Antidote to superstition (NLS104184264)

Antidote to superstition (c. 1795–1804)
3236124Antidote to superstitionc. 1795–1804


Calculated to promote the Interests of Religion, Virtue, and Humanity.

No. XIX.



Or, A Cure for thoſe weak minds which
are troubled with the fear of,

Ghosts & Witches,

or who tremble at the conſequences of
inauſpicious Dreams Or Bad Omens.


"For as it is the chief concern of wiſe men to retrench the evils of life by the reaſonings of philoſophy; it is the employment of fools to multiply them by the ſentiments of ſuperſtition."

To which is annexed,

or, the Delphic Oracle of the Old Bailey out of his reckoning for once.

"For I had no ſooner returued to my lodgings, than I found a letter on my table, acquainting me that my dear friend had loſt his life in a skirmiſh that happened between two detachments of the hoſtile armies, long before the battle of Minden."


Printed by G. Milller:—at whoſe Shop may be had a variety of Pamphlets, Ballads, Children's Books, Pictures Catechisms, &c.


An Antidote to Superſtition.

Part 1st.

The Hiſtory of Philaretes the SUPERSTITIOUS Man,
with the method He took to extricate himſelf from the fetters
of Superſtition.

Oh! would mankind but make great truths their guide,
And force the helm from Prejudice and Pride;
Were once theſe maxims fix'd, that God's our friend,
Virtue our good, and happineſs our end;
How ſoon muſt reaſon o'er the world prevail,
And error, fraud, and Superſtition, fail!

ALTHOUGH man is born to bear, he in fact ſuffers more diſtreſs and miſery from the dread of apprehended viſionary evils, than the actual feeling of preſent real ones. Cloyed with the paſſing moment, with inſatiable avidity we raſh forward to reconnoitre the inviſible regions of futurity, and from events utterly unknown, we anticipate our bliſs or woe.

This anticipating bent of mind has had innumerable occaſions of exerciſing its powers from the long received doctrines of omens, ghofts, ſpectres, viſions, witches and cloven-footed dæmons.

Where-ever knowledge and ſcience are wanting, ignorance, dulneſs, and credulity dwell, and blind folly and rampant ſuperſtition will have numberleſs abertors and votaries: until the old woman is wholly expelled from our breaſts, we ſhall remain abject ſlaves to the moſt ridiculous prejudices of habit, cuſtom and education. The whole inhabitants of the globe verify the truth of theſe obſervations. In Lapland, which is as much covered with ignorance & ſuperſtition as it is with eternal ſnow, magicians and ſorcerers abound. They live by their craft; they are wind-merchants, and the mariners are ſuch ſlaves to theſe impoſtors, that they often buy from them a magic cord, which, they vainly hope, will gain what wind they want. Egypt, the mother of occult ſciences is at this day over-run with jugglers and ſlight-of-hand men. The native Americans are abſorbed in ſuperſtition; they believe that ſome bad genii produce all their miſery, and that jugglers are their miniſters to predict future events. The Chineſe fortune-tellers and aſtrologers direct and govern the whole populace in all affairs of consequence. The modern Perſians are the moſt ſuperftitious people on earth, wholly addicted to, and governed by judicial aſtrology. The weſtern Scots Iſlanders pretend to mantology and the ſecond-ſight; numbers amongſt ourſelves are ſlaves to the gloomy terror of dreams and fiery phantoms; and I myſelf have ſeen perſons, who begged their daily bread, and knew not where to find lodgings at night, pretend to unfold and diſcover the impenetrable ſecrets of divine Providence.

But in every age and nation, where learning has reared aloft her poliſhed head, where true philoſophy is cultivated, where common ſenſe is heard and liſtened to, there omens, apparitions, predictions, and black arts, are univerſally exploded, and juſtly derided; and the mad viſionary infatuation of monaſtic barbarity, is condemned to dwell in the diſmal cottages of dull ſtupidity, amazing folly and moping ignorance.

During thoſe happy days I ſpent at ſchool, I was a profeſſed devotee to good and ill omens. was the favourite of a worthy grandmother, who had ſeen fix monarchs ſway the Britiſh ſceptre. This ſagacious old world matron was a perfect miſtreſs in the ſcience of mantology, and could unfold all its myſteries, from the mean prognoſtics of tea-grounds, to the awful predictions of comets: ſhe could plainly foreſee all miſfortunes, from that of the breaking a China cup, to the death of princes and the diſſolution of kingdoms. She had all Satan's inviſible World by heart, and could repeat a thouſand ſtories of ghoſts, hobgoblins, and apparitions, which would make your hair ſtand erect, and your nerves convulſe, harrow up your ſoul, and freeze your blood.

At twelve years of age I myſelf was a complete maſter in all the branches of ſuperſtitious ſcience, and could diſpute with the moſt credulous old maid in town. But, alas! my ſcientific proficiency conſtantly filled my mind with thouſands of imaginary tortures, in ſo much, that a magpie did not chatter on our roof, nor a timorous hare ſtart up, but I thought they were omens of ſome future evil to me. The ſhaking of a willow or reed was more terrible to me than a ruffian's dagger: the fluttering of a bird, the ruſtling of aſpen leaves, have made my hair ſtand erect, and the ſweat diſtill in large and copious drops. The lugubrous chirping of a fire-cricket under my bed-chamber grate, almoſt perſuaded me that I was to die very ſoon; and die I moſt certainly thould through pure fear, had I not boldly poured a large drink-offering of boiling water on the place where I deemed the little reptile had its neſt. Darkneſs and night were as terrible to me as the ſhades of Tartarus; for I believed both equally full of ſpirits and apparitions. I would not go into a room alone or without light; once I almoſt loſt my ſenſes, and alarmed the houſe by going into a cellar where a few dried fiſh were hung up. I was once purſued nigh the church-yard by a long-bearded goat; I really thought it was the diſcontented ghoſt of ſome buried perſon, and by my ſhrieks I alarmed the guard at the Barracks. I was once confined to bed by a violent head-ach; a clock diſturbed my repoſe; I verily imagined it was the devil, but the fright diſlodged my pain; and this was the only profit I ever reaped from my ſuperſtition.

Such were the dreadful effects which this prepoſterous education had on my mind. The hourly and ordinary occurrences in life could not paſs without furniſhing my diſordered and infatuated fancy, with an in exhauſtible fund of incumbent miſery, and corroſive gnawing torment to my ſoul.

My great conſlation was, that my condition was not ſingular. I found many of my numerous circle of acquaintance, both old and young, inveloped in as great abſurdities as myſelf. One of them would not dreſs his head after croſſing a grave: a ſecond would not allow his ſon to be baptiſed without putting ſome bread in its cloaths: a third would not cut his nails on Friday: a fourth would not have his work begun on Saturday: a fifth would not proceed on a journey of importance, it he met a perſon carrying water as he ſet out: a ſixth pretended to expel diſeaſes by burning horſeſhoes in the fire, or making the patient paſs under ſome ſtones taking from a part of the river where the living and dead paſſed, whilſt he repeated certain charms and ſpells: a ſeventh would not paſs by the houſe of an old woman, becauſe he thought her a witch, and that ſhe had ſtolen his hive of bees. Many of my acquaintance wore amulets to preſerve them from bewitching; in fine, we were the abject ſlaves of every filly idle fret, which imagination has deviſed, fable feigned, or fear conceived.

This ſhort abſtract of my own and my neighbours hiſtory, ſhews with what uncontroled, yea, almoſt indeliable power, a wrong education ſtamps credulity on the mind, and gives it a bias to the grofſeft ſuperſtition. As I found the prejudices I had imbibed hard to be removed, as theſe deluſions of fancy frequently returned and unhinged my loul, in order to fortify myſelf againſt their ſudden attacks, I have of ten put the following queſtions to myſelf, and as often reſolved their anſwers in my mind. This was the method I took to extricate myſelf from thoſe dreadful fetters of ſuperftition in which I was entangled, and if you think it may effect a cure on any of the numerous devotees to legendary fictions, viſions, &c. I ſhall think my labour amply compenſated.

On hearing a weak woman divine from the dregs of tea in a cup, from feeing ſone meteor, blazing ſtar, or comet, that ſome direful misfortunes and public calamities would happen; O, heavens! ſaid I, can this perſon look into futurity, or what connection is there betwixt one of the celeſtial orbs going its ample round, and famines, wars, or plagues? No; there is only one univerſal eye ſees into futurity, to whom all things, paſt, preſent, and to come, are perſpicuous: it is the eſſential perfection of deity alone to be omniſcient. Perſons have indeed been commiſſioned by him to predict future events, but this has never happened ſince the world had a plenary revelation of agenda and credenda. To preſume then, from ſigns or prodigies above or beneath, to fore-know and foretel futurities, is the groſſeſt profaneneſs and impiety; it is no leſs than to claim wiſdom equal to our maker. Surely then, ſaid I, this impious pretence is only deſigned to work on the weakneſs, and fill the breaſts of ſilly mortals with imaginary fears.

Again, Are their not ſuch things as ghoſts, viſions or apparitions? Do we not read, and have we not heard of many of them well atteſted? No; I cannot believe them: Why? Becauſe a ghoſt or ſpirit is, by its very nature, inviſible; it cannot be ſeen: I allow indeed, that ſpirits have a vehicle for an inſtrument to them of local motion, which they may rarify or condenſe; but that they rove about on earth or air, like floating atoms, I cannot believe. Why? Becauſe I believe in a particular Providence; that the ſupreme Being ruleth over all; that ſpirits are his miniſters, and when they deſcend from above, it is by ſpecial commiſſion to execute his commands, and then to return. Some of them may be our guardians; but that any of them ſhould ever terrify or affright poor mortals (as the braque ſmells out, and terrifies poor birds), is againſt reaſon, and formally impoſſible.

But does not the devil and his retainers ſometimes appear and ſeek their prey? No; impoſſible: For what is he? Why nothing but a ſervant in chains for rebellion; and whilſt an all-good Being rules the univerſe, he cannot hurt a ſingle ſparrow. His baits and allurements may be laid before us juſt as I have laid bird lime to catch the feath- er'd ſongſters), theſe we may fly to, and be enſnared. No, no; I dread not the black horns of Belzebub, but I fear the being drawn away by my own luſts after the dæ- mons of riches, honours and pleaſures, into avarice, ambition and voluptuouſneſs.

But though you cannot believe in ghoſts and dæmons, there are certainly the ſpirits of dead men, who hover over their graves, and are to be ſeen in temples and church yards. No; I do not believe it. The ſouls of men after death paſs over the irremea- ble gulph to the regions of ſeparate ſpirits; they go to Him who made them; they ne- ver do, nor can return, till the heavens are no more: the bad are ſhut up, impriſoned, tortured, and in miſery; the good are present with the source of bliss; they have for got their pilgrimage ſtate, and endless joys fill their whole capacities.

But though the appearance of ghoſts are rare, don't you believe that this sometimes happens? May not their being seen answer some good deſign? Might they not reclaim the vicious, or adviſe and conſole ſurviving friends? No; I cannot believe it. Why? becauſe the univerſal Preſident of nature has aſſigned every being its particular ſtation, office and talents, and whilſt he governs, there will be no confuſion any where. To diſpatch a departed ſpirit to theſe lower regions, would ſerve no end at all. The virtuous will always be directed by, and rely on his word and ſacred beheſts in the day of diſtreſs; and if his revealed will cannot convert the bad, a thouſand meſſengers from the Tartarian ſhades will not avail.

But don't you believe in witches? Surely ſuch there have been witness that of Endor: you have often heard of their mighty feats. Does not hiſtory tell you, that in 1650, an Ord, a village near Berwick, which then contained only fourteen houſes, fourteen perſons were burnt for witchcraft? This you cannot deny. If by a witch you mean a perſon in confederacy with Satan, to hurt the bodies or eſtates of men, I deny that there ever was, or ever will be any ſuch on earth. Such a confederacy is abſolutely impoſſible: extol and magnify the devil's powers as much as you pleaſe, they are incommunicable. I believe that in former ages of ruſtic barbarity, and overwhelming fanaticiſm, envy and malice, oppreſſion and tyranny, were the real and only cauſes of witch-craft. Whenever a poor woman was maligned by her neighbours, or was poſſeſſed of any thing they coveted, ſhe was charged with this crime; without knowing her accuſer, the magiſtrate under whoſe juriſdiction ſhe lived, cauſed her to be tried by proper ſymptoms; theſe were, an immerfion in water, if ſhe funk ſhe was acquitted, but periſhed by the experiment; if ſhe ſwam, ſhe was taken out and burnt without any more proof. The woman of Endor was no ſuch witch; her trade, indeed, was to foretell future events, and for this purpoſe, She had hired a familiar ſpirit, who was none elſe than a ſhrewd, cunning, artful man, who being well acquainted with men and things, after uſing certain charms by way of machinery, gave ſuch reſponſes as were moſt agreeable and likely to fall out to his conſultors. The ſame may be ſaid of the Delphic oracle, that great old ſorcereſs. It was no more than a confederacy of prieſts, who being verſant in public and private ſtate matters, gave anſwers ſo ambiguous and doubtful, that which way ſoever the event happened, they might be interpreted ſo as to tally therewith. But that an old dotting haggard can bring diſeaſes on my body, is the higheſt deluſion. No; not one diſeaſe can ariſe merely, from any natural cauſe, without the particular diſpoſal of divine Providence, which reaches to the very hairs of my head. But if by witches you mean goſſiping old maids, who conſtantly trade in injurious ſcandal, I believe there are myriads, they abound in every place.

In fine, without the aid of rhetoric, by propoſing and anſwering theſe and ſimilar questions, I have grubbed up the loweſt roots of ſuperſtition and folly from my breaſt. I am firmly perſuaded that no man ever did ſee an apparition, unleſs it was the product of his own fertile imagination. I never did nor never ſhall ſee a real one till I go to the world of ſpirits. I dread not the great adverſary of mankird, but I fear and conſtantly guard againſt his baits to ſeduce me into the paths of vice, to live impiouſly, impurely, and unjuſtly. I am not terrified with walking in burying-grounds by night. No; the organiſed bodies which moulder there, I believe to be no more the ſentient agent, who once moved in them, than I do the table I write on, or any other matter is I myſelf. I dread nothing by night but robbers and blood-thirſty aſſaſſins. I believe that as omniſcience ſees all things paſt, preſent and future, ſo conſummate wiſdom directs the whole ſyſtem of events to the beſt and nobleſt ends. It is that all-great and good Being whom alone I fear, and regard as the only ruler and guide of univerſal nature, whoſe mercy and goodneſs will prevent every evil from coming on me, by the direc- tion of his holy and wiſe Providence, which extends to and watches over the minuteſt of his works.

An Antidote to Superstition,

Part 2nd.

The SUPERSTITIOUS WIFE &c. with an excellent Way of fortifying the Soul againſt gloomy Preſages and Terrors of the mind.

Viſions, and magic ſpells, can you deſpiſe,
And laugh at witches, ghoſts, and prodigies?

GOING yeſterday to dine with an old acquaintance, I had the misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon aſking him the occaſion of it, he told me that his wife had dreamed a ſtrange dream the night before, which they were a- fraid portended ſome misfortune to them. ſelves or to their children. At her coming in- to the room I obſerved a ſettled melancholy in her countenance, which I ſhould have been troubled for, had I not heard from whence it proceeded, We were no ſooner ſat down, but after having looked upon me a little while, My dear, ſays ſhe, turning to her huſband, you may now ſee the ſtranger that was in the candle laſt night. Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little boy at the lower end of the tabletold her,that he was to go into join-hand on Thurſday. Thurſday? ſays ſhe, No, child, if it pleaſe God, you ſhall not begin upon Childermas day; tell. your writing-maſter; that friday will be ſoon enough. I was reflecting with myſelf on the oddneſs of her fancy, and wondering that any body would eſtabliſh it as a rule to loſe a day in every: week. In the midſt of theſe my muſings, ſhe deſired me to reach her a little ſalt upon the point of my knife, which I did in ſuch a trepidation and hurry of obedience, that I let it drop by the way; at which ſhe immediately ſtartled, and ſaid it fell towards her. Upon this I looked very blank; and obſerving the concern of the whole table, began to conſider myſelf, with ſome confuſion, as a perſon that had brought a diſaſter upon the family. The lady, however, recovering herſelf after a little ſpace, ſaid to her huſband, with a ſigh, My dear, misfortunes never come ſingle. My friend, I found, acted but an under-part at his table, and being a man of more good-nature than underſtanding, thinks himſelf obliged to fall in with all the paſſions and humours of his yoke-fellow: Do not you remember, child, fays ſhe, that the pigeon-houſe fell the very afternoon that our careleſs wench ſpilt the ſalt upon the table? Yes, ſays he, my dear, and the next poſt brought us an account of the battle of Almanza. The reader may gueſs at the figure I made, after having done all this miſchief. I diſpatched my dinner, as ſoon as I could, with my ufſual taciturnity; when to my utter confuſion the lady ſeeing me quitting my knife and fork, and laying them acroſs one another upon my plate, deſired me that I wouid humour her ſo far as to take them out of that figure, and place them ſide by ſide. What the abſurdity was which I had committed I did not know, but I ſuppoſe there was ſome traditionary ſuperſtition in it: and therefore, in obedience to the lady of the houſe, I diſpoled of my knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I ſhall always lay them in for the future, though I do not know any reaſon for it.

It is not difficult for a man to ſee that a perſon has conceived an averſion to him. For my own part, I quickly found, by the lady's looks, that ſhe regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an unfortunate aſpect. For which reaſon I took my leave immediately after dinner, and withdrew to my own lodgings. Upon my return home, I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils that attend theſe ſuperſtitious follies of mankind; how they ſubject us to immaginary afflictions, and additional ſorrows, that do not properly come within our lot. As if the natural calamities of life were not ſufficient for it, we turn the moſt indifferent cirLimſtances into misfortunes, and ſuffer as much from trifling accidents, as from real evils. I have known the ſhooting of a ſtar ſpoil a nights reſt; and have ſeen a man in love grow pale and loſe his appetite, upon the plucking of a merry thought. A ſcreech-owl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers; nay, the voice of a cricket hath ſtruck more terror than the roaring of a lion. There is nothing fo inconſiderable, which may not appear dreadful to an imagination that is filled with omens and prognoſtics. A ruſty nail, or a crooked pin ſhoot up into prodigies. I remember I was once in a mixed aſſembly, that was full of noiſe and mirth, when on a ſudden an old woman unluckily obſerved there were thirteen of us in company. This remark ſtruck a panic terror into ſeveral who were preſent, inſomuch that one or two of the ladies were going to leave the room; but a friend of mine taking notice that one of our female companions was big with child, affirmed there were fourteen in the room, and that, inſtead of portending one of the company ſhould die, it plainly 1 foretold one of them ſhould be born. Had not my friend found out this expedient to break the omen, I queſtion not but half the women in the company would have fallen ſick that very night.

An old maid, that is troubled with the vapours, produces infinite diſturbances of this kind among her friends and neighbours. I know a maiden aunt, of a great family. who is one of theſe antiquated Sibyls, that forebodes and propheſies from one end of the year to the other. She is always ſeeing apparitions, and hearing death-watches; and was the other day almoſt frighted out of her wits by the great houſe-dog, that howled in the ſtable at a time when ſhe lay ill of the tooth-ach. Such an extravagant caſt of mind engages multitudes of people, not only in impertinent terrors, but in ſupernumerary duties of life; and ariſes from that fear and ignorance which are natural to the soul of man. The horror with which we entertain the thoughts of death, or indeed of any future evil, and the uncertainty of its approach, fill a melancholy mind with innumerable apprehenſions and ſuſpicions, and consequently dispose it to the observa tion of such groundless prodigies and predictions. For as it is the chief concern of wise men to retrench the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy; it is the employment of fools to multiply them by the sentiments of superſtition.

For my own part, I ſhould be very much troubled were I endowed with this divining quality, though it ſhould inform me truly of every thing that can befal me. I would not anticipate the reliſh of any hapiness, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actually arrives.

I know but one way of fortifying my ſoul againſt these gloomy presages and terrors of mind, and that is, by securing to myself the friendſhip and protection of that being who disposes of events, and governs futurity. He sees, at one view, the whole thread of any exiſtence, not only that part of it which I have already paſſed through, but that which runs forward into all the depths of eternity. When I lay me down to ſleep, I recommend myſelf to his care; when I awake, I give my felfup to his direction. Amidſt all the evils that threaten me, I will look up to him for help, and queſtion not but he will either avert them, or turn to my advantage. Though I know neither the time nor the manner of the death I am to die, I am not at all ſolicitons about it; becauſe I am ſure that he knows them both, and that he will not fail to comfort and ſupport me under them.

The Art of
or, the Delphic ORACLE of the Old Bailey
out of his reckoning for once.

Heav'n from all creatures hides the book of Fate,
All but the title page, preſcrib'd their preſent ſtate.

I Was lately prevailed upon by a female acquaintance, to accompany her to that Delphic Oracle of the great as well as ſmall vulgar, the famous fortune-teller in the Old-Bailey. Upon our entering the antichamber, or outer court, or whatever you pleaſe to call it, we found a large company of people, who were come hither on the ſame errand with ourſelves; but I believe, with a greater ſhare of credulity, and more ſerious intentions. As we were obliged to wait here a conſiderable time, before we could have the honour of being admitted into the penetrale, or inner-temple, of this hoary ſage, I had an opportunity of making my remarks on all theſe votaries of fortune; ſome of whom had already obtained an audience, whilſt the reſt were every moment expecting the ſame favour. It is impoſſible for me to deſcribe, or for you to conceive, the rapture of joy and gladneſs that fluſhed in the countenances of the former, or the ardour of hope and expectation that glowed in the faces of tche latter: and had I been a good painter, I think I could have ſent you one of the fineſt repreſentations of what they call, a Fool's Paradiſe, that was ever ſeen; for every
ingle perſon, in this groupe, was either happy, or expecting to be happy, without ever reflecting upon what a ſandy foundation their happineſs was placed: and, I muſt own, I am greatly ſurpriſed that neither Hogarth, nor any other of our comic genius's, have ever thought of ſuch a curious ſubject.

I could overhear one young lady telling her companion, that ſhe was reſolved to break off the intended match; "For ſays ſhe, this here Philoſopher affures me that my brother (who is Captain of a privateer) will ſoon take ſuch a rich French prize, as will enable him to give me a very large fortune; and then, adds ſhe, I ſhall have a title to a much better gentleman than Mr. G———." A married lady told her huſband (who by the bye ſeemed to have been drawn to this place much againſt his will) that ſhe was determined to breed the child, with which ſhe was then pregnant, to the law; for that the Wiſeacre had informed her it would be a boy, and that he would make a diſtinguiſhed figure and be advanced to a very eminent rank in that honourable profeſſion. In a word, Sir, there was nothing to be heard or ſeen in this company, but congratulations of good fortune, forming of ſchemes, hope, joy, exultation, or whatever can be conceived as pleaſing or agreeable: and if there be ſuch a thing as happineſs without reaſon, theſe were ſurely a ſet of the happieſt people that ever exiſted; though I muſt confeſs, I was frequently tempted to think, that their happineſs bore a very ſtrong reſemblance to that of the ſtraw-crowned monarch in Bedlam.

At laſt, our turn of being admitted arrived, and the young lady, as good manners required, was introduced firſt. After being cloſetted for about a quarter of an hour with this falſe Prophet, ſhe returned, and aſſured me, that he was certainly one of the moſt wonderful men in the world; for he had told her a thonſand things which ſhe thought no body had known but herſelf.

By this time, Sir, you will imagine, that my incredulity muſt have been, in ſome meaſure, removed, and that I was readily diſpoſed to believe the incoherent reveries of this ſolemn mocker; but ſo fully was I convinced of the fallacy of his art, that I offered to lay a wager, that he could not give a true and ſatisfactory anſwer to any ſingle queſtion I propoſed. And, in fact, this was the caſe; for, when we came to have a private converſation, I told him the only thing about which I meant to conſult him, was the fate of a young gentleman, a relation of mine, who was abroad with the Britiſh troops in Germany, and from whom I had not heard for ſome time paſt. At firſt he begged to be informed of his age; that I told him, I had forgot: then he enquired of what rank he was in the army: that, I ſaid, was one of the principal things I wanted to learn from him. In a word, Sir, he aſked me ſo many queſtions about his family, fortune, learning, intereſt and connexions, that, had I anſwered them all, I ſhould have left nothing for him to do, but to draw ſome plain concluſion, which any man of common ſenſe night have done as well as himſelf. But finding that he could extort nothing from me, and being aſhamed to acknowledge the imperfection of his art, he ventured to make a bold puſh: contracting his brows, therefore, into a moſt gloomy frown, and looking with a great deal of gravity and grimace, he continued for ſome time in a thoughtful poſture: then ſtarting, as it were, from a trance, "Now, ſays he, I have it:——— your friend has nobly diſtinguiſhed himſelf in that 66 glorious battle which was fought between the Britiſh and French armies on the plains of Minden, and for his courage and conduct in that important action, he is now raiſed to a higher rank; and at the concluſion of the campaign you will have the pleaſure of ſeeing him in England." As there was nothing improbable in all this, I muſt own, I was inclined to believe or more properly to wiſh, that it might be true; but Prather believed it from the probability of the thing itſelf, than from any faith 1 had in his art, which, in this particular inſtance (and, I imagine, it will be found to do so in all others) moſt unluckily proved to be deceitful: for I had no sooner returned to my lodgings, then I found a letter on my table, acquainting me that my dear friend had loſt his life" in a ſkirmiſh that happened between two detachments of the hoſtile armies, long before the battle of Minden.

The whole of this adventure led me into a train of ſerious reflections on the folly and impiety of ſearching into future events. Whence can proceed this unreaſonable defire? Does it ſpring from a ſecret diſtruſt of Providence, as if we were more capable of managing matters for ourſelves, than that omniſcient and omnipotent Being, in whoſe hand is the dispoſal of all things paſt, prefent, and future? Or is the human mind of ſuch an extenſive capacity, that, not ſatisfied with the knowledge of all the tranſactions of former ages, it muſt be diving into the unfathomable depths of futurity?

Whatever be its cauſe, its effects are but too plain and obvious: for it naturally tends to unſettle and unhinge the mind, and to draw us off from the improvement of prefent advantages, and the enjoyment of preſent pleaſures, by the fear of future evil that never may happen, and the hope of diſtant good that never may arrive. Were ſome men to foreſee all the misfortunes that are to befal them, their ſpirits would ſink under the terrible proſpect; and were others to be previouſly informed of all the happinſs they are to enjoy, they would be in danger, like ſpend-thrift heirs, of mortgaging their eſtates before they come to the real poſſeſſion. It is to prevent theſe, and the like fatal conſequences, that the wiſe Governor of the universe hath wrapt up the knowledge of future events in thick and pitchy darkneſs, impenetrable to human eyes: theſe are the ſecret things of the Almighty, into which no mortal ſhould dare to pry: yeſterday is irrecoverably gone; the morrow is yet unborn, and, perhaps, to us, may never be born; the preſent day, therefore, and that only is our's, and upon our right improvement of it depends our happineſs, as well in this life as in that which is to come.


Printed by G Miller, Dunbar.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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