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turned to our difadvantage; he is lefs deftructive to mankind that plunders cowardice, than he that preys upon compaffion.
I believe, Mr. Adventurer, you will readily confefs, that though not one of thefe, if tried before a commercial judicature, can be wholly acquitted from imprudence or temerity; yet that, in the eye of all who can confider virtue as diftinct from wealth, the fault of two of them, at least, is outweighed by the merit; and that of the third is fo much extenuated by the circumstances of his life, as not to deserve a perpetual prison: yet must thefe, with multitudes equally blamelefs, languifh in confinement, till malevolence fhall relent, or the law be changed,
I am, SIR,
Your humble fervant,
NUMB. 69. TUESDAY, July 3, 1753.
Ferè libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.
Men willingly believe what they wish to be true.
TULLY has long ago obferved, that no man, however weakened by long life, is so conscious of his own decrepitude, as not to imagine that he may yet hold his ftation in the world for another
Of the truth of this remark every day furnishes new confirmation: there is no time of life, in which men for the most part seem lefs to expect the ftroke of death, than when every other eye fees it impending; or are more bufy in providing for another year than when it is plain to all but themselves, that at another year they cannot arrive. Though every funeral that paffes before their eyes evinces the deceitfulness of fuch expectations, fince every man who is born to the grave thought himself equally certain of living at least to the next year; the furvivor ftill continues to flatter himself, and is never at a loss for some reason why his life fhould be protracted, and the voracity of death continued to be pacified with fome other prey.
But this is only one of the innumerable artifices practised in the univerfal confpiracy of mankind against themselves: every age and every condition indulges fome darling fallacy; every man amufes himfelf
himself with projects which he knows to be improbable, and which, therefore, he refolves to pursue without daring to examine them. Whatever any man ardently defires, he very readily believes that he fhall fome time attain: he whofe intemperance has overwhelmed him with difeafes, while he languishes in the fpring, expects vigour and recovery from the fummer fun; and while he melts away in the fummer, transfers his hopes to the frofts of winter: he that gazes upon elegance or pleafure, which want of money hinders him from imitating or partaking, comforts himself that the time of diftress will foon be at an end, and that every day brings him nearer to a ftate of happinefs; though he knows it has paffed not only without acquifition of advantage, but perhaps without endeavours after it, in the formation of fchemes that cannot be executed, and in the contemplation of profpects which cannot be approached.
Such is the general dream in which we all flumber out our time every man thinks the day coming, in which he fhall be gratified with all his wifhes, in which he fhall leave all thofe competitors behind, who are now rejoicing like himself in the expectation of victory; the day is always coming to the fervile in which they fhall be powerful, to the obfcure in which they fhall be eminent, and to the deformed in which they fhall be beautiful.
If any of my readers has looked with fo little attention on the world about him, asto imagine this reprefentation exaggerated beyond probability, let him reflect a little upon his own life; let him confider what were his hopes and prospects ten years ago, and
what additions he then expected to be made by ten years to his happiness: thofe years are now elapfed; have they made good the promise that was extorted from them, have they advanced his fortune, enlarged his knowledge, or reformed his conduct, to the degree that was once expected? I am afraid, every man that recollects his hopes, muft confefs his difappointment; and own that day has glided unprofitably after day, and that he is ftill at the fame distance from the point of happiness.
With what confolations can thofe, who have thus mifcarried in their chief defign, elude the memory of their ill fuccefs? with what amufements can they pacify their difcontent, after the lofs of fo large a portion of life? they can give themselves up again to the fame delufions, they can form new schemes of airy gratifications, and fix another period of felicity; they can again refolve to trust the promise which they know will be broken, they can walk in a circle with their eyes fhut, and perfuade themselves to think that they go forward.
Of every great and complicated event, part depends upon causes out of our power, and part must be effected by vigour and perfeverance. With regard to that which is ftiled in common language the work of chance, men will always find reafons for confidence or diftruft, according to their different tempers or inclinations; and he that has been long accustomed to please himself with poffibilities of fortuitous happiness, will not eafily or willingly be reclaimed from his mistake. But the effects of human industry and skill are more easily fubjected to calculation: whatever can be completed in a year, E
is divisible into parts, of which each may be performed in the compass of a day; he, therefore, that has paffed the day without attention to the tafk affigned him, may be certain that the lapfe of life has brought him no nearer to his object; for whatever idlenels may expect from time, its produce will be only in proportion to the diligence with which it has been used. He that floats lazily down the stream, in purfuit of fomething borne along by the fame current, will find himfelf indeed move forward; but unless he lays his hand to the oar, and increases his fpeed by his own labour, must be always at the fame diftance from that which he is following.
There have happened in every age fome contingencies of unexpected and undeferved fuccefs, by which thofe who are determined to believe whatever favours their inclinations, have been encouraged to delight themfelves with future advantages; they fupport confidence by confiderations, of which the only proper ufe is to chafe away defpair: it is equally abfurd to fit down in idleness because some have been enriched without labour, as to leap a precipice because fome have fallen and efcaped with life, or to put to fea in a ftorm becaufe fome have been driven from a wreck upon the coaft to which they are bound.
We are all ready to confefs, that belief ought to be proportioned to evidence or probability: let any man, therefore, compare the number of thofe who have been thus favoured by fortune, and of those who have failed of their expectations, and he will eafily determine, with what juftnefs he has registered himfelf in the lucky catalogue.