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Oh! there are THOUGHTS of coming death! that haunt the mind of man,
SIR THOMAS OVERBURY'S “ WIFE.”
The writings of Sir Thomas Overbury consist of verse and prose, and an edition of them, (the tenth) was published in one small volume, so late as the middle of the last century. His lamentable fate is known to most of my readers, not merely as a matter of history, but as having formed the subject of a tragedy, written by the unfortunate Savage, and which Dr. Johnson praised for many of its scenes. It was acted, Savage himself playing the principal character; but did not meet with success.
The prose works of Overbury (his “Characters ") form the larger and the better portion of what he has left us. As a poet, his fame seems to have rested, (at least in the opinion of his contemporaries) upon a poem entitled A Wife,” comprised in about
fifty stanzas, wherein, with all the quaintness, and metapysical abstractions of his age, he pourtrays the moral, intellectual, religious, and personal qualities which should concentrate in that fabulous biped, a perfect wife. Many are the commendatory copies of verses by T. D., R. C., X. Z. and nearly all the other letters of the alphabet, upon this “ Wife;" and yet I doubt, exceedingly, whether just such a phenix, supposing such a one to be manufactured, would suit our notions of a conjugal paragon, any more than we should inordinately admire the ruffs and buckram of our author's time. To say the truth, Sir Thomas Overbury's Wife would never do for Almacks or St. James'; or even for the drawing room of an attorney in good practice. She is much too precise, demure, and artificial a piece of goods, to appear to advantage any where, except where wives never appear, in a nunnery. In short, she is the common idea of a grandmother dressed up in the poet's idea of a bride : the tints of the morning casting their orient hues upon the sable brow of night—the two ends of life incongruously joined together. A few stanzas will suffice as a specimen :
Give me next Good, an understanding wife,
Domestic charge doth best that sex befit,
So far so good, they will say, who hold the insolent doctrine of man's supremacy, and that woman lies under some primeval sentence of irremediable inferiority: But with this doctrine I quarrel, and vehemently too; and feel hugely inclined to stand forth as the champion of the sex. Women, be it remembered, are invariably educated with a view towards a peculiar sphere of life. If they be not independent, by fortune, then are they destined to be ultimately dependent, under the name of marriage, upon some man or other. Every girl expects to get a husband, and consequently expects to be supported. In this expectation, few are necessarily disappointed. If they be, the disappointment commonly arises from themselves." In a majority of instances, this is certainly the case. This sort of moral certainty leaves the mind at rest : but the mental powers are seldom successfully exerted, except when stimulated by necessity. Women, with the imperfect education which they generally receive, feel that they are, notwithstanding, amply qualified for attaining the completion of their views; and being without a motive for further exertion, they make none. Now, let us apply this reasoning to man's imperial pretensions. And first, of his intellectual endowments. It is to be remembered, that almost all our truly great writers have been authors by profession; that is, their minds were their estates; they and theirs, lived by their wits. It were superfluous to cite examples in proof of this; the difficulty would be, to collect any considerable number of exceptions.
Necessity, therefore, the grand question of existence—has been the primum mobile. They have been men thrown upon society, and destined to maintain life in the best way they could. Manual labor was neglected, because perhaps they knew no trade; and they had recourse to their minds, as a never failing source. Hence the number of bad authors. Were females in precisely the same insulated condition-thrown upon their own individual resources--they would be under the same necessity for exerting their mental powers, and would, consequently, exert them. I have selected literature, because it is only in those paths of action, which are equally open to both sexes, that the comparison can be fairly made. The custom of society, and perhaps physical structure, forbid that women should be either generals or statesmen; though, under those circumstances of accidental elevation and dignity wherein they have been sometimes placed, they have displayed an astonishing splendor of mind. Witness Elizabeth of England -Catherine of Russia-Catherine of Medicis—Christina of Sweden-Margaret of Denmark and Norway, &c. &c.
But enough of woman in the abstract. Let us have a little further comversation with Overbury's “ Wife.” Most devoutly do I subcribe to the following opinion of Sir Thomas :
Women's behaviour is a surer bar
He comes too near that comes to be denied. He indulges in some cynical reflections upon the sex which I forbear to copy, because I hold it not good, as Hamlet says, that truth should always be spoken : moreover, I am not prepared to affirm that Sir Thomas' saucy Alings are the truth. He was never married, and therefore, how could he know any thing of the matter ? Bachelors are always prone to be rebels to the lawful authority of the other sex. It is only your meek, well taught, well disciplined, and experienced hushands, who are the true lieges of wives, and well wishers to spinsters. I shall now transcribe the concluding stanzas of Overbury's poem :
All these good parts a perfect woman make ;
Woman converts to man, not man to her. I know not whether Pope ever read Sir Thomas Overbury: but it is more than probable he had, and borrowed, from the fifth and sixth lines of the above extract, the image contained in the following couplet of his “ Rape of the Lock":
Bright as the sun her eyes the gazers strike,
What! do you belong to a Temperance Society? Then I suppose you have made a vow against taking a drop of brandy to keep pork from rising ; or a thimble full of gin and cloves, just to disperse the wind in your stomach. Well, for my part, I see no harın in a dram en passant-in a parenthesis, as it were.
Besides, in this damp, moist, spongy, variable, raw, misty, abominable atmosphere of ours, it is a sort of anti-fogmatic, which prevents the aforesaid damp, moist, spungy, raw, misty, abominable atmosphere, from getting into one's throat. Really, it is very ridiculous, to enter into a solemn league and covenant against occasional cordials, lest they should be perverted into constant poisons. If all things are to be abjured, which abuse may render mischievous, what could be enjoyed ? A man may run or walk himself into a fever. Shall he therefore not run for the engines, when his house is on fire; or walk abroad in the cool evening ? “ Let us eat and drink,” say I, “ for to-morrow we die.”
Some such chaffy stuff as this, is the whole amount of what can be urged against Temperance Societies which, viewed in theirproper light, are nothing more than auxiliaries in helping a man to take care of himself. We are so much the creatures of habit, so prone to act by custom rather than by reason, that whatever contributes towards giving us the habit or custom of acting right, must needs be a valuable substitute for moral influence. Besides, once prevail upon men, no matter how, to suspend the practice of that which is wrong, and you have a clear advantage on your side for converting that suspension into a renunciation. It is a sort of truce, or armistice, with vice;
which gives you time and opportunity to settle the terms of a treaty with virtue. And, be it remembered, it is always infinitely better to let a man be his own voluntary censor, than to exercise that office over him. In the one case, his pride and natural love of free agency, are enlisted on your side : in the other, they are sure to be secretly, if not openly, used against you.
Men, says the great ethic poet, “ should be taught as if you laught them not.” Hold the wires, but do not let them see that you hold them.
The utility of a thing is to be judged of by the end to which it is applied, and the means it proposes to employ for accomplishing that end. In order then, to judge of the utility of Temperance Societies, let us, for a moment, consider what is the object of their institution, and the instrument with which they work.
The object of their institution is to abate the evils of drunkenness. These evils are two-fold ; as they affect our body, and as they affect our condition in society. Look at the drunkard getting drunk,-look at him drunk,-look at him in the interval between one debauch and another,—and tell us what there is in either of these states that should make it inexpedient, or matter of indifference, to preserve a man from falling into them?
Look at the Drunkard getting drunk. He takes his seat at the genial board, a creature of reason; capable of conversation ; his faculties of mind and body undisturbed ; his actions under the control of his judgment ; desirous of pleasing and of being pleased ; a friend among friends; an agreeable companion among companions. Gradually, but perceptibly, he is stripped of all these qualities. His talk increases, as his power of reasoning diminishes; he grows dogmatical, boisterous, and offensive; perhaps rude and insolent; his gestures are violent and ridiculous; he is pot-valiant, and will fall to blows with his best friend, or beat a woman, if she thwart him ; his speech thickens, and he stammers, and gabbles unintelligibly; his eyes swim in moisture, the muscles of his face relax, and he looks like a crying ideot; he sprawls and splutters ; he rolls from side to side; if he attempt to walk, he reels, or, his legs refusing their office, he is tripped up by the smallest impediment. All this while he accounts himself sober, and takes infinite pains to prove it, amid the jeers, laughter, and ridicule of such bystanders as are not as drunk as himself,
Look at the Drunkard drunk. He has been good-fellowed into a hog, a very beast; he is soaked in drink, and the superflux runs out filthily at his eyes and mouth; his breathing is a heavy snort ; his cheeks are pallid ; his tongue cleaves to his parched gums; if he can hear what is said to him, he cannot answer, but stares at the speaker with the brutish gaze of one whose mind is totally eclipsed; what little consciousness remains, is employed to grunt out, “ more liquor !” which his palsied hand cannot guide to his clammy lips; he spills it over his person, and would swear, if he could speak, that his neighbour had played him a trick. At last, he sinks into something between sleep and apoplexy, and is either carried away to bed, (the stye would be a fitter place,) or is left to lie where he has fallen, snoring supine, till the stupifying fumes have evaporated from his brain.
Look at the Drunkard in the interval between one debauch and another .At night he is fresh drunk; in the morning stale drunk; neither mind nor body is restored by the sleer he has had;
the one is still muddled and confused; the other, sunk in feverish lassitude. His temples throb; his eyes burn; his hand shakes; his stomach loathes wholesome food; his nerves are unstrung ; and though it is mid-day, perhaps, before he wakes, he is fit for nothing but to sleep again. Most probably, however, he takes for remedy of all the racking pains he feels,“ a hair of the dog that bit him "-that is, io stimulate his system into a state that may make his sensations tolerable, he tosses down a dram, the prelude to another and another, which the same necessity requires, as fast as each preceding one loses its effect. If he have business to attend to, it is either deferred altogether, or only half performed, for he cannot bring to it a willing or a prepared mind. He is, indeed, as truly sick, and therefore as ill adapted for the daily concerns of life, as if disease had fallen upon him by a visitation from heaven: but his sickness is the work of his own hands. If you look at his colourless cheeks and lips, his red, galled, lack-lustre eyes, his bloated features, his unsteady step and languid air, you would pity him for the severe malady that had wrought these effects, did you not know that they were self inflicted.
It will be said, these pictures are overcharged ; that they exhibit, not the consequences of partial but habitual indulgence, and that a man may take his social glass when the labours of the day are finished, without any such injury to his health, any such degradation of character, or any such interruption to his temporal concerns, as are here pourtrayed. True, he may; but also he inay not; and it is most certain, that thousands do not. What, however, are all, or nearly all, our moral checks, but restraints upon
indulgencies which have a tendency to degenerate into vices ? Some few vices are, in their nature, positive, and not depending fortheir character upon circumstances, or the extent to which they are carried ; but the majority take the ir complexion from excess, becoming vices in fact, only when they reach that point which constitutes their excess. Ambition may be laudable or criminal according as its objects are either; so with pride, thrift, affection, authority, restraint; and the great problem in morals and politics has always been, to trace the line with sufficient accuracy, which separates the range of the virtues from the boundary of those vices into which they slide whenever it is transgressed. Temperance Societies, therefore, regarded merely as mild inducements, held out to men to renounce a practice which is in no case good, which under its most favorable aspect can claim no higher credit than that of being negatively allowable, a practice, too, that, in its very nature, is calculated to stregthen with indulgence, have a claim upon the
every one who wishes to see the odious vice of drunkenness abated. You cannot frame laws to reach the offender; you cannot so interfere with the rights of property as to prohibit the sale of ardent spirits ; you cannot put into language, moral or religious exhortations sufficiently strong to become a constant and certain check ; but what you can do is, to engage men voluntarily to abstain; prevail upon them to practise abstinence; always easier than temperance ; and by getting them to renounce habits which they have not resolution enough to regulate, strike at the root of the evil.
One objection made to Temperance Societies is, that they preach up the abstaining from spirits, but say nothing about the abstaining from wine, because, “ wine is the beverage of the rich." The because is a specimen of that seditious logic by which it is attempted to convert every effort made for the benefit of the poor, into an encroachment upon their comforts; and it is employed only by those, who labor incessantly to exasperate the poor against the rich. But what has this to do with the real question ? Even if drunkenness were as notoriously the vice of the higher classes as it unfortunately is of the lower, (which any man who has the privilege of mixing with those classes knows it is not), what argument would that constitute, as against endeavours to eradicate it among the latter ? If fifty lords go to bed drunk every night with champagne and burgundy, is that a reason why ten times as many labouring men should stagger home under the intoxicating fumes of gin? Or, to put the matter closer, is it a reason why gin drinkers should not be reclaimed, be cause wine bibbers are left alone? But we are contending with shadows. The specific object of Temperance Societies is, to throw a protection round the poor man's home, and to better the condition of himself, his wife, his children, by encouraging him to bestow upon them, the money he now squanders in the ale house and the gin shop. The rich man's home does not need this protection_his family do not need it. Let him, if he chooses,