« PreviousContinue »
machine insensibly; not to mention those violent ferments which they stir up in the blood, and those irregular, disturbed motions which they raise in the animal spirits. I scarce remember, in my own observation, to have met with many old men, or with such who, (to use our English phrase) wear well, that had not at least a certain indolence in their humour, if not more than ordinary gaiety and cheerfulness of heart. The truth of it is, health and cheerfulness mutually beget each other, with this difference, that we seldom meet with a great degree of health, which is not attended with a certain cheerfulness, but very often see cheerfulness, where there is no great degree of health.
Cheerfulness bears the same friendly regard to the mind as to the body; it banishes all anxious care and discontent, soothes and composes the passions, and keeps the soul in a perpetual calm.
If we consider the world in its subserviency to man, one would think it was made for our use; but if we consider it in its natural beauty and harmony, one would be apt to conclude it was made for our pleasure. The sun, which is the great soul of the universe, and produces all the necessaries of life, has a particular influence in cheering the mind of man, and making the heart glad.
Those several living creatures which are made for our service or sustenance, at the same time either fill the woods with their music, furnish us with game, or raise pleasing ideas in us by the delightfulness of their appearance. Fountains, lakes, and rivers, are as refreshing to the imagination, as to the soil through which they pass.
There are writers of great distinction, who have made it an argument for Providence, that the whole earth is covered with green, rather than with any other colour, as being such a right mixture of light and shade, that it comforts and strengthens the eye, instead of weakening or grieving it. For this reason, several painters have a green cloth hanging near them, to ease the eye upon, after too great an application to their colouring. A famous modern philosopher accounts for it in the following manner :-all colours that are most luminous, overpower and dissipate the animal spirits which are employed in sight; on the contrary, those that are more obscure, do not give the animal spirits a sufficient exercise; whereas, the rays that produce in us the idea of green, fall upon the eye in such a due proportion, that they give the animal spirits their proper play, and by keep
ing up the struggle in a just balance, excite a very pleasing and agreeable sensation. Let the cause be what it will, the effect is certain; for which reason the poets ascribe to this particular colour, the epithet of cheerful.
To consider further this double end in the works of nature, and how they are at the same time both useful and entertaining, we find that the most important parts in the vegetable world are those which are the most beautiful. These are the seeds by which the several races of plants are propagated and continued, and which are always lodged in flowers or blossoms. Nature seems to hide her principal design, and to be industrious in making the earth gay and delightful, while she is carrying on her great work, and intent upon her own preservation. The husbandman, after the same manner, is employed in laying out the whole country into a kind of garden or landscape, and making every thing smile about him, whilst, in reality, he thinks of nothing but of the harvest and increase which is to arise from it. We may further observe how Providence has taken care to keep up this cheerfulness in the mind of man, by having formed it after such a manner, as to make it capable of conceiving delight from several objects which seem to have very little use in them; as from the wildness of rocks and deserts, and the like grotesque parts of nature. Those who are versed in philosophy, may still carry this consideration kigher, by observing, that if matter had appeared to us endowed only with those real qualities which it actually possesses, it would have made but a very joyless and uncomfortable figure; and why has Providence given it a power of producing in us such imaginary qualities, as tastes and colours, sounds and smells, heat and cold, but that man, while he is conversant in the lower stations of nature, might have his mind cheered and delighted with agreeable sensations? In short, the whole universe is a kind of theatre, filled with objects that either raise in us pleasure, amusement, or admiration.
The reader's own thoughts will suggest to him the vicis situdes of day and night, the change of seasons, with all that variety of scenes which diversify the face of nature, and fill the mind with a perpetual succession of beautiful and pleas ing images.
I shall not here mention the several entertainments of art, with the pleasures of friendship, books, conversation, and other accidental diversions of life, because I would
only take notice of such incitements to a cheerful temper, as offer themselves to persons of all ranks and conditions, and which may sufficiently show us that Providence did not design this world should be filled with murmurs and repinings, or that the heart of man should be involved in gloom and melancholy.
I the more inculcate this cheerfulness of temper, as it is a virtue in which our countrymen are observed to be more deficient than any other nation. Melancholy is a kind of demon that haunts our island, and often conveys herself to us in an easterly wind. A celebrated French novelist, in opposition to those who begin their romances with the flowery seasons of the year, enters on his story thus" In the gloomy month of November, when the people of England hang and drown themselves, a disconsolate lover walked out into the fields," &c.
Every one ought to fence against the temper of his climate or constitution, and frequently to indulge in himself those considerations which may give him a serenity of mind, and enable him to bear up cheerfully against those little evils and misfortunes, which are common to human nature, and which, by right improvement of them, will produce a satiety of joy, and uninterrupted happiness.
At the same time that I would engage my readers to consider the world in its most agreeable lights, I must own there are many evils which naturally spring up amidst the entertainments that are provided for us: but these, if rightly considered, should be far from overcasting the mind with sorrow, or destroying that cheerfulness of temper which I have been recommending. This interspersion of evil with good, and pain with pleasure, in the works of nature, is very truly ascribed by Mr. Locke, in his Essay on Human Understanding, to a moral reason, in the following words :— Beyond all this, we may find another reason why God hath scattered up and down several degrees of pleasure and pain, in all the things that environ and affect us, and blended them together in almost all that our thoughts and senses have to do with; that we, finding imperfection, dissatisfaction, and want of complete happiness in all the enjoyments which the creatures can afford us, might be led to seek it in the enjoyment of HIM, with whom there is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore."
I.-The Bad Reader.
JULIUS had acquired great credit at Cambridge, by his compositions. They were elegant, animated, and judicious; and several prizes, at different times, had been adjudged to him. An oration which he delivered the week before he left the university, had been honoured with par ticular applause; and on his return home, he was impa tient to gratify his vanity, and to extend his reputation, by having it read to a number of his father's literary friends.
A party was therefore collected; and after dinner the manuscript was produced. Julius declined the office of reader, because he had contracted a hoarseness on his journey; and a conceited young man, with great forwardness, offered his services. Whilst he was settling himself on his seat, licking his lips and adjusting his mouth, hawking, hemming, and making other ridiculous preparations for the performance which he had undertaken, a profound silence gned through the company, the united effect of attention and expectation. The reader at length began; but his tone of voice was so shrill and dissonant, his utterance so vehement, his pronunciation so affected, his emphasis so injudicious, and his accents were so improperly placed, that good manners alone restrained the laughter of the audience. Julius was all this while upon the rack, and his arm was more than once extended to snatch composition from the coxcomb who delivered it. But he proceeded with full confidence in his own elocution; uniformly overstepping, as Shakespeare expresses it, the modesty of nature.
When the oration was concluded, the gentlemen returned their thanks to the author; but the compliments which they paid him were more expressive of politeness and civility, than the conviction of his merit. Indeed, the beauties of his composition had been converted, by bad reading, into blemishes; and the sense of it rendered obscure, and even unintelligible. Julius and his father could not conceal their vexation and disappointment: and the guests, perceiving that they laid them under a painful restraint, withdrew, as soon as decency permitted, to their respective habitations.
II-Respect due to Old Age.
IT happened at Athens, during a public representation of some play exhibited in honour of the commonwealth, that
an old gentleman came too late for a place suitable to his age and quality. Many of the young gentlemen, who observed the difficulty and confusion he was in, made signs to him that they would accommodate him, if he came where they sat. The good man bustled through the crowd accordingly; but when he came to the seat to which he was invited, the jest was to sit close and expose him, as he stood out of countenance, to the whole audience. The frolic went round all the Athenian benches. But on those occasions, there were also particular places assigned for foreignWhen the good man skulked towards the boxes appointed for the Lacedemonians, that honest people, more virtuous than polite, rose up all to a man, and with the greatest respect, received him among them. The Athenians, being suddenly touched with a sense of the Spartan virtue and their own degeneracy, gave a thunder of applause; and the old man cried out, "the Athenians understand what is good, but the Lacedemonians practise it."
III.-Piety to God recommended to the Young. WHAT I shall first recommend, is piety to God. With this I begin, both as the foundation of good morals, and as a disposition particularly graceful and becoming in youth. To be void of it, argues a cold heart, destitute of some of the best affections which belong to that age. Youth is the of warm and generous emotions. The heart should then spontaneously rise into the admiration of what is great ; glow with the love of what is fair and excellent; and melt at the discovery of tenderness and goodness. Where can any object be found so proper to kindle these affections, as the Father of the universe, and the Author of all felicity? Unmoved by veneration, can you contemplate that grandeur and majesty which his works every where display? Untouched by gratitude, can you view that profusion of good, which, in this pleasing season of life, his beneficent hand pours around you? Happy in the love and affection of those with whom you are connected, look up to the Supreme Being, as the inspirer of all the friendship which has ever been shown you by others; himself your best and your first friend; formerly the supporter of your infancy, and the guide of your childhood; now the guardian of your youth, and the hope of your coming years. View religious homage as a natural expression of gratitude to him for all his goodness. Consider it as the service of the God of your