« AnteriorContinuar »
realities. Though I was unwilling boldly to deny, I could not believe. All sacred things appeared to me either visionary or doubtful. " Could I fully believe there is a God," I used often to say to myself, “ I would at once prostrate myself before him. If mankind really believe what they profess, how can they be so apparently indifferent ? Surely they do not really believe. They are as skeptical as myself, but are not so honest as to confess it."
Thus I went on, till I was in my seventeenth year, when a partial change was wrought in my feelings in the following manner. Reading, one day, in the American Preceptor, which was at that time a common school book, I came to this passage; “In the hour of danger and distress, my mind as naturally flies to the Deity for relief, as when hungry I seek food, or when weary, repose."
I was so struck with the truth of this remark, that I admitted at once there must be a God. It is not my intention to say that this consideration is entitled to all the weight, in argument, which I then allowed it ;-I am only detailing facts, as they occurred, and influenced my progress.
From this time I became more and more a confirmed Theist, and indeed a partial believer in Revelation. Having been early baptized by an
Episcopal minister, and having been often urged by my godfather and other friends to attend to the rite of confirmation, I at length assented. There was also a confused expectation that some mysterious, unknown, and indescribable change of character and feeling toward God would accompany the rite. I thus became nominally attached to the Episcopal church; though I never ventured to the communion. For a few years after this, I lived the life of a Pharisee; by which is meant that a “form of godliness” was kept up,—though its “ power” was unfelt and unknown.
In all my intercourse with mankind, however, I was actuated by the same motives, and governed by the same considerations, as before. In a word, I was supremely selfish ; and though my friends thought otherwise, conscience and He who implanted it, knew better. The skepticism of the aged individual already alluded to, had made too deep an impression on my youthful mind to be very soon eradicated.
It was easy to attend church on the Sabbath, and to pray night and morning—and even to mourn over my departures from duty—but it was not so easy to “ go and sin
Many circumstances concurred to render me the victim of my aged friend's seductive influence.
He had made me presents at various times, of various sorts of books. He had put into my hands among other things, a small electrical machine, with the writings of several authors on electricity. Franklin's Moral Philosophy, moreover, was with him a constant theme, and I was gradually led to that attachment to Franklin which better deserved the name of veneration, than any feeling which at that time I had towards Him, who is alone the proper object of worship. Franklin somewhere says that he always set a greater value on the character of a “ doer of good,” than on any other kind of reputation—and I early determined to make him my model; and to secure that kind of reputation which he so much valued. Nor is this all. Long before the external reformation of which I have spoken took place, the old gentleman said to me one day, gravely and deliberately,—" You must be a philosopher.” Although I scarcely knew the meaning of the term, yet I knew it meant something which if attained would distinguish me from those around me. I also believed the character of a philosopher to be attainable, else why had it been suggested that I must become one ? As it was something to which Franklin attained, and as he was now to be my model, I had a twofold inducement to press forward for the prize.
For years afterwards, the most pleasing ideas were associated with the word philosopher, whenever I read it, or heard it spoken. Such was my extreme sensibility on the subject, that my face often reddened, and my heart throbbed at the thought of starting out of the ordinary ranks of life, and becoming a philosopher, and resembling Franklin! The word Christian—and the desire of becoming one or even the name of the Divine Author of Christianity, never, in those days, awakened emotions or called up associations half so pleasurable.
It is easy for those who know the laws of the human mind to conceive how perfectly natural it was for me to imbibe, along with this desire for distinction so early implanted by my aged friend, much of his skepticism ; and how tenaciously I should be apt to retain it. And these facts are mentioned to show the danger of permitting youth to associate with such men—however wise or amiable. The moral character may, in this way, be insensibly poisoned; and the evil may be, as it probably will be, in the present instance, as lasting as life itself.
That “ each bitter has its sweet,” is not to be denied. That ambition which now pervaded my whole soul, stimulated me to make progress in
many things, where I should probably have remained stationary without it. It also kept me from grovelling in some of those depths of vice to which I was peculiarly exposed by the state of the society in which I moved ; and it led me to make several praiseworthy efforts for the moral and intellectual improvement of the youth around
These efforts, it is true, for want of the support of my fellow youth, were unsuccessful ; but they served to stamp the character.
While, however, the ambition to become great and distinguished operated as a restraint, in some respects, it tended to set me free in others. I made (practically I mean,) all virtue to consist in securing the approbation of the wise and good; but whatever vice I believed to be concealed and likely to remain concealed from the public eye, there was nothing to shield me from committing.