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NUMB. 71. TUESDAY, November 20, 1750.
Vivere quod propero pauper, nec inutilis annis
True, fir, to live I hafte, your pardon give,
ANY words and fentences are fo frequently heard in the mouths of men, that a fuperficial obferver is inclined to believe, that they must contain fome primary principle, fome great rule of action which it is proper always to have present to the attention, and by which the use of every hour is to be adjusted. Yet, if we confider the conduct of thofe fententious philofophers, it will often be found, that they repeat thefe aphorifms, merely because they have fomewhere heard them, because they have nothing else to say, or because they think veneration gained by fuch appearances of wisdom, but that no ideas are annexed to the words, VOL. V. B and
and that, according to the old blunder of the followers of Ariftotle, their fouls are mere pipes or organs, which tranfmit founds, but do not understand them.
Of this kind is the well-known and well-attefted pofition, that life is fhort, which he heard among may mankind by an attentive auditor, many times a day, but which never yet within my reach of observation → left any impreffion upon the mind; and perhaps, if my readers will turn their thoughts back upon their old friends, they will find it difficult to call a single man to remembrance, who appeared to know that life was fhort till he was about to lose it.
It is obfervable that Horace, in his account of the characters of men, as they are diversified by the various influence of time, remarks, that the old man is dilator, fpe longus, given to procraftination, and inclined to extend his hopes to a great distance. So far are we generally from thinking what we often fay of the shortness of life, that at the time when it is neceffarily fhorteft, we form projects which we delay to execute, indulge fuch expectations as nothing but a long train of events can gratify, and fuffer those paffions to gain upon us, which are only excufable in the prime of life.
These reflections were lately excited in my mind, by an evening's converfation with my friend Profpero, who, at the age of fifty-five, has bought an estate, and is now contriving to dispose and cultivate it with uncommon elegance. His great pleasure is to walk among ftately trees, and lie mufing in the heat of noon under their fhade; he is therefore maturely confidering how he fhall difpofe his walks and
and his groves, and has at last determined to fend for the best plans from Italy, and forbear planting till the next season.
Thus is life trifled away in preparations to do what never can be done, if it be left unattempted till all the requifites which imagination can suggest are gathered together. Where our defign terminates only in our own fatisfaction, the miftake is of no great importance; for the pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment; but when many others are interested in an undertaking, when any defign is formed, in which the improvement or fecurity of mankind is involved, nothing is more unworthy either of wisdom or benevolence, than to delay it from time to time, or to forget how much every day that paffes over us takes away from our power, and how foon an idle purpose to do an action, finks into a mournful with that it had once been done.
We are frequently importuned, by the bacchanalian writers, to lay hold on the prefent hour, to catch the pleasures within our reach, and remember that futurity is not at our command.
Τὸ ῥόδον ἀκμάζει βαιὸν χρόνον. ἤν δὲ παρέλθης,
Soon fades the rofe; once paft the fragrant hour,
But furely these exhortations may, with equal propriety, be applied to better purposes; it may be at leaft inculcated that pleafures are more fafely poftponed
postponed than virtue, and that greater lofs is fuffered by miffing an opportunity of doing good, than an hour of giddy frolick and noify merri
When Baxter had loft a thousand pounds, which he had laid up for the erection of a school, he used frequently to mention the misfortune as an incitement to be charitable while GOD gives the power of bestowing, and confidered himself as culpable in fome degree for having left a good action in the hands of chance, and fuffered his benevolence to bet defeated for want of quickness and diligence.
It is lamented by Hearne, the learned antiquary of Oxford, that this general forgetfulness of the fragility of life, has remarkably infected the ftudents. of monuments and records; as their employment confifts first in collecting, and afterwards in arranging or abstracting what libraries afford them, they ought to amafs no more than they can digeft; but when they have undertaken a work, they go on fearching and tranfcribing, call for new fupplies, when they are already overburthened, and at last leave their work unfinished. It is, fays he, the business of a good antiquary, as of a good man, to have mortality always before him.
Thus, not only in the flumber of floth, but in the diffipation of ill-directed induftry, is the fhortnefs of life generally forgotten. As fome men lofe their hours in laziness, because they fuppofe, that there is time enough for the reparation of neglect; others busy themselves in providing that no length of life may want employment; and it often hap