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4. By disappointments and trials the violence of our passions is tamed, and our minds are formed to sobriety and reflection. In the varieties of life, occasioned by the vicissitudes of worldly fortune, we are inured to habits both of the active and the suffering virtues. How much soever we complain of the vanity of the world, facts plainly show, that if its vanity were less, it could not answer the purpose of salutary discipline. Unsatisfactory as it is, its pleasures are still too apt to corrupt our hearts. How fatal then must the consequences have been, had it yielded us more complete en. joyment? 'If, with all its troubles, we are in danger of being too much attached to it, how entirely would it have seduced our affec. tions, if no troubles had been mingled with its pleasures ?
5. In seasons of distress or difficulty, to abandon ourselves to dejection, carries no mark of a great or a worthy mind. Instead of sinking under trouble, and declaring “that his soul is weary of life,” it becomes a wise and a good man, in the evil day, with firmness to maintain his post; to bear up against the storm; to have recourse to those advantages which, in the worst of times, are always left to integrity and virtue; and never to give up the hope that better days may yet arise.
6. How many young persons have at first set out in the world with excellent dispositions of heart; generous, charitable, and humane; kind to their friends, and amiable among all with whom they had intercourse! And yet, how often have we seen all those fair appearances unhappily blasted in the progress of life, merely through the influence of loose and corrupting pleasures: and those very persons. who promised once to be blessings to the world. sunk down, in the end, to be the burden and nuisance of society!
7. The most common propensity of mankind, is, to store futurity with wiatever is agreeable to them; especially in those periods of life, when imagination is lively, and hope is ardent. Looking forward to the year now beginning, they are ready to promise themselves much, from the foundations of prosperity which they have laid; from the friendships and connexions which they have secured; and from the plans of conduct which they have formed. Alas! how deceitful do all these dreams of happiness often prove! While many are saying in secret to their hearts, “To-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundantly," we are obliged in re, turn to say to them; “ Boast not yourselves of to-morrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth !"
and royal magnificence: and declared that no monarch had ever been greater or happier than Dionysius.
2. “Hast thou a mind, Damocles," says the king, “ to taste this happiness; and to know, by experience, what the enjoyments are, of which thou hast so high an idea ?” Damocles, with joy, accepted the offer. The king ordered that a royal banquet should be prepared, and a gilded sofa, covered with rich embroidery, placed for his favourite. Sideboards, loaded with gold and silver plate of immense value, were arranged in the apartment.
3. Pages of extraordinary beauty were ordered to attend his table, and to obey his commands with the utmost readiness, and the most profound submission. Fragrant ointments, chaplets of flowers, and rich perfumes, were added to the entertainment. The table was loaded with the most exquisite delicacies of every kind. Damocles, intoxicated with pleasure, fancied himself among superiour beings.
4. But in the midst of all this happiness, as he lay indulging himself in state, he sees let down from the ceiling, exactly over his head, a glittering sword hung by a single hair. The sight of impending destruction put a speedy end to his joy and revelling. The pomp of his attendance, the glitter of the carved plate, and the delicacy of the viands, cease to afford him any pleasure.
5. He dreads to stretch forth his hand to the table. He throws off the garland of roses. He hastens to remove from his dangerous situation; and earnestly entreats the king to restore him to his former humble condition, having no desire to enjoy any longer a happiness so terrible.
6. By this device, Dionysius intimated to Damocles, how mise. rable he was in the midst of all his treasures; and in possession of all the honours and enjoyments which royalty could bestow.
CICERO. SECTION II. Change of external condition is often adverse to virtue. 1. In the days of Joram, king of Israel, flourished the prophet Elisha. His character was so eminent, and his fame so widely spread, that Benhadad, the king of Syria, though an idolater, sent to consult him, concerning the issue of a distemper which threatened his life. The messenger employed on this occasion was Hazael, who appears to have been one of the princes, or chief men of the Syrian court..
2. Charged with rich gifts from the king, he presents himself before the prophet; and accosts him in terms of the highest respect. During the conference which they held together, Elisha fixed his eyes steadfastly on the countenance of Hazael ; and discerning, by a prophetick spirit, his fut:ire tyranny and cruelty, he could not contain himself from bursting into a flood of tears.
3. When Hazael, in surprise, inquired into the cause of this sudden emotion, the prophet plainly informed him of the crimes and barbarities, which he foresaw that he would afterwards commit. The soul of Hazael abhorred, at this time, the thoughts of cruelty. Uncorrupted, as yet, by ambition or greatness, his indignation rose at being thought capable of the savage actions which the prophet had mentioned ; and, with much warmth he replies; “ But what? is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?"
4. Elisha makes no return, but to point out a remarkable change, which was to take place in his condition; “ The Lord hath shown me, that thou shalt be king over Syria." In course of time, all that had been predicted came to pass. Hazael ascended the throne, and ambition took possession of his heart. “He smote the chil dren of Israel in all their coasts. He oppressed them during all the days of king Jehoaház:" and, from what is left on record of his actions, he plainly appears to have proved, what the prophet foresaw him to be, a man of violence, cruelty, and blood."
6. In this passage of history, an object is presented, which deserves our serious attention. We behold a man who, in one state of life, could not look upon certain crimes without surprise and horrour; who knew so little of himself, as to believe it impossible for him ever to be concerned in committing them; that same man, by a change of condition, and an unguarded state of mind, transformed in all his sentiments; and as he rose in greatness rising also in guilt; till at last he completed that whole character of iniquity, which he once detested.
BLAIR. SECTION III.
Haman; or, the misery of pride. 1. AHASUERUS, who is supposed to be the prince known among the Greek historians by the name of Artaxerxes, had advanced to the chief dignity in his kingdom, Haman, an Amalekite, who inherited all the ancient enmity of his race, to the Jewish nation. He appears, from what is recorded of him, to have been a very wicked minister. Raised to greatness without merit, he employed his power solely for the gratification of his passions.
2. As the honours which he possessed were next to royal, his - pride was every day fed with that servile homage, which is pecu
liar to Asiatick courts; and all the servants of the king prostrated themselves before him. In the midst of this general adulation, one person only stooped not to Haman.
3. This was Mordecai the Jew; who, knowing this Amalekite to be an enemy to the people of God, and, with virtuous indignation, despising that insolence of prosperity with which he saw him lifted up, "bowed not, nor'did him reverence.” On this appearance of disrespect from Mordecai, Haman “was full of wrath : but he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone.” Personal revenge was not sufficient to satisfy him.
4. So violent and black were his passions, that he resolved to exterminate the whole nation to which Mordecai belonged. Abusing, for his cruel purpose, the favour of his credulous sovereign, he obtained a decree to be sent forth, that, against a certain day, all the Jews throughout the Persian dominions should be put to the sword.
5. Meanwhile, confident of success, and blind to approaching ruin, he continued exulting in his prosperity. Invited by Ahasuerus to a royal banquet, which Esther the queen had prepared, “ he went forth that day joyful, and with a glad heart.” But behold how slight an incident was sufficient to poison his joy! As he went forth, he saw Mordecai in the king's gate; and observed, that he still refused to do him homage: *He stood not up, nor was moved for him;" although he well knew the formidable designs, which Haman was preparing to execute.
6. One private man, who despised his greatness, and disdained submission, while a whole kingdom trembled before him; one spirit, which the utmost stretch of his power could neither subdue nor humble, blasted his triumphs. His whole soul was shaken with a storm of passion. Wrath, pride, and desire of revenge, rose into fury. With difficulty he restrained himself in publick; but as soon as he came to his own house, he was forced to disclose the agony of his mind.
7. He gathered together his friends and family, with Zeresh his wife." He told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and of all the things wherein' the king had promoted him; and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king. He said, moreover, Yea, Esther the queen suffered no man to come in with the king, to the banquet that she had prepared, but myself; and to-morrow also am I invited to her with the king." After all this preamble, what is the conclusion? “Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."
8. The sequel of Haman's history I shall not now pursue. It might afford matter for much instruction, by the conspicuous justice of God in his fall and punishment. But contemplating only the singular situation, in which the expressions just quoted present him, and the violent agitation of his mind which they display, the following reflections naturally arise: How miserable is vice, when one guilty passion creates so much torment! how unavailing is prosperity, when in the height of it, a single disappointment can destroy the relish of all its pleasures! how weak is human nature, which, in the absence of real, is thus prone to form to itself imaginary woes!
BLAIR. SECTION IV.
Lady Janc Gray. 1. This excellent personage was descended from the royal line of England by both her parents. She was carefully educated in the principles of the reformation; and her wisdom and virtue rendered her a shining example to her sex. But it was her lot to continue only a short period on this stage of being; for, in early life, she fell á sacrifice to the wild ambition of the duke of Northumberland; who promoted a marriage between her and his son, lord Guilford Dudley; and raised her to the throne of England, in opposition to the rights of Mary and Elizabeth.
2. At the time of their marriage, she was only about eighteen years of age, and her husband was also very young: a season of life very unequal to oppose the interested views of artful and aspiring men; who, instead of exposing them to danger, should have been the protectors of their innocence and youth.
3. This extraordinary young person, besides the solid endow." ments of piety and virtue, possessed the most engaging disposition, the most accomplished parts; and being of an equal age with king Edward Vf. she had received all her education with him, and seemed even to possess a greater facility in acquiring every part of manly and classical literature.
4. She had attained a knowledge of the Roman and Greek languages, as well as of several modern tongues; had passed most of her time in an application to learning; and expressed a great in.
difference for other occupations and amusements usual with her sex and station.
5. Roger Ascham, tutor to the lady Elizabeth, having at one time paid her a visit, found her employed in reading Plato, while the rest of the family were engaged in a party of hunting in the park; and upon his admiring the singularity of her choice, she told him, that she “received more pleasure from that author, than others could reap from all their sport and gayety."
6. Her heart, replete with this love of literature and serious studies, and with tenderness towards her husband, who was deserving of her affection, had never opened itself to the flattering allurements of ambition; and the information of her advancement to the throne was by no means agreeable to her. She even refused to accept the crown; pleaded the preferable right of the two princesses; expressed her dread of the consequences attende ing an enterprise so dangerous, not to say so criminal ; and desired to remain in that private station in which she was born.
7. Overcome at last with the entreaties, rather than reasons, of her father and father-in-law, and, above all, of her husband, she submitted to their will, and was prevailed on to relinquish her own judgement. But her elevation was of very short continuance. 'The nation declared for queen Mary; and the lady Jane, after wearing the vain pageantry of a crown during ten days, returned to a private life, with much more satisfaction than she felt when royalty was tendered to her..
8. Queen Mary, who appears to have been incapable of generosity or clemency, determined to remove every person, from whom the least danger could be apprehended. Warning was, therefore, given to lady Jane to prepare for death; a doom which she had expected, and which the innocence of her life, as well as the misfortunes to which she had been exposed, rendered no unwelcome news to her.
9. The queen's bigoted zeal, under colour of tender mercy to the prisoner's soul, induced her to send priests, who molested her with perpetual dispùtation; and even a reprieve of three days was granted her, in hopes that she would be persuaded, during that time, to pay, by a timely conversion to popery, some regard to her eternal welfare.
10. Lady Jane had presence of mind, in those melancholy circumstances, not only to defend her religion by solid arguments, but also to write a letter to her sister, in the Greek language; in which, besides sending her a copy of the Scriptures in that tongue, she exhorted her to maintain, in every fortune, a like steady perseverance.
11. On the day of her execution, her husband, lord Guilford, desired permission to see her; but she refused her consent, and sent him word, that the tenderness of their parting would overcome the fortitude of both; and would too much unbend their minds from that constancy, which their approaching end required of them. Their separation, she said, would be only for a moment; and they would soon rejoin each other in a scene, where their af. fections would be for ever united ; and where death, disappointment, and misfortune, could no longer have access to them, or disturb their eternal felicity.