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Letter from Matthew Kenspeckle.
They are the lads who to their colours do stand,
The French revolution war now lately past and gone,
Aleck frequently attends at convivial meetings, where he celebrates the feats of the individuals present, in verse such as I have described; and on such occasions, when the jolly god has approximated some of our peaceable citizens to the Grecian heroes, their exploits are sung in the style of the olden time, by a bard blind, and poor, and ragged, like Homer.
I might mention several others, who within the last six months have become candidates for popular favour; but the task would be endless, for they vary here in country, stature, and features, from the old blind woman who plays Jenny's Bawbee on the New Bridge, whom my friend Baillie Mucklewell is convinced he saw run with alacrity and open eyes, when threatened with death by a cart, and whom he consequently considers a fit subject for Bridewell; to the foreign-looking little man who parades all day in Nelson-Street, and cries Shoe-ties, a penny the pair, a penny the pair, Shoe-ties, a penny the pair.'
Suffer me to conclude this long, and I fear uninteresting letter, by assuring you that I have no undue prejudice against music, which I consider an elegant and scientific amusement. It is with this, however, as with every thing else. In proportion as our partiality for this delightful recreation increases, so does our indignation when its powers of pleasing are lessened by the efforts of an unskilful admirer, or its charms annihilated by the rude attempts of an untutored practitioner. Like every Scotchman, I have been familiar with the music of my country from my infancy, and feel alarmed lest its excellence should suffer, either by the extinction of Scottish taste, or the dislike engendered by the inharmonious bawling which, in these street-exhibitions, disfigures some of our finest airs. It is diffcult to divest one's self so entirely of prejudice as to admire, even when well executed, what we have been accustomed to hear screeched by an unmusical voice, or tortured by an itinerant fiddler; and I am convinced that it is to this process of association and contrast, that we are indebted for the feeling of
Letter from Matthew Kenspeckle.
irksomeness which is excited by the bare mention of some of our finest songs. No doubt the desire of novelty has its own share in the production of this uncomfortable sensation, though this is more particularly the case with frivolous minds. For who is, there that cannot listen with unsated delight to Auld Robin GrayTak your Auld Cloak about ye-Gilderoy, and such of our older airs as are too difficult for common execution, and which require more taste than energy of voice, though generation has succeeded generation, and one race of bards has followed another, since their introduction. Yet many of the songs of Burns, and almost all Tannahill's, though adorned with all the decorations of modern music, and avowedly inimitable in point of sentiment and feeling, are not only unaccompanied by any sen sation of pleasure, but in consequence of their being common, produce tedium and yawning. In other words, having descended from the theatre to the street, they are so mutilated and disfigured as to produce, on repitition, dislike. They are, in the language of the day, hackneyed; though this depends less on the frequency of recitation, than on the extreme badness of the execution. I confess I am jealous of the respectability of our national music. I consider it now as the only relic of former times to which Scotchmen can cling, and to which they should adhere with invincible firmness, since in the language of another country we have buried the peculiarities of our own, and cannot expect that the song of the North will in future have such a distinguished place in the history of nations, or that her bards will acquire such just reputation in the annals of poetical fame. Farewell, and believe me,
MY DEAR BROTHER,
To Mr. John Kenspeckle, Kilmarnock.
How interesting, thought I, is it for us to know, as far as we can know, on sound and rational principles, the fate of this nation! whether its present grandeur is placed on a lasting basis, or whether, however melancholy the prospect, the seeds of speedy dissolution are sown in its beloved soil; and coming generations shall only reap the harvest of ruin and devastation. Luxury has indeed visited our shores, and now stalks abroad, shedding an influence like a wintry sun, cold and barren, over this favoured land. The genial rays of primitive simplicity are fast disappearing, and there is every day a greater taste for splendour without comfort, and elegance without pleasure. If then luxury is pernicious to society, what infatuation to yield ourselves up to its soft delusions! Let us stand aside from its pollution; let us stand firm, as on a post of danger; let us stand true, as on a trust of honour. And my mind rose high, as I thus poured contempt and obloquy upon the vanities of human life, which are light and shadowy as the passing mist upon the hills. What! shall God so clothe the grass of the field, and the rose of the heath, as from their native beauty to render superfluous all the decorations of the most skilful hand-and shall not the consciousness of an immortal frame support the dignity and independance of man, without an elaborate shew of fascinating em broidery, and dazzling gewgaws? But it may be, thought I, that I am labouring under prejudice, or warm feelings, or that some important view of the subject has escaped my observation.
My mind wavered as I passed hurriedly along to join a society of gentlemen, who met at stated times for the discussion of questions of general interest, and who had agreed to consider whether or not luxury was injurious to the welfare of society? 1 was delighted with the acuteness and eloquence exhibited, and particularly with the calm and sensible views of one gentleman-the substance of whose speech I have endeavoured to give in what follows.
What is luxury? said he; is it a harmless indulgence, or a hurtful excess? Is it a healing and strengthening medicine, or a wasting malady? In every application of the word, we shall find in it the idea of excess. A luxurious garden is stocked with an excess of flowers and fruit; a luxurious entertainment consists
of rare and costly and delicious enjoyments, and is therefore an excess in richness and variety. Now excess of any thing is that which is over and above what comfort and convenience require, and therefore useless; and what is useless will almost always be found to be hurtful to the individual who indulges himself in it. All immoderate pleasure is useless, and necessarily requires relaxation, and time therefore, which might have been given to other purposes. Such pleasure not only requires relaxation, but means, which might have been made useful, if laid out in any other way; and not only means for procuring such pleasure, but partisans to share in the enjoyment of what is thus procured. "Luxuries of taste, (the word taste is taken in its proper acceptation,) are directly injurious to the constitution of man: they enervate the bodily system by surfeiting, crudity, &c. and hence inflammations and other distempers which, though arising from the affections of the body, have no little influence upon the due exercise of the mind. Luxuries of dress and furniture are not only used for ornament; they administer also to a love of ease and effeminacy; and what is still more hurtful, they are the most powerful incentives to a vain and conceited turn of mind; they nourish a most foolish and weak pride, equally unworthy of man, as a reasonable being, and as a member of society.
When we add farther that all these luxuries are almost always united in the same individuals, their bad effects must be proportionably greater; and from all this we might argue, that as they are thus pernicious in a certain degree to individuals, they must of consequence be hurtful to the general interests of society.
But it is objected that luxury, though injurious to the individuals who indulge themselves in it, may still be productive of a greater good to society. Is not this actually the fact, it will be said, with regard to natural and moral evils, which are permitted in the world, for the general advantage of the whole? Do we not often suffer bodily pain as a means of directing our minds to the proper business of life, of weaning our affections from the objects of time, and fixing them permanently upon an infinitely worthier concern? And are not the pains of conscience and remorse checks upon our impieties, and warnings to deter us from similar conduct in future? And yet who will say that the pains of the body, or of remorse, are in themselves agreeable or not grievous? A plea like this has some plausibility: but what is the welfare of society? Is it altogether distinct from, or incon
sistent with, individual happiness? Is a drop of water changed in its nature or properties, whether it glitter upon a blade of grass, or be mingled with the ocean? Surely the interest of individuals must be the same with the interest of society, which is composed of individuals. And what then is general happiness, but personal purity and mutual kindness, and co-operation among the members of society.
But to examine the plea a little farther; it can only be a just plea on one of two suppositions-either luxury is a necessary evil in improved society, or it is an evil productive of good which could not otherwise be produced. The first supposition might seem too absurd to need refutation. Luxury is but an accidental evil in society; for there is nothing in the nature of the thing which should make it a necessary concomitant of improved society. And men can and do refrain from indulging themselves in it, when interest or other motives come into competition with such indulgence. That luxury is always found to exist where refinement is, proves only the melancholy fact, that man is not yet brought to enjoy prosperity without injuring himself; refinement without degrading himself.
The second supposition is perhaps more difficult to obviate. Here it may be observed that the analogies stated in the general objection do not strictly apply to the present subject. Natural and moral evils accompany man in every situation in which he is placed, and invariably follow certain actions, whether these açtions are those of a rude or of a civilized being. On the contrary, luxury is confined, though not necessarily, to a state of refinement. It is something external, which natural and moral evils are not; and it may be refrained from by all. So far then the conclusion is not just which is drawn from such supposed analogies.
We said that luxury is confined to a state of refinement. We never find it among rude nations, because it requires a taste to relish, and ingenuity to prepare, which are a-wanting to these nations. And all this is the great good which could not otherwise be produced to society. It gives exercise to the ingenuity and scope for the industry, and motives for the emulation of mankind. One would think that though there were no other possible way in which ingenuity, industry, and emulation could be exercised to such a degree, yet the object for which they were