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ON PUBLIC AMUSEMENTS.
It is not proposed to enter the long-contested field of controversy as to the individual amusements which may be considered as safe and lawful for those women of the higher class who make a strict profession of Christianity. The judgment they will be likely to form for themselves on the subject, and the plan they will consequently adopt, will depend much on the clearness or obscurity of their religious views, and on the greater or less progress they have made in their Christian course. It is in their choice of amusements that you are able, in some measure, to get acquainted with the real dispositions of mankind. In their business, in the leading employments of life, their path is in a good degree chalked out for them : there is, in this respect, a sort of general character, wherein the greater part, more or less, must coincide. · But in their pleasures the choice is voluntary, the taste is self-directed, the propensity is independent, and, of course, the habitual state, the genuine bent and bias of the temper, are most likely to be seen in those pursuits which every person is at liberty to choose for himself.
When a truly religious principle shall have acquired such a degree of force as to produce that conscientious and habitual improvement of time before recommended, it will discover itself by an increasing indifference and even deadness to those pleasures which are interesting to the world at large. A woman under the predominating influence of such a principle will begin to discover that the same thing which in itself is innocent may yet be comparatively wrong. She will begin to feel that there are many amusements and employments which, though they have nothing censurable in themselves, yet, if they be allowed to intrench on hours which ought to be dedicated to still better purposes, or if they are protracted to an undue length; or, above all, if, by softening and relaxing her mind, and dissipating her spirits, they so indispose her for better pursuits as to render subsequent duties a burden, they become, in that case, clearly wrong for her, whatever they may be for others. Now, as temptations of this sort are the peculiar dangers of better kind of characters, the sacrifice of such little gratifications as may have no great harm in them, come in among the daily calls to self-denial in a Christian.
The fine arts, for instance, polite literature, elegant society, these are among the lawful, and liberal, and becoming recreations of higher life; yet, if even these be cultivated to the neglect or exclusion of severer duties ; if they interfere with serious studies, or disqualify the mind for religious exercises, it is an intimation that they have been too much indulged; and, under such circumstances, it might be the part of Christian circumspection to enquire if the time devoted to them ought not to be abridged. Above all, a tender conscience will never lose sight of one safe rule of determining in all doubtful cases: if the point be so nice that though we hope, upon the whole, there may be no harm in engaging in it, we may, at least, be always quite sure that there can be no harm in letting it alone. The adoption of this simple rule would put a period to much unprofitable casuistry.
The principle of being responsible for the use of time once fixed in the mind, the conscientious Christian will be making a continual progress in the great art of turning time to account. In the first stages of her religion, she will have abstained from pleasures which began a little to wound the conscience, or which assumed a questionable shape; but she will probably have abstained with regret, and with a secret wish that conscience could have permitted her to keep well with pleasure and religion too. But you may discern in her subsequent course that she has reached a more advanced stage, by her beginning to neglect even such pleasures or employments as have no moral turpitude in them, but are merely what are called innocent. This relinquishment arises, not so much from her feeling still more the restraints of religion, as from the improvement in her religious taste. Pleasures cannot now attach her merely from their being innocent, unless they are likewise interesting; and to be interesting they must be consonant to her superinduced views. She is not contented to spend a large portion of her time harmlessly; it must be spent profitably also. Nay, if she be indeed earnestly “pressing towards the mark,” it will not be even enough for her that her present pursuit be good, if she be convinced that it might be still better. Her contempt of ordinary enjoyments will increase in a direct proportion to her increased relish for those pleasures which religion enjoins and bestows. So that, at length, if it were possible to suppose that an angel could come down to take off, as it were, the interdict, and to invite her to resume all the pleasures she had renounced, and to resume them with complete impunity, she would reject the invitation, because, from an improvement in her spiritual taste, she would despise those delights from which she had at first abstained through fear. Till her will and affections come heartily to be engaged in the service of God, the progress will not be comfortable; but when once they are so engaged, the attachment to this service will be cordial, and her heart will not desire to go back and toil again in the drudgery of the world; for her religion has not so much given her a new creed, as a new heart and a new life.
As her views are become new, so her tempers, dispositions, tastes, actions, pursuits, choice of company, choice of amusements, are new also; her employment of time is changed; her turn of conversation is altered; “ old things are passed away, all things are become new.” In dissipated and worldly society, she will seldom fail to feel a sort of uneasiness, which will produce one of these two effects, - she will either, as proper seasons present themselves, struggle hard to introduce such sub
jects as may be useful to others; or, supposing that she finds herself unable to effect this, she will, as far as she prudently can, absent herself from all unprofitable kind of society. Indeed her manner of conducting herself under these circumstances may serve to furnish her with a test of her own sincerity. For while people are contending for a little more of this amusement, and pleading for a little extension of that gratification, and fighting in order that they may hedge in a little more territory to their pleasure-ground, they are exhibiting a kind of evidence against themselves, that they are not yet renewed in the spirit of their mind.”
It has been warmly urged as an objection to certain religious books, and particularly against a recent work of high worth and celebrity, by a distinguished layman*, that they have set the standard of self-denial higher than reason or even than Christianity requires. These works do, indeed, elevate the general tone of religion to a higher pitch than is quite convenient to those who are at infinite pains to construct a comfortable and comprehensive plan, which shall unite the questionable pleasures of this world with the promised happiness of the next. I say it has been sometimes objected, even by those readers who on the whole greatly admire the particular work alluded to, that it is unreasonably strict in the preceptive and prohibitory parts; and especially that it individually and specifically forbids certain fashionable amusements, with a severity not to be found in the Scrip
* Practical View, &c. by Mr. Wilberforce.