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brought, by ripening time and gradual growth, to perfection, but is an instantaneously-created goddess, which starts at once, full grown, mature, armed cap-à-pee, from the heads of our modern thunderers: or rather, if I may change the illusion, a perfect system is now expected inevitably to spring spontaneously at once, like the fabled bird of Arabia, from the ashes of its parent; and, like that, can receive its birth no other way but by the destruction of its predecessor.
Instead of clearing away what is redundant, pruning 'what is cumbersome, supplying what is defective, and amending what is wrong, we adopt the indefinite rage for radical reform of Jack, who, in altering Lord Peter's * coat, showed his zeal by crying out, “ Tear away, brother Martin, for the love of heaven; never mind, so you do but tear away."
This tearing system has unquestionably rent away some valuable parts of that strong, rich, native stuff, which formed the ancient texture of British manners. That we have gained much, I am persuaded ; that we have lost nothing, I dare not therefore affirm. But though it fairly exhibits a mark of our improved judgment to ridicule the fantastic notions of love and honour in the heroic ages, let us not rejoice that the spirit of generosity in sentiment, and of ardour in piety, the exuberances of which were then so inconvenient, are now sunk as unreasonably low. That revolution of taste and manners which the unparalleled wit and
* Swift's “ Tale of a Tub."
genius of Don Quixote so happily effected throughout all the polished countries of Europe, by abolishing extravagances the most absurd and pernicious, was so far imperfect, that some virtues which he never meant to expose, unjustly fell into disrepute with the absurdities which he did ; and it is become the turn of the present taste inseparably to attach in no'small degree that which is ridiculous to that which is serious and heroic. Some modern works of wit have assisted in bringing piety and some of the noblest virtues into contempt, by studiously associating them with oddity, childish simplicity, and ignorance of the world ; and unnecessary pains have been taken to extinguish that zeal and ardour, which, however liable to excess and error, are yet the spring of whatever is great and excellent in the human character. The novel of Cervantes is incomparable; the Tartuffe of Moliere is unequalled; but true generosity and true religion will never lose any thing of their intrinsic value, because knight-errantry and hypocrisy are legitimate objects for satire.
But to return from this too long digression to the subject of female influence. Those who have not watched the united operation of vanity and feeling on a youthful mind will not conceive how much less formidable the ridicule of all his own sex will be to a very young man, than that of those women to whom he has been taught to look up as the arbiters of elegance. Such a youth, I doubt not, might be able to work himself up, by the force of genuine Christian principle, to such a pitch of
true heroism as to refuse a challenge (and it requires more real courage to refuse a challenge than to accept one), who would yet be in danger of relapsing into the dreadful pusillanimity of the world, when he is told that no woman of fashion will hereafter look on him but with contempt. While we have cleared away the rubbish of the Gothic ages, it were to be wished we had not retained the most criminal of all their institutions. Why chivalry should indicate a madman, while its leading object, the single combat, should designate a gentleman, has not yet been explained. Nay, the plausible original motive is lost, while the sinful practice is continued; for the fighter of the duel no longer pretends to be a glorious redresser of the wrongs of strangers; no longer considers himself as piously appealing to Heaven for the justice of his cause; but, from the slavish fear of unmerited reproach, often selfishly hazards the happiness of his nearest connections, and always comes forth in direct defiance of an acknowledged command of the Almighty. Perhaps there are few occasions on which female influence might be exerted to a higher purpose than on this, in which laws and conscience have hitherto effected so little. But while the duellist, who perhaps becomes a duellist only because he was first a seducer, is welcomed with smiles, the more hardy dignified youth, who, not because he fears man but God, declines a challenge, who is resolved to brave disgrace rather than commit sin, would be treated with cool contempt by those very persons to whose esteem
he might reasonably have looked, as one of the rewards of his true and substantial fortitude.
How, then, is it to be reconciled with the decisions of principle, that delicate women should receive with complacency the successful libertine, who has been detected by the wretched father or the injured husband in a criminal commerce, the discovery of which has too justly banished the unhappy partner of his crime from virtuous society? Nay, if he happens to be very handsome, or very brave, or very fashionable, is there not sometimes a kind of dishonourable competition for his favour? Is there not a sort of bad popularity attached to his attentions ? But, whether his flattering reception be derived from birth, or parts, or person, or, what is often a substitute for all, from his having made his way, by whatever means, into good company, women of distinction sully the sanctity of virtue by the too visible pleasure they sometimes express at the attentions of such a popular libertine, whose voluble small-talk they admire, whose sprightly nothings they quote, whose vices they justify or extenuate, and whom, perhaps, their very favour tends to prevent from becoming a better character, because he finds himself more acceptable as he is.
May I be allowed to introduce a new part of my subject, by remarking that it is a matter of inconceivable importance, though not perhaps sufficiently considered, when any popular work, not on a religious topic, but on any common subject, such as politics, history, or science, has happened to be written by an author of sound Christian principles ? It may not have been necessary, nor prudently practicable, to have made a single page in the whole work professedly religious; but still, when the living principle informs the mind of the writer, it is almost impossible but that something of its spirit will diffuse itself even into subjects with which it should seem but remotely connected. It is at least a comfort to the reader to feel that honest confidence which results from knowing that he has put himself into safe hands; that he has committed himself to an author whose known principles are a pledge that his reader need not be driven to watch himself at every step with anxious circumspection; that he need not be looking on the right hand and on the left, as if he knew there were pitfalls under the flowers which are delighting him. And it is no small point gained, that even on subjects in which you do not look to improve your religion, it is at least secured from deterioration. If the Athenian laws were so delicate that they disgraced any one who showed an enquiring traveller the wrong road, what disgrace, among Christians, should attach to that author, who, when a youth is enquiring the road to history or philosophy, directs him to blasphemy. and unbelief ? *