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way should voluntarily shut his eyes, that he may quit it with more tranquillity. Yet all these absurdities are every hour to be found; the wisest and best men deviate from known and acknowledged duties, by inadvertency or surprise ; and most are good no longer than while temptation is away, than while their passions are without excitements, and their opinions are free from the counteraction of any other motive.
Among the sentiments which almost every man changes as he advances into years, is the expectation of uniformity of character. He that without acquaintance with the power of desire, the cogency of distress, the complications of affairs, or the force of partial influence, has filled his mind with the excellence of virtue, and having never tired his resolution in any encounters with hope or fear, believes it able to stand firm whatever shall oppose it, will be always clamorous against the smallest failure, ready to exact the utmost punctualities of right, and to consider every man that fails in any part of his duty, as without conscience and without merit; unworthy of trust or love, of pity or regard ; as an enemy whom all should join to drive out of society, as a pest which all should avoid, or as a weed which all should trample.
It is not but by experience, that we are taught the possibility of retaining some virtues, and rejecting others, or of being good or bad to a particular degree. For it is very easy to the solitary reasoner to prove, that the same arguments by which the mind is fortified against one crime are of equal force against all, and the consequence very naturally follows, that he whom they fail to move on any VOL. II.
occasion, has either never considered them, or has by some fallacy taught himself to evade their vali. dity; and that therefore, when a man is known to be guilty of one crime, no farther evidence is needful of his depravity and corruption.
Yet such is the state of all moral virtue, that it is always uncertain and variable, sometimes extend. ing to the whole compass of duty, and sometimes shrinking into a narrow space, and fortifying only a few avenues of the heart, while all the rest is left open to the incursions of appetite, or given up to the dominion of wickedness. Nothing therefore is more unjust than to judge of men by too short an acquaintance and too slight inspection ; for it often happens, that in the loose, and thoughtless, and dissipated, there is a secret radical worth, which
may shoot out by proper cultivation ; that the spark of heaven, though dimmed and obstruct, ed, is yet not extinguished, but may, by the breath of counsel and exhortation, be kindled into a flame.
To imagine that every one who is not complete, ly good is irrecoverably abandoned, is to suppose that all are capable of the same degrees of excel. lence ; it is indeed to exact from all, that perfection which none ever can attain. And since the purest virtue is consistent with some vice, and the virtue of the greatest number with almost an equal proportion of contrary qualities, let none too hastily conclude, that all goodness is lost, though it may for a time be clouded and overwhelmed ; for most minds are the slaves of external circumstances, and conform to any hand that undertakes to mould them, roll down any torrent of custom in which
they happen to be taught, or bend to any importunity that bears hard against them.
It may be particularly observed of women, that they are for the most part good or bad, as they fall among those who practise vice or virtue ; and that neither education nor reason gives them much security against the influence of example. Whether it be that they have less courage to stand against opposition, or that their desire of admiration makes them sacrifice their principles to the poor pleasure of worthless praise, it is certain, whatever be the cause, that female goodness seldom keeps its ground against laughter, flattery, or fashion.
For this reason, every one should consider himself as entrusted, not only with his own conduct, but with that of others ; and as accountable, not only for the duties which he neglects, or the crimes that he commits, but for that negligence and irregularity which he may encourage or inculcate.Every man, in whatever station, has, or endeavours to have, his followers, admirers, and imitators; and with care, he ought to avoid not only crimes, but the appearance of crimes, and not only to practise virtue, but to applaud, countenance, and support it. For it is possible that for want of attention
teach others faults from which ourselves are free, or by a cowardly desertion of a cause which we ourselves approve, may pervert those who fix their eyes upon us, and, having no rule of their own to guide their course, are easily misled by the aberrations of that example which they chuse for their direction.
N° 71. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1750.
Vivere quod profero pauper, nec inutilis annis
True, Sir, I haste to live, your pardon give,
MANY words and sentences are so frequently heard in the mouths of men, that a supperfi. cial observer is inclined to believe, that they must contain some primary principle, some great rule of action, which it is proper always to have present to the attention, and by which the use of every hour is to be adjusted. Yet, if we consider the conduct of those sententious philosophers, it will often be found, that they repeat these aphorisms, merely because they have somewhere heard them; because they have nothing else to say, or because they think veneration gained by such appearances of wisdom, but that no ideas are annexed to the words, and that according to the old blunder of the followers of Aristotle, their souls are mere pipes or organs, which transmit sounds, but do not un. derstand them.
Of this kind is the well known and well attested position, that life is short, which may be heard among mankind by an attentive auditor, many times a day, but which never yet within my reach,
of observation left any impression upon the mind : and perhaps, if my readers will turn their thoughts back upon their old friends, they will find it diffi. cult to call a single man to remembrance, who appeared to know that life was short till he was about to lose it.
It is observable that Horace, in his account of the characters of men, as they are diversified by the various influence of time, remarks, that the old man is dilator, spe longus, given to procrastination, and inclined to extend his hopes to a great distance. So far are we generally from thinking what we often say of the shortness of life, that at the time when it is necessarily shortest, we form projects which we delay to execute, indulge such expectations as nothing but a long train of events can gratify, and suffer those passions to gain upon us, which are only excusable in the prime of life.
These reflections were lately excited in my mind, by an evening's conversation with my friend Prosa pero, who at the age of fifty-five, has bought an estate, and is now contriving to dispose and cultivate it with uncommon elegance. pleasure is to walk among stately trees, and lie musing in the heat of noon under their shade ; he is therefore maturely considering how he shall dispose his walks and his groves, and has at last determined to send for the best plans from Italy, and forbear planting till the next season.
Thus is life trifled away in preparations to do what never can be done, if it be left unattempted till all the requisites which imagination can suggest are gathered together. Where our design termipates only in our own satisfaction, the mistake is