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Some have felt the motions of the spirit, and others have felt very bitterly the misfortunes of their friends, without endeavouring to relieve them. Now, there seem two plain instances that Nothing is an object of this sense. Nay, I have heard a surgeon declare, while he was cutting off a patient's leg, that he was sure he felt Nothing.
Nothing is as well the object of our passions as our senses. Thus, there are many who love Nothing, some who hate Nothing, and some who fear Nothing, etc. Some have imagined that Knowledge, with the adjective human placed before it, is another word for Nothing. And one of the wisest men in the world declared that he knew Nothing. But, without carrying it so far, this, I believe, may be allowed, that it is at least possible for a man to know Nothing. And whoever hath read over many works of our ingenious moderns, with proper attention and emolument, will, I believe, confess that, if he understands them right, he understands Nothing. ...
I remember once, at the table of a person of great eminence, and one no less distinguished by superiority of wit than fortune, when a very dark passage was read out of a poet famous for being so sublime that he is often out of the sight of his reader, some persons present declared that they did not understand the meaning. The gentleman himself, casting his eye over the performance, testified a surprise at the dulness of his company, seeing Nothing could, he said, possibly be plainer than the meaning of the passage which they stuck at. This set all of us to puzzling again, but with like success; we frankly owned we could not find it out, and desired he would explain it. “Explain it?" said the gentleman. “Why, he means Nothing.” In fact, this mistake arises from a too vulgar error among
persons unacquainted with the mystery of writing, who imagine it impossible that a man should sit down to write without any meaning at all. Whereas, in reality, nothing is more common; for, not to instance myself, who have confessedly set down to write this essay with Nothing in my head, or, which is much the same thing, to write about Nothing, it may be incontestably proved, ab effectu, that Nothing is commoner among the moderns. The inimitable author of a preface to the “ Posthumous Eclogues” of a late ingenious young gentleman says: “There are men who sit down to write what they think, and others to think what they shall write. But, indeed, there is a third and much more numerous sort, who never think either before they sit down or afterward, and who, when they produce on paper what was before in their heads, are sure to produce Nothing.” ...
Nothing contains so much dignity as Nothing. Ask an infamous, worthless nobleman (if any such be) in what his dignity consists. It may not, perhaps, be consistent with his dignity to give you an answer; but suppose he should be willing to condescend so far, what could he in effect say? Should he say he had it from his ancestors, I apprehend a lawyer would oblige him to prove that the virtues to which this dignity was annexed descended to him. If he claims it is inherent in the title, might he not be told that a title originally implied dignity, as it implied the presence of those virtues to which dignity is inseparably annexed—but that no implication will fly in the face of downright positive proof to the contrary? In short, to examine no farther, since his endeavour to derive it from any other fountain would be equally impotent, his dignity arises from Nothing, and in reality is Nothing.
A man must have very little discernment who can live long in courts or populous cities without being convinced of the great dignity of Nothing; and though he should, through corruption or necessity, comply with the vulgar worship and adulation, he will know to what it is paidnamely, to Nothing.
The most astonishing instance of this respect so frequently paid to Nothing is when it is paid (if I may so express myself) to something less than Nothing; when the person who receives it is not only void of the quality for which he is respected, but is in reality notoriously guilty of the vices directly opposite to the virtues whose applause he receives. This is, indeed, the highest degree of Nothing, or (if I may be allowed the word) the Nothingest of all Nothings.
As Nothing is the end of the world, so it is of everything in the world. Ambition, the greatest, highest, noblest, finest, most heroic and Godlike of all passions, what doth it end in? Nothing. What did Alexander, Cæsar, and all the rest of that heroic band who have plundered and massacred so many millions, obtain by all their care, labour, pain, fatigue, and danger? Could they speak for themselves, must they not own that the end of all their pursuit was Nothing? Nor is this the end of private ambition alone. What is become of that proud mistress of the world-caput triumphati orbis—that Rome of which her own flatterers so liberally prophesied the immortality? In what has all her glory ended ? Surely in Nothing. ...
Seeing that such is its dignity and importance, and that it is really the end of all those things which are supported with so much pomp and solemnity and looked on with such respect and esteem, surely it becomes a wise man to regard Nothing with the utmost awe and adoration; to pursue it with all his parts and pains; and to sacrifice to it his ease, his innocence, and his present happiness. To which noble pursuit we have this great incitement, that we may rest assured of never being cheated or deceived in the end proposed. The virtuous, wise, and learned may then be unconcerned at all the changes of ministries and of government; since they may be well satisfied that, while ministers of State are rogues themselves, and have inferior knavish tools to bribe and reward, true virtue, wisdom, learning, wit, and integrity will most certainly bring their possessors Nothing.
Opening Scenes of “ Tom Thumb the Great”
KING ARTHUR, a passionate sort of king, husband to QUEEN
DOLLALLOLLA, of whom he stands a little in fear; father to HUNCAMUNCA (whom he is very fond of) and in love
with GLUMDALCA. Tom THUMB THE GREAT, a little hero with a great soul, some
thing violent in his temper, which is a little abated by his
love for HUNCAMUNCA. Ghost OF GAFFER THUMB, a whimsical sort of ghost. LORD GRIZZLE, extremely zealous for the liberty of the sub
ject, very choleric in his temper, and in love with Hun
CAMUNCA. MERLIN, a conjuror, and in some sort father to Tom THUMB. Noodle and Doodle, courtiers in place, and consequently of that party that is undermost.
FOODLE, a courtier that is out of place, and consequently of
that party that is undermost. BAILIFF and FOLLOWER, of the party of the plaintiff. PARSON, of the side of the Church. QUEEN DOLLALLOLLA, wife to KING ARTHUR, and mother to
HUNCAMUNCA, a woman entirely faultless, saving that she is a little given to drink, a little too much a virago
toward her husband, and in love with Tom THUMB. The PRINCESS HUNCAMUNCA, daughter to their Majesties
KING ARTHUR and QUEEN DOLLALLOLLA, of a very sweet, gentle, and amorous disposition, equally in love with LORD GRIZZLE and Tom THUMB, and desirous to be
married to them both. GLUMDALCA, of the giants, a captive Queen, beloved by the
King, but in love with Tom THUMB. CLEORA, MUSTACHA, maids of honour in love with NOODLE
and DOODLE. COURTIERS, GUARDS, REBELS, DRUMS, TRUMPETS, THUNDER
SCENE.—The Court of King ARTHUR, and a plain
DOODLE and NOODLE.
Nood. This day, oh, Mr. Doodle, is a day-