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No. 090 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 090.
Wednesday, June 13, 1711.
‘… Magnus sine viribus Ignis

Incassum furit’


There is not, in my Opinion, a Consideration more effectual to extinguish inordinate Desires in the Soul of Man, than the Notions of Plato and his Followers [1] upon that Subject. They tell us, that every Passion which has been contracted by the Soul during her Residence in the Body, remains with her in a separate State; and that the Soul in the Body or out of the Body, differs no more than the Man does from himself when he is in his House, or in open Air. When therefore the obscene Passions in particular have once taken Root and spread themselves in the Soul, they cleave to her inseparably, and remain in her for ever, after the Body is cast off and thrown aside. As an Argument to confirm this their Doctrine they observe, that a lewd Youth who goes on in a continued Course of Voluptuousness, advances by Degrees into a libidinous old Man; and that the Passion survives in the Mind when it is altogether dead in the Body; nay, that the Desire grows more violent, and (like all other Habits) gathers Strength by Age, at the same time that it has no Power of executing its own Purposes. If, say they, the Soul is the most subject to these Passions at a time when it has the least Instigations from the Body, we may well suppose she will still retain them when she is entirely divested of it. The very Substance of the Soul is festered with them, the Gangrene is gone too far to be ever cured; the Inflammation will rage to all Eternity.

In this therefore (say the Platonists) consists the Punishment of a voluptuous Man after Death: He is tormented with Desires which it is impossible for him to gratify, solicited by a Passion that has neither Objects nor Organs adapted to it: He lives in a State of invincible Desire and Impotence, and always burns in the Pursuit of what he always despairs to possess. It is for this Reason (says Plato) that the Souls of the Dead appear frequently in Coemiteries, and hover about the Places where their Bodies are buried, as still hankering after their old brutal Pleasures, and desiring again to enter the Body that gave them an Opportunity of fulfilling them.

Some of our most eminent Divines have made use of this Platonick Notion, so far as it regards the Subsistence of our Passions after Death, with great Beauty and Strength of Reason. Plato indeed carries the Thought very far, when he grafts upon it his Opinion of Ghosts appearing in Places of Burial. Though, I must confess, if one did believe that the departed Souls of Men and Women wandered up and down these lower Regions, and entertained themselves with the Sight of their Species, one could not devise a more Proper Hell for an impure Spirit than that which Plato has touched upon.

The Ancients seem to have drawn such a State of Torments in the Description of Tantalus, who was punished with the Rage of an eternal Thirst, and set up to the Chin in Water that fled from his Lips whenever he attempted to drink it.

Virgil, who has cast the whole System of Platonick Philosophy, so far as it relates to the Soul of Man, in beautiful Allegories, in the sixth Book of his AEneid gives us the Punishment of a Voluptuary after Death, not unlike that which we are here speaking of.

Lucent genialibus altis
Aurea fulcra toris, epulaeque ante ora paratae
Regifico luxu: Furiarum maxima juxta
Accubat, et manibus prohibet contingere mensas;
Exurgitque facem attollens, atque intonat ore.

They lie below on Golden Beds display’d,
And genial Feasts with regal Pomp are made:
The Queen of Furies by their Side is set,
And snatches from their Mouths th’ untasted Meat;
Which if they touch, her hissing Snakes she rears,
Tossing her Torch, and thund’ring in their Ears.