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Here my preceptress paused ; and I was going to express my acknowledgments for her discourse, when a ring of bells from the neighbouring village, and the new risen fun darting his beams through my windows, awoke me.
SECTION I. Vicious conneftions the ruin of virtue. AMONG the numerous causes which introduce corrup, tion into the heart, and accelerate its growth, none is more unhappily powerful than the contagion which is diffused by bad examples, and heightened by particular connexions with persons of loose principles, or diffolute morals. This, in a licentious state of fociety, is the most common source of those vices and disorders which so much abound in great cities ; and often proves, in a particular manner, fatal to the young ; even to them whese beginnings were once auspicious and promising. It may therefore be a useful employment of attention, to trace the progress of this principle of corruption ; to examine the means by which “ evil communications” gradually undermine, and at last destroy "good morals.”
It is indeed disagreeable to contemplate human nature, in this downward course of its progress. But it is always profitable to know our own infirmities and dangers.
As certain virtuous principles are still inherent in human nature, there are few who set out at first in the world with. out good difpofitions. The warmth which belongs to youth naturally exerts itself in generous feelings, and sen. timents of honour ; in strong attachment to friends, and the other emotions of a kind and tender heart. Almost all the plans with which persons who have been liberally edu. cated, begin the world, are connected with honourable views. At that period, they repudiate whatever is mean or base. It is plealing to them to think of commanding the esteem of those among whom they live, and of acquiring a name among men.
But alas ! how foon does this flattering prof. pect begin to be overcalt ! Desires of pleasure usher in temptation, and forward the growth of dilorderly paflions.
Ministers of vice are seldom wanting to encourage and flatter the passions of the young. Inferiors study to creep into favour by fervile obfequiousness to all their desires and humours. Glad to find any apology for the indulgences of which they are fond, the young too readily liften to the voice of those who suggest to them, that striet notions of religion, order, and virtue, are old fashioned and illiberal
; that the restraints which they impofe are only fit to be prescribed to those who are in the firrt Itage of pupillage ; or to be preached to the vulgar, who ought to be kept with. in the closest bounds of regularity and subjection. But the goodness of their hearts, it is infinuated to them, and the liberality of their views, will fully justify their emancipating themselves in fome degree, from the rigid discipline of parents and teachers. Soothing as such infinuations are to the youthful and inconsiderate, their first steps, however, in vice, are cautious and timid, and occasionally checked by remorse. As they begin to mingle more in the world, and emerge into the circles of gaiety and pleasure, finding these loose ideas countenanced by too general practice, they gradually become bolder in the liberties they take. If they have been bred to business, they begin to tire of industry, and look with contempt on the plodding race of citizens. If they are of fuperior rank, they think it becomes them to resemble their equals; to assume that freedom of behaviour, that air of forwardness, that tone of dissipation, that easy negligence of those with whom they converse, which appear fashionable in high life. If affluence of fortune unhappily concurs to favour their inclinations, amusements and diversions succeed in ä perpetual round ; night and day are confounded ; gaming fills up their vacant intervals ; they live wholly in public places; they run into many degrees of excels, disagreeable even to themselves merely from weak complaisance, and the fear of being ridiculed by their loose associates. Among these a Tociates, the most hardened and determined always take the lead. follow them with implicit submission ; and make profit ciency in this school of iniquity, in exact proportion to the weakness of their understandings, and the Itrength of their paflions.
How many pass away, after this manner, some of the most valuable years of their life, toft in a whirlpool of what cannot be called pleasure, so much as mere giddiness and folly! In the habits of perpetual connection with idle or
licentious company, all reflection is loft ; while, circulated from one empty head, and one thoughtless heart, to another, folly shoots up into all its most ridiculous forms; prompts the extravagant, unmeaning frolic in private ; or fallies forth in public into mad riot; impelled sometimes by intoxication, sometimes by mere levity of spirits.
Amidst this course of juvenile infatuation, I readily admit that much good nature may still remain. Generosity and attachments may be found ; nay, some awe of religion may still fubfift, and some remains of those good impreffions which were made upon the mind in early days. It might yet be very posible to reclaim such persons, and to form them for useful and respectable stations in the world, if virtuous and improving society should happily succeed to the place of that idle crew, with whom they now associate ; if important business should occur, to bring them into a different sphere of action ; or, if some seasonable stroke of affliction should in mercy be sent, to recall them to themselves, and to awaken serious and manly thought. But, if youth and vigour, and flowing fortune continue ; if a similar succession of companions go on to amuse them, to engross their time, and to stir up their pallions ; the day of ruin,- let them take heed, and beware !-the day of irrecoverable ruin, begins to draw nigh. Fortune is squandered ; health is broken ; friends are offended, af. fronted, estranged ; aged parents, perhaps, sent atticted and mourning to the dust.
There are certain degrees of vice which are chiefly stamped with the character of the ridiculous, and the contemptible : and there are also certain limits, beyond which, if it pass, it becomes odious and detestable. If, to other corruptions which the heart has already received, be added the infusion of sceptical principles, that worst of all the “ evil communications” of finners, the whole of morals is then on the point of being overthrown. For, every crime can then be palliated to conscience ; every check and restraint which had hitherto remained is taken away. He who, in the beginning of his course, soothed himself with the thought, that while he indulged his desires, he did hurt to no man ; now, pressed by the necessity of supplying those wants into which his expensive pleasures have brought him, goes on without remorse to defraud, and to oppress. The lover of pleasure now becomes hardened and cruel ; violates his trust, or betrays his friend ; becomes a man of treachery, or a man of blood ; fatisfying, or at least endeavouring all the while to satisfy himself, that circumstances form his excuse ; that by necessity he is impelled ; and that, in gratifying the passions which nature had implanted within him, he does no more than follow nature.
Miserable and deluded man ! to what art thou come at the last ? Dost thou pretend to follow nature, when thou art contemning the laws of the God of nature ? when thou art stilling his voice within thee, which remonstrates against thy crimes when thou art violating the best part of thy nature by counteracting the dictates of justice and human. ity 1 Dolt thou follow nature, when thou renderest thyself a useless animal on the earth ; and not useless only, but noxious to the society to which thou belongelt, and to which thou art a disgrace ; noxious, by the bad example thou hast fet ; noxious, by the crimes thou hast committed ; facrificing innocence to thy guilty pleasures, and introducing shame and ruin into the habitations of peace ; defrauding of their due the unsuspicious who have trusted thee ; involving in the ruins of thy fortune many a worthy family ; reducing the industrious and the aged to misery and want ; by all which, if thou hast escaped the deserved sword of justice, thou hast at least brought on thyself the refentment, and the reproach of all the respectable and the worthy. Tremble then at the view of the gulf which is opening before thee. Look with horror at the precipice, on the brink of which thou standest : and if yet a moment be left for retreat, think how thou mayest escape, and be faved.
On Cheerfulness. I HAVE always preferred cheerfulness to mirth. The latter I consider as an act, the former as a habit of the mind. Mirth is short and tranfient, cheerfulness fixed and permanent. They who are subject to the greatest depreffions of melancholy, are often raised into the greatest transports of mirth : on the contrary, cheerfulness, though it does not give the mind a gladness fo exquisite, prevents it from falling into any depths of sorrow. Mirth is like a Aash of lightning, that breaks through a gloom of clouds and glitters for a moment ; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of day.light in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.
Men of austere principles look upon mirth as too wan. ton and dissolute for a state of probation, and as filled with a certain triumph and infolence of heart, that are incon. sistent with a life which is every moment obnoxious to the greatelt dangers.
Cheerfulness of mind is not liable to any of these excep. tions. It is of a serious and composed nature. It does not throw the mind into a condition improper for the prefent state of humanity ; and is very conspicuous in the characters of those who are looked upon as the greatelt philosophers among the heathens, as well as among those who have been deservedly esteemed as faints and holy men among Christians.
. If we consider cheerfulness in three lights, with regard to ourselves, to those we converse with, and to the great Authur' of our being, it will not a little recommend itself on each of these accounts. The man who is poffeffed of this excellent frame of mind is not only easy in his thoughts, but a perfect master of all the powers and faculties of the foul : his imagination is always clear, and his judgment undisturbed ; his temper is even and unruffled, whether in action or in solitude. He comes with a relish to all those goods which nature has provided for him ; tastes all the pleasures of the creation which are poured around him ; and does not feel the full weight of those accidental evils which may
befall him. If we consider him in relation to the persons with whom he converses, it naturally produces love and good-will towards him. A cheerful mind is not only disposed to be affable and obliging, but raises the same good humour in those who come within its influence. A man finds him. self pleased, he does not know why, with the cheerfulness of his companion : it is like a sudden sunshine that awak. ens a secret delight in the mind, without her attending to it. The heart rejoices of its own accord, and naturally flows out into friendlhip and benevolence towards the person who has so kindly an effect upon it.
When I consider this cheerful state of mind in its third relation, I cannot but look upon it as a constant habitual gratiçude to the great Author of nature An inward cheerfulness is an implicit praise and thanksgiving to Providence under all its dispensations. It is a kind of acquiescence in the state wherein we are placed, and a secret approbation of the divine will in his conduct towaras man.