Графични страници
PDF файл

family. The season too, we shall suppose, is hard and pinching. The winter rages in its rigours. His cottage is ill supplied with fuel, and still worse protected from the chilling blasts and sleet that beat upon it. Around the embers of a decaying fire, his children, shivering and hungry, cry to him for bread. The partner of his sorrows looks to him with eyes of despair; he can make them no answer. Tears and sighs, and the fulness of conjugal sympathy and parental grief, choke all utterance. He has no bread to give them: he knows not which way to turn, to procure them refreshment. The sons of prosperity keep aloof from his miserable abode, regardless of his tears, and deaf to his complaints: this breaks his spirit, and puts hope far from him. At a time when he has most occasion for a collected mind, for vigour and thought, and manly exertion, he droops, and loses all courage. Thus bereft of all accommodations, of every consolation, of every support, having nothing to alleviate his sufferings and mitigate his pains, hopeless sorrow preys upon his vitals, and at length he is reduced to wish for death, unnatural as it is for man to form such a wish, as the only means of deliverance.

This is not all; the poor man, as well as the rich, has a rational and immortal mind, capable of being enlightened, improved, exercised in virtue, and trained up to everlasting happiness. But what obstacles and difficulties in the practice of goodness, what temptations to sin and iniquity, assail him on all hands! How shall he find time, whence shall he derive force and inclination, where shall he procure the necessary means, for cultivating his understanding, extending his knowledge, and providing for his moral improvement? How shall he raise his mind, weighed down with grief and woes, to great ideas, corresponding with the dignity of human nature? How shall his mind, entangled in cares, obtain that freedom and ease, which rational thought and examination, or the contemplation of truth, require? How difficult must it prove to him, to be satisfied with divine providence, to account all its methods just and wise, and forbear to murmur at its

dispensations! How difficult to comply with the duty of trusting in God, of hoping constantly the best of him, and to employ no means forbidden in his law, to extricate himself from indigence and distress! And ought we to be surprised, if the poor man, who is obliged to submit to the meanest offices and most servile drudgery, and is all the while labouring under general though unmerited contempt, should learn both to think and to act meanly-if he should nourish in his breast envy and hatred against such as are better provided with this world's goods-if he should be led into various kinds of fraudulent artifice and secret injustice? We are well aware, that these errors and atrocities are not the necessary effects of poverty, and that there are poor persons who remain faithful to God and their duty; but we likewise know, that it requires an extraordinary firmness of mind, a superior degree of virtue and honesty, and that in such circumstances the temptation to the contrary is extremely vehement and dangerous. Such are the disadvantages of poverty.

Let us now consider the condition of riches. The man who lives in abundance, with whom every thing succeeds to his wishes, is apt to be proud of it, and puffed up with vanity and self-conceit. He forms lofty ideas of his merit and his extraordinary worth. At first he regards his opulence as an evident proof of the favour in which he stands with God, on account of his high desert. By insensible degrees, in the turmoil of his secular avocations and distractions, he forgets the hand from which all blessings flow; forgets his dependence upon God; holds the edifice of his fortune his own work; and thinks he has scarcely any need of the Divine assistance, or the Divine support. He relies upon his treasures, upon his power, upon his authority, and, in his heart, departs farther and farther from the Lord. He grows continually more indifferent to religion and to the worship of God; and the levity which sways him, the round of public diversions and idle amusements which deprive him of all opportunity and all capacity for sober reflection, with

the crowd of base sycophants and expectants by whom he is surrounded, render him by degrees insensible to the remonstrances of his conscience, and to every warning voice of time and events; and thus, at last, loses all sight of God and his judgment, and of the state of retribution to come: nay, thus may he easily sink so low, as, if not in words, at least in fact, to deny the supremacy and power of God, refuse the just tribute of reverence and obedience to the great Creator and sole proprietor of the universe, and hold that preposterous language, "Who is the Lord, that I should hearken to his voice?"

"I consider," says Jeremy Taylor, "that he that is the greatest possessor in the world, enjoys its best and most noble parts, and those which are of most excellent perfection, but in common with the inferior persons and the most despicable of his kingdom. Can the greatest prince enclose the sun, and set one little star in his cabinet for his own use? or secure to himself the gentle and benign influences in any one constellation? Are not his subjects' fields bedewed with the same showers that water his gardens of pleasure?


Nay, those things which he esteems his ornament, and the singularity of his possessions, are they not of more use to others than to himself? For, suppose his garments splendid and shining like the robe of a cherub, or the clothing of the fields; all that he that wears them enjoys is, that they keep him warm, and clean, and modest; and all that is done by clean and less pompous vestments, and the beauty of them, which distinguishes him from others, is made to please the eyes of the beholders, and he is like a fair bird, made wholly to be looked on, that is, to be enjoyed by every one but himself; and the fairest face and the sparkling eye cannot perceive or enjoy their own beauties but by reflection. It is I that am pleased with beholding his gaiety, and the gay man in his greatest bravery is only pleased because I am pleased with the sight; so, borrowing his little and imaginary complacency from the delight that I have, not from any inherency of his own possession.

"Suppose a man lord of all the world, yet since every thing is received, not according to its own greatness and worth, but according to the capacity of the receiver, it signifies very little to our content, or to the riches of our possession. If any man should give to a lion a fair meadow full of hay, or a thousand quince trees; or should give to the goodly bull, the master and the fairest of the whole herd, a thousand fair stags,

if a man should present to a child a ship laden with Persian, carpets, and the ingredients of the rich scarlet, all these, being disproportionate either to the appetite or to the understanding, could add nothing of content, and might declare the freeness of the presenter, but they upbraid the incapacity of the receiver. And so it does, if God should give the whole world to any man. He knows not what to do with it; he can use no more but according to the capacities of the receiver of a man; he can use nothing but meat, drink, and clothes; and infinite riches, that can give him changes of raiment every day, and full table, do but give him a clean trencher every bit he eats; it signifies no more but wantonness and variety to the same, not to any new purposes. He to whom the world can be given, to any purpose greater than a private estate can minister, must have new capacities created in him he needs the understanding of an angel, to take the accounts of his estate; he had need have a stomach like fire or the grave, else he can eat no more than one of his healthful subjects; and unless he hath an eye like the sun, and a motion like that of a thought, and a bulk as big as one of the orbs of heaven, the pleasures of his eye can be no greater than to behold the beauty of a little prospect from a hill, or to look upon the heap of gold packed up in a little room, or to doat upon a cabinet of jewels, better than which, there is no man that sees at all, but sees every day. For, not to name the beauties and sparkling diamonds of heaven, a man's, or a woman's, or a hawk's eye is more beauteous and excellent than all the jewels of his crown. And when we remember that a beast, who hath quicker senses than a man, yet hath not so great delight in the fruition of any object, because he wants understanding, and the power to make reflex acts upon his perception; it will follow, that understanding and knowledge is the greatest instrument of pleasure, and he that is most knowing hath a capacity to become happy, which a less knowing prince or a rich person hath not; and in this only a man's capacity is capable of enlargement. But then, although they only have power to relish any pleasure rightly, who rightly understand the nature, and degrees, and essences, and ends of things, yet they that do so, understand also the variety and the unsatisfyingness of the things of this world, so that the relish, which could not be great but in a great understanding, appears contemptible, because its variety appears at the same time the understanding sees all, and sees through it."

Suppose a man possess the whole world, all his advantages put together can neither make pain easy, nor sorrow comfortable. It is not in the power of the

richest treasures, the largest territories, or the most unbounded indulgence, to give him more ease, more rest, or more pleasure, in the rage of a fever, the tortures of the stone, or the agony of the gout, than if he was every way as naked, as poor, and as helpless as when he was born.

What are all the products of all seasons, and all countries, and all creatures, the choicest delicacies of land or sea, to a sickly stomach? When once his appetite is lost, the more costly and refined his morsel is, he probably loathes it the more. The most odious reptile is not more noxious to his sight, than the most exquisite dish that ever heightened Roman luxury is then to his palate. The richest perfumes but make his head ache; and to load him with jewels, while his heart pants with sickness, and his lungs labour for want of breath, would be a burden as troublesome and mortifying as his grave-stone!

How contemptible and fugitive then must not those things be, however vast, or numerous, or envied, which cannot render his pillow easy, abate the rapidity of an intemperate pulse, restore the use of a withered hand, or make but a crooked finger straight!

Indeed, whatever he should think of his wealth, his influence, or his independence, all of them afford him not half so much solid and substantial content as is usually found in a moderate competence; for all his eminence and affluence cannot force the sea to overflow his shores, the clouds to fatten his soil, the weather to suit his convenience, his servants to be faithful and diligent, his children to be dutiful and promising, or his friends to be open and sincere. And though nothing should appear on the face of a condition thus fair and flourishing, to expose its spots and imperfections, there is, even in the most unexceptionable, such a tediousness and uniformity, so much vicissitude and vexation, that we always wish to change, and think on nothing but how to make the future an improvement on the present. How often are things accounted by others as most exquisitely charming, which the owner of them knows

« ПредишнаНапред »