No. 626. Monday, November 29, 1714. Henry Grove.

--Dulcique animos novitate tenebo--'
Ov. Met. 1. I.

I have seen a little Work of a learned Man, [1] consisting of extemporary Speculations, which owed their Birth to the most trifling Occurrences of Life. His usual Method was, to write down any sudden Start of Thought which arose in his Mind upon the sight of an odd Gesticulation in a Man, any whimsical Mimickry of Reason in a Beast, or whatever appeared remarkable in any Object of the visible Creation. He was able to moralize upon a Snuff-Box, would flourish eloquently upon a Tucker or a Pair of Ruffles, and draw practical Inferences from a full-bottomed Perriwig. This I thought fit to mention, by way of Excuse, for my ingenious Correspondent, who hath introduced the following Letter by an Image which, I will beg leave to tell him, is too ridiculous in so serious and noble a Speculation.


'When I have seen young Puss playing her wanton Gambols, and with a thousand antick Shapes express her own Gayety at the same time that she moved mine, while the old Grannum hath sat by with a most exemplary Gravity, unmov'd at all that past; it hath made me reflect what should be the occasion of Humours so opposite in two Creatures, between whom there was no visible Difference but that of Age; and I have been able to resolve it into nothing else but the Force of Novelty.

'In every Species of Creatures, those who have been least Time in the World, appear best pleased with their Condition: For, besides that to a new Comer the World hath a Freshness on it that strikes the Sense after a most agreeable Manner, Being it self, unattended with any great Variety of Enjoyments, excites a Sensation of Pleasure. But as Age advances, every thing seems to wither, the Senses are disgusted with their old Entertainments, and Existence turns flat and insipid. We may see this exemplified in Mankind: The Child, let him be free from Pain, and gratified in his Change of Toys, is diverted with the smallest Trifle. Nothing disturbs the Mirth of the Boy, but a little Punishment or Confinement. The Youth must have more violent Pleasures to employ his Time; the Man loves the Hurry of an active Life, devoted to the Pursuits of Wealth or Ambition; and Lastly, old Age, having lost its Capacity for these Avocations, becomes its own insupportable Burthen. This Variety may in part be accounted for by the Vivacity and Decay of the Faculties; but I believe is chiefly owing to this, That the longer we have been in Possession of Being, the less sensible is the Gust we have of it; and the more it requires of adventitious Amusements to relieve us from the Satiety and Weariness it brings along with it.

'And as Novelty is of a very powerful, so of a most extensive influence. Moralists have long since observed it to be the Source of Admiration, which lessens in proportion to our Familiarity with Objects, and upon a thorough Acquaintance is utterly extinguished. But I think it hath not been so commonly remarked, that all the other Passions depend considerably on the same Circumstance. What is it but Novelty that awakens Desire, enhances Delight, kindles Anger, provokes Envy, inspires Horror? To this Cause we must ascribe it, that Love languishes with Fruition, and Friendship it self is recommended by Intervals of Absence: Hence Monsters, by use, are beheld without loathing, and the most enchanting Beauty without Rapture. That Emotion of the Spirits in which Passion consists, is usually the Effect of Surprize, and as long as it continues, heightens the agreeable or disagreeable Qualities of its Object; but as this Emotion ceases (and it ceases with the Novelty) things appear in another Light, and affects us even less than might be expected from their proper Energy, for having moved us too much before.

'It may not be an useless Enquiry how far the Love of Novelty is the unavoidable Growth of Nature, and in what Respects it is peculiarly adapted to the present State. To me it seems impossible, that a reasonable Creature should rest absolutely satisfied in any Acquisitions whatever, without endeavouring farther; for after its highest Improvements, the Mind hath an Idea of an Infinity of things still behind worth knowing, to the Knowledge of which therefore it cannot be indifferent; as by climbing up a Hill in the midst of a wide Plain, a Man hath his Prospect enlarged, and, together with that, the Bounds of his Desires. Upon this Account, I cannot think he detracts from the State of the Blessed, who conceives them to be perpetually employed in fresh Searches into Nature, and to Eternity advancing into the fathomless Depths of the Divine Perfections. In this Thought there is nothing but what doth Honour to these glorified Spirits; provided still it be remembred, that their Desire of more proceeds not from their disrelishing what they possess; and the Pleasure of a new Enjoyment is not with them measured by its Novelty (which is a thing merely foreign and accidental) but by its real intrinsick Value. After an Acquaintance of many thousand Years with the Works of God, the Beauty and Magnificence of the Creation fills them with the same pleasing Wonder and profound Awe, which Adam felt himself seized with as he first opened his Eyes upon this glorious Scene. Truth captivates with unborrowed Charms, and whatever hath once given Satisfaction will always do it: In all which they have manifestly the Advantage of us, who are so much govern'd by sickly and changeable Appetites, that we can with the greatest Coldness behold the stupendous Displays of Omnipotence, and be in Transports at the puny Essays of humane Skill; throw aside Speculations of the sublimest Nature and vastest Importance into some obscure Corner of the Mind, to make Room for new Notions of no Consequence at all; are even tired of Health, because not enlivened with alternate Pain, and prefer the first Reading of an indifferent Author, to the second or third Perusal of one whose Merit and Reputation are established.

Our being thus formed serves many useful Purposes in the present State. It contributes not a little to the Advancement of Learning; for, as Cicero takes Notice, That which makes Men willing to undergo the Fatigues of Philosophical Disquisitions, is not so much the Greatness of Objects as their Novelty. It is not enough that there is Field and Game for the Chace, and that the Understanding is prompted with a restless Thirst of Knowledge, effectually to rouse the Soul, sunk into the State of Sloth and Indolence; it is also necessary that there be an uncommon Pleasure annexed to the first Appearance of Truth in the Mind. This Pleasure being exquisite for the Time it lasts, but transient, it hereby comes to pass that the Mind grows into an Indifference to its former Notions, and passes on after new Discoveries, in hope of repeating the Delight. It is with Knowledge as with Wealth, the Pleasure of which lies more in making endless Additions, than in taking a Review of our old Store. There are some Inconveniencies that follow this Temper, if not guarded against, particularly this, that through a too great Eagerness of something new we are many times impatient of staying long enough upon a Question that requires some time to resolve it, or, which is worse, perswade our selves that we are Masters of the Subject before we are so, only to be at the Liberty of going upon a fresh Scent; in Mr. Lock's Words, We see a little, presume a great deal, and so jump to the Conclusion.

'A farther Advantage of our Inclination for Novelty, as at present circumstantiated, is, that it annihilates all the boasted Distinctions among Mankind. Look not up with Envy to those above thee. Sounding Titles, stately Buildings, fine Gardens, gilded Chariots, rich Equipages, what are they? They dazzle every one but the Possessor: To him that is accustomed to them they are cheap and regardless Things: They supply him not with brighter Images, or more sublime Satisfactions than the plain Man may have, whose small Estate will just enable him to support the Charge of a simple unencumbered Life. He enters heedless into his Rooms of State, as you or I do under our poor Sheds. The noble Paintings and costly Furniture are lost on him; he sees them not: As how can it be otherwise, when by Custom, a Fabrick infinitely more grand and finish'd, that of the Universe, stands unobserved by the Inhabitants, and the everlasting Lamps of Heaven are lighted up in vain, for any Notice that Mortals take of them? Thanks to indulgent Nature, which not only placed her Children originally upon a Level, but still, by the Strength of this Principle, in a great Measure preserves it, in spite of all the Care of a Man, to introduce artificial Distinctions.

'To add no more, Is not this Fondness for Novelty, which makes us out of Conceit with all we already have, a convincing Proof of a future State? Either Man was made in vain, or this is not the only World he was made for: For there cannot be a greater Instance of Vanity, than that to which Man is liable, to be deluded from the Cradle to the Grave with fleeting Shadows of Happiness. His Pleasures, and those not considerable neither, die in the Possession, and fresh Enjoyments do not rise fast enough to fill up half his Life with Satisfaction. When I see Persons sick of themselves any longer than they are called away by something that is of Force to chain down the present Thought; when I see them hurry from Country to Town, and then from the Town back again into the Country, continually shifting Postures, and placing Life in all the different Lights they can think of; Surely, say I to my self, Life is vain, and the Man beyond Expression stupid or prejudic'd, who from the Vanity of Life cannot gather, He is designed for Immortality.

[Footnote 1: Meditations, &c, by the Hon. Robert Boyle.]

Translation of motto:
OVID, Met. i. 1.
'With sweet novelty your taste I'll please.'