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SENSIBILITY BLUNTED BY HABIT.
Hamlet. Has this fellow no feeling of his business ? He sings at grave-making.
Horatio. Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness.
Hamlet. 'Tis even so: the hand of little employment hath the daintier sense.
Hamlet. Act v. Scene l.
Tae vulgar proverb, “Habit is second nature,” is in every body's mouth, and in nobody's practice—at least, with the knowledge that the formation of our second nature lies very much in our own determination, we seem bent upon acquiring such habits as will make our second nature worse than the first : “We know what's right, and do the wrong with all our might.” Verily the world is fond of uttering wise saws, and good maxims, but very averse to following them. And so strikingly does it resemble, in this particular, the character of Joseph Surface in the play,* that whenever one of these proverbs is paraded ostentatiously, we are apt to address the world, as the said Joseph was addressed, in the following (somewhat profane) ejaculation : “Damn your fine sentiments.” But as this subject, of good and bad habits, is rather hacknied, I willingly pass on to observe the beauty and trnth of those lines just extracted from King Lear :
“ The art of our necessities is strange
That can make vile things precious."
* The School for Scandal,
The effect of custom, in accommodating man to circumstances, strikingly distinguishes him from the lower animals. A few of the latter, it is true, may be removed from their native climate and, like parrots, taught habits foreign to their nature; but they are exceptions to the general rule, as will be apparent by taking a mere glance at what man can do in this respect.
We see the European broiling under the tropical sun, and anon behold him slumbering peacefully under a hut of ice, with the thermometer 500 below Zero! Then again fancy a man, accustomed to every luxury, and enjoying with fine palate the exquisite viands of modern cookery, accustoming himself, by the force of habit and necessity, to make a hearty dinner off shoe leather !* Take another instance. A man of intellect, fond of the society of superior beings like himself, is imprisoned, is shut out entirely from all intercourse with his fellow-men. What does he do ? He cultivates acquaintance with a spider that frequents the walls of his dungeon, is pleased with its presence, laments its absence, loves it! Here is a change of habits and circumstances! Which of the lower animals can be put to such a test ?
An enquiry into the force of habit and custom, in accommodating man to the various necessities of this life, would be one of endless interest and curiosity, and must needs excite feelings of gratitude towards the Author of our being, who has endowed us with a power that may become so essential to our happiness.
* See Captain Franklyn's Expedition in the arctic regions.
DE A T H.
Isabella. The sense of death is most in apprehension ; And the poor beetle, that we tread upon, In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great As when a giant dies.
Measure for Measure. Act iii. Scene 1.
THE FRIEND OF MISERY-AND TERROR OF PROSPERITY.
Constance, Death, death!-oh, amiable, lovely death! Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness! Arise forth from the couch of lasting night, Thou hate and terror to prosperity, And I will kiss thy detestable bones; And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows; And ring these fingers with thy household worms; And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust, And be a carrion monster like thyself; Come, grin on me; and I will think thou smil'st, And kiss thee as thy wife! Misery's love, Oh, come to me!
King John. Act iii. Scene 4.
DEATH COMMON TO ALL.
Talbot. But kings and mightiest potentates must die ; For that's the end of human misery.
1st part King Henry VI. Act iii. Scene 2.
DEATH, AS INDICATIVE OF PREVIOUS MANNER OF LIFE.
K. Henry VI. Ah! what a sign it is of evil life, When death's approach is seen so terrible !
Warwick. So bad a death argues a monstrous life,
2nd part King Henry VI. Act iii. Scene 3.
FEAR OF DEATH REPROVED.
Cæsar. Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear; Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come, when it will come.
Julius Cæsar. Act ii, Scene 2.
Brutus. That we shall die, we know ; 'tis but the time, And drawing days out, that men stand upon.
Cassius. Why, he that cuts off twenty years of life,
Ibid. Act iii, Scene 1. Measure for Measure. Act iii. Scene 1.
Men must endure Their going hence, even as their coming hither : Ripeness * is all.
King Lear. Act v. Scene 2.
FANCIES RESPECTING DEATH INDUCING FEAR OF it.
Claudio. Aye, but to die, and go we know not where; To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot; This sensible warm motion to become A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside In thrilling regions of thick-ribb’d ice; To be imprison’d in the view less winds, And blown with restless violence round about The pendent world; or to be worse than worst Of those that lawless and uncertain thoughts Imagine howling !—'tis tow horrible ! The weariest and most loathed worldly life, That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment Can lay on nature, is a paradise To what we fear of death,
+ This passage is not inserted because the Author approves of its contents, or because Shakspere did, (for the context proves he did not); but on account of its curious collection of notions respecting the state of the soul after death, prevailing amongst different people in different ages. Commentators have (many of them and indeed all I have seen) been at a loss to know where the idea of the “thick-ribbd ice" came from. It is strange that they did not find it out: it is iu the “Inferno" of Dante,