« PreviousContinue »
Sad Nature, weeping o'er her faté,
Sitting in weeds upon the ground,
Thou, Monarch of the wand of charms!
Of legend grey, prankt in a vest
His following fairies, elves, arise,
Ghosts, giants, dwarfs, a monstrous train, While solemn mirth, and pleasing horror reign.
O Winter! in the robe of night,
Yes, Winter! yes-to Wealth's dull ear,
To lift the widow from the earth,
Though few interpret thus thy sense,
Thou Nurse of Nature, travailing
Soon shall her sorrows fleet away,
Sweet Spring is born, and beauty reigns,
Heralds great Nature's festival.
J. A. II.
NATURE AND ADVANTAGES OF A SOCIAL DISPOSITION.
SUCH is the constitution of the human mind, that, from the exercise of the social affections, much of its happiness proceeds. Secluded from society, man feels himself helpless and forlorn. Destitute of those enjoyments which are unattainable in solitude, he pines for the company and converse of his species. But, however adapted society is to the nature of man, all are not equally qualified to relish and improve its pleasures. Thus, some have been found, who, disgusted with the gaiety of social life, have fled from the busy haunts of men, and buried themselves in the shades of retirement. Unfitted, perhaps, by their manners and habits for intercourse with mankind; regardless of those objects which excite general interest; or disappointed of finding in society what it is not in its nature to afford; they have resolved on a complete separation from the world, and betaken themselves accordingly to the seclusion of monasteries, or to the yet more lonesome retreat of the hermit's cell. Such instances, however, are but exceptions to the general rule. By the rareness of their occurrence they shew, that, whatever effects may sometimes be produced by the influence of morbid feelings, a state of life so artificial as that of the gloomy anchoret, is by no means adapted to human beings. The man who forsakes his station in the world, for the dreary solitude of the desert or the cave, while he neglects the duties, renounces, at the same time, the pleasures of society. A total seclusion from social intercourse is, indeed, neither consonant to the desires of mankind, nor, if such desires were prevalent, would the present condition of the world allow their gratification. But, there is still reason to believe, that, though the satisfaction to be derived from human association is not in general wholly disregarded, it is, nevertheless, neither adequately appreciated, nor properly improved. This arises partly from men not duly considering its benefits, and partly from their not sufficiently cultivating
the qualities by which its purposes may be best promoted. The object of this essay will therefore be, to illustrate the nature of those qualities, and to shew their beneficial tendency when brought into exercise.
The primary requisite of a social disposition, or rather its very essence, is, a fondness for society. Those to whom the company of others is, for the most part, a matter of indifference, still more those to whom it is an object of aversion,will never be found to enter fully into the spirit of social enjoyments. To them, the cheerful discourse of the friendly circle will afford no delight. The ordinary topics of conversation they will regard as light and trifling. In their cold and sullen hearts, the tale of mirth will never excite any pleasing emotion. Their features will never be seen to brighten with gladness, nor the speeches of their lips to promote cheerfulness in others. The reserved manners and morose tempers exhibited by such persons, remind us of the character which Shakespeare represents Cæsar as giving of Cassius,
"Seldom he smiles; and smiles in such a sort,
As if he mock'd himself, and scorn'd his spirit
But not so the man of social feelings, who delights to unbend
Another characteristic of social feelings is, the possession of those qualities which make a person fit for society. Such a one not only enjoys company himself, but increases the pleasure which it affords to others. He, indeed, who is fond of society, naturally cultivates, and, I might say, almost involuntarily falls into, those manners and habits, the effect of which is to make conversation agreeable. The chief qualities of this sort are, politeness, cheerfulness, and wit. Without some
forms of civility, human intercourse could not be carried on with any tolerable satisfaction; the tempers of men would be continually clashing, and complacency would be supplanted by disgust. But in order to give society its true relish, something further is necessary, than the mere observance of those external forms, which regulate the communications of those who are strangers to each other. That urbanity of disposition, that "benevolence in trifles," that preference of others to ourselves, in the numberless petty particulars of social life, which never fail to distinguish the man of true politeness, though he should not still have the polish of a courtier's manners ;—by these are the comforts of society greatly, though insensibly, increased. That politeness, however, which forms so essential an ingredient of a social disposition, is equally removed from ceremony, on the one hand, and from rudeness, on the other. At once friendly, familiar, and accommodating, that temper of mind which is now the subject of remark, while it uniformly makes us desirous to oblige, leads us at the same time to manifest that desire with the ease and freedom of an equal, alike divested both of haughtiness and servility. But dull and formal would society still be, were politeness its only charm. By the cultivation of that quality, we may avoid what is unpleasing; we may attain something that is even agreeable but while politeness refines the manners of the friendly circle, the glow of cheerfulness should animate their hearts. Now the principal source of cheerfulness in company, is the cheerfulness of our companions; for this emotion of the mind, like most others, propagates itself. As dull company is found to have a gloomy tendency, so a mirthful companion lights up in the breasts of others, the flame of gladness that blazes in his own. How then is cheerfulness most effectually promoted? Perhaps, by few qualities, more than by that which is denominated wit. By this term, however, I would not be understood to mean, merely the faculty of punning and jesting, which is at least an inferior, if not a false species of wit, though well enough in its way. But true wit is a much higher endowment; it is more dignified, more useful, and more permanently agreeable; for it is synonymous with fancy or imagination, and is one of the distinguishing attributes of genius. One who possesses this faculty, not only enlivens society by his occasional jocularity, which, unless supported by something more permanent, would divide the hours of social intercourse between the burst of laughter, and the gloom of dulness,-more gloomy still from the contrast with preceding mirth; but by his perennial flow of interesting and animated discourse, keeps the minds of the company in a state of continued complacency, either from the recollection of what he has just uttered, or from the expectation of what he has yet to say. Fitted by
such qualities as these to make society agreeable, the man of a social disposition is everywhere a welcome guest; and by his pleasing manners and conversation, inspires others with the same partiality for company, which leads him so much to frequent it, and so greatly to increase its enjoyments.
But as the man, whose stream of life flows on in one unruffled course of satisfaction, seeks occasionally for more exquisite pleasures, so those who have the greatest inclination for society, are the most disposed to diversify its delights, by frequenting, at every suitable opportunity, meetings of conviviality and mirth. The effect of social feelings, indeed, is not merely to bring company together, and to render that company pleasant, but it stimulates men, at the same time, to indulge in festive gaiety, and to enliven the daily routine of friendly conversation, by that jovial merriment and freedom of discourse, alike cheerful and rational, which the grape's exhilarating juice, taken in moderation, is found so effectually to promote. With little reason, therefore, can any man pretend to the possession of a social disposition, who is averse to those assemblies, at which gladness sparkles in every eye, like the wine by which every heart is warmed; at which temperance presides and wit converses, while the cheerful glass goes briskly round, inspiring that wit, yet confining itself still within the limits prescribed by the ruling virtue.
Of such a nature, then, is that happy temper of mind, which makes us fond of society, which fits us for its enjoyments, and which leads us with merry hearts and friendly feelings to surround the festive board. By these means, it alleviates the sorrows of human life, and multiplies its jays. It not only promotes conviviality, but frequently gives rise to attachments of friendship, and unites in closer bonds of amity, those who are already connected by that sacred tie. But the beneficial tendency of a social disposition is so great, as to merit more particular illustration than can be given in such general encomiums; and whether it be viewed with reference either to private life, or to public societies, additional motives to cultivate it will appear.
From the very nature of private families, something of sociality they must almost universally possess. It is hardly possible for those who dwell together, not to have some regard for the company of each other; and it is indispensable for persons thus nearly connected, if they would enjoy any tolerable share of comfort, to cultivate those tempers and manners, which may contribute to render their intercourse agreeable. It unfortunately happens, however, in particular cases, that domestic broils excite disgust between the inmates of the same abode; and the consequence of this disgust is, that they neglect those means by which it might be removed and a more