« AnteriorContinuar »
O Fallthepassions thatagitate the human mind, there is perhaps ,no one more grateful in itself, or more useful to man, than sympathy.
Virtue in distress is sure to attract notice and excite commiseration. The sufferings of others, it is true, cannot be witnessed without painful emotions; but these emotions we neither wish to suppress, nor attempt to diminish: for such is the wonderful construction of our nature, and such the delightful tendency of this passion, that instead of endeavouring to avoid, we take pleasure in approaching the object of misery. The ear is open to the cry of calamity ; the tale of woe is heard with melting tenderness; we instantly participate the grief; we mingle sigh with sigh, tear with tear, and wish, anxiously wish, toalleviate, if we cannot remove, the cause of inquietude.
To sympathy we are indebted for a thousand endearments in social life: it is the bond of society: we feel ourselves interested in the general good; we experience more pleasure in communicating than in receiving the means of happiness; and in contemplating its benign influence, perceive both the propriet3' and the excellency of that divine aphorism—It is more blessed to give than to receive.
But though such be the general tendency of this benevolent affection, there are objects of wretchedness, on which the world has no compassion to bestow. Men whose consciences are burdened with guilt, and harassed with painful apprehensions respecting futurity, seldom meet with sympathetick tenderness. But how are we to account for the dereliction of human nature in this case? Is not the anguish arising from a consciousness of moral turpitude equally pungent with that which the loss of terrestrial comforts may incidentally occasion? Surely the cause of
sorrow in the former as far exceeds the latter, as theperpetualfavourof Heaven transcends the momentary calamities of life!—' The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?'
It may be said in answer to this inquiry, that pain of conscience has relation to guilt, and is the effect of sin operating against a known rule prescribed for the regulation of moral conduct. In order, therefore, to sympathize with the contrite sufferer, we must have the same ideas respecting the equity of God's government, the detestable nature of sin, and the justice of that punishment with which it is connected. But natural men see things in a very different light. Their consciences are not under the authority of the law of God; no beauty is beheld in the divine precepts; nor do they, it is to be feared, really believe that the commission of moral evil will be attended with those dreadful consequences which the scriptures constantly affirm. It is, therefore, impossible, in the very nature of the case, that men with such ideas should feel for a soul tortured with guilt: the distress endured will be considered rather as chimerical than real, or at least as the effect of superstitious credulity, and as deserving raillery more than commisseration, or severe rebuke than serious expostulation.
That men frequently act on this principle, in giving advice to persons under religious impressions, needs no proof. What more common than to hear the disconsolate mourner exhorted to shun the haunts of solitude^ to rouse from the torpor of dejection, to frequent the resorts of diversion, to look for tranquillity and pleasure in the circles of gaiety, where every eye sparkles with joy, where the ear is charmed with sprightly sallies of wit; where novelty gives perpetualdelight; and the mind, released from the gloom of reflection, is restored to freedom and to happiness?
But these prescriptions are not adapted to the malady. They have been frequently administered, but without success. The throbs of guilt are not to be lulled by the sound of the tabret and the pipe, the harp or the viol; and the deluded patient who shall try the experiment, will find that he has not expelled, but increased his complaint; and the symptoms may perhaps be so rapid and so alarming, as to generate despair of relief instead of exciting hope of deliverance. For what is the natural tendency of such admonitions? Is it not saying, in effect, Be familiar with vice, or at least with vanity; blunt the edge of remorse by the accession of fresh guilt; hope for quiet in the midst of tumult; and drown the clamours of conscience in obstreperous merriment!
Lavinia was the daughter of one of the first families in London. Her parents dying when she was young, left her to the care of an aunt, whose fortune she was to inherit, and who felt herself deeply interestedinhavingher successour instructed in all the useful and polite accomplishments thut endear society and embelish life. At an early period, Lavinia gave ample proof that the expectations formed of her capacity and her attainments were not likely to be disappointed: for she made such rapid progress in all the branches of female education, as rendered her the pattern of all who aspired to excellence.