No. 210. Wednesday, Oct. 31, 1711. John Hughes.

Nescio quomodo inhæret in mentibus quasi seculorum quoddam augurium futurorum; idque in maximis ingeniis altissimisque animis et existit maxime et apparet facillime.
Cic. Tusc. Quæst.



I am fully persuaded that one of the best Springs of generous and worthy Actions, is the having generous and worthy Thoughts of our selves. Whoever has a mean Opinion of the Dignity of his Nature, will act in no higher a Rank than he has allotted himself in his own Estimation. If he considers his Being as circumscribed by the uncertain Term of a few Years, his Designs will be contracted into the same narrow Span he imagines is to bound his Existence. How can he exalt his Thoughts to any thing great and noble, who only believes that, after a short Turn on the Stage of this World, he is to sink into Oblivion, and to lose his Consciousness for ever?

For this Reason I am of Opinion, that so useful and elevated a Contemplation as that of the Souls Immortality cannot be resumed too often. There is not a more improving Exercise to the human Mind, than to be frequently reviewing its own great Privileges and Endowments; nor a more effectual Means to awaken in us an Ambition raised above low Objects and little Pursuits, than to value our selves as Heirs of Eternity.

It is a very great Satisfaction to consider the best and wisest of Mankind in all Nations and Ages, asserting, as with one Voice, this their Birthright, and to find it ratify'd by an express Revelation. At the same time if we turn our Thoughts inward upon our selves, we may meet with a kind of secret Sense concurring with the Proofs of our own Immortality.

You have, in my Opinion, raised a good presumptive Argument from the increasing Appetite the Mind has to Knowledge, and to the extending its own Faculties, which cannot be accomplished, as the more restrained Perfection of lower Creatures may, in the Limits of a short Life. I think another probable Conjecture may be raised from our Appetite to Duration it self, and from a Reflection on our Progress through the several Stages of it: We are complaining, as you observe in a former Speculation, of the Shortness of Life, and yet are perpetually hurrying over the Parts of it, to arrive at certain little Settlements, or imaginary Points of Rest, which are dispersed up and down in it.

Now let us consider what happens to us when we arrive at these imaginary Points of Rest: Do we stop our Motion, and sit down satisfied in the Settlement we have gain'd? or are we not removing the Boundary, and marking out new Points of Rest, to which we press forward with the like Eagerness, and which cease to be such as fast as we attain them? Our Case is like that of a Traveller upon the Alps, who should fancy that the Top of the next Hill must end his Journey, because it terminates his Prospect; but he no sooner arrives as it, than he sees new Ground and other Hills beyond it, and continues to travel on as before. [1]

This is so plainly every Man's Condition in Life, that there is no one who has observed any thing, but may observe, that as fast as his Time wears away, his Appetite to something future remains. The Use therefore I would make of it is this, That since Nature (as some love to express it) does nothing in vain, or, to speak properly, since the Author of our Being has planted no wandering Passion in it, no Desire which has not its Object, Futurity is the proper Object of the Passion so constantly exercis'd about it; and this Restlessness in the present, this assigning our selves over to further Stages of Duration, this successive grasping at somewhat still to come, appears to me (whatever it may to others) as a kind of Instinct or natural Symptom which the Mind of Man has of its own Immortality.

I take it at the same time for granted, that the Immortality of the Soul is sufficiently established by other Arguments: And if so, this Appetite, which otherwise would be very unaccountable and absurd, seems very reasonable, and adds Strength to the Conclusion. But I am amazed when I consider there are Creatures capable of Thought, who, in spite of every Argument, can form to themselves a sullen Satisfaction in thinking otherwise. There is something so pitifully mean in the inverted Ambition of that Man who can hope for Annihilation, and please himself to think that his whole Fabrick shall one Day crumble into Dust, and mix with the Mass of inanimate Beings, that it equally deserves our Admiration and Pity. The Mystery of such Mens Unbelief is not hard to be penetrated; and indeed amounts to nothing more than a sordid Hope that they shall not be immortal, because they dare not be so.

This brings me back to my first Observation, and gives me Occasion to say further, That as worthy Actions spring from worthy Thoughts, so worthy Thoughts are likewise the Consequence of worthy Actions: But the Wretch who has degraded himself below the Character of Immortality, is very willing to resign his Pretensions to it, and to substitute in its Room a dark negative Happiness in the Extinction of his Being.

The admirable Shakespear has given us a strong Image of the unsupported Condition of such a Person in his last Minutes, in the second Part of King Henry the Sixth, where Cardinal Beaufort, who had been concerned in the Murder of the good Duke Humphrey, is represented on his Death-bed. After some short confused Speeches which shew an Imagination disturbed with Guilt, just as he is expiring, King Henry standing by him full of Compassion, says,

_Lord Cardinal! if thou thinkst on Heavens Bliss,
Hold up thy Hand, make Signal of that Hope!
He dies, and makes no Sign_!--

The Despair which is here shewn, without a Word or Action on the Part of the dying Person, is beyond what could be painted by the most forcible Expressions whatever.

I shall not pursue this Thought further, but only add, That as Annihilation is not to be had with a Wish, so it is the most abject Thing in the World to wish it. What are Honour, Fame, Wealth, or Power when compared with the generous Expectation of a Being without End, and a Happiness adequate to that Being?

I shall trouble you no further; but with a certain Gravity which these Thoughts have given me, I reflect upon some Things People say of you, (as they will of Men who distinguish themselves) which I hope are not true; and wish you as good a Man as you are an Author.

I am, SIR, Your most obedient humble Servant, T. D.


[Footnote 1:

Hills peep o'er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise.

Popes Essay on Criticism, then newly published.]

Translation of motto:
CIC. Tusc. Quaest.
'There is, I know not how, in minds a certain presage, as it were, of
a future existence; this has the deepest root, and is most
discoverable, in the greatest geniuses and most exalted souls.'