« PreviousContinue »
while my thoughts are engrossed by the wood
From the Connoisseur.
ON THE VIRTUE OF GENTLENESS. GENTLENESS corrects whatever is offensive in our manners; and, by a constant train of humane attentions, studies to alleviate the burden of common misery. Its office, therefore, is extensive. It is not, like some other virtues, called forth only on peculiar emergencies : but it is continually in action, when we are engaged in intercourse with men. It ought to form our address, to regulate our speech, and to diffuse itself over our whole behaviour.
I must warn you, however, not to confound this gentle wisdom which is from above, with that artificial courtesy, that studied smoothness of manners, which is learned in the school of the world. Such accomplishments the most frivolous and empty may possess. Too often they are employed by the artful, as a snare: too often affected by the hard and unfeeling, as a cover to the baseness of their minds. We cannot, at the same time, avoid observing the homage which, even in such instances, the world is constrained to pay to virtue. In order to render society agreeable, it is found necessary to assume somewhat that may at least carry its appearance: virtue is the universal charm; even its shadow is courted, when the substance is wanting: the imitation of its form has
been reduced into an art; and, in the commerce of life, the first study of all who would either gain the esteem, or win the hearts of others, is to learn the speech, and to adopt the manners of candour, gentleness, and humanity; but that gentleness which is the characteristic of a good man, has, like every other virtue, its seat in the heart; and, let me add, nothing, except what flows from it, can render even external manners truly pleasing; for no assumed behaviour can at all times hide the real character. In that unaffected civility which springs from a gentle mind, there is a charm infinitely more powerful than in all the studied manners of the most finished courtier.
But, perhaps, it will be pleaded by some, that this gentleness on which we now insist, regards only those smaller offices of life, which, in their eyes, are not essential to religion and goodness. Negligent, they confess, on slight occasions, of the government of their temper, or the regulation of their behaviour, they are attentive, as they pretend, to the great duties of beneficence; and ready whenever the opportunity presents, to perform important services to their fellow-creatures. But let such persons reflect, that the occasions of performing those important good deeds very rarely occur. Perhaps their situation in life, or the nature of their connections, may, in a great measure, exclude them from such opportunities. Great events give scope for great virtues; but the main tenor of human life is composed of small occurWithin the round of these, lie the ma terials of the happiness of most men; the subjects
of their duty, and the trials of their virtue. Virtue must be formed and supported, not by unfrequent acts, but by daily and repeated exertions. In order to its becoming either vigorous or useful, it must be habitually active; not breaking forth occasionally with a transient lustre, like the blaze of the comet; but regular in its returns, like the light of the day; not like the aromatic gale, which sometimes feasts the sense; but, like the ordinary breeze, which purifies the air, and renders it healthful.
Years may pass over our heads, without affording any opportunity for acts of high beneficence, or extensive utility. Whereas, not a day passes, but in the common transactions of life, and especially in the intercourse of domestic society, gentleness finds place for promoting the happiness of others, and for strengthening in ourselves the habit of virtue. Nay, by seasonable discoveries of a humane spirit, we sometimes contribute more materially to the advancement of happiness, than by actions which are seemingly more important. There are situations, not a few, in human life, where the encouraging reception, the condescending behaviour, and the look of sympathy, bring greater relief to the heart, than the most bountiful gift: while, on the other side, when the hand of liberality is extended to bestow, the want of gentleness is sufficient to frustrate the intention of the benefit; we sour those whom we meant to oblige; and, by conferring favours with ostentation and harshness, we convert them into injuries. Can any disposition, then, be held to possess a low
place in the scale of virtue, whose influence is so considerable on the happiness of the world?
Gentleness is, in truth, the great avenue to mutual enjoyment. Amidst the strife of interfering interests, it tempers the violence of contention, and keeps alive the seeds of harmony. It softens animosities, renews endearments, and renders the countenance of a man, a refreshment to a man. Banish gentleness from the earth; suppose the world be filled with none but harsh and contentious spirits, and what sort of society would remain? the solitude of the desert were preferable to it. The conflict of jarring elements in chaos; the cave, where subterraneous winds contend and roar; the den, where serpents hiss, and beasts of the forest howl; would be the only proper representations of such assemblies of men.-Strange! that where men have all one common interest, they should so often absurdly concur in defeating it! Has not nature already provided a sufficient quantity of unadvoidable evils for the state of man? As if we did not suffer enough from the storm which beats upon us without, must we conspire also, in those societies where we assemble, in order to find a retreat from that storm, to harass one another? Blair.
ON THE ADVANTAGES OF A CHEERFUL TEMPER.
CHEERFULNESS is, in the first place, the best promoter of health. Repinings and secret murmurs of heart give imperceptible strokes to those
delicate fibres of which the vital parts are composed, and wear out the 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 a 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. But having already touched on this last consideration, I shall here take notice, that the world in which we are placed, is filled with innumerable objects that are proper to raise and keep alive this happy temper of mind.
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 as 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.