« AnteriorContinuar »
ing to us. Especially, when we are used to see ill things practised by persons whom we regard, the favorable opinion we have of the doer extends itself to the action done, and leads us insensibly from seeing to approving, and from approving to imitating. And thus being, the very best of us, prone to do evil, and living in the midst of evil ; being attacked thus from without, and betrayed from within, we are not capable of making an effectual resistance. The only refuge we have is in retreat, where we may at leisure correct the ill impressions that have been made upon us; and by disuse and distance, weaken the force of those ill influences which we could not wholly avoid.
Another advantage which retirement affords us, is, that it calms and composes all the passions, those especially of the tumultuous kind, which, while the business and pleasures of life possess our hearts, are under a violent and restless agitation. We seldom mix long in conversation without meeting with some accident that ruffles and disturbs us; somewhat that plays either upon our hopes or our fears, our aversions or desires. An injurious or slighting word is thrown out, which we think ourselves obliged to resent; or some innocent expression of ours is misrepresented and resented by others, and that provokes a return. Our enemy comes in our way, and kindles thoughts of aversion and hatred in us. We look upon those who are above us in all the advantages of life with envious eyes, and with contempt on those who are beneath us. Thus are we delivered over from passion to passion, tossed and disquieted in our minds, during the intercourse we maintain with the world. But when we quit it and retire, all these winds are presently laid, and there is a perfect calm. The objects which excited us being removed, our appetites also languish and die away; we possess our souls in patience and peace, and enjoy a profound tranquillity and rest, the pleasure of which is great to those who are so happy as to have a relish for it, and is enhanced by being always tasted with innocence. Wouldst thou, then, be free from
anger and strife ? Fly from the occasions of them, steal away from the great scene of passion and business into thy privacy; shut the doors about thee, commune with thine own heart in thy chamber and be still. There, all animosities are forgotten, all pursuits, all competition cease. There, all marks of distinction are laid aside ; the great and the lowly, the prince and the subject, are upon a level; equally under the eye of one common Master, equally desirous of pleasing Him, and mindless of lesser interests and concerns. There, the vanities and vexations of this world are shut out, and the considerations of another are let in; the
scorn, soul enjoys that sweet contentment and repose which it enjoys no where else on this side heaven.
It is a very trite observation, that of all vices profaneness is that which is least productive of either profit or pleasure. Indeed, I believe it will be a very difficult matter to specify any one advantage resulting from it, or any one rational motive for the practice of it. It cannot be necessary to confirm every common assertion in conversation with an oath. It is the worst compliment we can possibly pay to ourselves, to afford any room for suspicion that our word would not be taken, on every trifling occasion. It is a demeaning of ourselves; it is an affront upon our company; and there is this further absurdity attending it, that he who cannot be believed on his word, is seldom credited on his oath.
But the truth is, this is very seldom, if ever, the motive to common swearing. It is in general intended to give an air of boldness and courage, or else to fill up the vacancies of conversation where there is a barrenness of understanding, and to substitute words in the place of ideas. As to the
first, give me leave to observe, that is no true courage which bids defiance to the majesty of Heaven, to decency, good order, and good manners. It is no uncommon artifice of cowardice to make a show of bravery where the danger seems remote. I must however remark, that the device but seldom succeeds, even with the very vulgar. When so much pains are taken to acquire the appearance of any thing, a suspicion always arises that the reality is wanting, and the end is actually counteracted by the imprudent means which are employed to effect it.
The other plea is, I confess, somewhat more specious. I am ready to admit that scarcity of ideas, is, on some occasions, an inconvenience; and very possibly, the limited faculties of some persons may absolutely require assistance of certain commonplace phrases, and even of oaths, to give them the appearance of speaking animals. As the reputation, however, of a barren understanding, is not very agreeable, and as the device is now detected and exposed, I would not advise any person, who perceives in himself a want of ideas, to put in practice so hackneyed a stratagem. I would rather advise him to avoid profaneness as he would avoid the reputation of ignorance, emptiness, and weakness of understanding.
Indeed, as knowledge becomes more diffused, and as conversation improves, I trust I am not mistaken in the hope that profaneness is at present going gradually out of fashion. I know that it is of the utmost importance to every person, who wishes to write or to speak with elegance and correctness, to observe a delicacy and politeness of language in his common conversation. The style which is eked out with oaths, or commonplace expressions of any kind, will naturally be lame and incorrect on occasions, when these cannot be introduced. Whoever, therefore, would appear either the gentleman or the scholar, ought, on every occasion to avoid them.
To those who have any degree of faith in the truth of revelation, the absurdity of this vice must be instantly apparent. It must be instantly apparent, that the vices of the tongue are intimately connected with the vices of the heart; that an abandonment of principle, a levity of manners, will constantly accompany a levity and licentiousness of conversation. Our minds are the creatures of habit; our actions are the consequents of our ideas. Profaneness, therefore, naturally lessens those respects, which ought ever to be esteemed sacred. The tongue cannot use the name of God in a free, unlicensed manner, without taking from that reverence which the welfare of society and of our own souls, requires we should ever retain for him. The solemn oaths, which justice employs for the general safety and tranquility, become a mockery