No. 343 [from The Spectator] by Joseph Addison

Story type: Essay

No. 343
Thursday, April 3, 1712. Addison.

–Errat et illinc
Huc venit, hinc illuc, et quoslibet occupat artus
Spiritus: eque feris humana in corpora transit,
Inque feras noster–

Pythag. ap. Ov.

Will. Honeycomb, who loves to shew upon occasion all the little Learning he has picked up, told us yesterday at the Club, that he thought there might be a great deal said for the Transmigration of Souls, and that the Eastern Parts of the World believed in that Doctrine to this day. Sir Paul Rycaut, [1] says he, gives us an Account of several well-disposed Mahometans that purchase the Freedom of any little Bird they see confined to a Cage, and think they merit as much by it, as we should do here by ransoming any of our Countrymen from their Captivity at Algiers. You must know, says WILL., the Reason is, because they consider every Animal as a Brother or Sister in disguise, and therefore think themselves obliged to extend their Charity to them, tho under such mean Circumstances. They’ll tell you, says WILL., that the Soul of a Man, when he dies, immediately passes into the Body of another Man, or of some Brute, which he resembled in his Humour, or his Fortune, when he was one of us.

As I was wondring what this profusion of Learning would end in, WILL. told us that Jack Freelove, who was a Fellow of Whim, made Love to one of those Ladies who throw away all their Fondness [on [2]] Parrots, Monkeys, and Lap-dogs. Upon going to pay her a Visit one Morning, he writ a very pretty Epistle upon this Hint. Jack, says he, was conducted into the Parlour, where he diverted himself for some time with her favourite Monkey, which was chained in one of the Windows; till at length observing a Pen and Ink lie by him, he writ the following Letter to his Mistress, in the Person of the Monkey; and upon her not coming down so soon as he expected, left it in the Window, and went about his Business.

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The Lady soon after coming into the Parlour, and seeing her Monkey look upon a Paper with great Earnestness, took it up, and to this day is in some doubt, says WILL., whether it was written by Jack or the Monkey.


Not having the Gift of Speech, I have a long time waited in vain for an Opportunity of making myself known to you; and having at present the Conveniences of Pen, Ink, and Paper by me, I gladly take the occasion of giving you my History in Writing, which I could not do by word of Mouth. You must know, Madam, that about a thousand Years ago I was an Indian Brachman, and versed in all those mysterious Secrets which your European Philosopher, called Pythagoras, is said to have learned from our Fraternity. I had so ingratiated my self by my great Skill in the occult Sciences with a Daemon whom I used to converse with, that he promised to grant me whatever I should ask of him. I desired that my Soul might never pass into the Body of a brute Creature; but this he told me was not in his Power to grant me. I then begg’d that into whatever Creature I should chance to Transmigrate, I might still retain my Memory, and be conscious that I was the same Person who lived in different Animals. This he told me was within his Power, and accordingly promised on the word of a Daemon that he would grant me what I desired. From that time forth I lived so very unblameably, that I was made President of a College of Brachmans, an Office which I discharged with great Integrity till the day of my Death. I was then shuffled into another Human Body, and acted my Part so very well in it, that I became first Minister to a Prince who reigned upon the Banks of the Ganges. I here lived in great Honour for several Years, but by degrees lost all the Innocence of the Brachman, being obliged to rifle and oppress the People to enrich my Sovereign; till at length I became so odious that my Master, to recover his Credit with his Subjects, shot me thro the Heart with an Arrow, as I was one day addressing my self to him at the Head of his Army.

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Upon my next remove I found my self in the Woods, under the shape of a Jack-call, and soon listed my self in the Service of a Lion. I used to yelp near his Den about midnight, which was his time of rouzing and seeking after his Prey. He always followed me in the Rear, and when I had run down a fat Buck, a wild Goat, or an Hare, after he had feasted very plentifully upon it himself, would now and then throw me a Bone that was but half picked for my Encouragement; but upon my Being unsuccessful in two or three Chaces, he gave me such a confounded Gripe in his Anger, that I died of it.

In my next Transmigration I was again set upon two Legs, and became an Indian Tax-gatherer; but having been guilty of great Extravagances, and being marry’d to an expensive Jade of a Wife, I ran so cursedly in debt, that I durst not shew my Head. I could no sooner step out of my House, but I was arrested by some body or other that lay in wait for me. As I ventur’d abroad one Night in the Dusk of the Evening, I was taken up and hurry’d into a Dungeon, where I died a few Months after.

My Soul then enter’d into a Flying-Fish, and in that State led a most melancholy Life for the space of six Years. Several Fishes of Prey pursued me when I was in the Water, and if I betook my self to my Wings, it was ten to one but I had a flock of Birds aiming at me. As I was one day flying amidst a fleet of English Ships, I observed a huge Sea-Gull whetting his Bill and hovering just over my Head: Upon my dipping into the Water to avoid him, I fell into the Mouth of a monstrous Shark that swallow’d me down in an instant.

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I was some Years afterwards, to my great surprize, an eminent Banker in Lombard-street; and remembring how I had formerly suffered for want of Money, became so very sordid and avaritious, that the whole Town cried shame of me. I was a miserable little old Fellow to look upon, for I had in a manner starved my self, and was nothing but Skin and Bone when I died.

I was afterwards very much troubled and amazed to find my self dwindled into an Emmet. I was heartily concerned to make so insignificant a Figure, and did not know but some time or other I might be reduced to a Mite if I did not mend my Manners. I therefore applied my self with great diligence to the Offices that were allotted me, and was generally look’d upon as the notablest Ant in the whole Molehill. I was at last picked up, as I was groaning under a Burden, by an unlucky Cock-Sparrow that lived in the Neighbourhood, and had before made great depredations upon our Commonwealth.

I then better’d my Condition a little, and lived a whole Summer in the Shape of a Bee; but being tired with the painful and penurious Life I had undergone in my two last Transmigrations, I fell into the other Extream, and turned Drone. As I one day headed a Party to plunder an Hive, we were received so warmly by the Swarm which defended it, that we were most of us left dead upon the Spot.

I might tell you of many other Transmigrations which I went thro: how I was a Town-Rake, and afterwards did Penance in a Bay Gelding for ten Years; as also how I was a Taylor, a Shrimp, and a Tom-tit. In the last of these my Shapes I was shot in the Christmas Holidays by a young Jack-a-napes, who would needs try his new Gun upon me.

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But I shall pass over these and other several Stages of Life, to remind you of the young Beau who made love to you about Six Years since. You may remember, Madam, how he masked, and danced, and sung, and play’d a thousand Tricks to gain you; and how he was at last carry’d off by a Cold that he got under your Window one Night in a Serenade. I was that unfortunate young Fellow, whom you were then so cruel to. Not long after my shifting that unlucky Body, I found myself upon a Hill in AEthiopia, where I lived in my present Grotesque Shape, till I was caught by a Servant of the English Factory, and sent over into Great Britain: I need not inform you how I came into your Hands. You see, Madam, this is not the first time that you have had me in a Chain: I am, however, very happy in this my Captivity, as you often bestow on me those Kisses and Caresses which I would have given the World for, when I was a Man. I hope this Discovery of my Person will not tend to my Disadvantage, but that you will still continue your accustomed Favours to

Your most Devoted
Humble Servant,

P.S. I would advise your little Shock-dog to keep out of my way; for as I look upon him to be the most formidable of my Rivals, I may chance one time or other to give him such a Snap as he wont like.


[Footnote 1: Sir Paul Rycaut, the son of a London merchant, after an education at Trinity College, Cambridge, went in 1661 to Constantinople as Secretary to the Embassy. He published in 1668 his Present State of the Ottoman Empire, in three Books, and in 1670 the work here quoted, A Particular Description of the Mahometan Religion, the Seraglio, the Maritime and Land Forces of Turkey, abridged in 1701 in Savages History of the Turks, and translated into French by Bespier in 1707. Consul afterwards at Smyrna, he wrote by command of Charles II. a book on The Present State of the Greek and American Churches, published 1679. After his return from the East he was made Privy Councillor and Judge of the High Court of Admiralty. He was knighted by James II., and one of the first Fellows of the Royal Society. He published between 1687 and 1700, the year of his death, Knolless History of the Turks, with a continuation of his own, and also translated Platinas Lives of the Popes and Garcilaso de la Vegas History of Peru.]

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[Footnote 2: [upon]]

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