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FRAILTY OF HUMAN LIFE.
GOOD God, what an incongruous animal is man! How unsettled in his best part, his soul; and how changing and variable in his frame of body? The constancy of the one shook by every notion; the temperature of the other affected by every blast of wind! What is he altogether but one mighty inconsistency; sickness and pain is the lot of one half of him ; doubt and fear the portion of the other! What a bustle we make about passing our time, when all our space is but a point? What aims and ambitions are crowded into this little instant of our life, which (as Shakespeare finely words it) is rounded with a sleep?
Our whole extent of being is no more in the eye of him who gave it, than a scarce perceptible moment of duration. Those animals, whose circle of living is limited to three or four hours, as the naturalists tell us, are yet as long lived and possess as wide a scene of action as man, if we consider him with a view to all space and all eternity. Who knows what plots, what achieve ments, a mite may perform in his kingdom of a grain of dust, within his life of some minutes ; and of how much less consideration than even this, is the life of man in the sight of God who is for ever and for ever?
Who that thinks in this train, but must see the world, and its contemptible grandeurs, lessen before him at every thought. It is enough to make one remain stupefied in a poise of inaction, void of all desires, of all designs, of all friendship. ESSAY 65.
ON THE ADVANTAGES OP SICKNESS.
NOTHING makes a more ridiculous figure in a man's life, than the disparity we often find in him sick and well: thus one of an unfortunate constitution is perpetually exhibiting a miserable example of the weakness of his mind, and of his body, in their turns. I have had frequent opportunities of late to consider myself in these different views, and I hope, have received some advantage by it, if what Waller says be true, that
The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,
Then surely sickness, contributing no less than old age, to shake down this scaffolding of the body, may discover the inward structure more plainly. Sickness is a sort of early old age, it teaches us a diffidence in our earthly state, and inspires with the thoughts of a future, better than a thousand volumes of philosophers and divines. It gives so warning a concussion to those props of our vanity, our strength and youth, that we think of fortifying ourselves within, when there is so little dependence on our outworks.
Youth at the very best is but a betrayer of human life in a gentler and smoother manner than age; it is like a stream that nourishes a plant upon a bạnk, and causes it to flourish and blossom to the sight, but at the same time is undermining it at the root in secret. My youth has dealt more fairly and openly with me. It has afforded several prospects of my danger, and given me an advantage not very common to young men, that the attractions of the world have not dazzled me much; and I begin where most people evd, with a full conviction of the emptiness of all sorts of ambition, and the unsatisfactory nature of all human pleasures. When a smart fit of sickness tells me this
scurvy tenement of my body will fall in a short time, I am e'en as unconcerned as that honest Hibernian, who being in bed during the great storm, and told the house would tumble over his head, made answer,
“ What care I for the house? I am only a lodger.”
I fancy it is the best time to die when one is in the best humour; and so excessively weak as I now am, I may say with conscience, that I am not at all uneasy at the thought, that many men whom I never esteemed, are likely to enjoy the world after me.
When I reflect what an inconsiderable atom every single man is, with respect to the whole creation, methinks, it is a shame to be concerned at the removal of such a trivial animal as I am. The morning after my exit, the sun will rise as bright as ever, the flowers smell as sweet, the plants spring as green, the world will proceed in its old course, people will laugh as heartily, and marry as fast as before.
“ The memory of man (as it is elegantly ex“pressed in the book of Wisdom) passeth away
as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth “ but one day.” There are reasons enough in the fourth chapter of the same book to make any young man contented with the prospect of death. “ For honourable age is not that which “standeth in length of time, or is measured by “ number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair “ to men, and an unspotted life is old age. He “ was taken away speedily, lest wickedness should “ alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his o soul.”