Page images

hilation, and its hopes of immortality,1 with that sweet satisfaction which it finds in the practice of virtue, and that uneasiness which follows in it upon the commission of vice.

Thirdly, From the nature of the Supreme Being, whose justice, goodness, wisdom, and veracity are all concerned in this point.

But among these and other excellent arguments for the immortality of the soul, there is one drawn from the perpetual progress of the soul to its perfection, without a possibility of ever arriving at it; which is a hint that I do not remember to have seen opened and improved by others who have written on this subject, though it seems to me to carry a great weight3 with it.

How can it enter into the thoughts of man, that the soul, which is capable of such immense perfections, and of receiving new improvements to all eternity, shall fall away into nothing almost as soon as it is created? Are such abilities made for no purpose? 4 A brute arrives at a point of perfection that he can never pass in a few years he has all the endowments he is capable of; and were he to live ten thousand more, would be the same thing he is at present. Were a human soul thus at a stand in her accomplishments, were her faculties to be full blown,6 and incapable of

4 Are such... purpose? Has this interrogation all the force of a Ex-negative statement? Change into such.

5 soul. What pronouns show that "soul" is personified?

6 full blown. Explain.

1 hopes of immortality. How expressed in the "Cato"?

2 opened and improved. plain.

3 a great weight. Should we now use the article? Substitute a synonymous expression.

farther enlargements, I could imagine it might fall away insensibly, and drop at once into a state of annihilation.1

But can we believe a thinking being that is in a perpetual progress of improvements, and traveling on from perfection to perfection, after having just looked abroad into the works of its Creator, and made a few discoveries of his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power, must perish at her first setting out, and in the very beginning of her inquiries?

A man, considered in his present state, does not seem born to enjoy life, but to deliver it down to others. This is not surprising to consider in animals, which are formed for our use, and can finish their business in a short life. The silkworm, after having spun her task, lays her eggs and dies. But a man can never have taken in his full measure of knowledge, has not time to subdue his passions, establish his soul in virtue, and come up to the perfection of his nature, before he is hurried off the stage.2

Would an infinitely wise Being make such glorious creatures for so mean a purpose? Can he delight in the production of such abortive3 intelligences, such short-lived reasonable beings? Would he give us talents that are not to be exerted, capacities that are never to be gratified? How can we find that wisdom which shines through all his works, in the formation of man, without looking on this world as only a

1 annihilation. See Glossary. 2 hurried off the stage. Substitute a plain expression. Com

pare Shakespeare's" All the world's a stage."

3 abortive. See Webster.


nursery for the next, and believing that the several generations of rational creatures, which rise up and disappear in such quick successions, are only to receive their first rudiments of existence here, and afterwards to be transplanted2 into a more friendly climate, where they may spread and flourish to all eternity?

There is not, in my opinion, a more pleasing and triumphant consideration in religion than this, of the perpetual progress which the soul makes towards the perfection of its nature, without ever arriving at a period in it. To look upon the soul as going on from strength to strength, to consider that she is to shine for ever with new accessions of glory, and brighten to all eternity; that she will be still adding virtue to virtue and knowledge to knowledge, carries in it something wonderfully agreeable to that ambition which is natural to the mind of man. Nay, it must be a prospect pleasing to God himself, to see his creation ever beautifying in his eyes, and drawing nearer to him by greater degrees of resemblance.

Methinks this single consideration of the progress of a finite spirit to perfection will be sufficient to extinguish all envy in inferior natures, and all contempt in superior.6

1 a nursery. What is the figure of speech? (See Def. 3.) In which of its meanings is "nursery " here used?

8 period.


4 carries. Does not strict grammar require the verb to be in the plural? Why?

5 methinks. See Glossary.

2 to be transplanted. This shows the sense in which "nursery" is 6 all envy... superior. Which used. What other words in the nouns and adjectives are contrasted same sentence carry out the figure? | in this sentence?

That cherubin,1 which now appears as a god to a human soul, knows very well that the period will come about in eternity, when the human soul shall be as perfect as he himself now is: nay, when she shall look down upon that degree of perfection as much as she now falls short of it. It is true, the higher nature still advances, and by that means preserves his distance and superiority in the scale of being; but he knows that, how high soever the station is 2 of which he stands possessed at present, the inferior nature will at length mount up to it, and shine forth in the same degree of glory.

With what astonishment and veneration may we look into our own souls, where there are such hidden stores of virtue and knowledge, such inexhausted forces of perfection! 3 We know not yet what we shall bu, nor will it ever enter into the heart of man to conceive the glory that will be always in reserve for him. The soul, considered with its Creator, is like one of those mathematical lines that may draw nearer to another without the possibility of touching it: and can there be a thought so transporting, as to consider ourselves in these perpetual approaches to Him who is not only the standard of perfection but of happiness?

1 cherubin. See Webster. Which | What kind of sentence grammatform does Milton use?


2 is. Would it improve the arrangement to place the verb before its subject?

4 those mathematical lines. These lines are considered in treatises on Conic Sections: they are 8 With what... perfection! called asymptotes.


[This celebrated soliloquy forms the finest passage in Addison's tragedy of Cato, respecting which see page 108. It will be interesting to make a close comparison of its reasonings and reflections with those in the preceding essay.]

It must be so-Plato, thou reasonest well!1
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality?

Or whence this secret dread and inward horror
Of falling into naught?? Why shrinks the soul
Back on herself, and startles at destruction?-
"Tis the Divinity 3 that stirs within us;

'Tis Heaven itself, that points out an hereafter,
And intimates eternity to man.

Eternity!-thou pleasing, dreadful thought!
Through what variety of untried being,
Through what new scenes and changes, must we pass!
The wide, the unbounded prospect lies before me;
But shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it.
Here will I hold. If there's a Power above us,-
And that there is, all Nature cries aloud
Through all her works,- he must delight in virtue;5
And that which he delights in must be happy.

1 Plato, thou reasonest well! In the drama Cato is represented as seated, perusing the volume of Plato (a famous Greek philosopher about B.C. 429-348) on the Immortality of the Soul.

2 falling into naught. Substitute a synonymous expression. 3 the Divinity. Explain. 4 Nature cries. What is the figure of speech? (See Def. 4.) 5 virtue. See Glossary.

« PreviousContinue »