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No. 191 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

Tuesday, October 9, 1711.

[Greek: … oulon oneiron.]

Some ludicrous Schoolmen have put the Case, that if an Ass were placed between two Bundles of Hay, which affected his Senses equally on each Side, and tempted him in the very same Degree, whether it would be possible for him to Eat of either. They generally determine this Question to the Disadvantage of the Ass, who they say would starve in the Midst of Plenty, as not having a single Grain of Freewill to determine him more to the one than to the other. The Bundle of Hay on either Side striking his Sight and Smell in the same Proportion, would keep him in a perpetual Suspence, like the two Magnets which, Travellers have told us, are placed one of them in the Roof, and the other in the Floor of Mahomet’s Burying-place at Mecca, and by that means, say they, pull the Impostor’s Iron Coffin with such an equal Attraction, that it hangs in the Air between both of them. As for the Ass’s Behaviour in such nice Circumstances, whether he would Starve sooner than violate his Neutrality to the two Bundles of Hay, I shall not presume to determine; but only take Notice of the Conduct of our own Species in the same Perplexity. When a Man has a mind to venture his Money in a Lottery, every Figure of it appears equally alluring, and as likely to succeed as any of its Fellows. They all of them have the same Pretensions to good Luck, stand upon the same foot of Competition, and no manner of Reason can be given why a Man should prefer one to the other before the Lottery is drawn. In this Case therefore Caprice very often acts in the Place of Reason, and forms to it self some Groundless Imaginary Motive, where real and substantial ones are wanting. I know a well-meaning Man that is very well pleased to risque his good Fortune upon the Number 1711, because it is the Year of our Lord. I am acquainted with a Tacker that would give a good deal for the Number 134. [1] On the contrary I have been told of a certain Zealous Dissenter, who being a great Enemy to Popery, and believing that bad Men are the most fortunate in this World, will lay two to one on the Number [666 [2]] against any other Number, because, says he, it is the Number of the Beast. Several would prefer the Number 12000 before any other, as it is the Number of the Pounds in the great Prize. In short, some are pleased to find their own Age in their Number; some that they have got a number which makes a pretty Appearance in the Cyphers, and others, because it is the same Number that succeeded in the last Lottery. Each of these, upon no other Grounds, thinks he stands fairest for the great Lot, and that he is possessed of what may not be improperly called the Golden Number.

These Principles of Election are the Pastimes and Extravagancies of Human Reason, which is of so busie a Nature, that it will be exerting it self in the meanest Trifles and working even when it wants Materials. The wisest of Men are sometimes acted by such unaccountable Motives, as the Life of the Fool and the Superstitious is guided by nothing else.

I am surprized that none of the Fortune-tellers, or, as the French call them, the Diseurs de bonne Avanture, who Publish their Bills in every Quarter of the Town, have not turned our Lotteries to their Advantage; did any of them set up for a Caster of fortunate Figures, what might he not get by his pretended Discoveries and Predictions?

I remember among the Advertisements in the Post-Boy of September the 27th, I was surprized to see the following one: