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Despair, indeed, is the natural cause of these (hocking actions; but this is commonly despair brought on by wilful extravagance and debauchery. These first involve men into difficulties, and then death at once delivers them of their lives and their cares. For roy part, when I fee a young profligate wantonly squandering his fortune in bagnios or at thegaming^table, I cannot help looking on him as hastening his own death, and in a manner digging his own grave. As he is at last induced to kill himself by motives ariiing from his vices, I consider him as dying of some disease, which those vices naturally produce. If his extravagance has been chiefly in luxurious eating and drinking, I imagine him poisoned by his wines, or surfeited by a favourite dish; and if he has thrown away his estate in bawdy-houses, I conclude him destroyed by rottenness and filthy diseases.
Another principal cause of the frequency of suicide is the noble spirit of free-thinking, which has diffused itself among all ranks of people. The libertine of fashion has too refined a taste to trouble himself at all about a soul or an hereafter; but the vulgar infidel is at wonderful pains to get rid of his bible, and labours to persuade himself out os his religion. For this purpose he attends constantly at the disputant societies, where he hears a great deal about free-will, free-agency, and predestination, till at length he is convinced that man is at liberty to do as he pleases, lays his misfortunes to the charge of Providence, and comforts himself that he was inevitably destined to be tied up in his own garters. The courage of these heroes proceeds from the fame principle5, whether they fall by their own hands, or those of Jack Ketch: the suicide of whatever rank looks death in the face without shrinking; as the gallant rogue affects an easy unconcern under Tyburn, throws »way the psalm-book, bids the cart drive off with an oath, and swings like a gentleman. Connoisseur.
\ 01. An Emmcatien os SuperJUtiens observed in the Country. You must know, Mr. Town, that I
am just returned from a visit of a forU' night to an old aunt in the North; where I was mightily diverted with the traditional superstitions, which ara most religiously preserved in the family, as they have been delivered down (time out of mind) from their sagacious grandmothers.
When I arrived, I found the mistress of the house very busily employed, with, her two daughters, in nailing an horseshoe to the threshold of the door. This, they told me, was to guard against the spiteful designs of an old woman, who was a witch, and had threatened to do the family a mischief, because one of my young cousins laid two straws across, to fee if the old hag could walk over them. The youne lady assured me, that she had several times heard Goody Cripple muttering to herself; and to be sure she was saying the Lord's Prayer backwards. Besides, the old woman had very often asked them for a pin: but they took care never to give her any thing that wa« sharp, because she should not bewitch them. They afterwards told me many other particulars of this kind, the fame as are mentioned with infinite humour by the Spectator: and to confirm them, they assured me, that the eldest miss, when she was little, used to have sits, till the mother flung a knife at another old witch (whom the devil had carried off in an high wind), and fetched blood from her.
When I was to go to bed, my aunt made a thousand apologies for not putting me in the best room inthe house; which (she said) had never been lain in since the death of an old washerwoman, who walked every night, and haunted that room in particular. They fancied that the old woman had hid money somewhere, and could not rest till (he had told somebody; and my cousin assured me, that she might have had it all to herself; for the spirit came one night to her bed-side, and wanted to tell her, but she had not courage to speak to it. I learned also, that they had a footman once, who hanged himself for love; and he walked for a great while, till they got the parson to lay him in the Red Sea.
I had not been here long, when an £ accident
accident happened, which very much . alarmed, the fwhole family." Towzer one night howled most terribly; which was a sure sign, that somebody belonging to them would die. The youngest miss declared, that she had heard the hen crow that morning; which was another fatal prognostic. They told me, that, just before uncle died, Towzer howled so for several nights together, that they could not quiet him; and my aunt heard the death-watch tick as plainly, as if there had been a clock in the room : the maid too, who fat up with him, heard a bell toll at the top of the stairs, the very moment the breath went out of his body. During this discourse, I overheard one of my cousins whisper the other, that she was afraid their mamma would not live long; for she smelt an ugly smell, like a dead carcase. They had a dairymaid, who died the very week after an hearse had stopt at their door in its way to church: and the eldest miss, when (he was but thirteen, saw her own brother's ghost (who was gone to the West Indies) walking in the garden ; and to be sure, nine months after, they had an account, that he died on board the (hip, the very fame day, and hour of the day, that miss saw his apparition,
I need not mention to you the common incidents, which were accounted by them no less prophetic. If a cinder popped from the fire, they were in haste to examine whether it was a purse or a coffin. They were aware of my coming long before I arrived, because they had seen a stranger on the grate. The youngest miss will let nobody use the poker but herself; because, when Ihe stirs the fire, il'always burns bright, which is a sign ihe will have a brisk husband: and (he is no less sure of a good one, because she generally has ill fuck at cards. Nor is the candle less oracular than the sire: for the 'squire of the parish came one night to pay them • visit, when the tallow winding-sheet pointed towards him ; and he broke his neck soon after in a fox-chafe. My aunt one night observed with great pleasure a letter in the candle; and the very next day one came from her son in
London. We knew when a spirit was in the room, by the' candle burning blue : but poor cousin Nancy wa* ready to cry one time, when (he snuffed it out, and coold not blow it in again; though her sister did it at a whiff, and consequently triumphed in her superior virtue.
We had no occasion for an almanack or the weather-glass, to let us know whether it would rain or shine. One evening I proposed to ride out with my cousins the next day to fee a gentleman's house in the neighbourhood ; but my aunt assured us it would be wet, (he knew very well, from the shooting of her corn. Besides, there was a great spider crawling up the chimney, and the blackbird in the kitchen began' to sing; which were both of them as certain fore-runner/s of rain. But the most to be depended on in these cafes is a tabby cat, which usually lies basking on the parlour hearth. If the cat turned her tail to the fire, we were to have an hard frost; if the cat licked her tail, rain would certainly ensue. They wondered what stranger they shoula see; because puss walhed her foot over her left ear. The old lady complained of a cold, and her eldest daughter remarked, it would go through the family; for (he observed, that poor Tab had sneezed several times. Poor Tab, however, once flew at one of my cousins: for which she had like to have been destroyed, as the whole family began to think (he was no other than a witch.
It is impossible to tell you the several tokens by which they know whether good or ill luck will happen to them. Spilling the salt, or laying knives across, are every where accounted ill omens; but a pin with the head turned towards you, or to be followed by a strange dog, I found were very lucky. I heard one of my cousins tell the cook-maid, that (he boiled away all her sweethearti, because she had let her diih-water boil over. The same young lady one morning came down to breakfast with her cap the wrong side out; which the mother observing, charged her not to alter it all day, for fear (he should turn luck. 5 B 4 But,
But, above all, I could not help remarking the various prognostics which the old lady and her daughters used to collect from almost every part of the body. A white speck upon the nails made them as sure of a gift as if they bad it already in their pockets. The eldest sister is to have one husband more than the youngest, because she has one wrinkle more in her forehead; but the other will have the advantage of her in the number of children, as was plainly proved by snapping their finger-joints. it would take up too much room to set down every circumstance, which I observed of this sort during my stay with them: 1 shall therefore conclude my letter with the several remarks on other parts of the body, as far as I could learn them from this prophetic family: for, as I was a relation, you know, they bad less reserve.
If the head itches, it is a sign of rain. Tf the head aches, it is a profitable pain. If you have the toot-ache, you don't love true. If your eye-brow itches, you will fee a stranger. If your right eye itches, you will cry; if your left, you will laugh : but left or right is good at night. If your nose itches, you will shake hands with or kiss a fool, drink a glass of wine, run against a cuckold's door, or miss them all four. If your right ear or cheek burns, your left friends are talking of you; if your left, your right friends are talking of you. If your elbow itches, you. will change your bedfellow. If your right hand itches, you will pay away money; if your left, you will receive. If your stomach itches, you will eat pudding. If your back itches, butterwiil becheap when grafs grows there. ]f your side itches, somebody is wishing for vou. If your gartering-place itches, you'will go to a strange place. If your foot itches, you will tread upon strange
f round. Lastly, If you shiver, someody is walking over your grave.
$ Cj2. Sivfaring an indclicatt as nuell at a •wicked Prailice.
As there are some vices, which the vulgar have presumed to copy from the great: so there are "others, which the
great have condescended to borrow frora the vulgar. Among these, I cannot but set down the shocking practice of cursing and swearing; a practice, which (to say nothing at present of its impiety and prophaneness) is low and indelicate, and places the man of quality; on the fame level with the chairman at his dqor. A gentleman would forfeit all pretensions to that title, who should chuse to emhellifh his discourse with the oratory of Billingsgate, and converse in the style of an oyster-woman: but it is accounted no disgrace to him tQ. use the samecoarsecxpreffionsof cursing and swearing with the meanest of the mob. For my own part, I cannot see the difference between a By-gad or a, Gad dent-me, minced and softened by a genteel pronunciation from well-bred tips, and the fame expression bluntly bolted out from the broad mouth of a porter or hackney-cochman.
I shall purposely wave making any reflections on the impiety of this prac tice, as I am satisfied they would have but little weight either with the beaumonde or the canaille. The swearer of either station devotes himself piecemeal, as it were, to destruction ; pours out anathemas against his eyes, his heart, his foul, and every part of his, body; nor does he scruple to extend the same good wishes to the limbs and joints of his friends and acquaintance. This t.hey both do with the fame fearless unconcern; hut with this only difference, that the gentleman-swearer damns himself and others with the greatest civility and good • breeding imaginable.
My predecessor the Tatler gives us an account of a certain humorist, who got together a party of noted swearers to dinner with him, and ordered their discourses to be taken down in shorthand; which being afterwards repeated to them, they were extremely startled and surprised at their own common talk. A dialogue of this nature would be no improper supplement to Swift's polite conversation; though, indeed, it would appear too shocking to be set down in print. But I cannot help wishing, that it were possible to draw out a catalogue of the fashionable oaths and
curse* curses in present use at Arthur's, or at any other polite assembly: by which means the company themselves would be led to imagine, that their conversation had been carried on between the lowest of the mob; and they would blush to find, that they had gleaned the choicest phrases from lanes and alleys, and enriched their discourse with the elegant dialect of Wapping and Broad St. Giles's.
The legislature has indeed provided against this ossence, by affixing a penalty on every delinquent according to his station: but this law, like those made against gaming, is of no effect; while the genteeler sort of swearers pour forth the fame execrations at the hazard-table or in the tennis-court, which the more ordinary gamesters repeat, with the fame impunity, over the shuffle-board or in the (kittle-alley. Indeed, were this law to be rigorously put in execution, there would appear to be little or no proportion in the punishment: since the gentleman would escape by depositing his crown; while the poor wretch, who cannot raise a shilling, must be clapt into the stocks, or sent to Bridewell. But as the offence is exactly the fame, I would also have no distinction made in the treat, ment of the offenders: and it would be a most ridiculous but a due mortification to a man of quality, to be obliged to thrust his leg through the fame stocks with a carman or a coal-heaver; since he first degraded himself, and qualified himself for their company, by talking jn the same mean dialect.
I am aware that it will be pleaded in excuse for this practice, that oaths and curses are intended only as mere expletives, which serve to round a period, and give a grace and spirit to conversation. Bv(t there are still some old-fashioned creatures, who adhere to their common acceptation, and cannot help thinking it a very serious matter, that a man should devote his body to the devil, or call down damnation on his foul. Nay, the swearer himself, like the old man in the fable calling upon death, would be exceeding loth to be taken ash is word ; and, while he wislies destruction to every part of bis body,
would be highly concerned to hare a limb rot away, his nose fall off, or an eye drop out of the socket. It would therefore be adviseable to substitute some other terms equally unmeaning, and at the fame time remote from the vulgar curling and swearing.
It is recorded to the honour of the famous Dean Stanhope, that in his younger days, when he was chaplain to a regiment, he reclaimed the officers, who were much addicted to this vulgar practice, by the following method of reproof: One evening, as they were all in company together, after they had been very eloquent in this kind of rhetoric, so natural to the gentlemen of the army, the worthy dean took occasion to tell a story in his turn ; in which he frequently repeated the words bottle and glass, instead of the usual expletives of God, devil, and damn, which he did not think quite so becoming for one of his cloth to make free with. I would recommend it to our people of fashion to make use of the like inno, cent phrases, whenever they are obliged to have recourse to these substitutes for thought and expression. "Bottle and glas," might be introduced with great energy in the table-talk at the King's-Arms or St. Alban's taverns. The gamester might be indulged, without offence, in swearing by the " knava of clubs," or the " curse of Scotland;" or h: might with some propriety retain the old execration of " the deuce take it." The beau should be allowed to swear by his "gracious self," which is the god of his idolatry; and the common expletives should consist only of " upon my word, and upon my honour;" which terms, whatever fense they might formerly bear, are at present understood only as words of course without meaning. Connoijjfeur.
§ 93. Sympathy a Source of tbt
It is by the passion of sympathy that we enter into the concerns of others; that we are moved as <hey are moved, and are never suffered" to be indifferent spectators of almost any thing which, men can dp or suffer,. For sympathy
must he considered as a fort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in a good measure as he is affected; so that this passion may either partake of the nature of those which regard self-preservation, and turning upon pain may be a source of the sublime ; or it may turn upon ideas of pleasure, and then, whatever has been said of the social affections, whether they regard society in general, or only some particular modes of it, may be applicable here.
It is by this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and other affecting arts, transfuse their passions from one breast to another, and are often capable of grafting a delight on wretchedness, misery, and death itself. It is a common observation, that objects, which in the reality would shock, are, in tragical and such-like representations, the source of a very high species of pleasure. This, taken as a fact, has been the cause of much reasoning. This satisfaction has been commonly attributed, first, to the comfort we receive in considering that so melancholy a story is no more than a fiction; and next, to the contemplation of our own freedom from the evils we fee represented. I am afraidit isa practice much too common, in enquiries of this nature, to attribute the cause of feelings which merely arise from the mechanical structure of our bodies, or from the natural frame and constitution of our minds, to certain conclusions of the reasoning faculty on the objects presented to us; for I have some reason to apprehend, that the influence of reason in producing our passions is nothing near so extensive as is commonly believed.
Burke on the Sublime.
% 94. Effifls of Syutpathy in the Distresses of others.
To examine this point concerning the effect of tragedy in a proper manner, we must previoufly consider, how we are affected by the feelings of our fellow-creatures in circumstances of real distress. I am cdjvinced we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of
others; for, let the affection be what it will in appearance, if it does not make us shun such objects, if, on the contrary, it induces us to approach them, if it makes us dwell upon them, in this cafe I conceive we must have a delight or pleasure, of some species or other, in contemplating objects of this kind. Do we not read the authentic histories of scenes of this nature with as much pleasure as romances or poems, where the incidents are fictitious? The prosperity qf no empire, nor the grandeur of no king, can so agreeably affect in the reading, as the ruin of the state of Macedon, and the distress of its unhappy prince. Such a catastrophe touches us in history, as much as the destruction of Troy does in fable. Our delight in cafes of this kind is very greatly heightened, if the sufferer be some excellent person who sinks under an unworthy fortune. Scipio and Cato are both virtuous characters; but we are more deeply affected by the violent death of the one, and the ruin of the great cause he adhered to, than with the deserved triumphs and uninterrupted prosperity of the other; for terror is a passion which always produces delight when it does not press too close, and pity is a passion accompanied with pleasure, because it arises from love and social affection. Whenever we are formed by nature to any active purpose, the passion which animates us to it is attended with delight, or a pleasure of some kind, let the subject matter be what it will ; and as our Creator has designed we should be united together by so strong a bond as that of sympathy, he has therefore twisted along with if a proportionable quantity of this ingredient; and always in the greatest proportion where our sympathy is most wanted, in the distresses of others. If this passion was simply painful, we should shun, with the greatest care, all persons and places that could excite such a ptfssion; as some, who are so far gone in indolence as not to endure any strong impression, actually do. But the cafe is widely different with the greater part of mankind; there is no spectacle we so eagerly pursue, as that of some uncommon and grievous calamity J