Spectator 559 [The Mountain of Human Miseries. Conclusion.]

The Spectator No. 559 (25 June 1714).

Joseph Addison

In the conclusion of the allegory Jupiter announces that all are free to exchange their miseries with those of another, taken from the mountainous pile. It is quickly determined that we are happier in our own miseries than those of another. The figure of Patience is then introduced to undo the work of Fancy. She "returned every Man his own proper Calamity, and, teaching him how to bear it in the most commodious Manner, he marched off with it contentedly, being very well pleased that he had not been left to his own Choice, as to the kind of Evils which fell to his Lot."

James Hervey to his sister: "See how our Judgments and Inclinations alter in the Process of Time! I once thought I should make less Use of the Spectators than you; but now I believe the reverse of this is true, for we read one or more of those elegant and instructive Papers every Morning at Breakfast; they are served up with our Tea, according to their original Design. We reckon our Repast imperfect, without a little of Mr. Addison's or Mr. Steele's Company" 12 October 1742; in Collection of Letters of James Hervey (1760) 2:356.

Samuel Johnson: "Not long afterwards an attempt was made to revive The Spectator, at a time indeed by no means favourable to literature, when the succession of a new family to the throne filled the nation with anxiety, discord, and confusion; and either the turbulence of the times or the satiety of the readers put a stop to the publication after an experiment of eighty numbers, which were afterwards collected into an eighth volume, perhaps more valuable than any one of those that went before it. Addison produced more than a fourth part, and the other contributors are by no means unworthy of appearing as his associates. The time that had passed during the suspension of The Spectator, though it had not lessened his power of humour, seems to have increased his disposition to seriousness: the proportion of his religious to his comick papers is greater than in the former series" "Life of Addison" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81) 2:107-08.

In my last Paper, I gave my Reader a Sight of that Mountain of Miseries which was made up of those several Calamities that afflict the Minds of Men. I saw, with unspeakable Pleasure, the whole Species thus delivered from its Sorrows, though, at the same time, as we stood round the Heap, and surveyed the several Materials of which it was composed, there was scarce a Mortal in this vast Multitude who did not discover what he thought Pleasures and Blessings of Life; and wondered how the Owners of them ever came to look upon them as Burthens and Grievances.

As we were regarding very attentively this Confusion of Miseries, this Chaos of Calamity, Jupiter issued out a second Proclamation, that every one was now at Liberty to exchange his Affliction, and to return to his Habitation with any such other Bundle as should be delivered to him.

Upon this, FANCY began again to bestir her self, and, parcelling out the whole Heap with incredible Activity, recommended to every one his particular Packet. The Hurry and Confusion at this time was not to be expressed. Some Observations, which I made upon the Occasion, I shall communicate to the Publick. A venerable grey-headed Man, who had laid down the Cholick, and who I found wanted an Heir to his Estate, snatched up an undutiful Son that had been thrown into the Heap by his angry Father. The graceless Youth, in less than a quarter of an Hour, pulled the old Gentleman by the Beard, and had like to have knocked his Brains out; so that meeting the true Father, who came towards him in a Fit of the Gripes, he begged him to take his Son again, and give him back his Cholick; but they were incapable either of them to recede from the Choice they had made. A poor Gally-Slave, who had thrown down his Chains, took up the Gout in their stead, but made such wry Faces, that one might easily perceive he was no great Gainer by the Bargain. It was pleasant enough to see the several Exchanges that were made, for Sickness against Poverty, Hunger against want of Appetite, and Care against Pain.

The Female World were very busie among themselves in bartering for Features; one was trucking a Lock of grey Hairs for a Carbuncle, another was making over a short Waste for a pair of round Shoulders, and a third cheapning a bad Face for a lost Reputation: But on all these Occasions, there was not one of them who did not think the new Blemish, as soon as she had got it into her Possession, much more disagreeable than the old one. I made the same Observation on every other Misfortune or Calamity which every one in the Assembly brought upon himself, in lieu of what he had parted with; whether it be that all the Evils which befall us are in some Measure suited and proportioned to our Strength, or that every Evil becomes more supportable by our being accustomed to it, I shall not determine.

I could not for my Heart forbear pitying the poor hump-back'd Gentleman mentioned in the former Paper, who went off a very well-shaped person with a Stone in his Bladder; nor the fine Gentleman who had struck up this Bargain with him that limped through a whole Assembly of Ladies who used to admire him, with a Pair of Shoulders peeping over his Head.

I must not omit my own particular Adventure. My Friend with the long Visage had no sooner taken upon him my short Face, but he made such a grotesque Figure in it, that as I looked upon him I could not forbear laughing at my self, insomuch that I put my own Face out of Countenance. The poor Gentleman was so sensible of the Ridicule, that I found he was ashamed of what he had done: On the other side I found that I my self had no great Reason to triumph, for as I went to touch my Forehead I missed the Place and clapped my Finger upon my upper Lip. Besides, as my Nose was exceeding prominent, I gave it two or three unlucky Knocks as I was playing my Hand about my Face, and aiming at some other part of it. I saw two other Gentlemen by me, who were in the same ridiculous Circumstances. These had made a foolish Swop between a couple of thick bandy Legs, and two long Trapsticks that had no Calfs to them. One of these looked like a Man walking upon Stilts, and was so lifted up into the Air above his ordinary Height, that his Head turned round with it, while the other made such awkward Circles, as he attempted to walk, that he scarce knew how to move forward upon his new Supporters: Observing him to be a pleasant kind of Fellow, I stuck my Cane in the Ground, and told him I would lay him a Bottle of Wine, that he did not march up to it on a Line, that I drew for him, in a quarter of an Hour.

The Heap was at last distributed among the two Sexes, who made a most piteous Sight as they wandered up and down under the Pressure of their several Burthens. The whole Plain was filled with Murmurs and Complaints, Groans and Lamentations. Jupiter at length, taking Compassion on the poor Mortals, ordered them a second time to lay down their Loads, with a Design to give every one his own again. They discharged themselves with a great deal of Pleasure, after which, the Phantome, who had led them into such gross Delusions, was commanded to disappear. There was sent in her stead a Goddess of a quite different Figure. Her Motions were steady and composed, and her Aspect serious but cheerful. She every now and then cast her Eyes towards Heaven, and fixed them upon Jupiter: Her Name was PATIENCE. She had no sooner placed her self by the Mount of Sorrows, but, what I thought very remarkable, the whole Heap sunk to such a Degree, that it did not appear a third part so big as it was before. She afterwards returned every Man his own proper Calamity, and, teaching him how to bear it in the most commodious Manner, he marched off with it contentedly, being very well pleased that he had not been left to his own Choice, as to the kind of Evils which fell to his Lot.

Besides the several Pieces of Morality to be drawn out of this Vision, I learnt from it, never to repine at my own Misfortunes, or to envy the Happiness of another, since it is impossible for any Man to form a right judgment of his Nieighbours Sufferings; for which Reason also I have determined never to think too lightly of another's Complaints, but to regard the Sorrows of my Fellow Creatures with Sentiments of Humanity and Compassion.