiatii, three brothers, for their champions. The three 'fons of Horatius were chosen for the Romans.
The treaty being concluded, the three brothers, on each side, arrayed themselves in armour, according to agreement. Each fide exhorts its respective champions ; representing to them, that their gods, their coun. try, their parents, every individual in the city and army, now fixed their eyes on their arms and valour. The generous combatants, intrepid in themselves, and anima.' ted by such exhortations, march forth, and stood between the two armies.- The armies placed themselves before their respective camps, and were less solicitous for any present danger than for the consequence of this action.They therefore gave their whole attention to a fight, which could not but alarm them. The signal is given. The combatants engage with hostile weapons, and show themselves inspired with the intrepidity of two mighty armies.-Both parties, equally insensible of their own danger, had nothing in view but the lavery or liberty of their country, whole destiny depended upon their conduct. At the first onset, the clahing of their armour, and the terrific gleam of their swords, filled the fpectators with fuch trepidation, fear, and horrour, that the faculty of 'fpeech and breath seemed totally fufpended, even while the hope of fuccess inclined to neither side. But, when it came to a closer engagement, not only the motion of their bodies, and the furious agitation of their weapons, arrested the eyes of the spectators, but their opening wounds, and the streaming blood. Two of the Romans fell, and expired at the feet of the Albani, who were all three wounded. · Upon their fall, the Alban army shouted for joy, while the Roman legions remained without hope, but riot without concern, be. ing eagerly anxious for the surviving Roman, then furrounded by his three adversaries. Happily he was not wounded; but not being a match for three,
though fuperiour to any of them fingly, he had recourle to a ftratagem for dividing them. He betook himself to flight; rightly fuppofing, that they would fol. low him at unequal distances, as their firength, after so much loss of blood, would permit. Having fled a considerable way from the spot where they fought, he look. ed back, and saw the Curiatii pursuing at a considerable distance from one another, and one of them very near him. He turned with all his fury upon the foremost ; and, while the Alban army, were crying out to his brothers to fuccour him, Horatius, having presently dispatched the first enemy, rushed forward to a second victory. The Romans encourage their champion by such acclamations, as generally proceed from unexpected success. . He, on the other hand, haftens to put an end to the second combat, and few another, before the third, who was not far off, could come up to his affift. ance. There now remained only one combatant on each fide. The Roman, who had ftill received no burt, fired by gaining a double victory, advances with great confidence to his third combat. His antagonist, on the other hand, being weakened by loss of blood, and spent with running so far, could scarce drag his legs after him, and, being already dispirited by the death of his brothers, presents his breast to the victor, for it could not be called a conteft. *Two, (lays the exulting Ro- .. man) two I have sacrificed to the manes of my brothers;--the third I will offer up to my country, that henceforth Rome may give laws to Alba. Upon which he transfixed him with his sword, and stripped him of his armour. The Ronians received Horaijus, the victor, into their camp with an exultation, great as their former fear. After this each army buried their respective dead, but with very different sentiments; the one reflecting on the sovereignty they had acquired, and the other on their subjection to lavery, to the power of the Ro
This combat became still more remarkable. Horatius, returning to Rome with the arms and spoils of his enemy, met his lifter, who was to have been married to one of the Curiatii. Seeing her brother dreiled in her