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N° 512. FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17, 1712.
Lectorem delectando, pariterque monendo.
HOR. Ars Poet. ver. 344.
Mixing together profit and delight.
There is nothing which we receive with so much reluctance as advice. We look upon the man wbo gives it us as offering an atfront to our understanding, and treating us like children or idiots. We consider the instruction as an implicit censure, and the zeal which any shows for our good on such an occasion, as a piece of presumption or impertinence. The truth of it is, the person who pretends to advise, does, in that particular, exercise a superiority over us, and can have no other reason for it, but that, in comparing us with himself, he thinks us defective either in our conduct or our understanding. For these reasons, there is nothing so difficult as the art of making advice agreeable; and indeed all the writers, both ancient and modern, have distinguished themselves among one another, according to the perfection at which they have arrived in this art. How many devices have been made use of, to render this bitter portion palatable! Some convey their instructions to us in the best chosen words, others in the most harmonious numbers; some in points of wit, and others in short proverbs.
But, among all the different ways of giving counsel, I think the finest, and that which pleases the most universally, is fable, in whatsoever shape it appears. If we consider this way of instructing or giving advice, it excels all others, because it is the
Jeast shocking, and the least subject to those exceptions which I have before mentioned.
This will appear to us, if we reflect, in the first place, that upon the reading of a fable we are made to believe we advise ourselves. We peruse the author for the sake of the story, and consider the precepts rather as our own conclusions than his instructions. The moral insinuates itself imperceptibly; we are taught by surprise, and become wiser and better unawares. In short, by this method a man is so far over-reached as to think he is directing himself, while he is following the dictates of another, and consequently is not sensible of that which is the most unpleasing circumstance in advice.
In the next place, if we look into human nature, we shall find that the mind is never so much pleased, as when she exerts herself in any action that gives her an idea of her own perfections and abilities. This natural pride and ambition of the soul is very much gratified in the reading of a fable ; for, in writings of this kind, the reader comes in for half of the performance; every thing appears to him like a discovery of his own; he is busied all the wbile in applying characters and circumstances, and is in this respect both a reader and a composer. It is no wonder therefore, that on such occasions, when the mind is thus pleased with itself, and amused with its own discoveries, that it is highly delighted with the writing which is the occasion of it. For this reason the Absalom and Achitophel * was one of the most popular poems that appeared in English. The poetry
† A memorable satire written by Dryden against the faction which, by lord Shaftesbury's incitement, set the duke of Monmouth at their head. Ofthis poemn, in which personal satire is applied to the support of public principles, the sale was so large, that it is said not to have been equalled, but by Sacheverell's trial.
is indeed very fine; but had it been much finer, it would not have so much pleased, without a plan which gave the reader an opportunity of exerting his own talents.
This oblique manner of giving advice is so inoffensive, that, if we look into ancient histories, we find the wise men of old very often chose to give counsel to their kings in fables. To omit many which will occur to every one's memory, there is a pretty instance of this nature in a Turkish tale, which I do not like the worse for that little oriental extravagance which is mixed with it.
We are told that the sultan Mahmoud, by his perpetual wars abroad and his tyranny at home, had filled his dominions with ruin and desolation, and half unpeopled the Persian empire. The visier to this great sultan (whether an humourist or an enthusiast, we are not informed) pretended to have learned of a certain dervise to understand the language of birds, so that there was not a bird that could open his mouth but the visier knew what it was he said. As he was one evening with the emperor, in their return from hunting, they saw a couple of owls upon a tree that grew near an old wall out of a heap of rubbish. ' I would fain know,' says the sultan,
what those two owls are saying to one another; listen to their discourse, and give me an account of it. The visier approached the tree, pretending to be very attentive to the two owls. Upon his return to the sultan, “Sir,' says he, 'I have heard part of their conversation, but dare not tell you what it is.' The sultan would not be satisfied with such an answer, but forced him to repeat word for word every thing the owls had said. You must know then,' said the visier, 'that one of these owls has a son, and the other a daughter, between whom they are now upon a treaty of marriage. The father of
the son said to the father of the daughter, in my hearing, “ Brother, I consent to this marriage, provided you will settle upon your daughter fifty ruined villages for her portion." To which the father of the daughter replied, “ Instead of fifty, I will give her five hundred, if you please. God grant a long life to sultan Mahmoud ; Whilst he reigns over us, we shall never want ruined villages." '
The story says, the sultan was so touched with the fable, that he rebuilt the towns and villages which had been destroyed, and from that time forward consulted the good of his people.
To fill up my paper, I shall add a most ridiculous piece of natural magic, which was taught by no less a philosopher than Democritus, namely, that if the blood of certain birds, which he mentioned, were mixed together, it would produce a serpent of such a wonderful virtue, that whoever did eat it should be skilled in the language of birds, and understand every thing they said to one another. Whether the dervise above mentioned might not have eaten such a serpent, I shall leave to the determination of the learned.
No 513. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18, 1712,
Aflata est numine quando
VIRG. Æn. vi. 50.
The following letter comes to me from that excellent man in holy orders, whom I have mentioned
more than once as one of that society, who assists me in my speculations. It is a thought in sickness, and of a very serious nature, for which reason I give it a place in the paper of this day.
· The indisposition which has long hung upon me is at last grown to such a head, that it must quickly make an end of me or of itself. You may imagine, that whilst I am in this bad state of health, there are none of your works which I read with greater pleasure than your Saturday's papers. I should be very glad if I could furnish you with any hints for that day's entertainment. Were I able to dress
up several thoughts of a serious nature, which have made great impessions on my mind during a long fit of sickness, they might not be an improper entertainment for that occasion.
Among all the reflexions which usually rise in the mind of a sick man, who has time and inclination to consider his approaching end, there is none more natural than that of his going to appear naked and unbodied before Him who made him. When a man considers, that, as soon as the vital union is dissolved, he shall see that Supreme Being whom he now contemplates at a distance, and only in his works, or, to speak more philosophically, when, by some faculty in the soul, lie shall apprehend the Divine Being, and be more sensible of his presence than we are now of the presence of any object which the eye beholds, a man must be lost in carelessness and stupidity, who is not alarmed at such a thought. Dr. Sherlock, in his excellent treatise upon Death, has represented, in very strong and lively colours, the state of the soul in its first separation from the body, with regard to that invisible world which every where surrounds us, though we are not able to dis