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No. 125 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 125.
Tuesday, July 24, 1711.

‘Ne pueri, ne tanta animis assuescite bella:

Neu patriae validas in viscera vertite vires.’


My worthy Friend Sir ROGER, when we are talking of the Malice of Parties, very frequently tells us an Accident that happened to him when he was a School-boy, which was at a time when the Feuds ran high between the Roundheads and Cavaliers. This worthy Knight, being then but a Stripling, had occasion to enquire which was the Way to St. Anne’s Lane, upon which the Person whom he spoke to, instead of answering his Question, call’d him a young Popish Cur, and asked him who had made Anne a Saint? The Boy, being in some Confusion, enquired of the next he met, which was the Way to Anne’s Lane; but was call’d a prick-eared Cur for his Pains, and instead of being shewn the Way, was told that she had been a Saint before he was born, and would be one after he was hanged. Upon this, says Sir ROGER, I did not think fit to repeat the former Question, but going into every Lane of the Neighbourhood, asked what they called the Name of that Lane. By which ingenious Artifice he found out the place he enquired after, without giving Offence to any Party. Sir ROGER generally closes this Narrative with Reflections on the Mischief that Parties do in the Country; how they spoil good Neighbourhood, and make honest Gentlemen hate one another; besides that they manifestly tend to the Prejudice of the Land-Tax, and the Destruction of the Game.

There cannot a greater Judgment befal a Country than such a dreadful Spirit of Division as rends a Government into two distinct People, and makes them greater Strangers and more averse to one another, than if they were actually two different Nations. The Effects of such a Division are pernicious to the last degree, not only with regard to those Advantages which they give the Common Enemy, but to those private Evils which they produce in the Heart of almost every particular Person. This Influence is very fatal both to Mens Morals and their Understandings; it sinks the Virtue of a Nation, and not only so, but destroys even Common Sense.

A furious Party Spirit, when it rages in its full Violence, exerts it self in Civil War and Bloodshed; and when it is under its greatest Restraints naturally breaks out in Falshood, Detraction, Calumny, and a partial Administration of Justice. In a Word, it fills a Nation with Spleen and Rancour, and extinguishes all the Seeds of Good-Nature, Compassion and Humanity.

Plutarch says very finely, that a Man should not allow himself to hate even his Enemies, because, says he, if you indulge this Passion in some Occasions, it will rise of it self in others; if you hate your Enemies, you will contract such a vicious Habit of Mind, as by degrees will break out upon those who are your Friends, or those who are indifferent to you. [1] I might here observe how admirably this Precept of Morality (which derives the Malignity of Hatred from the Passion it self, and not from its Object) answers to that great Rule which was dictated to the World about an hundred Years before this Philosopher wrote; [2] but instead of that, I shall only take notice, with a real Grief of Heart, that the Minds of many good Men among us appear sowered with Party-Principles, and alienated from one another in such a manner, as seems to me altogether inconsistent with the Dictates either of Reason or Religion. Zeal for a Publick Cause is apt to breed Passions in the Hearts of virtuous Persons, to which the Regard of their own private Interest would never have betrayed them.

If this Party-Spirit has so ill an Effect on our Morals, it has likewise a very great one upon our Judgments. We often hear a poor insipid Paper or Pamphlet cried up, and sometimes a noble Piece depreciated, by those who are of a different Principle from the Author. One who is actuated by this Spirit is almost under an Incapacity of discerning either real Blemishes or Beauties. A Man of Merit in a different Principle, [is] like an Object seen in two different Mediums, [that] appears crooked or broken, however streight and entire it may be in it self. For this Reason there is scarce a Person of any Figure in England, who does not go by two [contrary Characters, [3]] as opposite to one another as Light and Darkness. Knowledge and Learning suffer in [a [4]] particular manner from this strange Prejudice, which at present prevails amongst all Ranks and Degrees in the British Nation. As Men formerly became eminent in learned Societies by their Parts and Acquisitions, they now distinguish themselves by the Warmth and Violence with which they espouse their respective Parties. Books are valued upon the like Considerations: An Abusive Scurrilous Style passes for Satyr, and a dull Scheme of Party Notions is called fine Writing.