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has witnessed, which so often mark this beautiful era of our sublunary existence?
But this is in the dawn of life, and the first innocence of the human heart. When once the young man of “great possessions” has entered the gardens of Alcina, when he has drunk of the cup of her enchantments, and seen all the delusive honour and consideration that, in the corruptness of modern times, are the lot of him who is the owner of considerable wealth, the dreams of sublime virtue are too apt to fade away. He was willing before, to be nourished with the simplest diet, and clad with the plainest attire. He knew that he was but a man like the rest of his species, and was in equity entitled to no more than they. But he presently learns a very
different lesson. He believes that he cannot live without splendour and luxury; he regards a noble mansion, elegant vesture, horses, equipage, and an ample establishment, as things without which he must be hopelessly miserable. That income, which he once thought, if divided, would have secured the happiness and independence of many, he now finds scarcely sufficient to supply his increased and artificial cravings.
But, if the rich are seduced and led away from the inspirations of virtue, it may easily be conceived how much more injurious, and beyond the power of control, are the effects on the rious source from which the talents of men are derived, cannot be supposed in their distribution to
be regulated by the artificial laws of society, and to have one measure for those which are bestowed upon the opulent, and another for the destitute. It will therefore not seldom happen that powers susceptible of the noblest uses may be cast, like “ seed sown upon stony places,” where they have scarcely any chance to be unfolded and matured. In a few instances they may attract the attention of persons both able and willing to contribute to their being brought to perfection. In a few instances the principle may be so vigorous, and the tendency to excel so decisive, as to bid defiance to and to conquer every obstacle. But in a vast majority the promise will be made vain, and the hopes that might have been entertained will prove frustrate. What can be expected from the buds of the most auspicious infancy, if encountered in their earliest stage with the rigorous blasts of a polar climate?
And not only will the germs of excellence be likely to be extinguished in the members of the lower class of the community, but the temptations to irregular acts and incroachments upon the laws for the security of property will often be so great, as to be in a manner irresistible. The man who perceives that, with all his industry, he cannot provide for the bare subsistence of himself and those dependent upon him, while his neighbour revels in boundless profusion, cannot but sometimes feel himself goaded to an attempt to correct this crying eyil. What must be expected to become of that
general good-will which is the natural inheritance of a well-constituted mind, when urged by so bitter oppression and such unendurable sufferings? The whole temper of the human heart must be spoiled, and the wine of life acquire a quality acrimonious and malignant.
But it is not only in the extreme classes of society that the glaring inequality with which property is shared produces its injurious effects. All those who are born in the intermediate ranks are urged with a distempered ambition, unfavourable to independence of temper, and to true philanthropy. Each man aspires to the improvement of his circumstances, and the mounting, by one step and another, higher in the scale of the community. The contemplations of the mind are turned towards selfishness. In opulent communities we are presented with the genuine theatre for courts and kings. And, wherever there are courts, duplicity, lying, hypocrisy and cringing dwell as in their proper field. Next come trades and professions, with all the ignoble contemplations, the resolved smoothness, servility and falshood, by which they are enabled to gain a prosperous and triumphant
It is by such means, that man, whom “God made upright,” is led away into a thousand devious paths, and, long before the closing scene of his life, is rendered something the very reverse of what in the dawning of existence he promised to be. He is like Hazael in the Jewish history, who, when the prophet set before him the crying enormities he should hereafter perpetrate, exclaimed, “Is thy servant a dog," that he should degrade himself so vilely? He feels the purity of his purposes; but is goaded by one excitement and exasperation after another, till he becomes debased, worthless and criminal. This is strikingly illustrated in the story of Dr. Johnson and the celebrated Windham, who, when he was setting out as secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, expressed to his aged monitor, some doubts whether he could ever reconcile himself to certain indirect proceedings which he was afraid would be expected of him: to which the veteran replied,
Oh, sir, be under no alarm ; in a short time, depend upon it, you will make a very pretty rascala."
Such are the “ inventions of man," or rather such is the operation of those institutions which ordi. narily prevail in society. Still, however, much honour ought to be rendered to our common nature, since all of us are not led away by the potent spells of the enchantress. If the vulgar crew of the vessel
* The phrase here used by Johnson is marked with the licentiousness we sometimes indulge in familiar conversation. Translate it into a general maxim ; and it contains much melancholy truth. It is true also, that there are few individuals, who, in the urgent realities of life, have not occasionally descended froin the heights of theoretical excellence. It is but just however to observe in the case of Windham, that, though he was a man of many errors, he was not the less characterised by high honour and eminent virtue.
of Ulysses were by Circe changed into brutes, so was not their commander. The human species is divided into two classes, the successfully tempted, and the tempted in vain. And, though the latter must be admitted to be a sınall minority, yet they ought to be regarded as the “salt of the earth,” which preserves the entire mass from putridity and dishonour. They are like the remnant, which, if they had been to be found in the cities of the Asphaltic lake, the God of Abraham pronounced as worthy to redeem the whole community. They are like the two witnesses amidst the general apostasy, spoken of in the book of Revelations, who were the harbingers and forerunners of the millenium, the reign of universal virtue and peace. Their excellence only appears with the greater lustre amidst the general defection.
Nothing can be more unjust than the spirit of general levelling and satire, which so customarily prevails. History records, if you will, the vices and follies of mankind. But does it record nothing else? Are the virtues of the best men, the noblest philosophers, and the most disinterested patriots of antiquity, nothing? It is impossible for two things to be more unlike than the general profligacy of the reigns of Charles the Second and Louis the Fifteenth on the one hand, and the austere virtues and the extinction of all private considerations in the general happiness and honour, which constitute the spirit of the best pages of ancient history, and which