Page images
PDF
EPUB

by the products of Barbadocs; the infusion of a China plant sweetened with the pith of an indian cane. The Philippine islands give a favor to our European bowls. The single dress of a woman of quality is often the product of an hundred climates. The muff and the fan come together from the different ends of the earth. The scarf is sent from the torrid zone, and the tippet from beneath the pole. The brocade petticoat rises out of the mines of Peru, and the diamond necklace out of the bowels of Indostan.

If we consider our own country in its natural prospect, without any of the benefits and advantages of commerce, what a barren uncomfortable spot of the earth faus to our share ! Natural historians tell us, that no fruit grows originally among us, besides hips and haws, acrons and pignuts, with other delicacies of the like nature ; that our climate, of itself, and without the assistance of art, can make no farther advances towards a plumb, than a sloe, and carries an apple to no greater perfection than a crab; that our melons, our peaches, our figs, our appricots and our cherries, are strangers among us, imported in different ages, and naturalized in our English gardens ; and that they would all degenerate and fall away into the trash of our own country, if they were wholy neglected by the planter, and left to the mercy of our sun and soil.

Nor has traffic more enriched our vegetable world, than it has improved the whole face of natiux among us. Our ships are laden with the harvest of every climate ; our tables are stored with spices, and oils, and wines ; our rooms are filled with pyramids of China, and adorned with the workmanship of Japan ; our morning's draught comes to us from the remotest corners of the eartii ; We repair our bodies l.y the drugs of America, and repose ourselves under Indian canopies. My friend, Sir Andrew, calls the vineyards of France, our gardens; isu spice islands, our hot beds ; tlie Persians our silk weavers ; and the Chinese, our potters. Nature, indeed, furnishes us with the bare necessaries of life ; but traffic gives us a great variety of what is useful, and, at the same time, sup. plies us with every thing that is convenient and ornamental. Nor is it the least part of this our happiness, thate whilst we enjoy the remotest products of the north and south, we are free from those extremities of weather which give them birth ; that our eyes are refreshed with the green fields of Britain, at the same time that our palates are feasted with fruits that rise between the tropics.

For these reasons, there are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature, find work for the poor, add wealth to the ricli, and magnificence to the great. Our English merchant converts the tin of his own country into gold, and exchanges his woo for rubies. The Ma. hometans are clothed in our British manufacture, and the inhabitants of the frozen zone warıned with the fleeces of our sheep.

X.-On Public SpeakingiIr.

MOST foreig ?? writers who have given any character of thi I wish nation, whatever vice they ascribe to it, allow, in general, that the people are naturally modest. It proceeds, perhaps, from this our national virtue, that our orators are observed to make use of less gesture or action than those of other countries. Our preachers stand stock still in the pulpit, and will not so much as move a finger to set off the best sermons in the world.. We meet with the same speaking statues at our bars, and in all public places of debate. Our words flow from us in a smooth continued stream, without those strainings of the voice, motions of the body, and majesty of the hand which are so much celebrated in the orators of Greece and Rome. We can talk of life and death in cold blood, and keep our temper in a discourse which turns upon every thing that is dear to us. Though our zeal breaks out in the finest tropes and figures, it is not able to stir a limb about us.

It is certain that proper gestures and exertions of the voice cannot be too much studied by a public orator.-They are a kind of comment to what he utters ; and enforces every thing he says, with weak hearers, better than the strongest argument he can make use of. They keep the audience awake, and fix their attention to what is delivered to them ; at the same time that they show

the speaker is in earnest, and affected himself with what he so passionately recommends to others.

We are told that the great Latin orator very much impaired his health, by the vehemence of action with which he used to deliver himself. The Greek orator was likewise so very famous for this particular in rhetoric, that one of his antagonists, whom he had banished from Athens, reading over the oration which had procured his banishment, and seeing his friends admire it, could not forbear asking them—If they were so much affected by the bare reading it, how much more they would have been alarmed, had they heard hiin actually throwing out such a storm of eloquence.

How cold and dead a figure, in comparison of these two great men does an orator often make at the British bar, holding up his head with the most insipid serenity, and stroking the sides of a long wig that reaches down to his middle ! Nothing can be more ridiculous than the ges. tures of most of our English speakers. You see some of them running their hands into their pockets as far as ever they can thrust them, and others looking with great attention on a piece of paper that has nothing written on it; you may see many a smart rhetorician turning his hat in his hands, moulding it into several different cocks, examining sometimes the lining of it, and sometimes the button, during the whole course of his harangue. A deaf man would think that he was cheapening a beaver; when perhaps he was talking of the fate of the British nation. I remember when I was a young man and used to frequent Westminster hall, there was a counsellor who never pleaded without a piece of pack-thread in his hand, which he used to twist about a thumb or finger all the while he was speaking ; the wags of those days used to call it the thread of his discourse, for he was not able to utter a word without it. One of his clients who was more merry than wise, stole it from him one day, in the midst of his pleading ; but he had better have let it alone, for he lost his cause by the jest.

XI.—4dvantages of History.—Hume. THE advantages found in history seem to be of three kinds ; as it amuses the fancy, as it improves the understanding, and as it strengthens virtue.

In reality, what more agreeable entertainment to the mind, than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to observe human society, in its infancy, making the first faint essays towards the arts and sciences ? To see the policy of government and the civility of conversation refining by degrees, and every thing that is ornamental to human life advancing towards its pt rfeclion? To mark the rise, progress, declension, and final extinction of the most flourishing empires ; the virtues which contributed to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin I In short, to see all the huinan race, from the beginning of time, pass as It were in review before us, appearing in their true colors, without any of those disguises, which, during their lifetime, so much perplexed the judgment of the beholders ? What spectacle can be imagined so magnificent, so various, so interesting ? What amusement, either of the senses or imagination, can be compared with it? Shall our trifling pastimes, which engross so much of our time, be preferred, as more satisfactory, and more fit to engage our attention? How perverse must that taste be, which is capable of so wrong a choice of pleasure ?

But history is a most improving part of knowledge, as, well as an agreeable amusement; and, indeed, a great part of what we commonly call erudition, and value so highly, is nothing but an acquaintance with historical facts. An extensive knowledge of this kind belongs to men of letters; but I must think it an unpardonable ige norance in persons, of whatever sex or condition, not to be acquainted with the histories of their own country, along with the histories of ancient Greece and Rome.

I must add, that history is not only a valuable part of knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts of knowledge, and affords, materials to most of the sciene tes. And, indeed, if we consider the shortness of human: life, and our limited knowledge, even of what passes in our own time, we must be sensible that we should be fois ever children in understanding, were it not for this in, vention, which extends our experience to all past ages, and to most distant nations, making them cautribuui as much to our improvement ax. wisdomy, as it they liadi actually lain under our observation. A man acquainted with history, may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions in his stock of knowledge, in ev. ery country.

There is also an advantage in that knowledge which is acquired by history, above what is learned by the practice of the world, that it brings us acquainted with human affairs, without diminishing in the least from the most delicate sentiments of virtue. And, to tell the truth, 1 scarce know any study or occupation so unexceptionable as history, in this particular. Poets can paint virtue in the most charming colors ; but, as they address themselves entirely to the passions, they often become advocates to vice. Even philosophers are apt to be wil. der themselves in the subtilty of their speculations ; and we have seen some go so far, as to deny the reality of all moral distinctions. But I think it a remark worthy the attention of the speculative reader, that the historians have been, almost without exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always represented it in its proper colors, however they may have erred in their judgments of particular persons. Nor is this combination of his;orians, in favor of virtue, at all difficult to be accounted for. When a man of business enters into life, and action, he is more apt to consider the characters of men as they have relation to his interest, than as they stand in themselves, and has his judgment warped on every occa-sion by the violence of his passion. When a philosopher contemplates character and manners, in his closet, the general abstract view of the objects leaves the mind so cold and unmoved, that the sentiments of nature have no room to play, and he scarce feels the difference between vice and virtue. History keeps in a just medium betwixt these extremes, and places the objects in their fue point of view. The writers of history, as well as the readers, are sufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively sentiment of blame or praise ; and, at the same time, have no particular interest or contern to pervert their judgment.

« PreviousContinue »