« PreviousContinue »
On the General Improvement in Virtue.
springing about the commencement of the world, and swelling in its progress rolled down from the beginning, and poured out the filth of its abominations, with an almost universal deluge, over the age of Augustus. Nor are we able to recollect a single pause in its rapid and desolating course, till the fulness of time' came, when at the Divine command, Light sprung up in the midst of darkness." But from that happy period, a counteracting and renewing influence has moved on the face of the waters: the progress of evil has been arrested; the blacker enormities of vice begin to disappear; and the prospects of increasing virtue reach onward even to millennial perfection.
Still, however, the old complaint is heard; and we are seriously told that the world is growing worse. The hoary-headed remnant of a past generation, bending under a load of years, turns away with disgust from the follies of the present, and delights to dwell on the remembrance of better and happier days, which, in his estimation, have passed never to return. This sentiment, however, evidently arises, more from the natural changes that take place on the individual himself as he passes on through the various stages of life, from youth to manhood, and from manhood to age, than from any actual deterioration in the manners of society around him. In youth the heart is warm and full of hope. Care or suspicion has not yet sprung up to blunt the edge of enjoyment; and every new object that solicits attention comes with the fallacious recommendation of novelty. But as life advances, the airy dreams of youth are dissipated. In the busy anxious chase after riches, pleasure, or power, the jarring intetests of individuals interfere; and, though when from this cause arise suspicions, and hatreds and strife, the finer and purer feelings of the heart are destroyed; and, the original capacities of enjoyment being lessened, the same objects, and the same simple pleasures, that once filled the whole soul with delight, are now capable of pleasing no more. And the weary old inan, wrinkled with care and hardened by disappointment, and not able to enter into the tastes of another age, is therefore excluded from its sympathy: and driven as it were to the verge of mortal existence, unconscious of the mighty change he himself has undergone, he shares not again in the gaities of the young: he feels not the warmth of temper by which they are moved; but looks back with a mingled feeling of pity and indignation on their follies and their crimes.
On the General Improvement in Virtue.
But besides this natural progress through which men, as it were, grow out of the world, and loose their relish for its enjoyments before they have quite subdued the desire of them, other causes also have existed why mankind have so generally agreed in thinking the former times better than these, The history of particular families, showing instances of degeneracy, has been quoted to strengthen and confirm the alleged fact. And I have often heard old Richard Morton, a particular friend of ours, after indulging long in this sort of argument, triumphantly conclude, that he must be a fool, or worse, who could remain obstinately blind to a truth so obvious:-and then, after a long pause, he would heave a deep sigh, and "wonder what the world would come to at last."-Then, as I remember, being yet a boy, I was quite of the same mind with the venerable speaker, and perfectly happy while pressed against that bosom which seemed somehow or other, strangely relieved by the torrent of invective it poured forth against the whole age to which I belonged; for even boys, in Richard's opinion, were not then so good as these innocent little creatures he remembered to have played with in the better days of his youth. But now that I have almost become old myself, and taken, at least, some pains to compare the present with the history of the past, I have ventured with much deference to the ever-cherished memory of the good old man, to form an opinion on these matters somewhat different from his. Yet, it must be confessed, one often finds a difficulty in resisting the temptation to make general the conclusion, which so evidently follows from observing so many young men exhibiting, and even priding in characters so opposite to all that is amiable and praiseworthy. When one sees again and again, and meets in almost every circle the strippling descendants of men whose memories are embalmed by the lasting influence of their virtues, without sense and without heart, snuffing up the air in the wantonness of folly, sneering with contemptible satisfaction at what they call, the awkward simplicity of their fathers, and swaggering and swelling in the pride of that superior tenacity and manly daring, which enables them to trample firmly and fearlessly on all the softer and purer virtues of domestic and social life, one cannot help feeling a gorge of indignation, and is compelled, in the bitterness of the moment, to admit that the world is indeed growing worse.
In such circumstances, however, we forget that although
On the General Improvement in Virtue.
hundreds, amid all the advantages which fortune and their fathers have crowded into their lot, sink, in despite of their effrontery, into personal insignificance, thousands of an opposite character may be traced from the most unpromising ancestry, who, having surmounted every opposing difficulty, now occupy the places, and represent the virtues of the most valuable supporters of the bygone age. Thus, for example, the grand-nephew of the redoubted Andrew Fairservice, whose ancestor Will was no way superior to the selfish and unprincipled Gardener, is, at this moment, a merchant of the first respectability: and universally esteemed, not only as a man upright and honest in all the transactions of an extensive business, but also as a most useful citizen, and ainiable member of society. And therefore, though Nicol Jarvie in his putrid hovel has drawn around him the execrations of a disgusted neighbourhood, Thomson Fairservice, Esq. with every rich and fascinating accomplishment, is looked up to with cordial approbation, and pointed out as a sample of virtue to be admired and copied.
Nor is there any thing in the general character of the times to militate against the pleasing opinion I have adopted. Licentiousness, it is true, and a melancholy want of personal purity, widely prevail. But when was it ever otherwise? There was indeed a time when a select company could be found better and purer in every respect, than any thing the present day can produce. But the time has not yet been when so great a portion of the world was so enlightened and so virtuous. The standard of excellence, cleared from the rubbish of ages, is every day more clearly and generally understood. Liberality and a spirit of benevolence, have cast'a hallowed lustre over the nations, and carrying along with them the best blessings we enjoy, have penetrated with success to the remotest regions of the globe. Mankind to a wide extent have been rescued from the savage ferocity into which they had fallen. War itself has laid aside its barbarity. Domestic and social intercourse has been much softened and improved. Men, generally speaking, are ashamed of their vices: the habitual grossness, even of the last generation, is hardly any where to be found; and, though occasional enormities stain the history of the current age, the uniningled horror excited by them is a strong evidence of the general improvement that has taken place.
Christianity has done, and is doing much. Let us but do
The Age we live in.
our duties; and the light that shines upon our graves will shine to a better and happier world than this we are about to leave.
THE AGE WE LIVE IN.
Use the Time well if Time use thee well.
Timon of Athens.
"The present age is a blank." Pooh! Mr. Editor, don't believe it! What, has Friar Bacon's head re-appeared to inform us in solemn accents, that " Time was-time is-and time is past!!" Listen not, gentle reader, to the melancholy-discor dant notes of these "screech owls" of society; you never lived in a better age than the present, and there never was a time when the conveniences and elegancies of life were more comeatable than at the present moment. "Where is there a GREAT MAN?" silly question! "Where is there a little man?"—should have been the inquiry. Every thing about us proclaims the grandeur and ingenuity of the age. English barbers, to prove the goodness of their wigs, no longer dip them in 66 a pail of water," but emulating Sterne's Parisian Frisseur, "plunge them in the ocean." Men of talent are to be found every where. Ingenu- . ity and science are the inmates of every humble shed. A truce to fastidious grumbling-review the blessings you enjoy, and be happy.
The indolent, the luxurious, and the niggardly, have all of them gratifications unknown to former ages.
Have we not every invention to prevent the necessity of mental, or bodily fatigue? Are there not many safe and easy guides to the knowledge of languages? "Selections from the best pocts," Beauties of Milton and Shakespeare," Elegant Extracts in Prose and Verse."-Walpoliana-Addisoniana-and -anas without number. In a word libraries sold by the yard; without the trouble to select, or any necessity for wit to distinguish. Do not the Reviewers kindly tell us what books we should read, and the Theatrical critics what plays and players we should applaud, or condemn? To prevent the decay of our corporeal machine (always liable to injury from over exertion) are we not
The Age we live in.
provided with "balloon coaches," telegraph stages," and "flying waggons"? We also have "hunting razors" to shave with in perfect safety. Did the "Sherlocks, Lowths, Blairs, Miltons, &c.," of former times, ever produce, or behold any thing like our modern panoramas, phantasmagorias, eidophusicons, and cosmoramas? Blair was a Scotchman-had second sight perhaps, but did he ever see the invisible girl? Happy and learned age, which can behold such exhibitions, and comprehend such abstruse terms! When were the fanciful, idle, and voluptuous, provided with such sources of gratification! Have we not selfsnuffing snuffers, pocket fiddles, and walking-stick flutes? Is not our poultry, &c. roasted with self-oiling jacks? Aye, and by conjurors? Are we not always provided with " portable soup, and portable rooms to eat it in? And are not all the dainties of life artfully potted, and preserved, and pickled, so that we may enjoy every animal and vegetable delicacy long after it is out of Are not our fashionable "belles and beaux" amply supplied with false eyes, mineral teeth, and enamelled copper noses, cosmeticks, lotions, Olympian dews, Circassian creams, and Sicilian blooms? Are you sick? Were there ever so many universal and never-failing remedies? "Worm lozenges, pabulums of life, solar tinctures, cordial balms of Gilead, antibilious pills, antipertussis, and anti-impetigines?" ention exploded?" An't you happy? What would you have? Have we not in the present day many shops, each "the cheapest in the world?” Is not every thing sold "under prime cost?" And do not our provident manufacturers supply the penurious with "everlasting breeches?" Sir, this is the age, in which all ranks may enjoy themselves. When what we once thought wisdom and wealth are rendered worse than useless; for formerly the end of philosophy was the discovery of truth-Now we not only seek it out, but if we stumble on it, are likely to stand in the pillory for our pains, and as to wealth it is proved by our ministers, that it does not consist in how much you possess, but in how much you owe. Increase your debt, and you increase your riches, and consequently, to the greatest portion of wit, the jails, add the possession of the largest share of wealth!
And is not "sali
P. S. To square the circle was a puzzler to the antients. A coal merchant amongst us then is a greater geometrician, for he