No. 181 [from The Spectator] by Joseph Addison

Story type: EssayThursday, September 27, 1711.‘His lacrymis vitam damus, et miserescimus ultro.’Virg.I am more pleased with a Letter that is filled with Touches of Nature …

Story type: Essay

Thursday, September 27, 1711.

‘His lacrymis vitam damus, et miserescimus ultro.’

Virg.

I am more pleased with a Letter that is filled with Touches of Nature than of Wit. The following one is of this Kind.

SIR,

‘Among all the Distresses which happen in Families, I do not remember that you have touched upon the Marriage of Children without the Consent of their Parents. I am one of [these [1]] unfortunate Persons. I was about Fifteen when I took the Liberty to choose for my self; and have ever since languished under the Displeasure of an inexorable Father, who, though he sees me happy in the best of Husbands, and blessed with very fine Children, can never be prevailed upon to forgive me. He was so kind to me before this unhappy Accident, that indeed it makes my Breach of Duty, in some measure, inexcusable; and at the same Time creates in me such a Tenderness towards him, that I love him above all things, and would die to be reconciled to him. I have thrown myself at his Feet, and besought him with Tears to pardon me; but he always pushes me away, and spurns me from him; I have written several Letters to him, but he will neither open nor receive them. About two Years ago I sent my little Boy to him, dressed in a new Apparel; but the Child returned to me crying, because he said his Grandfather would not see him, and had ordered him to be put out of his House. My Mother is won over to my Side, but dares not mention me to my Father for fear of provoking him. About a Month ago he lay sick upon his Bed, and in great Danger of his Life: I was pierced to the Heart at the News, and could not forbear going to inquire after his Health. My Mother took this Opportunity of speaking in my Behalf: she told him with abundance of Tears, that I was come to see him, that I could not speak to her for weeping, and that I should certainly break my Heart if he refus’d at that Time to give me his Blessing, and be reconciled to me. He was so far from relenting towards me, that he bid her speak no more of me, unless she had a mind to disturb him in his last Moments; for, Sir, you must know that he has the Reputation of an honest and religious Man, which makes my Misfortune so much the greater. God be thanked he is since recovered: But his severe Usage has given me such a Blow, that I shall soon sink under it, unless I may be relieved by any Impressions which the reading of this in your Paper may make upon him.

I am, etc.

Of all Hardnesses of Heart there is none so inexcusable as that of Parents towards their Children. An obstinate, inflexible, unforgiving Temper is odious upon all Occasions; but here it is unnatural. The Love, Tenderness, and Compassion, which are apt to arise in us towards those [who [2]] depend upon us, is that by which the whole World of Life is upheld. The Supreme Being, by the transcendent Excellency and Goodness of his Nature, extends his Mercy towards all his Works; and because his Creatures have not such a spontaneous Benevolence and Compassion towards those who are under their Care and Protection, he has implanted in them an Instinct, that supplies the Place of this inherent Goodness. I have illustrated this kind of Instinct in former Papers, and have shewn how it runs thro’ all the Species of brute Creatures, as indeed the whole Animal Creation subsists by it.

This Instinct in Man is more general and uncircumscribed than in Brutes, as being enlarged by the Dictates of Reason and Duty. For if we consider our selves attentively, we shall find that we are not only inclined to love those who descend from us, but that we bear a kind of [Greek: atorgae], or natural Affection, to every thing which relies upon us for its Good and Preservation. Dependance is a perpetual Call upon Humanity, and a greater Incitement to Tenderness and Pity than any other Motive whatsoever.

The Man therefore who, notwithstanding any Passion or Resentment, can overcome this powerful Instinct, and extinguish natural Affection, debases his Mind even below Brutality, frustrates, as much as in him lies, the great Design of Providence, and strikes out of his Nature one of the most Divine Principles that is planted in it.

Among innumerable Arguments [which [3]] might be brought against such an unreasonable Proceeding, I shall only insist on one. We make it the Condition of our Forgiveness that we forgive others. In our very Prayers we desire no more than to be treated by this kind of Retaliation. The Case therefore before us seems to be what they call a Case in Point; the Relation between the Child and Father being what comes nearest to that between a Creature and its Creator. If the Father is inexorable to the Child who has offended, let the Offence be of never so high a Nature, how will he address himself to the Supreme Being under the tender Appellation of a Father, and desire of him such a Forgiveness as he himself refuses to grant?

To this I might add many other religious, as well as many prudential Considerations; but if the last mentioned Motive does not prevail, I despair of succeeding by any other, and shall therefore conclude my Paper with a very remarkable Story, which is recorded in an old Chronicle published by Freher, among the Writers of the German History. [4]

Eginhart, who was Secretary to Charles the Great, became exceeding popular by his Behaviour in that Post. His great Abilities gain’d him the Favour of his Master, and the Esteem of the whole Court. Imma, the Daughter of the Emperor, was so pleased with his Person and Conversation, that she fell in Love with him. As she was one of the greatest Beauties of the Age, Eginhart answer’d her with a more than equal Return of Passion. They stifled their Flames for some Time, under Apprehension of the fatal Consequences that might ensue. Eginhart at length resolving to hazard all, rather than be deprived of one whom his Heart was so much set upon, conveyed himself one Night into the Princess’s Apartment, and knocking gently at the Door, was admitted as a Person [who [5]] had something to communicate to her from the Emperor. He was with her in private most Part of the Night; but upon his preparing to go away about Break of Day, he observed that there had fallen a great Snow during his Stay with the Princess. This very much perplexed him, lest the Prints of his Feet in the Snow might make Discoveries to the King, who often used to visit his Daughter in the Morning. He acquainted the Princess Imma with his Fears; who, after some Consultations upon the Matter, prevailed upon him to let her carry him through the Snow upon her own Shoulders. It happened, that the Emperor not being able to sleep, was at that time up and walking in his Chamber, when upon looking through the Window he perceived his Daughter tottering under her Burden, and carrying his first Minister across the Snow; which she had no sooner done, but she returned again with the utmost Speed to her own Apartment. The Emperor was extreamly troubled and astonished at this Accident; but resolved to speak nothing of it till a proper Opportunity. In the mean time, Eginhart knowing that what he had done could not be long a Secret, determined to retire from Court; and in order to it begged the Emperor that he would be pleased to dismiss him, pretending a kind of Discontent at his not having been rewarded for his long Services. The Emperor would not give a direct Answer to his Petition, but told him he would think of it, and [appointed [6]] a certain Day when he would let him know his Pleasure. He then called together the most faithful of his Counsellors, and acquainting them with his Secretary’s Crime, asked them their Advice in so delicate an Affair. They most of them gave their Opinion, that the Person could not be too severely punished who had thus dishonoured his Master. Upon the whole Debate, the Emperor declared it was his Opinion, that Eginhart’s Punishment would rather encrease than diminish the Shame of his Family, and that therefore he thought it the most adviseable to wear out the Memory of the Fact, by marrying him to his Daughter. Accordingly Eginhart was called in, and acquainted by the Emperor, that he should no longer have any Pretence of complaining his Services were not rewarded, for that the Princess Imma should be given [him [7]] in Marriage, with a Dower suitable to her Quality; which was soon after performed accordingly.

L.

[Footnote 1: those]

[Footnote 2: that]

[Footnote 3: that]

[Footnote 4: Marquard Freher, who died at Heidelberg in 1614, aged 49, was Counsellor to the Elector Palatine, and Professor of Jurisprudence at Heidelberg, until employed by the Elector (Frederick IV) as his Minister in Poland, and at other courts. The chief of many works of his were, on the Monetary System of the Ancient Romans and of the German Empire in his day, a History of France, a collection of Writers on Bohemian History, and another of Writers on German History, Rerum Germanicarum Scriptores, in three volumes. It is from a Chronicle of the monastery of Lorsch (or Laurisheim), in Hesse Darmstadt, under the year 805, in the first volume of the last-named collection, that the story about Eginhart was taken by Bayle, out of whose Dictionary Addison got it. Bayle, indeed, specially recommends it as good matter for a story. Imma, the chronicle says, had been betrothed to the Grecian Emperor.]

[Footnote 5: that]

[Footnote 6: fixed on]

[Footnote 7: to him]

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