« ForrigeFortsett »
I like the story of the honest Dutchman, who, upon breaking his leg by a fall from the main-mast, told the standers by, it was a great mercy that it was not his neck. To which, since I am got into quotations, give me leave to add the saying of an old philosopher, who, after having invited some of his friends to dine with him, was ruffled by a person that came into the room in a passion, and threw down the table that stood before them: "Every one," says he, " has his calamity; and he is a happy man that has no greater than this." We find an instance to the same purpose, in the life of doctor Hammond written by bishop Fell. As this good man was troubled with a complication of distempers, when he had the gout upon him, he used to thank God that it was not the stone; and when he had the stone, that he had not both these distempers on him, at the same time.
I cannot conclude this essay without observing, that there never was any system besides that of Christiani
which could effectually produce in the mind of man the virtue I have been hitherto speaking of. In order to make us contented with our condition, many of the present philosophers tell us, that our discontent only hurts ourselves, without being able to make an alteration in our circumstances; others, that whatever evil befalls us is derived to us by a fatal necessity, to which superior beings themselves are subject: while others, very gravely, tell the man who is miserable, that it is necessary he should be so, to keep up the harmony of the universe; and that the scheme of Providence would be troubled and perverted, were he otherwise. These, and the like considerations, rather silence than satisfy a man. They may show him that his discontent is unreasonable, but they are by no means sufficient to relieve it. They rather give despair than consolation. In a word, a man might reply to one of these comforters, as Augustus did to his friend, who advised him not to grieve for the death of a person whom he loved,
because his grief could not fetch him again: "It is for that very reason," said the emperor," that I grieve."
On the contrary, religion bears a more tender regard to human nature. It prescribes to every miserăble man the means of bettering his condition: nay, it shows him, that bearing his afflictions as he ought to do, will naturally end in the removal of them. It makes him easy here, because it can make him happy hereafter.
Rank and riches afford no ground for envy.
Of all the grounds of envy among men, superiority in rank and fortune is the most general. Hence, the malignity which the poor commonly bear to the rich, as engrossing to themselves all the comforts of life. Hence the evil eye with which persons of inferior sta tion scrutinize those who are above them in rank; and if they approach to that rank, their envy is generally strongest against such as are just one step higher than themselves. Alas! my friend, all this envious disquietude, which agitates the world, arises from a deceitful figure which imposes on the public view. False colours are hung out: the real state of men is not what it seems to be. The order of society requires a distinction of ranks to take place: but in point of happiness, all men come much nearer to equality than is commonly imagined; and the circumstances, which form any material difference of happiness among them, are not of that nature which renders them grounds of envy. The poor man possesses not, it is true, some of the conveniences and pleasures of the rich; but, in return, he is free from many embarrassments to which they are subject. By the simplicity and uniformity of his life, he is delivered from that variety of cares, which perplex those who have great affairs to manage,
intricate plans to pursue, many enemies, perhaps, to encounter in the pursuit. In the tranquillity of his small habitation, and private family, he enjoys a peace which is often unknown at courts. The gratifications of nature, which are always the most satisfactory, are possessed by him to their full extent: and if he be a stranger to the refined pleasures of the wealthy, he is unacquainted also with the desire of them, and by consequence, feels no want. His plain meal satisfies his appetite, with a relish probably higher than that of the rich man, who sits down to his luxurious banquet. His sleep is more sound; his health more firm; he knows not what spleen, languor, and listlessness are. His accustomed employments or labours are not more oppressive to him, than the labour of attendance on courts and the great, the labours of dress, the fatigue of amusements, the very weight of idleness, frequently are to the rich. In the mean time, all the beauty of the face of nature, all the enjoyments of domestic society, all the gaiety and cheerfulness of an easy mind, are as open to him as to those of the highest rank. The splendour of retinue, the sound of titles, the appearances of high respect, are indeed soothing, for a short time, to the great. But, become familiar, they are soon forgotten. Custom effaces their impression. They sink into the rank of those ordinary things wich daily recur, without raising any sensation of joy.-Let us cease, therefore, from looking up with discontent and envy to those, whom birth or fortune has placed above us. Let us adjust the balance of happiness fairly. When we think of the enjoyments we want, we should think also of the troubles from which we are free. If we allow their just value to the comforts we possess, we shall find reason to rest satisfied, with a very moderate, though not an opulent and splendid, condition of fortune. Often, did we know the whole, we should be inclined to pity the state of those whom we now envy.
Patience under provocations our interest as well as duty.
THE wide circle of human society is diversified by an endless variety of characters, dispositions, and passions. Uniformity is, in no respect, the genius of the world. Every man is marked by some peculiarity which distinguishes him from another: and no where can two individuals be found, who are exactly and in all respects alike. Where so much diversity obtains, it cannot but happen, that in the intercourse which men are obliged to maintain, their tempers will often be ill adjusted to that intercourse; will jar, and interfere with each other. Hence, in every station, the highest as well as the lowest, and in every condition of life, public, private, and domestic, occasions of irritation frequently arise. We are provoked, sometimes, by the folly and levity of those with whom we are connected; sometimes, by their indifference or neglect; by the incivility of a friend, the haughtiness of a supe rior, or the insolvent béhaviour of one in lower station. Hardly a day passes, without somewhat or other occurring, which serves to ruffle the man of impatient spirit. Of course, such a man lives in a continual storm. He knows not what it is to enjoy a train of good humour. Servants, neighbours, friends, spouse, and children, all, through the unrestrained violence of his temper, become sources of disturbance and vexation to him. In vain is affluence; in vain are health and prosperity. The least trifle is sufficient to discompose his mind, and poison his pleasures. His very amusements are mixed with turbulence and passion.
I would beseech this man to consider, of what small moment the provocations which he receives, or at least imagines himself to receive, are really in themselves; but of what great moment he makes them, by suffering
them to deprive him of the possession of himself. I would beseech him, to consider, how many hours of happiness he throws away, which a little more patience would allow him to enjoy and how much he puts it in the power of the most insignificant persons to render him miserable. "But who can expect," we hear him exclaim," that he is to possess the insensibility of a stone? How is it possible for human nature to endure so many repeated provocations? or to bear calmly with so unreasonable behaviour?"-My brother! if thou canst bear with no instances of unreasonable behaviour, withdraw thyself from the world. Thou art no longer fit to live in it. Leave the intercourse of men. Retreat to the mountain, and the desert; or shut thyself up in a cell. For here, in the midst of society, offences must come. We might as well expect, when we behold a calm atmosphere, and a clear sky, that no clouds were ever to rise, and no winds to blow, as that our life were long to proceed, without receiving provocations from human frailty. The careless and the imprudent, the giddy and the fickle, the ungrateful and the interested, every where meet us. They are the briers and thorns, with which the paths of human life are beset. He only, who can hold his course among them with patience and equanimity, he who is prepared to bear what he must expect to happen, is worthy of the name of a man.
If we preserved ourselves composed but for a mo. ment, we should perceive the insignificancy of most of those provocations which we magnify so highly. When a few suns more have rolled over our heads, the storm will, of itself, have subsided; the cause of our present impatience and disturbance will be utterly forgotten. Can we not then, anticipate this hour of calmness to ourselves; and begin to enjoy the peace which it will certainly bring? If others have behaved improperly, let us leave them to their own folly, without becoming the victim of their caprice, and punishing ourselves on