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No. 397 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 397
Thursday, June 5, 1712. Addison.
‘–Dolor ipse disertum



As the Stoick Philosophers discard all Passions in general, they will not allow a Wise Man so much as to pity the Afflictions of another. If thou seest thy Friend in Trouble, says Epictetus, thou mayst put on a Look of Sorrow, and condole with him, but take care that thy Sorrow be not real. [1] The more rigid of this Sect would not comply so far as to shew even such an outward Appearance of Grief, but when one told them of any Calamity that had befallen even the nearest of their Acquaintance, would immediately reply, What is that to me? If you aggravated the Circumstances of the Affliction, and shewed how one Misfortune was followed by another, the Answer was still, All this may be true, but what is it to me?

For my own part, I am of Opinion, Compassion does not only refine and civilize Humane Nature, but has something in it more pleasing and agreeable than what can be met with in such an indolent Happiness, such an Indifference to Mankind as that in which the Stoicks placed their Wisdom. As Love is the most delightful Passion, Pity is nothing else but Love softned by a degree of Sorrow: In short, it is a kind of pleasing Anguish, as well as generous Sympathy, that knits Mankind together, and blends them in the same common Lot.

Those who have laid down Rules for Rhetorick or Poetry, advise the Writer to work himself up, if possible, to the Pitch of Sorrow which he endeavours to produce in others. There are none therefore who stir up Pity so much as those who indite their own Sufferings. Grief has a natural Eloquence belonging to it, and breaks out in more moving Sentiments than be supplied by the finest Imagination. Nature on this Occasion dictates a thousand passionate things which cannot be supplied by Art.

It is for this Reason that the short Speeches, or Sentences which we often meet with in Histories, make a deeper Impression on the Mind of the Reader, than the most laboured Strokes in a well-written Tragedy. Truth and Matter of Fact sets the Person actually before us in the one, whom Fiction places at a greater Distance from us in the other. I do not remember to have seen any Ancient or Modern Story more affecting than a Letter of Ann of Bologne, Wife to King Henry the Eighth, and Mother to Queen Elizabeth, which is still extant in the Cotton Library, as written by her own Hand.

Shakespear himself could not have made her talk in a Strain so suitable to her Condition and Character. One sees in it the Expostulations of a slighted Lover, the Resentments of an injured Woman, and the Sorrows of an imprisoned Queen. I need not acquaint my Reader that this Princess was then under Prosecution for Disloyalty to the King’s Bed, and that she was afterwards publickly beheaded upon the same Account, though this Prosecution was believed by many to proceed, as she her self intimates, rather from the King’s Love to Jane Seymour than from any actual Crime in Ann of Bologne.

Queen Ann Boleyn’s last Letter to King Henry.

[Cotton Libr. Otho C. 10.]


Your Grace’s Displeasure, and my Imprisonment, are Things so strange unto me, as what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such an one, whom you know to be mine ancient professed Enemy, I no sooner received this Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a Truth indeed may procure my Safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.