Front Page Titles (by Subject) Spectator, No. 237 - Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays
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Spectator, No. 237 - Joseph Addison, Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays 
Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays, ed. by Christine Dunn Henderson and Mark E. Yellin, with a Foreword by Forrest McDonald (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Spectator, No. 237
Saturday, December 1, 1711
Visu carenti magna Pars Veri latet.
It is very reasonable to believe, that part of the Pleasure which happy Minds shall enjoy in a future State, will arise from an enlarged Contemplation of the Divine Wisdom in the Government of the World, and a Discovery of the secret and amazing Steps of Providence, from the Beginning to the End of Time. Nothing seems to be an Entertainment more adapted to the Nature of Man, if we consider that Curiosity is one of the strongest and most lasting Appetites implanted in us, and that Admiration is one of our most pleasing Passions; and what a perpetual Succession of Enjoyments will be afforded to both these, in a Scene so large and various as shall then be laid open to our View in the Society of superior Spirits, who perhaps will joyn with us in so delightful a Prospect.
It is not impossible, on the contrary, that part of the Punishment of such as are excluded from Bliss may consist not only in their being denied this Privilege, but in having their Appetites at the same time vastly encreased, without any Satisfaction afforded to them. In these, the vain Pursuit of Knowledge shall, perhaps, add to their Infelicity, and bewilder them in Labyrinths of Error, Darkness, Distraction, and Uncertainty of every thing but their own Evil State. Milton has thus represented the fallen Angels reasoning together in a kind of Respite from their Torments, and creating to themselves a new Disquiet amidst their very Amusements; he could not properly have described the Sports of condemned Spirits, without that Cast of Horror and Melancholy he has so judiciously mingled with them.
In our present Condition, which is a middle State, our Minds are, as it were, chequered with Truth and Falshood; and as our Faculties are narrow and our Views imperfect, it is impossible but our Curiosity must meet with many Repulses. The Business of Mankind in this Life being rather to act than to know, their Portion of Knowledge is dealt to them accordingly.
From hence it is, that the Reason of the Inquisitive has so long been exercised with Difficulties, in accounting for the promiscuous Distribution of Good and Evil to the virtuous and the wicked in this World. From hence come all those Pathetical Complaints of so many Tragical Events, which happen to the Wise and the Good; and of such surprizing Prosperity, which is often the Lot of the Guilty and the Foolish; that Reason is sometimes puzzled, and at a loss what to pronounce upon so mysterious a Dispensation.
Plato expresses his Abhorrence of some Fables of the Poets, which seem to reflect on the Gods as the Authors of Injustice;3 and lays it down as a Principle, that whatever is permitted to befal a Just Man, whether Poverty, Sickness, or any of those things which seem to be Evils, shall either in Life or Death conduce to his Good. My Reader will observe how agreeable this Maxim is to what we find delivered by a greater Authority. Seneca has written a Discourse purposely on this Subject, in which he takes Pains, after the Doctrine of the Stoicks, to shew, that Adversity is not in it self an Evil; and mentions a noble Saying of Demetrius,4 That nothing wou’d be more Unhappy than a Man who had never known Affliction. He compares Prosperity to the Indulgence of a fond Mother to a Child, which often proves his Ruin; but the Affection of the Divine Being to that of a Wise Father, who wou’d have his Sons exercised with Labour, Disappointment and Pain, that they may gather Strength, and improve their Fortitude. On this Occasion the Philosopher rises into that celebrated Sentiment, that there is not on Earth a Spectacle more worthy the Regard of a Creator intent on his Works, than a brave Man superior to his Sufferings; to which he adds, that it must be a Pleasure to Jupiter himself to look down from Heaven, and see Cato amidst the Ruins of his Country preserving his Integrity.5
This Thought will appear yet more reasonable, if we consider Human Life as a State of Probation, and Adversity as the Post of Honour in it, assign’d often to the best and most select Spirits.
But what I wou’d chiefly insist on here, is, that we are not at present in a proper Situation to judge of the Counsels by which Providence acts, since but little arrives at our Knowledge, and even that little we discern imperfectly; or, according to the elegant Figure in Holy Writ, we see but in part, and as in a Glass darkly.6 It is to be consider’d that Providence in its Oeconomy regards the whole System of Time and Things together, so that we cannot discover the beautiful Connexions between Incidents which lye widely separated in Time, and by losing so many Links of the Chain, our Reasonings become broken and imperfect. Thus those Parts in the Moral World which have not an absolute, may yet have a relative Beauty, in respect of some other Parts concealed from us, but open to his Eye before whom Past, Present and To come, are set together in one point of View; and those Events, the Permission of which seems now to accuse his Goodness, may in the Consummation of Things, both magnifie his Goodness and exalt his Wisdom. And this is enough to check our Presumption, since it is in vain to apply our Measures of Regularity to Matters of which we know neither the Antecedents nor the Consequents, the Beginning nor the End.
I shall relieve my Readers from this abstracted Thought, by relating here a Jewish Tradition concerning Moses, which seems to be a kind of Parable, illustrating what I have last mentioned. That great Prophet, it is said, was called up by a Voice from Heaven to the Top of a Mountain; where, in a Conference with the Supreme Being, he was permitted to propose to him some Questions concerning his Administration of the Universe. In the midst of this Divine Colloquy he was commanded to look down on the Plain below. At the Foot of the Mountain there issued out a clear Spring of Water, at which a Soldier alighted from his Horse to Drink. He was no sooner gone than a little Boy came to the same Place, and finding a Purse of Gold which the Soldier had dropped, took it up and went away with it. Immediately after this came an Infirm old Man, weary with Age and Travelling, and having quenched his Thirst, sat down to rest himself by the side of the Spring. The Soldier missing his Purse returns to search for it, and demands it of the old Man, who affirms he had not seen it, and appeals to Heaven in witness of his Innocence. The Soldier, not believing his Protestations, kills him. Moses fell on his Face with Horror and Amazement, when the Divine Voice thus prevented his Expostulation, “Be not surprised, Moses, nor ask why the Judge of the whole Earth has suffer’d this thing to come to pass; the Child is the Occasion that the Blood of the old Man is spilt; but know, that the old Man whom thou sawest was the Murderer of that Child’s Father.”7
[1. ]“From the blind much of the truth is hidden.” Seneca Oedipus 295.
[2. ]John Milton Paradise Lost ii.557–61.
[3. ]Plato The Republic 377b–383c.
[4. ]Demetrius Phalereus (d. 280 b.c.), Athenian orator and rhetorician, one of the first Peripatetics. He served as governor of Athens from 317 to 307 b.c.
[5. ]Seneca On Providence 3.3: “Among the many fine sayings of our friend Demetrius there is one, which I just heard; it still rings and sings in my ears. ‘No man,’ said he, ‘seems to me more unhappy than one who has never met with adversity.’” See also On Providence 2.5–6 and 9–12.
[6. ]I Corinthians 13:12.
[7. ]This parable appears in neither the Torah nor the Talmud; its Hebrew source is unknown. See Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (1928; reprint, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1956), 3:136, 6:56, n. 290.