Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

It were to be wished, that those who devote their lives to study, would at once believe nothing as too great for their altainment, and consider nothing as too little for their regard; that they would extend their notice alike to science and to life, and unite some knowledge of the present world to their acquaintance with past ages, and remote events,

Nothing has so much exposed men of learning to contempt and ridicule, as their ignorance of things which are known to all but themselves, and their inability to conduct common negociations, and extricate their affairs from tri. vial perplexities. Those who have been taught tu con. sider the institution of the schcols, as giving the last perfection of human abilities, are surprised to see men wrinkled with study, yet wanting to be instructed in the minute circumstances of propriety, or the necessary forms of daily transactions; and quickly shake off their reverence for movies of education, which they find to produce na ability above the rest of mankind.

Books, says Bacon, can never teach the use of books. The student must learn, by commerce with mankind, to' reduce bis speculations to practice, and accommodate his knowledge to the purposes of life.

It is too cum:non for those who have been bred to scholastic professions, and passed much of their time in acade- : mies, where nothing but learning conters honours, to dis. regard every qualification, and to imagine that they shall find mankind ready to pay homage to their knowledge, and to crowd about them for instruction. They, therefore, step out from their cells into the open world, with all the confidence of authority and dignity of importance; they look round about them at once with arrogance and scorn on a race of beings to whom they are equally unknown, and equally contemptible, but whose manners they must imi. tale, and with whose opinions they must comply, if they desire to pass their time happily among them.

To lessen that disdain with which schulars are inclined to look on the commen business of the world, and the unwillingness with which they condescend to leam what is not to be found in any system of philosophy, it may be necessary to consider, ihat though admiration is excited by abstruse researches and renule discoveries, wecannot hope to give pleasure, or to conciliate affection, but by softer accomplishments, and by qualities more easily communicable lo those about us. He that can only converse upon ques.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

tions, about which only a small part of mankind has knowledge suficient to be curious, must pass his days in unsocial silence, and live in the crowd of life without a companion. He that can only be useful on great occasions, may die without exerting his abilities, and stand a helpless spectator of a thousand vexations which fret away the happiness of being, and which nothing is required to remove but a little dexterity of conduct, and readiness of expedients.

No degree of knowledge, attainable by man, is able to set him above the want of hourly assistance, or to extin. guish the nature of fond endearments and tender officious. ness; and, therefore, no one should think it unnecessary to learn those arts by which friendship may be gained. Kinde ness is preserved by a constant reciprocation of benefits, or interchange of pleasures; but such benefits only can be bestowed, as others are capable to conceive, and such pleasures only imparted, as others are qualified to enjoy.

By this descent from the pinnacles of art no honour, will be lost; for the condescensions of learning are always overe : paid by gratitude. An elevated genius, employed in little : things, appears, to use the simile of Longinus, like the sun in his evening declination ; he remits his splendour, but setains his magnitude, and pleases more, though he dazzles less.

I am, sir, yours affectionately.

LETTER CXXX. From the same, on the necessity of being virtuous in our

youth. Dear Sir,

AN is the only creature in the world, whose happiness it is so ; who has something in him that disdains the imperfection of his own being, and languishes after a condition more perfect. Were he composed only, like other animals, of flesh and blood, he would find no more faults with his being, than they do with theirs, matter alone being incapa- . ble of reflections; these are, sir, the secret repinings of the soul, by which she evidently discovers her existence. And, since it is naiural for all beings to seek and thirst after happiness, it is necessary to know where that seat is fixed, it being the want of that knowledge that makes us waste so much time in vain pursuits pofitabl., namnts, in endeavouring to confine larri

is a prison too weak to hold il: 200

conduct it

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

thither, are too feeble long to guard and retain it; it is constantly endeavouring to make its escape, and what is worse, il never fails in accomplishing its aim. Besides, if it has no other existence than the body, it must be very transitory, and perish with it in a contemptible portion of time. A man of that opinion must be sure

his thoughts always steadily confined within the compass of this life and world; for, if they happen to wander beyond these limits, they will enter into dark and uncomfortable regions,affording nothing but black and dismal prospects, as too many gay unthinking persons find by sad experience. Now virtue, the true science of happiness, will give us juster notions of it, and teach us that the true seat of happiness is in the soul, which is of a capacity large enough to contain it, and of a duration lasting enough to preserve it to elernity; there it may rise to immeasurable heights without restraint; it can never overburden or overpower the soul. It is the poor feeble body only, that is not able to support it, and that is too weak to hear the rapid and violent motions of the soul, when it is filled and agitated with an excessive joy. The heart is capable of bearing but a small insignificant measure of joy; it may be easily destroyed by its irresistible efforts. The heart is equally incapable of supporting in moderate joy, or iminoderate grief; the one proves destructive. by too great a dilation, and the other by too great a depression. Whichsoever of them happens in an immoderate degree, the frail vessel is broken, and life gushes, in á torrent, through the wound. It is a preposterous resolution of some people to defer be-, ing virtuoss till they grow old, imagining that wisdom is the natural consequence of old age; as if that which is the greatest imperfection of human nature, were most proper io confer on us the highest perfection of it., Long observation, indeed, is productive of experience; but experience is very different from wisdom, though it is the ulinost advantage old age can pretend to bestow upon us. Now it must be considered, that virtue is a habit of mind, which must be acquired by industry and application, to be forci. bly introduced into the soul, in opposition to vice; and after it has gotten a long and undisturbed possession of it, must be attended with great difficulty, and requires a persevering resolution. It is not to be effected in a small interval of time; thr roaches must be regular and graduai to dislodge so pok nemy. It is a task that requires

the vigour of gouth, and more time than old age has to bestow.

The chief end of a virtuous life is to give us as near a resemblance as is possible to the divine nature, to make us pure as he is pure; that is, to raise us to the ulmost degree of purity our frail nature is capable of. Now, the deferring this work till we grow old, is resolving to be as unlike God as possible; it is a confident, but very ridiculous assurance, that old age will help our deformity, and give us a very good resemblance of him, and in an instant confer upon us purity like his, after we have wilfully passed over our whole life in contracting pollution. But can we think that, when the purest and sprightliest part of life has been prostituted to vice, the dregs are an offering fit for our Maker? and can we think, that he will accept of such a sacrifice ?

It is then our highest wisdom to tread the paths of virtue. in the morning of our days, that the evening may terminate with a smiling serenity; and when the struggles of reluclant nature are over, the soul may securely wing its way to the settled regions of unmolested securiiy.

I am, sir, your dear friend,

LETTER CXXXI, On marriage, from a lady in town to her friend in the

country, Dear Madam, MA

ARRIAGE is despised by some, and by others too much

cuveted. The first sin against the law of nature,and divine ordination; the last (100 often) against their own peace and happiness. For those that are in extraordinary haste for a settlement, do commonly extend their expectations beyond what they have possessed in a single life and manytimes the imaginary heaven proves a hell. Though your changing your condition had an extraordinary prospect, yet I hear my last letter, which was to wish you joy, found you in row: but I know you are too well principled not to remember the time will come " when the wicked shall cease from troubling, and the weary will be at rest.” For if your husband continues so industrious to torment you, as the world represents him, I believe you can expect but little rest till that time is come; unless it is by the inward peace good conscience, which none can Lake from you. This is

sor

of a

a consolation which clamorous wives always lose, and which can never be recompensed by any point they gain, however apparently to their advantage. Since the laws of God and mature have given men the supreme authority in inarriage, we ought not first to accept them upon those terms, and then mutiny upon all occasions, For though some men are. so kind as to make our yoke light unto us; yet we take. them“ for better for worse;" and experience shows us, that the odds are on the worse side. Allihis weshould consider before we engageourselves in those strict ties, which oblige us to deny our own inclinations, and comply with those of our husbands. Indeed human policy oughi to teach us this lesson; for if se make a man's home less agreeable to him than any other place, we furnish him with a good excuse for going abroad, which can never be to our mutual advan., tage. Those men whom business does not call out to get money, are generally on the spend; and he that is driven from home by a wife's ill humour, is always more extrava. gant abroad, and even thinks he has a better pretence. to be so, while he sacrifices his body and soul, as well as his estate, lo his revenge.

Some women, indeed, will divert themselves, and not seem to mind it; and instead of endeavouring to win their husbands by complaisance, turn as extravagant as they; or as the old proverb says, “ they light the candle at both ends, though they know it must at last burn their own -fingers. However, they seldom fail of suffering by their rashness; and the further they run out, the sooner they find a check upon their expenses; besides, if they.should preserve their honesty, yet they undergo the certain loss of their reputation, which is infinitely more valuable to them than anything else in the world, and although by such a conduct, they may think to reclaim the men, yet they ought not to do evil that good may come.”

But I most of all wonder at some of our acquaintance who seem to be sober women, and yet recommend it, as the best way to deal with a passionate husband, to be more unreasonable than he; such a conduct may silence some men, and might be pardonable, if God as well as man were to be silenced by it. But our religion tells us, " we must not be overcome of evil, bus overcome evil with good.': An evil tongue neverappears so odious asinthe mouth of a passionate woman, railing against her husband. We com nonly say

« PreviousContinue »