« ПредишнаНапред »
give;' pride, which never saith, ' It is enough.' Goaded by these passions, he struggles with unceasing anxiety to outrun those around him in the splendour of dress, equipage, houses, gardens, and other objects of expense. The contest of one with many is almost necessarily unequal. It is scarcely possible, that some of bis competitors should not excel him in one thing, and some in another; or that, whenever he is excelled, he should not be unbappy. In its nature, the strife is unwise and fruitless ; because neither the spirit nor the efforts of
; rivalry ever made any man happy. In its progress it necessarily disappoints all his eager wishes and fond hopes. When he succeeds, the expected enjoyment expires in the very moment of success; when he fails, the disappointment makes him miserable. With all this, he is preparing himself insensibly for more accumulated misery. No prodigal ever looks into his affairs, nor conjectures the extent of his expenses. Of course, no prodigal ever perceives the rapidity with which his property declines. To men of this sort ruin is always
. nearer than they mistrust; and hastens with a celerity of which they never dreamed. While the means of expense are supposed to last, the whole host of sharpers fasten on him as their prey. The jockey cheats him in a bargain. The swindler borrows and runs away
money. The usurer furnishes him with loans at an enormous interest. Heedless of expense, and greedy of the enjoyments which it procures, every manufacturer of frippery, every owner of a toy-shop, selects bim as his own best customer, and exchanges the merchandize of Vanity-fair for his money and his lands.
Such a career providence never suffers to last long. Unsuspected by himself, but foreseen by all around him, ruin, hastening with rapid steps, knocks at bis door in an evil hour. The host of wretches who pamper themselves on his extravagance while they secretly laugh at his folly, startled at the sound, are out of sight in a moment. They have indeed rioted at his expense, and might be expeoted to be grateful for what he has given. But gratitude is rarely created by profusion, and the hearts of such men were never susceptible of gratitude. They have feasted on enjoyments which he furnished; but they came only to feast, not to sympathize. They have encouraged his expense, praised his generosity, admired his taste, and professed a deep interest in his happiness. But
their whole business terminated in enjoying, praising, admiring, and professing. They are harpies, who gathered around him to revel on his profusion ; and sycophants, who flattered him, that they might be admitted to the revel. For him, for any other human being, they never exercised a generous thought, a sympathizing feeling, an bonest good-will. The house of suffering has no charms for them. They came only to get; and when they can get no longer, they come no more.
When they have taken their flight, instead of being grateful to him for the enjoyments on which they have so long and so riotously feasted at his expense, they are among the first, most incessant, and most clamorous of those, who load him with
Instead of pitying his calamities, calamities into which they have persuaded, urged, and flattered him ; they make both him and them the butt of ridicule, a mark for scorn to shoot at; and persuade the world to forget that they have been eminently the causes of his destruction, by vociferating their contempt of his folly.
In the mean time, his door is thronged by a mob of duns, and a host of bailiffs. His houses and lands pass away to the sharpers, who have been long fattening upon his spoils. His equipage, his furniture, even the very bed on which he has slept, is struck off to the highest bidder. The sprightly sound of the viol and the harpsichord is succeeded by the rude bammer of the auctioneer. Broken in fortune, and broken in heart, the miserable squanderer and his miserable family quit their luxurious mansion, and shelter themselves in a solitary hovel.
This wretched career is rendered more sinful, and more unhappy, by the avarice which regularly haunts the prodigal. Addison, in a beautiful allegory, informs us, that Luxury and Avarice were formerly at war; that, after various vicissitudes of fortune, they agreed at length to a permanent peace, on the condition that Luxury should dismiss Plenty from his service, and Avarice, Poverty, their respective ministers of state; and that Avarice should become the minister of Luxury, and Luxury of Avarice, by turns. Since that period be informs us, Luxury ministers to Avarice, and Avarice to Luxury. Every prodigal is, in intention at least, a luxurious man. Every prodigal almost is avaricious. He grasps at money eagerly, that he may find the means of continuing bis darling profusion; and covets with as craving an appetite, that he may spend; as the miser, that he may board. Like the miserable sufferers described by Isaiah, he will not spare even his own brother;' but will snatch on the right hand, and still be hungry; and devour on the left, and will not be satisfied.'
Equally exposed is he to the sin of fraud, as perpetrated upon his fellow men. Peculiarly is he of the number of those • wicked who borrow and never pay. No man is more lavish of promises, notes, and bonds; and no man more stinted in discharging bis honest debts. The farmer, mechanic, and manufacturer are peculiarly the objects of his fraud. The debts which he pays at all, are those which he is pleased to style debts of honour, the debts of luxury; debts contracted to furnish the means of splendour and voluptuousness. The necessaries of life are objects too bumble to be ranked in the list of his enjoyments. Insignificant in themselves, that is, as he estimates them, they are not felt to be deserving of his attention. Those who furnish them also are too modest and tuo quiet to compel his regard. Those who gratify the demands of show and pleasure are, in his view, persons of higher consequence; and are usually too clamorous and too persevering in their demands, to suffer them to be turned away bv a mere succession of empty promises. Their claims are of course first satisfied. Not the rich, but the poor and the hungry, are here' sent away empty.'
The same necessity which drives him to promise-breaking, urges him also into its twin vice of lying. He wants money daily; and as the ordinary means of obtaining it fail, he resorts to every art, and fetch, and falsehood, to supply his pressing necessities. A true account of his circumstances and designs would prevent every supply. To falsehood therefore and to trick he betakes bimself, as the most obvious means of relieving his immediate wants. In this manner he becomes, within a moderate period, a common cheat, and a common liar.
Nor is the prodigal much less in danger from drunkenness. The peculiar distress wbich attends the consciousness of embarrassed affairs, made up of the strong pressure of wants without the means of relieving them, a continual apprehension of approaching ruin, united with an insurmountable reluctance to make any efforts towards preventing it, edged and pointed
by a succession of duns, mortified pride, vanishing pleasures, and clamorous appetites; this peculiar distress is a powerful and frequent cause of habitual intoxication. The unhappy being who is the subject of such distress, instinctively bunts, but hunts in vain, for relief, and even for consolation. Despair meets him at every corner. Often the only alleviation which presenis itself to his afflicted eye is the terrible resort to the transieut stupefaction of strong drink. Thus the forlorn wretch, with a varied, indeed, but always downward course, makes his situation worse and worse ; and burries himself to fiual ruin by the very means on which he fastens for relief.
Nor is the prodigal in small danger of becoming a suicide. He has lived for a length of time in the gratification of pride, the enjoyment of conscious superiority, and an uninterrupted course of voluptuous indulgence. When the dreams of greatness are over, and the riot of pleasure has ceased, the change to want and degradation is often too sudden, and almost always too great, to be borne with equanimity. In the earlier moinents of desperation, it is not uncommon to see the prodigal betake himself, for refuge from the load of humiliation and despair, to poison, the pistol, or the halter. Among those who become suicides in the possession of their reason, a more numerous list is nowhere found, than that which is composed of ruined prodigals. Few men have sufficient fortitude to sustain, without shrinking, the excruciating evils to which persons of this description regularly hurry themselves; excruciating, I mean to such men. We do indeed meet at times beings who, like disturbed ghosts, haunt places of public resort; and labour to keep in the remembrance of mankind the shadows, shreds, and tatters of their former gaiety and splendour; and serve as way-marks to warn the traveller of his approach to a quagmire, or a precipice. But far more commonly they shrink from the public eye, and from the neglect and contempt which they are conscious of having merited; and not unfrequently hide themselves for ever from the sight, by hurrying into the future world!
The prodigal is also dreadfully exposed to hardness of heart. Should be continue to live, should he become neither a suicide nor a drunkard, still the love of expense and pleasure, grown by indulgence into an obstinate habit, the long continued forgetfulness of God, the total negligence of religion A great
and all its duties, the entire absorption in the present, and the absolute disregard of the future, universally attendant on this mode of life, naturally render the heart callous to every divine impression. A man who thus eagerly forgets God, ought certainly to expect that God will forget him. For, no man says to the Almighty more frequently, or more uniformly, · Depart from me, for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways.' From the house of God, from the Scriptures, nay, even from prayer, the last hope of miserable man, he voluntarily cuts himself off. What prospects must be then form concerning his future being !
The family of the prodigal share necessarily in most of his calamities, and almost necessarily in many of his sins. A great part of the same temptations arrest them, of course. part of the sins are provided for them, and regularly served up. Should they escape from moral ruin, the event would be
. little short of a miracle, unless it should be accomplished by an early and timely failure of the means of sin. The sufferings to which they are exposed are numberless. The prodigal; fascinated by show and pleasure, cannot attend to the education of his children. He cannot spare from his own enjoyments, in his view indispensable, the means of education abroad; particularly an education, at all suited to their original circumstances, the expectations which he has forced them to form, and the wishes which they have reasonably as well as naturally cherished. Religious instruction, admonition, and reproof, a prodigal never can give. He who does not pray for himself, cannot be expected to pray for his family. The parent who does not frequent the house of God, will soon see it forsaken by his children. Thus the education of his children will be deserted by the prodigal. The invaluable season of childhood and youth will be lost, and those early impressions, both economical and religious, those important habits, on whioh the good of this life, and of the life to come, is in a great measure founded, are never established in their minds.
To their comfortable settlement, whatever may be his wishes, he has voluntarily lost the power to contribute. Before the period arrives at which this important object is to be accomplished, his wife if she has not died of a broken heart) and her children usually see him a beggar; and follow him to the hovel, which has become his only shelter. Hence, if they