« 上一頁繼續 »
obtained the improvements of intellect through the medium of leisure, would have already received their destination, and formed their habits, and would be disposed to consider the new lights that were opened upon them, as the ornament of existence, not its substance. Add to which, as leisure became more abundant, and the opportunities of intellectual improvement increased, they would have less motive to repine at their lot. It is principally while knowledge and information are new, that they are likely to intoxicate the brain of those to whose share they have fallen ; and, when they are made a common stock upon which all men may draw, sound thinking and sobriety may be expected to be the general result.
One of the scenes to which the leisure of the laborious classes is seen to induce them to resort, is the public-house; and it is inferred that, if their leisure were greater, a greater degree of drunkenness, dissipation and riot would inevitably prevail.
In answer to this anticipation, I would in the first place assert, that the merits and demerits of the public-house are very unjustly rated by the fastidious among the more favoured orders of society.
We ought to consider that the opportunities and amusements of the lower orders of society are few. They do not frequent coffee-houses; theatres and places of public exhibition are ordinarily too expensive for them; and they cannot engage in rounds of visiting, thus cultivating a private and familiar
intercourse with the few whose conversation might be most congenial to them. We certainly bear hard upon persons in this rank of society, if we expect that they should take all the severer labour, and have no periods of unbending and amusement.
But in reality what occurs in the public-house we are too much in the habit of calumniating. If we would visit this scene, we should find it pretty extensively a theatre of eager and earnest discussion. It is here that the ardent and “unwashed artificer,” and the sturdy husbandman, compare notes and measure wits with each other. It is their arena of intellectual combat, the ludus literarius of their unrefined university. It is here they learn to think. Their minds are awakened from the sleep of ignorance; and their attention is turned into a thousand channels of improvement. They study the art of speaking, of question, allegation and rejoinder. They fix their thought steadily on the statement that is made, acknowledge its force, or detect its insufficiency. They examine the most interesting topics, and form opinions the result of that examination. They learn maxims of life, and become politicians. They canvas the civil and criminal laws of their country, and learn the value of political liberty. They talk over measures of state, judge of the intentions, sagacity and sincerity of public men, and are likely in time to becoine in no contemptible degree capable of estimating what modes of conducting national affairs, whether for the preserva
tion of the rights of all, or for the vindication and assertion of justice between man and man, may be expected to be crowned with the greatest success : in a word, they thus become, in the best sense of the word, citizens.
As to excess in drinking, the same thing may be expected to occur here, as has been remarked of late years in better company in England. In proportion as the understanding is cultivated, men are found to be less the victims of drinking and the grosser provocatives of sense. The king of Persia of old made it his boast that he could drink large quantities of liquor with greater impunity than any of his subjects. Such was not the case with the more polished Greeks. In the dark ages the most glaring enormities of that kind prevailed. Under our Charles the Second coarse dissipation and riot characterised the highest circles. Rochester, the most accomplished man and the greatest wit of our island, related of himself that, for five years together, he could not affirm that for any one day he had been thoroughly sober. In Ireland, a country less refined than our own, the period is not long past, when on convivial occasions the master of the house took the key from his door, that no one of his guests might escape without having had his dose. No small number of the contemporaries of my youth fell premature victims to the intemperance which was then practised. Now wine is merely used to excite a gayer and livelier tone of
the spirits ; and inebriety is scarcely known in the higher circles. In like manner, it may readily be believed that, as men in the lower classes of society become less ignorant and obtuse, as their thoughts are less gross, as they wear off the vestigia ruris, the remains of a barbarous state, they will find less need to set their spirits afloat by this animal excitement, and will devote themselves to those thoughts and that intercourse which shall inspire them with better and more honourable thoughts of our common nature,
OF IMITATION AND INVENTION.
Of the sayings of the wise men of former times none has been oftener repeated than that of Solomon, “The thing that hath been, is that which is ; and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.”
The books of the Old Testament are apparently a collection of the whole literary remains of an ancient and memorable people, whose wisdom may furnish instruction to us, and whose poetry abounds in lofty flights and sublime imagery. How this collection came indiscriminately to be considered as written by divine inspiration, it is difficult to pronounce. The history of the Jews, as contained in the Books of Kings and of Chronicles, certainly did not require the interposition of the Almighty for its production; and the pieces we receive as the compositions of Solomon have conspicuously the air of having emanated from a conception entirely human.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, from which the above sentence is taken, are many sentiments not in accordance with the religion of Christ. For example; “That which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the