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Of the rueful consequences of living too fast.
Few practical errors, of a secular nature, are of so innocent intention, and yet of so direful consequence, as that of OVERLIVING, for the special sake of making a figure. The men and women, who are first the subjects of this error, and then its victims, are not usually of the baser sort. So far from it, they are, for the more part, of liberal views, and generously animated with a desire of distinction. Ardently bent upon that object, and knowing that, in this strange world, nothing confers distinction so much as wealth, they assume, and strive hard to hold up, the semblance of wealth, though unfortunately destitute of the reality. And how can they do otherwise, without suffering the agonies of mortification ? Endowed with keen sensibility, it touches them deep, that some of their neighbours, no better and perhaps scarcely richer than themselves, should make a better appearance, and of course attract more notice. How can they put their sons and their daughters, as well as wives, upon a footing with those who are fashionably called good families, unless they equal, or nearly approach them, in the expenses of the table and in personal habiliments
This path, bordered on every side with precipices, is often
gone into unawares at first. It is indiscretion mixed
with vanity, and that without a single particle of the corrupt leaven of intentional dishonesty. But though overliving, may, in its commencement, be owing to mere indiscretion combined with a seemingly harmless vanity, yet, in its progress, it becomes deserving of a far worse name. That is indeed a pernicious
and mortal error, by which one puts himself into circumstances which as it were compel him to commit new errors increasing in magnitude as fast as in number.
The error I have been describing would be not so direful, if it admitted of an easy cure; but though there is an obvious remedy, yet, in some cases, to apply it in season requires uncommon fortitude. Indeed in the single state, or even in the married state while the children of the family are in their infancy, it is not very difficult to retrench inordinate expenses; provided the twain happen to be one, as to opinion of the expediency of it :-a thing that might be as common perhaps as it now is rare, if husbands would only inform their wives, in good season, of the unprosperous condition of their worldly affairs. But through pride, false delicacy, or whatever motive else, wives are often held in ignorance of the true state of their family circumstances till the moment that ruin breaks upon them ; and then are they upbraided by the world, of an extravagance which they had not run into but for the bandage upon their eyes.
In families where the children, and particularly the daughters, are grown up or nearly grown up, the im- . pediments to a prudent retrenchment of expenses are multiplied. For though both father and mother see the absolute need of it, it is no easy matter to convince the youthy gentry, or to dispose them, if convinced, to sink, of their own free wills, from splendid young ladies, into plain, industrious, frugal girls. Their remonstrances, their intreaties, and especially their tears, it is hard to resist :-and so it happens that a great many continue steering toward the fatal gulf, though it be clearly in their view.
When a man is once resolved to keep up expensive appearances till he can hold out no longer, his moral
frame goes to wreck as fast as his circumstances. However honest, however trust-worthy he had been in his better days, he no longer possesses these estimable qualities, nor any just sense of honour. He casts about kim for arts of shift and evasion. The perpetual duns at his door he tries to satisfy with fair promises, which he has no expectation or intention of performing. His heart becomes callous toward his creditors, and he grows quite regardless of their feelings, however deplorably they bave to suffer by him. Like a drowning man, he catches at every thing. To gain a little respite, he will inveigle his near friend into surestiship for him, and will drag his friend along with him to ruin.
Poor human nature is seldom proof against strong temptations voluntarily run into; and as seldom perhaps, in the instance under consideration, as in any other. Nor are there any who are fairly entitled to promise themselves beforehand, that their integrity can stemn the moral whirlpool in which so many characters, once fair, have been overwhelmed.
An excellent rule has been laid down by the eminent moralist, Dr. Johnson; and it were to be wished that young men in particular would remember it, and inake a practical use of it at the outset of active life: the rule is this–“ A man's voluntary expenses should not exceed his income." A huge mass of misery and mischief might be prevented, were it the general custom to adhere to this maxim as far as circumstances could admit.
Honest young householders, ye that are now beginning life together in the wedded state-guard with para ticular care against the lust of the eye. Of all our senses, that of eye-sight seems to have the nearest affinity with the heart, and the most often to lead it astray. The Philosophers of antiquity were so sensible of thit,
that, to concentrate and rectify their ideas, one of them
motive else--and not so much for the sake of the spender's eyes, as to attract the eyes of others.
“ Be not made a beggar by banquetting upon borrowing, when thou hast nothing in thy purse."
ECCLES. xviii. 38.
The moral philosopher of old Jewry, who penned this admirable book, is practical in his observations, and at the same time, acute and discriminating. He dips not into the incomprehensible subtleties of abstract science, relative to the mysterious frame and texture of humanity, but describes the wonderful creature Man, such as he is shown to be by his actions, and adapts his moral and prudential cautions and precepts to man as he is to his condition and conduct in real life.
Whether the sage had himself been taken in, by some of them, or from whatever cause, he hits off certain borrowers of his own time, with a peculiar keenness of description, in the passage that here follows.
66 Many, when a thing was lent them reckoned it to be found, and put them to trouble that helped them. Till he hath received, he will kiss a man's hand; for his neighbour's money he will speak submissively; but when he should repay, he will prolong the time, and return words of grief, and complain of the time. If he prevail, he shall hardly receive the half, and shall count as if he had found it : if not, he hath deprived him of his money, and he hath gotten him an enemy without cause : he payeth him with cursings and railings; and for honor he will pay him disgrace.”
The sage next proceeds to relate how the aforesaid conduct of some certain borrowers went to discourage all liberality in Jending. “ Many therefore have refused to lend for other mens' ill dealing, fearing to be defrauded."*
And here one might amuse himself not a little with comparing the past with the present-things relative to borrowing and lending, as they stood some thousand years ago, with what they are now-a-days, in this goodly country of ours.
But to proceed : our venerable author, is not as a cold. blooded satirist, who rather labours to excite the feeling of scorn and hatred, than of compassion. He gives, on the contrary, no countenance to covetous hoarding : much less to griping extortion. He saith not, “ Since things are so, it is best to trust nobody.” No. So far was this ungracious sentiment from the heart of the son of Sirach, he warmly inculcates a noble liberality, a disinterested benevolence. For, after having observed as above, that many refused to lend for other men's ill dealing, fearing to be defrauded, he immediately adds, 66 Yet have thou patience with a man in poor estate
, and delay not to shew him mercy. Help the
for the commandment's sake, and turn him not away be
* Chapter xxix.