« AnteriorContinuar »
bability, let him reflect a little upon his own life; let him consider what were his hopes and prospects ten years ago, and what additions he then expected to be made by ten years to his happiness: those years are now elapsed: have they made good the promise that was extorted from them, have they advanced his fortune, enlarged his knowledge, or reformed his conduct^ to the degree that was once expected? I am afraid, every man that recollects his hopes must confess his disappointment; and own, that day has glided unprofitably after day, and that he is still at the
same distance from the point of happiness.
'Such is the general dream in which we all slumber out our time: every man thinks the day coming, in which he shall be gratified with all his wishes, in which he shall leave all those competitors behind, who are now rejoicing like himself in the expectation of victory; the day is always coming to the servile in which they shall be powerful, to the obscure in which they shall be eminent, and to the deformed in which they shall be beautiful.'
In the vigour of youth and in the bloom of beauty, surrounded by all that can flatter hope, or stimulate to action, Lavinia entered the avenues of sublunary pleasure in quest of happiness; but the lovely enchantress was not to be found in the regions of terrestrial delight. All the sources of felicity were explored in vain: emptiness was stamped on every enjoyment. Our young votaress soon discovered that her expectations were fallacious; that many of her pursuits were not only trifling but criminal. A conviction of guilt filled her breast with tumult: terrifying apprehensions agitated her soul: she beheld with astonishment the precipice on which she stood, the imminent danger with which she was surrounded —that there was but a step between her and everlasting ruin: and trembling on this precipice, she first uttered that inexpressibly important query—' What shall I do to be saved ?'— To answer this inquiry the following Letters were first written.
The question, let it be remembered, is always proper,because it is of infinite importance. Surely it cannot be imagined that the present world is the only residence of man! and if he be to exist in a state yet future, it is highly rational to inquire, whether that existence will be miserable or happy. Men in general are, indeed, too much engaged in sublunary pursuits to attend to the concerns of another life. But this will not always be the case. The period is approaching in which conscience, if not quite petrified, will be roused from her torpor; in which she will sound the alarm, and the soul, awakened from sleep, feel the vanity of the world and of all its enjoyments. For what is the glitter of wealth, the pomp of greatness, the voice of praise, or the frisk of jollity, to him that is acquainted with the depravity of his own heart? who is conscious of allowed and reiterated deviations from the path of duty—of having passed the whole of life heedless of the counsels of wisdom and the dictates of conscience? It is indeed possible that the mind may be diverted by the allurements of pleasure from minute attention to the turpitude of its own actions, but the delusion will not last for ever: a man cannot always trifle: the hour of reflection will obtrude; and if he determine not to anticipate, he must shortly be compelled to realize the period when deception and artifice will be impracticable; when all terrestrial scenes shall be withdrawn; when the soul,no longer soothedby flattery nor seduced by hope, must converse with death; and this too in a moment,perhaps, when the avenues of mercy are closed for ever, and in which the affrighted soul will have to exclaim, in the terrours of despair, 'The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and I am not saved!'
'How shocking must thy summons be, O Death!
The only conviction that rushes upon the soul, and takes away from our appetites and passions the power of resistance, 'is to be found,' says an
incomparable writer,' where I have received it, at the bed of a dying friend. To enter this school of wisdom is not the peculiar privilege of geometricians. The most subli me and important precepts require no uncommon opportunities, nor laborious preparations; they are enforced without the aid of eloquence; and understood without skill in analytick science. Every tongue can utter them, and every understanding can conceive them. He that wishes, in earnest, to obtain just sentiments concerning his condition, and would be intimately acquainted with the world, may find instruction on every side. He that desires to enter behind the scene, which every art has been employed to decorate, and every passion labours to illuminate, and wishes to see life stripped of those ornaments which made it glitter on the stage, and exposed in its natural meanness, impotence, jmd nakedness, may find all the delusion laid open in the chamber of disease. He will there find vanity devested of her robes; power deprived of her sceptre; and hypocrisy without her mask.