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But there is no need on thefe occafions for deep enquiries or laborious calculations; there is a far eafier method of diftinguishing the hopes of folly from those of reafon, of finding the difference between profpects that exift before the eyes, and those that are only painted on a fond imagination. Tom Drowsy had accustomed himself to compute the profit of a darling project, till he had no longer any doubt of its fuccefs; it was at laft matured by clofe confideration, all the measures were accurately adjusted, and he wanted only five hundred pounds to become. mafter of a fortune that might be envied by a director of a trading company. Tom was generous and grateful, and was refolved to recompence this fimall allistance with an ample fortune: he, therefore, deliberated for a time, to whom amongst his friends. he fhould declare his neceffities; not that he fufpected a refufal, but because he could not fuddenly determine which of them would make the beft ufe of riches, and was, therefore, moft worthy of his favour. At last his choice was fettled; and knowing that in order to borrow he must fhew the probability of re-payment, he prepared for a minute and copious explanation of his project. But here the golden dream was at an end: he foon difcovered the impoffibility of impofing upon others the notions by which he had fo long impofed upon himself; which way foever he turned his thoughts, impoffibility and abfurdity arofe in oppofition on every fide; even credulity and prejudice were at laft forced to give way, and he grew afhamed of crediting himself what shame would not fuffer him to communicate to another.
To this teft let every man bring his imaginations, before they have been too long predominant in his mind. Whatever is true will bear to be related, whatever is rational will endure to be explained; but when we delight to brood in fecret over future happinefs, and filently to employ our meditations upon fchemes of which we are confcious that the bare mention would expofe us to derifion and contempt; we should then remember, that we are cheating ourfelves by voluntary delufions; and giving up to the unreal mockeries of fancy, thofe hours in which folid advantages might be attained by fober thought and rational affiduity.
There is, indeed, fo little certainty in human affairs, that the moft cautious and fevere examiner may be allowed to indulge fome hopes which he cannot prove to be much favoured by probability; fince after his utmost endeavours to afcertain events, he muft often leave the iffue in the hands of chance. And fo fcanty is our prefent allowance of happiness, that in many fituations life could fcarcely be fupported, if hope were not allowed to relieve the prefent hour by pleasures borrowed from futurity; and re-animate the languor of dejection to new efforts, by pointing to distant regions of felicity, which yet no refolution or perfeverance fhall ever reach.
But thefe, like all other cordials, though they may invigorate in a fmall quantity, intoxicate in a greater; thefe pleafures, like the reft, are lawful only in certain circumftances, and to certain degrees; they may be useful in a due fubferviency to nobler purposes, but become dangerous and deftructive when once they gain the afcendant in the heart: to
foothe the mind to tranquillity by hope, even when that hope is likely to deceive us, may be fometimes useful; but to lull our faculties in a lethargy, is poor and despicable.
Vices and errors are differently modified, according to the state of the minds to which they are incident; to indulge hope beyond the warrant of reason, is the failure alike of mean and elevated understandings; but its foundation and its effects are totally different: the man of high courage and abilities great is apt to place too much confidence in himself, and to expect from a vigorous exertion of his powers more than fpirit or diligence can attain: between him and his wish he fees obftacles indeed, but he expects to overleap or break them; his mistaken ardour hurries him forward; and though perhaps he miffes his end, he nevertheless obtains fome collateral good, and performs fomething useful to mankind and honour
able to himself.
The drone of timidity prefumes likewife to hope, but without ground and without confequence; the blifs with which he folaces his hours, he always expects from others, though very often he knows not from whom; he folds his arms about him, and fits in expectation of fome revolution in the ftate that fhall raise him to greatnefs, or fome golden fhower that fhall load him with wealth; he dozes away the day in mufing upon the morrow; and at the end of life is rouzed from his dream only to difcover that the time of action is past, and that he can now fhew his wisdom only by repentance.
T has been obferved, I think, by Sir William Temple, and after him by almost every other writer, that England affords a greater variety of characters than the reft of the world. This is afcribed to the liberty prevailing amongst us, which gives every man the privilege of being wife or foolish his own way, and preferves him from the ncceffity of hypocrify or the fervility of imitation.
That the pofition itself is true, I am not completely fatisfied. To be nearly acquainted with the people of different countries can happen to very few; and in life, as in every thing elfe beheld at a diitance, there appears an even uniformity: the petty difcriminations which diverfify the natural character, are not difcoverable but by a clofe infpection; we, therefore, find them moft at home, becaufe there we have moft opportunities of remarking them. Much lefs am I convinced, that this peculiar diverfification, if it be real, is the confe
quence of peculiar liberty; for where is the government to be found that fuperintends individuals with fo much vigilance, as not to leave their private conduct without restraint? Can it enter into a reasonable mind to imagine, that men of every other nation are not equally masters of their own time or houfes with ourselves, and equally at liberty to be parfimonious or profufe, frolick or fullen, abftinent or luxurious? Liberty is certainly neceffary to the full play of predominant humours; but fuch liberty is to be found alike under the government of many or the few, in monarchies or in commonwealths.
How readily the predominant paffion fnatches an interval of liberty, and how faft it expands itself when the weight of restraint is taken away, I had lately an opportunity to difcover, as I took a journey into the country in a ftage-coach; which, as every journey is a kind of adventure, may be very properly related to you, though I can display no fuch extraordinary affembly as Cervantes has collected at Don Quixote's inn.
In a ftage-coach the paffengers are for the most part wholly unknown to one another, and without expectation of ever meeting again when their journey is at an end; one fhould therefore imagine, that it was of little importance to any of them, what conjectures the reft fhould form concerning him. Yet fo it is, that as all think themselves fecure from detection, all affume that character of which they are moft defirous, and on no occafion is the general ambition of fuperiority more apparently indulged.