« AnteriorContinuar »
The pleasures of virtuous sensibility. 1. The good effects of true sensibility on general virtue and happiness, admit of no dispute. Let us consider its effect on the happiness of him who possesses it, and the various pleasures to which it gives him access. If he is master of riches or influence, it affords him the means of increasing his own enjoyment, by relieving the wants, or increasing the comforts of others. If he commands not these advantages, yet all the comforts, which he sees in the póssession of the deserving, become in some sort his, by his rejoicing in the good which they enjoy.
2. Even the face of nature yields a satisfaction to him, which the insensible can never know. The profusion of goodness, which he beholds poured forth on the universe, dilates his heart with the thought, that innumerable multitudes around hiin are blest and happy. When he sees the labours of men appearing to prosper, and views a country flourishing in wealth and industr.y ; when he beholds the spring coming forth in its beauty, and reviving the decayed face of nature; or in autumn beholds the fields loaded with plenty, and the year crowned with all its fruits; he lifts his affections with gratitude to the great Father of all, and rejoices in the general felicity and joy.
3. It may indeed be objected, that the same sensibility lays open the heart to be pierced with many wounds, from the distresses which abound in the world; exposes us to frequent suffering from the participation which it communicates of the sorrows, as well as of the joys of friendship. But let it be considered, that the tender melancholy of sympathy, is accompanied with a sensation, which they who feel it would not exchange for the gratifications of the selfish. When the heart is strongly moved by any of the kind affections, even when it pours itself forth in virtuous sorrow, a se. cret attractive charm mingles with the painful emotion; there is a joy in the midst of grief.
4. Let it be farther considered, that the griefs which sensibility introduces, are counterbalanced by pleasures which flow from the same source. Sensibility heightens in general the human powers, and is connected with acuteness in all our feelings. If it makes us more alive to some painful sensations, in return, it renders the pleasing ones more vivid and animated.
5. The selfish man languishes in his narrow circle of pleasures. They are confined to what affects his own interest. He is obliged to repeat the same gratifications, till they become insipid. But the man of virtuous sensibility moves in a wider sphere of felicity. His powers are much more frequently called forth into occupations of pleasing activity. Numberless occasions open to him of indulging his favourite taste, by conveying satisfaction to others. Often it is in his power, in one way or other, to sooth the afflicted heart, to carry some consolation into the house of wo.
6. In the scenes of ordinary life, in the domestick and social intercourses of men, the cordiality of his affections cheers and glad. dens him. Every appearance, every description of innocent happiness, is enjoyed by him. Every native expression of kindness and affection among others, is felt by him, even though he be not the
object of it. In a circle of friends enjoying one another, he is as happy as the happiest.
7. In a word, he lives in a different sort of world, from what the selfish man inhabits. He possesses a new sense ihat enables him to behold objects which the selfish cannot see. At the same time, his enjoyments are not of that kind which remain merely on the surface of the mind. They penetrate the heart. They'enlarge and elevate, they refine and ennoble it. To all the pleasing einotions of affection, they add the dignified consciousness of virtue.
8. Children of men! men formed by nature to live and to feel as brethren! how long will ye continue to estrange yourselves from one another by competitions and jealousies, when in cordial union ye might be so much more blest? How long will ye seek your happiness in selfish gratifications alone, neglecting those purer and better sources of joy, which flow from the affections and the heart?
BLAIR. SECTION XII.
On the true honour of man. 1. The proper honour of man arises not from some of those splendid actions and abilities, which excite high admiration. Courage and prowess, military renown, signal victories and conquests, may render the name of a man famous, without rendering his character truly honourable. To many brave men, to many heroes renowned in story, we look up with wonder. Their exploits are recorded. Their praises are sung. They stand as on an eminence above the rest of mankind. Their eminence, nevertheless, may not be of that sort, before which we bow with inward esteem and respect. Something more is wanted for that purpose, than the conquering arm, and the intrepid mind.
2. The laurels of the warriour must at all times be dyed in blood, and bedewed with the tears of the widow and the orphan. But if they have been stained by rapine and inhumanity; if sordid avarice has marked his character; or low and gross sensuality has degraded his life; the great hero sinks into a little man. What, at a distance, or on a superficial view, we admired, be. comes mean, perhaps odious, when we examine it more closely. It is like the Colossal statue, whose immense size struck the spectator afar off with astonishment; but when nearly viewed, it appears disproportioned, unshapely, and rude.
3. Observations of the same kind may be applied to all the rep. utation derived from civil accomplishments ; from the refined politicks of the statesman; or the literary efforts of genius and erudition. These bestow, and within certain bounds, ought to bestow, eminence and distinction on men. They discover talents which in themselves are shining; and which become highly valuable, when employed in advancing the good of mankind. Hence, they frequently give rise to fame. But a distinction is to be made be. tween fame and true honour.
4. The statesman, the orator, or the poet, may be famous ; while yet the man himself is far from being honoured. We envy his abilities. We wish to rival them. But we would not choose to be classed with him who possesses them. Instances of this sort are too often found in every record of ancient or modern history.
6. From all this it follows, that in order to discern where man's
true honour lies, we must look, not to any adventitious circumstances of tortune ; not to any single sparkling quality ; but to the whole of what forms a man; what entitles him, as such, to rank high among that class of beings to which he belongs; in a word, we must look to the mind and the soul.
6. A mind superiour to fear, to selfish interest and corruption; a mind governed by the principles of uniform rectitude and integrity; the same in prosperity and adversity; which no bribe can seduce, nor terrour overawe; neither by pleasure melted into effeminacy, nor by distress sunk into dejection : such is the mind which forms the distinction and eminence of man.
7. One, who in no situation of life, is either ashamed or afraid of discharging his duty, and acting his proper part with firmness and constancy; true to the God whom he worships, and true to the faith in which he professes to believe ; full of affection to his brethren of mankind; faithful to his friends, generous to his enemies, warm with compassion to the unfortunate; self-denying to
le private interests and pleasures, but zealous for publick inte. rest and happiness; magnanimous, without being proud; humble, without being mean; just, without being harsh; simple in his manners, but manly in his feelings; on whose words we can entirely rely ; whose countenance never deceives us; whose professions of kindness are the effusions of his heart: one, in fine, whom, independent of any views of advantage, we would choose for a superiour, could trust in as a friend, and could love as a brother-this is the man, whom in our heart, above all others, we do, we must honour.
BLAIR. SECTION XIII. The influence of devotion on the happiness of life. 1. WHATEVER promotes and strengthens virtue, whatever calms and regulates the temper, is a source of happiness. Devotion produces these effects in a remarkable degree. It inspires composure of spirit, mildness, and benignity; weakens the painful, and cherishes the pleasing emotions; and, by these means, carries on the life of a pious man in a smooth and placid tenour.
2. Besides exerting this habitual influence on the mind, devotion opens a field of enjoyments, to which the vicious are entire stran gers ; enjoyments the inore valuable, as they peculiarly belong to retirement, when the world leaves us ; and to adversity, when it becomes our foe. These are the two seasons, for which every wise man would most wish to provide some hidden store of comfort
3. For let him be placed in the most favourable situation which the human state adınits, the world can neither always amuse him, nor always shield him from distress. There will be many hours of vacuity, and many of dejection, in his life. If he be a stranger to God, and to devotion, how dreary will the gloom of solitude often prove! With what oppressive weight will sickness, disappointment, or old age, fall upon his spirits!
4. But for those pensive periods, the pious man has a relief prepared. From the tiresome repetition of the common vanities of life, or from the painful corrosion of its cares and sorrows, devotion transports him into a new region; and surrounds him there with such objects, as are the most fitted to cheer the dejection, to calm the tumults, and to heal the wounds of his heart,
5. If the world has been empty and delusive, it gladdens him with the prospect of a higher and better order of things, about to arise. "If men have been ungrateful and base, it displays before him the faithfulness of that Supreme Being, who, though every other friend fail, will never forsake him.
6. Let us consult our experience, and we shall find, that the two greatest sources of inward joy, are, the exercise of love directed towards a deserving object, and the exercise of hope terminating on some high and assured happiness. Both these are supplied by devotion; and therefore we have no reason to be surprised, if, on some occasions, it fills the hearts of good inen with à satisfaction not to be expressed.
7. The refined pleasures of a pious mind are, in many respects, superiour to the coarse gratifications of sense. They are pleasures which belong to the highest powers and best affections of the soul; whereas the gratifications of sense reside in the lowest region of our nature. To the latter, the soul stoops below its native digni. ty. The former, raise it above itself. The latter, leave always a comfortless, often a mortifying remembrance behind them. The former, are reviewed with applause and delight.
8. The pleasures of sense resemble a foaming torrent, which, after a disorderly course, speedily runs out, and leaves an empty and offensive channel. But the pleasures of devotion resemble the equable current of a pure river, which enlivens the fields through which it passes, and diffuses verdure and fertility along its banks.
9. To thee, O Devotion! we owe the highest improvement of our nature, and much of the enjoyment of our life. Thou art the support of our virtue, and the rest of our souls, in this turbulent world. Thou composest the thoughts. Thou calmest the passions. Thou exaltest the heart. Thy communications, and thine only, are imparted to the low, no less than to the high; to the poor, as well as to the rich.
10. In thy presence, worldly distinctions cease ; and under thy influence, worldly sorrows are forgotten. Thou art the balm of the wounded mind. Thy sanctuary is ever open to the miserable ; inaccessible only to the unrighteous and impure. Thou beginnest on earth the temper of heaven. In thee, the hosts of angels and blessed spirits eternally rejoice.
• BLAIB. SECTION XIV. The planetary and terrestrial worlds comparatively considered.
1. To us, who dwell omits surface, the earth is by far the most extensive orb that our eyes can any where behold: it is also clothed with verdure, distinguished by trees, and adorned with a variety of beautiful decorations ; whereas, to a spectator placed on one of the planets, it wears a uniform aspect; looks all luminous; and no larger than a spot. To beings who dwell at still greater distances, it entirely disappears.
2. That which we call alternately the morning and the evening star, (as in one part of the orbit she rides foremost in the procession of night, in the other ushers in and anticipates the dawn,) is a planetary world. This planet, and the four others that so wonderfully vary their mystick dance, are in themselves dark bodies, and shine only by reflection; have fields, and seas, and skies, of their own; are furnished with all accommodations for animal subsistence, and are supposed to be the abodes of intellectual life; all which, together with our earthly habitation, are dependent on that grand dispenser of Divine munificence, the sun ; receive their light from the distribution of his rays, and derive their comfort from his benign agency.
3. The sun, which seems to perform its daily stages through the sky, is in this respect fixed and immoveable: it is the great axle of heaven, about which the globe we inhabit, and other more spacious orbs, wheel their stated courses. The sun, though seem
maller than the dial it illuminates, is abundantly larger than this whole earth, on which so many lofty mountains rise, and such vast oceans rolì. A line extending from side to side through the centre of that resplendent orb, would measure more than eight hundred thousand miles: a girdle formed to go round its circumference, would require a length of millions. Were its solid contents to be estimated, the account would overwhelm our understanding, and be almost beyond the power of language to express.
4. Are we startled at these reports of philosophy! Are we ready to cry out in a transport of surprise, “How mighty is the Being who kindled so prodigious a fire; and keeps alive, from age to age, so enormous a mass of fame!” let us attend our philosophical guides, and we shall be brought acquainted with speculations more enlarged and more amazing.
5. This sun with all its attendant planets, is but a very little part of the grand machine of the universe: every star, though in appearance no bigger than the diamond that glitters upon a lady's ring, is really a vast globe, like the sun in size and in glory ; no less spacious, no less luminous, than the radiant source of day. So that every star, is not barely a world, but the centre of a magnificent system; has a retinue of worlds, irradiated by its beams, and revolving round its attractive influence, all which are lost to our sight in unmeasurable wilds of ether.
6. That the stars appear like so many diminutive, and scarcely distinguishable points, is owing to their immense and inconceiva. ble distance. Immense and inconceivable indeed it is, since a ball, shot from the loaded cannon, and flying with unabated rapidity, must travel, at this impetuous rate, almost seven hundred thousand years, before it could reach the nearest of these twinkling luminaries.
7. While, beholding this vast expanse, I learn my own extreme meanness, I would also discover the abject littleness of all terrestrial things. What is the earth, with all her ostentatious scenes, compared with this astonishing grand furniture of the skies? What, but a dim speck, hardly perceivable in the map of the universe ?
8. It is observed by a very judicious writer, that if the sun himself, which enlightens this part of the creation, were extinguished, and all the host of planetary worlds, which move about him, were annihilated, they would not be missed by an eye that can take in the whole compass of nature, any more than a grain of sand upon the sea-shore. The bulk of which they consist, and the space which they occupy, are so exceedingly little in comparison of the whole, that their loss would scarcely leave a blank in the isomensity of God's works..