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rumour of their exploits, to fill the world; and by their noise to multiply their numbers. It often happens that a very small party of people, by occupying the fore-ground, by seizing the public attention, and monopolising the public talk, contrives to appear to be the great body; a few active spirits, provided their activity take the wrong turn, and support the wrong cause, seem to fill the scene; and a few disturbers of order, who have the talent of thus exciting a false idea of their multitudes by their mischiefs, actually gain strength, and swell their numbers, by this fallacious arithmetic.
But the present work is no more intended for a panegyric on those purer characters who seek not human praise because they act from a higher motive, than for a satire on the avowedly licentious, who, urged by the impulse of the moment, resist no inclination; and, led away by the love of fashion, dislike no censure, so it may serve to rescue them from neglect or oblivion.
There are, however, multitudes of the young and the well-disposed, who have as yet taken no decided part, who are just launching on the ocean of life, just about to lose their own right convictions, virtually preparing to counteract their better propensities, and unreluctantly yielding themselves to be carried down the tide of popular practices; sanguine, thoughtless, and confident of safety. — To these the author would gently hint, that, when once embarked, it will be no longer easy to say to their passions, or even to their principles, “ Thus far shall ye go, and no further.” Their struggles
will grow fainter, their resistance will become feebler, till, borne down by the confluence of example, temptation, appetite, and habit, resistance and opposition will soon be the only things of which they will learn to be ashamed.
Should any reader revolt at what is conceived to be unwarranted strictness in this little book, let it not be thrown by in disgust before the following short consideration be weighed. If in this Christian country we are actually beginning to regard the solemn office of baptism as merely furnishing an article to the parish register; — if we are learning from our indefatigable teachers, to consider this Christian rite as a legal ceremony retained for the sole purpose of recording the age of our children; — then, indeed, the prevailing system of education and manners on which these volumes presume to animadvert, may be adopted with propriety, and persisted in with safety, without entailing on our children or on ourselves the peril of broken promises, or the guilt of violated vows. — But if the obligation which Christian baptism imposes be really binding; — if the ordinance have, indeed, a meaning beyond a mere secular transaction, beyond a record of names and dates; - if it be an institution by which the child is solemnly devoted to God as his Father, to Jesus Christ as his Saviour, and to the Holy Spirit as his Sanctifier; - if there be no definite period assigned when the obligation of fulfilling the duties it enjoins shall be superseded; — if, having once dedicated our offspring to their Creator, we no longer dare to mock him by bringing them up in ignorance of His will and neglect of His laws; — if, after having enlisted them under the banners of Christ to fight manfully against the three great enemies of mankind, we are no longer at liberty to let them lay down their arms; much less to lead them to act as if they were in alliance instead of hostility with these enemies; — if, after having promised that they shall renounce the vanities of the world, we are not allowed to invalidate the engagement; — if, after such a covenant, we should tremble to make these renounced vanities the supreme object of our own pursuit or of their instruction;- if all this be really so, then the Strictures on Modern Education in the first of these volumes, and on the Habits of polished Life in the second, will not be found so repugnant to truth, and reason, and common sense, as may on a first view be supposed.
But if, on candidly summing up the evidence, the design and scope of the author be fairly judged, not by the customs or opinions of the worldly, (for every English subject has a right to object to a suspected or prejudiced jury,) but by. an appeal to that divine law which is the only infallible rule of judgment; if, on such an appeal, her views and principles shall be found censurable for their rigour, absurd in their requisitions, or preposterous in their restrictions, she will have no right to complain of such a verdict, because she will then stand condemned by that court to whose decision she implicitly submits.
Let it not be suspected that the author arrogantly conceives herself to be exempt from that natural corruption of the heart which it is one chief object of this slight work to exhibit; that she superciliously erects herself into the impeccable censor of her sex and of the world; as if from the critic's chair she were coldly pointing out the faults and errors of another order of beings, in whose welfare she had not that lively interest which can only flow from the tender and intimate participation of fellow-feeling.
With a deep self-abasement, arising from a strong conviction of being, indeed, a partaker in the same corrupt nature; together with a full persuasion of the many and great defects of these volumes, and a sincere consciousness of her inability to do justice to a subject which, however, a sense of duty impelled her to undertake; she commits herself to the candour of that Public which has so frequently, in her instance, accepted a right intention as a substitute for a powerful performance.
ВАТА, March 14, 1799.