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history, which, as Aratus managed it, is nothing else but religion and philosophy taught by examples.
When the mirror of ages was held up to us, and all the celebrated names of antiquity made to pass in bright review before us; when we beheld the glori. ous effects of virtue, with the train of private and public miseries, which have always been the conse. quence of vice; when we saw the public villain branded with eternal infamy, and delivered down as a malefactor to all posterity, while the patriot's name is embalmed, and rendered forever illustrious, by the concurring plaudits of the world; could we, do you think, forbear, in our own imaginations and resolu. tions, to enlist ourselves for life, under the banner of virtue? Could we forbear to glow with a generous desire of earning the fair esteem of good men, and par. taking some share of fame with those venerable worthies we read of? Or could we once think of committing a base and dishonest action, without shrinking from it with horror, at the apprehension of the lasting reproaches of mankind?
The study of history, and a view of the greatness, illustrious achievements, and manners of other nations, may, in some degree, supply the place of travelling, and make youth shake off that narrowness of mind, which is apt to substitute the customs, manners, and actions of the small spot u herein ihes were born, as the standard of right and wrong, the model of every thing great and good. It begets in them a more noble and generous turn of thought, extends their views, and teaches them, as citizens of the world,
to do impartial justice to the virtues of every people and nation. • Indeed there is some danger, that history, with all its advantages, should go too far in this respect, and beget a love of false magnificence and external shew. The partiality of historians to their own great men, the pompous accounts of victories and triumphs, with the colourings often employed to heighten actions that have little or no intrinsic greatness, are apt to dazzle the eves of unw.ry readers. But here it was, that Aratus, ever watchful and sagacious, took particular care to make the proper distinctions, and to cultivate in us the taste of solid glory.
He would ask us, whether, in our own private judgment, Timoleon, when he declined all the digni. ties offered him by a grateful people, and retired to practise in silence the virtues of a private life, only saving to himself the pleasure of seeing thousands happy by his means, did not appear as venerably great, as when he came at the head of an army, resolved either to die, or rescue that people from slavery and oppression? Whether Curius, when he rejected the vast sums offered him by the Samnite ambassadors, though they found him so poor as to be cooking his own supper, did not shew as much magnanimity, as when in the front of dreadful war he conquered where. ever he came? Whether Fabius hath not been as much applauded for saving from destruction his rival and adversary, Minucius, who had endeavoured to supplant him in the esteem of the people, as for defeating the great Hannibal, and saving the Republic? Whether Cincinnatus deserved more praises for his
triumph over the Æqui, or his immediate abdication of the dictatorship (when he could be of no farther public service), and stealing away from the acclamations of his fellow-citizens, to manure his little farm, and cheer his lovely Racilia, to whom in his absence he had committed the care of it? Whether he might not appear as great, when seated on an humble turf he decided a difference among his neighbour-peasants, and restored peace to a poor family, as when seated on the high tribunal of Rome, and vested with uncontroulable authority, he gave law and peace to half the world.
These renowned worthies (Aratus would observe) when they conquered nations, saved their country, and triumphed over its enemies, did that which was great indeed ! Nevertheless many others have equalled them in this. But when they conquered themselves ; when they saved their bitterest enemies; when they triumphed over poverty, and would not stoop to gather gold, diadems and kingdoms, for their own private emolument;—they did that in which they have had but few equals.
By contrasts like these, and questions frequently asked, I have known Aratus labour to form and improve our notions of true greatness. By laying before us those bright examples of public virtue, who managed the treasures and filled the most eminent posts of their country with unsullied integrity; who conquered the most opulent kingdoms without adding a single drachm to their private fortune; and, whenever their country's service did not require their immediate presence, descended voluntarily from the command of mankind to manure a few private acres, and trace the divine wisdom in the works of nature; -I say by laying such bright examples as these before us, he led us naturally to this conclusionThat nothing can be honourable but integrity and the approbation of good men; nothing shameful but vice and communion with the bad; nothing necessary but our duty; nothing great and comfortable but the conscientious discharge of it; and that true glory does not consist in breathing the fiery spirit of war, and thirsting eagerly after dominion; but in delighting to see the world happy and unalarmed, in fervently striving to promote this happiness, in cultivating the arts of peace, encouraging agriculture and manu-, factures, educating children aright as the rising hopes of the state, and serving God in tranquillity of mind and purity of heart. History shews that none but those who acted thus, have either been happy in their life, or esteemed after their death.
I shall only mention one advantage more pro. posed from this philosophical review of the history of mankind; namely, that to behold the dreadful effects of tyranny and religious imposture in other countries, and the numberless scenes of great and real distress to be met with in their history, not only teaches the youth to set a just value on the Bri. tish constitution, and that glorious plan of civil and religious liberty which it secures to us, but also <tends more to humanize the breast and to purge and regulate the affections, than all the imaginary distress of the best conducted drama.
In this concluding lecture, Aratus, ever fervent, seemed animated with more than ordinary warmth. After a thorough survey of that servitude and wretchedness under which the far greater part of the human species groans—“Turn we, my dear friends (he would say), turn we from these unhappy regions, that present nothing to the view but scenes of the most compli. cated misery, and whose history is little else but the history of human violence and human wickedness, how. ever disguised by names and sanctified by custom! Let us cast our eyes homewards, on more joyous prospects ;-a land of liberty'; life and property secure; a people busy to improve their unprecarious fortune; cities teeming with wealth; commerce extended as far as winds blow and waters roll; every gale and tide wafting riches into port, and bearing forth the fruits of industry in fair exchange; arts and letters flourishing; religion pure and uncorrupted; the lowest sons of labour glad ; the very earth delighting to reward their toils, and the sun shedding on it his choicest beams—while above all, a king who is the common father of his people (and as such reigning in their hearts) is seen watching over this happy constitution even with a patriot's zeal; and using every generous effort to rescue the wretched of other climes from slavery, and to place them also in the lap of Freedom to enjoy the same unspeakable happiness! O nomen dulce libertatis! O jus eximium nostræ civitatis ! Oh! how delightful the name of liberty ! How transcendent the prerogatives of the
community to which we belong! Happy you, my · dear friends! and thrice happy, who are now going