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I believe it, and hold it to be true, as much as one can believe and hold to be true any historical fact what
I cannot deny the possibility of the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, and assuredly would wilfully do nothing which could hinder this possibility from becoming a reality.
EDMUND BURKE - (1729-1797) EVERY VERY man would lead his life over again; for
every man is willing to go on and take an addition to his life, which, as he grows older, he has no reason to think will be better, or even so good, as what has preceded.2
He is the
WILLIAM COWPER (1731–1800)
Shows somewhat of that happier life to come ;
2 Quoted by Boswell in his Life of Johnson.
Ask him, indeed, what trophies he has raised,
The colour of our whole life is generally such as the three or four first years, in which we are masters, make it. Then it is that we may be said to shape our own destiny, and to treasure up for ourselves a series of future successes or disappointments. Had I employed my time as wisely as you in a situation very similar to yours, I had never been a poet, perhaps, but I might by this time have acquired a character of more importance in society, and a situation in which my friends would have been better pleased to see me.2
1 From The Task (“The Winter Walk at Noon"), written in 1783-84.
2 From letter to William Rose.
(1732–1799) T length, my dear Marquis, I am become a private
citizen on the banks of the Potomac; and under the shadow of my own vine and my own fig-tree, free from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments, of which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame, the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us all, and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince, in hopes of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. I have not only retired from all public employment, but I am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life, with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order for my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers. 1
The more I am acquainted with agricultural affairs, the better I am pleased with them; insomuch that I can nowhere find so great satisfaction as in those innocent and useful pursuits. In indulging these feelings I am led to reflect how much more delightful to the undebauched mind is the task of making
1 From letter written to his dearest friend and fellow-soldier about 1785.
improvements on the earth, than all the vain glory that can be acquired from ravaging it by the most uninterrupted career of conquest.1
Do not flatter me with vain hopes; I am not afraid to die, and therefore can hear the worst. Whether to-night or twenty years hence makes no difference. I know I am in the hands of a good Providence.2
EDWARD GIBBON (1737–1794) WHD
HEN I contemplate the common lot of mortality, I
must acknowledge that I have drawn a high prize in the lottery of life. The far greater part of the globe is overspread with barbarism or slavery: in the civilised world, the most numerous class is condemned to ignorance and poverty; and the double fortune of my birth in a free and enlightened country, in an honourable and wealthy family, is the lucky chance of a unit against millions.
The general probability is about three to one that a new-born infant will not live to complete his fiftieth year. I have now passed that age, and may fairly estimate the present value of my existence in the threefold division of mind, body, and estate. The first and indispensable requisite of happiness is a clear conscience, unsullied by the reproach or remembrance of an unworthy action.3
The present is a fleeting moment, the past is no more, and our prospect of futurity is dark and doubtful. 1 From letter written to Arthur Young about same period.
2 Said to his physician.
This day may possibly be my last : but the laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular, still allow about fifteen years. I shall soon enter into the period which, as the most agreeable of my long life, was selected by the judgment and experience of the sage
Fontenelle. His choice is approved by the eloquent historian of nature, who fixes our moral happiness to the mature season in which our passions are supposed to be calmed, our duties fulfilled, our ambition satisfied, our fame and fortune established on a solid basis. In private conversation, that great and amiable man added the weight of his own experience; and this autumnal felicity might be exemplified in the lives of Voltaire, Hume, and many other men of letters. I am far more inclined to embrace than to dispute this comfortable doctrine. I will not suppose any premature decay of the mind or body; but I must reluctantly observe that two causes, the abbreviation of time and the failure of hope, will always tinge with a browner shade the evening of life.
The proportion of a part to the whole is the only standard by which we can measure the length of our existence. At the age of twenty, one year is a tenth perhaps of the time which has elapsed within our consciousness and memory; at the age of fifty it is no more than the fortieth, and this relative value continues to decrease till the last sands are shaken by the hand of death. This reasoning may seem metaphysical, but on a trial it will be found satisfactory and just. The warm desires, the long expectations of youth, are founded on the ignorance of themselves and of the world: they are gradually damped by time and experience, by disappointment or possession; and after the middle season