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I waive the whole declamations of the sceptics, against the impressions of custoin, education, manners, and climates, and the like prejudices; which they observe to govern the greatest part of mankind, who are wont to reason on no other than these false foundations.
The main forte of the dogmatists is this, that would we but speak honestly and sincerely, there is no man who can doubt of natural principles. We are capable of truth, say they, not only by reasoning, but by perception, and by a bright and lively act of immediate intelligence. It is by this latter way that we arrive at the knowledge of first principles which the forces of reason would attack in vain, having nothing to do with them. The sceptics who labour to bring all things to their own standard, are under a continual disappointment. We may be very well assured of our being awake, though very unable to demonstrate it by reason. This inability shows indeed the feebleness of our rational powers, but not the general incertitude of our knowledge. We apprehend with no less confidence, that there are such things in the world as space, time, motion, number, and matter, than the most regular and. demonstrative conclusions. Nay, it is upon this certainty of perception and consciousness, that reason ought to fix itself, and to found the whole method of its process. I perceive that there are three dimensions in space,―viz. length, breadth, and thickness, and that number is infinite: hence my reason demonstrates, that there are no two square numbers assignable, one of which shall exactly double the other. We apprehend principles and we conclude propositions; and both with the like assurance, though by different ways. Nor is it less ridiculous for reason to demand of these perceptive and intellective faculties a proof of their maxims before it consents to them, than it would be for the said faculties to demand of reason a clear perception and intuition of all the problems it demonstrates. This defect, therefore, may serve to the humbling of reason, which pretends to be the judge of all things, but not to invalidate our assurance, as if reason were alone able to inform our judgment. On the contrary, it were to be wished that we had less occasion for rational deductions; and that we knew all things by instinct and immediate view. But nature has denied us this favour, and allows us but few notices of so easy a kind, leaving us to work out the rest by laborious consequences, and a continued series of argument.
We must of necessity
We see here an universal war proclaimed against mankind. list ourselves on one side or on the other; for he that pretends to stand neuter is most effectually of the sceptical party: this neutrality constitutes the very essence of scepticism; and he that is not against sceptics, must be in a superlative manner for them. What shall a man do under these circumstances? Shall he question everything? shall he doubt whether he is awake? whether another pinches him, or burns him? shall he doubt whether he doubts? shall he doubt whether he exists? It seems impossible to come to this; and therefore, I believe, there never was a finished sceptic, a Pyrrhonian in perfection. There is a secret force in nature which sustains the weakness of reason, and hinders it from losing itself in such a degree of extravagance. Well but shall a man join himself to the opposite faction? Shall he boast that he is in sure possession of truth, when, if we press him never so little, he can produce no title, and must be obliged to quit his hold?
Who shall extricate us from this dilemma? The sceptics we see are confounded by nature, and the dogmatists by reason. To what a distracting misery will that man, therefore, be reduced, who shall seek the knowledge of his own condition by the bare light and guidance of his own powers: it being alike impossible for him to avoid both these sects, for he cannot repose himself on either.
Such is the portrait of man, with regard to truth. Let us now behold him in respect of felicity, which he prosecutes with so much warmth through his whole
course of action; for all desire to be happy: this general rule is without exception. Whatever variety there may be in the means employed, there is but one end universally pursued. The reason why one man embraceth the hazard of war, and why another declines it, is but the same desire, attended in each with different views. This is the sole motive to every action of every person; and even of such as most unnaturally become their own executioners.
And yet, after the course of so many ages, no person without faith has ever arrived at this point, towards which all continually tend. The whole world is busy in complaining: princes and subjects, nobles and commons, old and young, the strong and the feeble, the learned and the ignorant, the healthy and the diseased, of all countries, all times, all ages, and all conditions.
So long, so constant, so regular, and uniform a proof ought fully to convince us of our utter inability to acquire happiness by our own efforts. But example will not serve for our instruction in this case; because there being no resemblance so exact as not to admit some nicer difference, we are hence disposed to think that our expectation is not so liable to be deceived on one occasion as on another. Thus the present never satisfying us, the future decoys and allures us on, till, from one misfortune to another, it leads us into death, the sum and consummation of eternal misery.
This is next to a miracle, that there should not be any one thing in nature which has not been some time fixed as the last end and happiness of man; neither stars, nor elements, nor plants, nor animals, nor insects, nor diseases, nor war, nor vice, nor sin. Man being fallen from his natural estate, there is no object so extravagant as not to be capable of attracting his desire. Ever since he lost his real good, everything cheats him with the appearance of it; even his own destruction, though contrary as this seems both to reason and nature.
Some have sought after felicity in honour and authority, others in curiosity and knowledge, and a third tribe in the pleasures and enjoyments of sense. These three leading pursuits have constituted as many factions; and those whom we compliment with the name of philosophers, have really done nothing else but resigned themselves up to one of the three. Such amongst them as made the nearest approaches to truth and happiness, well considered that it was necessary the universal good which all desire, and in which each man ought to be allowed his portion, should not consist in any of the private blessings of this world, which can be properly enjoyed but by one alone, and which, if divided, do more grieve and afflict each possessor, for want of the part which he has not, than they oblige and gratify him with the part which he has. They rightly apprehend that the true good ought to be such as all may possess at once, without diminution, and without contention; and such as no man can be deprived of against his will. They apprehended this; but they were unable to attain and execute it; and instead of a solid, substantial happiness, took up at last with the empty shadow of visionary excellence.
Our instinct suggests to us that we ought to seek our happiness within ourselves. Our passions hurry us abroad, even when there are no objects to engage and incite them. External objects are themselves our tempters, and charm and attract us, while we think not of them. Therefore, the wisest philosophers might weary themselves with crying, "Keep within yourselves, and your felicity is in your own gift and power." The generality never gave them credit, and those who were so easy as to believe them, became only the more unsatisfied and the more ridiculous. For is there anything so vain as the happiness of the stoics, or so groundless as the reasons on which they build it?
They conclude, that what has been done once may be done always; and that, because the desire of glory has spurred on its votaries to great and worthy actions,
all others may use it with the same success.
But these are the motions of fever
The civil war between reason and passion has occasioned two opposite projects for the restoring of peace to mankind; the one, of those who were for renouncing their passions, and becoming gods; the other, of those who were for renouncing their reason, and becoming beasts. But neither the one nor the other could take effect. Reason ever continues to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions, and to disturb the repose of those who abandon themselves to their dominion; and on the contrary, the passions remain lively and vigorous in the hearts of those who talk the most of their extirpation.
This is the just account of human nature, and human strength, in respect of truth and happiness. We have an idea of truth not to be effaced by all the wiles of the sceptic; we have an incapacity of argument not to be rectified by all the power of the dogmatist. We wish for truth, and find nothing in onrselves but uncertainty. We seek after happiness, and are presented with nothing but misery. Our double aim is, in effect, a double torture; while we are alike unable to compass either, and to relinquish either. These desires seem to have been left in us, partly as a punishment of our fall, and partly as an indication and remembrance whence we are fallen.
If man was not made for God, why is God alone sufficient for human happiness? If man was made for God, why is the human will, in all things, repugnant to the divine ?
Man is at a loss where to fix himself, and to recover his proper station in the world. He is unquestionably out of his way; he feels within himself the small remains of his once happy state, which he is now unable to retrieve. And yet this is what he daily courts and follows after, always with solicitude, and never with success; encompassed with darkness, which he can neither escape nor penetrate.
Hence arose the contest amongst the philosophers; some of whom endeavoured to raise and exalt man, by displaying his greatness; others to depress and abase him, by representing his misery. And what seems more strange, is, that each party borrowed from the other the ground of their own opinion. For the misery of man may be inferred from his greatness, as his greatness is deducible from his misery. Thus the one sect, with more evidence, demonstrated his misery in that they derived it from his greatness; and the other more strongly concluded his greatness, because they founded it on his misery. Whatever was offered to establish his greatness, on one side, served only to evince his misery in behalf of the other; it being more miserable to have fallen from the greater height. And the same proportion holds vice versa. So that in this endless circle of dispute, each helped to advance his adversary's cause; for it is certain, that the more degrees of light men enjoy, the more degrees they are able to discern of misery and of greatness. In a word, man knows himself to be miserable; he is therefore exceedingly miserable, because he knows that he is so ; but he likwise appears to be eminently great, from this very act of knowing himself to be miserable.
What a chimera then is man! What a surprising novelty! What a confused chaos! What a subject of contradiction! A professed judge of all things, and yet a feeble worm of the earth; the great depositary and guardian of truth, and yet a mere medley of uncertainty; the glory and the scandal of the universe. If he is too aspiring and lofty, we can lower and humble him; if too mean and little, we can exalt him. To conclude, we can bait him with repugnances and contradictions, until, at length, he considers himself to be a monster even beyond conception.
[JOHN EVELYN, of Wotton, Surrey, was a younger son of an ancient family. During a long life, in eventful times, he maintained a character for independence and honesty, without being a violent partisan; and in a profligate age he displayed the decorous virtues of an English gentleman. His 'Memoirs' were found about thirty-five years ago, in a mutilated state, in the old mansion in which he lived and died-Wotton, near Dorking; and they offer some of the most curious pictures we possess of the events and manners of the 17th century. We subjoin his narrative of the great fire of London, in 1866. Mr. Evelyn died in 1706, in his 86th year.]
1666. 2nd Sept. This fatal night about ten began that deplorable fire near Fish Street in London.
3. The fire continuing, after dinner I took coach with my wife and son and went to the Bank-side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in dreadful flames near the water-side; all the houses from the bridge, all Thames Street, and upwards towards Cheapside down to the Three Cranes were now consumed.
The fire having continued all this night, (if I may call that night which was as light as day for ten miles round about, after a dreadful manner,) when conspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season; I went on foot to the same place, and saw the whole south part of the city burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill, (for it kindled back against the wind as well as forward,) Tower Street, Fenchurch Street, Gracechurch Street, and so along to Bainard's Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul's Church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that from the beginning, I know not by what despondency or fate, they hardly stirred to quench it, so that there was nothing heard or seen but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, the churches, public halls, exchange, hospitals, monuments, and ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner from house to house and street to street, at great distances one from the other; for the heat, with a long set of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air and prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured after an incredible manner, houses, furniture and everything. Here we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as, on the other, the carts, &c., carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewed with moveables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. Oh the miserable and calamitous spectacle! such as haply the world had not seen the like since the foundation of it, nor be outdone till the universal conflagration. All the sky was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, the light seen above forty miles round about for many nights. God 1ST QUARTER.
grant my eyes may never behold the like, now seeing above 10,000 houses all in one flame: the noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches was like an hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed, that at last one was not able to approach it; so that they were forced to stand still and let the flames burn on, which they did for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds of smoke were dismal, and reached upon computation near fifty miles in length. Thus I left it this afternoon burning, a resemblance of Sodom, or the last day. London' was, but is no more!
4. The burning still rages, and it has now gotten as far as the Inner Temple, all Fleet Street, the Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, Warwick Lane, Newgate, Paul's Chain, Watling Street, now flaming, and most of it reduced to ashes; the stones of Paul's flew like granados, the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse nor man was able to tread on them, and the demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied. The eastern wind still more impetuously drove the flames forward. Nothing but the Almighty power of God was able to stop them, for vain was the help of man.
5. It crossed towards Whitehall; oh the confusion there was then at that court ! It pleased his majesty to command me among the rest to look after the quenching of Fetter Lane end, to preserve if possible that part of Holborn, whilst the rest of the gentlemen took their several posts, (for now they began to bestir themselves, and not till now, who hitherto had stood as men intoxicated, with their hands across,) and began to consider that nothing was likely to put a stop but the blowing up of so many houses as might make a wider gap than any had yet been made by the ordinary method of pulling them down with engines; this some stout seamen proposed early enough to have saved nearly the whole city, but this some tenacious and avaricious men, aldermen, &c., would not permit, because their houses must have been of the first. It was therefore now commanded to be practised, and my concern being particularly for the hospital of St. Bartholomew near Smithfield, where I had many wounded and sick men, made me the more diligent to promote it, nor was my care for the Savoy less. It now pleased God, by abating the wind, and by the industry of the people, infusing a new spirit into them, that the fury of it began sensibly to abate about noon, so as it came no farther than the Temple westward, nor than the entrance of Smithfield north; but continued all this day and night so impetuous towards Cripplegate and the Tower as made us all despair. It also broke out again in the Temple, but the courage of the multitude persisting, and many houses being blown up, such gaps and desolations were soon made, as with the former three days' consumption, the back fire did not so vehemently urge upon the rest as formerly. There was yet no standing near the burning and glowing ruins by near a furlong's space. The coal and wood wharfs and magazines of oil, rosin, &c., did infinite mischief, so as the invective which a little before I had dedicated to his majesty and published, giving warning what might probably be the issue of suffering those shops to be in the city, was looked on as a prophecy.
The poor inhabitants were dispersed about St. George's Fields and Moorfields, as far as Highgate, and several miles in circle, some under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag or any necessary utensils, bed or board; who, from delicateness, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and well furnished houses, were now reduced to extremest misery and poverty.
In this calamitous condition I returned with a sad heart to my house, blessing and adoring the mercy of God to me and mine, who in the midst of all this ruin was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound.