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A state of temperance, sobriety, and justice, without devotion, is a cold, lifeless, insipid condition of virtue ; and is rather to be stiled philosophy than religion. Devotion opens the mind to great conceptions, and fills it with more sublime ideas than any that are to be met with in the most exalted science; and at the same time warms and agitates the soul more than sensual pleasure.
It has been observed by some writers, that man is more distinguished from the animal world by devotion than by reason, as several brute creatures discover in their actions something like a faint glimmering of reason, though they betray in no single circumstance of their behaviour any thing that bears the least affinity to devotion. It is certain, the propensity of the mind to religious worship, the natural tendency of the soul to fly to some superior being for succour in dangers and distresses, the gratitude to an invisible superintendent which rises in us upon receiving any extraordinary and unexpected good fortune, the acts of love and admiration with which the thoughts of men are so wonderfully transported in meditating upon the divine perfections, and the universal concurrence of all the nations under heaven in the great article of adoration, plainly show that devotion or religious worship must be the effect of a tradition from some first founder of mankind, or that it is conformable to the natural light of reason, or that it proceeds from an instinct implanted in the soul itself. For my part, I look upon all these to be the concurrent causes : but which ever of them shall be assigned as the principle of divine worship, it manifestly points to a Supreme Being as the first author of it.
I may take some other opportunity of considering those particular forms and methods of devotion which are taught us by Christianity ; but shall here observe into what errors even this divine principle may sometimes lead us, when it is not moderated by that right reason which was given iis as the guide of all our actions.
The two great errors into which a mistaken devotion may betray us, are enthusiasm and superstition.
There is not a more melancholy object than a man who has his head turned with a religious enthusiasm. A person that is crazed, though with pride or malice, is a sight very mortifying to human nature ; but when the distemper arises from any indiscreet fervours of devotion, or too intense an application of the mind to its mistaken duties, it deserves our compassion in a more particular
niay however learn this lesson from it, that since devotion itself (which one would be apt to think could not be too warm) may disorder the mind, unless its -heats are tempered with caution and prudence, we should be particularly careful to keep our reason as cool as possible, and to guard ourselves in all parts of life against the influence of passion, imagination, and constitution.
Devotion, when it does not lie under the check of reason, is very apt to de enerate into enthusiasm. When the mind finds herself very much inflamed with her devotions, she is too much inclined to thinķ they are not of her own kindling, but blown up by something divine within her. If she indulges this thought too far, and humours the growing passion, she at last flings herself into imaginary raptures, and ecstasies; and when once she fancies
herself under the influence of a divine impulse, it is no wonder if she slights human ordinances, and refuses to comply with any established form of religion, as thinking herself directed by a much superior guide.
As enthusiasm is a kind of excess in devotion, superstition is the excess not only of devotion, but of religion in general, according to an old heathen saying, quoted by Aulus Gellius, ' Religentem esse oportet, religiosum nefas;' "A man should be religious, not superstitious. For, as that author tells us, Nigidius observed upon this passage, that the Latin words which terminate in osus generally imply vicious characters, and the having of any quality
to an excess.
An enthusiast in religion is like an obstinate clown, a superstitious man like an insipid courtier. Enthusiasm has something in it of madness; superstition of folly.
Nothing is so glorious in the eyes of mankind, and ornamental to human nature, setting aside the infinite advantages which arise from it, as a strong, steady, masculine piety ; but enthusiasm and superstition are the weaknesses of human reason, that expose us to the scorn and derision of infidels, and sink us even below the beasts that perish.
Idolatry may be looked upon as another error arising from mistaken devotion ; but because reflections on that subject would be of no use to an English reader, I shall not enlarge upon it.
MONDAY, October 29, 1711.
I HAVE several letters from people of good sense, who lament the depravity or poverty of taste the town is fallen into with relation to plays and public spectacles. A lady in particular observes, that there is such a levity in the minds of her own sex, that they seldom attend to anything but impertinences. It is indeed prodigious to observe how little notice is taken of the most exalted parts of the best tragedies in Shakspeare; nay, it is not only visible that sensuality has devoured all greatness of soul, but the under-passion (as I may so call it) of a noble spirit, Pity, seems to be a stranger to the generality of an audience. The minds of men are indeed very differently disposed; and the reliefs from care and attention are of one sort in a great spirit, and of another in an ordinary one. The man of a great heart and a serious complexion is more pleased with instances of generosity and pity, than the light and ludicrous spirit can possibly be with the highest strains of mirth and laughter. It is therefore a melancholy prospect when we see a numerous assembly lost to all serious entertainments, and such incidents as should move one sort of concern excite in them a quite contrary
In the tragedy of Macbeth, the other night, when the lady, who is conscious of the crime of murdering the · king, seems utterly astonished at the news, and makes an exclamation at it, instead of the indignation which is natural to the occasion, that expression is received with a loud laugh. They were as merry when a criminal was stabbed. It is certainly an occasion of rejoicing when the wicked are seized in their designs; but I think it is not such a triumph as is exerted by laughter.
You may generally observe, that the appetites are sooner moved than the passions. A sly expression, which alludes to bawdry, puts a whole row into a pleasing smirk; when a good sentence that describes an inward'sentiment of the soul, is received with the greatest coldness and indifference. A correspondent of mine, upon this subject, has divided the female part of the audience, and accounts for their prepossession against this reasonable delight, in the following manner : ‘The prude,' says he, 'as she acts always in contradiction, so she is gravely sullen at a comedy, and extravagantly gay at a tragedy. The coquette is so much taken up with throwing her eyes around the audience, and considering the effect of them, that she cannot be expected to observe the actors but as they are her rivals, and take off the observation of the men from herself. Besides these species of women, there are the Examples, or the first of the mode. These are to be supposed too well acquainted with what the actor is going to say to be moved at it. After these one might mention a certain flippant set of females who are mimics, and are wonderfully diverted with the conduct of all the people around them, and are spectators only of the audience. But what is of all the most to be lamented, is the loss of a party whom it would be worth preserving in their right senses upon all occasions, and these are those whom we may indifferently call the innocent, or the unaffected. You may sometimes see one of these sensibly touched