Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

No. 146 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 146
Friday, August 17, 1711.

‘Nemo Vir Magnus sine aliquo Afflatu divino unquam fuit.’

Tull.

We know the highest Pleasure our Minds are capable of enjoying with Composure, when we read Sublime Thoughts communicated to us by Men of great Genius and Eloquence. Such is the Entertainment we meet with in the Philosophick Parts of Cicero‘s Writings. Truth and good Sense have there so charming a Dress, that they could hardly be more agreeably represented with the Addition of Poetical Fiction and the Power of Numbers. This ancient Author, and a modern one, had fallen into my Hands within these few Days; and the Impressions they have left upon me, have at the present quite spoiled me for a merry Fellow. The Modern is that admirable Writer the Author of The Theory of the Earth. The Subjects with which I have lately been entertained in them both bear a near Affinity; they are upon Enquiries into Hereafter, and the Thoughts of the latter seem to me to be raised above those of the former in proportion to his Advantages of Scripture and Revelation. If I had a Mind to it, I could not at present talk of any thing else; therefore I shall translate a Passage in the one, and transcribe a Paragraph out of the other, for the Speculation of this Day. Cicero tells us, [1] that Plato reports Socrates, upon receiving his Sentence, to have spoken to his Judges in the following manner.

I have great Hopes, oh my Judges, that it is infinitely to my Advantage that I am sent to Death: For it is of necessity that one of these two things must be the Consequence. Death must take away all these Senses, or convey me to another Life. If all Sense is to be taken away, and Death is no more than that profound Sleep without Dreams, in which we are sometimes buried, oh Heavens! how desirable is it to die? how many Days do we know in Life preferable to such a State? But if it be true that Death is but a Passage to Places which they who lived before us do now inhabit, how much still happier is it to go from those who call themselves Judges, to appear before those that really are such; before Minos, Rhadamanthus, AEacus, and Triptolemus, and to meet Men who have lived with Justice and Truth? Is this, do you think, no happy Journey? Do you think it nothing to speak with Orpheus, Musceus, Homer, and Hesiod? I would, indeed, suffer many Deaths to enjoy these Things. With what particular Delight should I talk to Palamedes, Ajax, and others, who like me have suffered by the Iniquity of their Judges. I should examine the Wisdom of that great Prince, who carried such mighty Forces against Troy; and argue with Ulysses and Sisyphus, upon difficult Points, as I have in Conversation here, without being in Danger of being condemned. But let not those among you who have pronounced me an innocent Man be afraid of Death. No Harm can arrive at a good Man whether dead or living; his Affairs are always under the direction of the Gods; nor will I believe the Fate which is allotted to me myself this Day to have arrived by Chance; nor have I ought to say either against my Judges or Accusers, but that they thought they did me an Injury … But I detain you too long, it is Time that I retire to Death, and you to your Affairs of Life; which of us has the Better is known to the Gods, but to no Mortal Man.

The Divine Socrates is here represented in a Figure worthy his great Wisdom and Philosophy, worthy the greatest mere Man that ever breathed. But the modern Discourse is written upon a Subject no less than the Dissolution of Nature it self. Oh how glorious is the old Age of that great Man, who has spent his Time in such Contemplations as has made this Being, what only it should be, an Education for Heaven! He has, according to the Lights of Reason and Revelation, which seemed to him clearest, traced the Steps of Omnipotence: He has, with a Celestial Ambition, as far as it is consistent with Humility and Devotion, examined the Ways of Providence, from the Creation to the Dissolution of the visible World. How pleasing must have been the Speculation, to observe Nature and Providence move together, the Physical and Moral World march the same Pace: To observe Paradise and eternal Spring the Seat of Innocence, troubled Seasons and angry Skies the Portion of Wickedness and Vice. When this admirable Author has reviewed all that has past, or is to come, which relates to the habitable World, and run through the whole Fate of it, how could a Guardian Angel, that had attended it through all its Courses or Changes, speak more emphatically at the End of his Charge, than does our Author when he makes, as it were, a Funeral Oration over this Globe, looking to the Point where it once stood? [2]