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such is the trickery of tradesmen in the present day, that one is inclined to say with Shakspere, “ To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man pick'd out of ten thousand." —Hamlet, ii. 2.
The fair-dealing and upright tradesman may not acquire a competency quite so soon as his unscrupulous and dishonest neighbour; but his honest labours will be blessed in the end :: he will gradually but surely acquire, and maintain, the confidence of all around him; and what is far more valuable than all this, he will have that which his overreaching rival can never hope to possess, the testimony of a quiet conscience.
The consciousness of personal beauty is another of the aliments on which pride is accustomed to feed, for
If ladies be but young and fair,
Now a more insecure ground for pride it is impossible to conceive; for what upon earth can be more uncertain and precarious than that outward form of beauty which constitutes the sole fortune of so many? The sudden inroad of disease, or the equally sure though more gradual ravages of time, will alike obliterate all traces of external charms, and leave their former possessor totally devoid of attractions, if there be no internal resources to fall back on, no inner beauties of the mind, which will peep through the accidental unsightliness of the outward features, and make even plainness itself appear not only not repulsive, but positively agreeable.
Holy Scripture and Shakspere have both touched upon
1 Ecclus., xxvii. 2.
2 Proverbs, xx. 21.
3 Ecclus., xi. 2.
the vanity of Beauty. “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain.”ı And our Poet tells us
Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good,
Passionate Pilgrim, xi.
The absurdity of taking pride in a good which is so doubtful, and so entirely independent of the will of its possessor, is too apparent to need any proof. One of the chief dangers attendant on its possession, and indeed upon the possession of any gift of Nature, is the temptation to neglect those more solid and useful ornaments which depend on our own exertions, and for which we are too much disposed to consider the external gift as a fitting substitute.
O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made.--Sonnets, liv.
Beauty, however much you may wish to retain it, will, in the very nature of things, gradually (if not suddenly) disappear ;-whereas virtue will daily grow stronger and stronger, confirmed by every separate act of self-discipline.
Proverbs, xxxi. 30.
The one is like the razor of the itinerant hawker, made only to sell; the other resembles the good cutlery of the honest trader, which improves by being used.
A fair face will wither; a full eye will wax hollow ; but a good heart is the sun and the moon; or, rather, the sun, and not the moon; for it shines bright, and never changes, but keeps his course truly.-King Henry V., v. 2.
The elder I wax the better I shall appear: my comfort is that old age, that ill layer-up of beauty, can do no more spoil upon my face : thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the worst; and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me, better and better.—King Henry V., v. 2.
There is another class of men, and it is a very large one, who are infected with a more serious form of pride than any which we have as yet noticed. These are men who pride themselves on religious grounds ;-men who, from a real or fancied superiority over their neighbours, set themselves up as spiritual patterns and examples, and assert their right to be regarded as censors of the public morals. Now if the claims of these men have any real and substantial foundation, it ill becomes them to boast of the spiritual gifts which they have received, as though they had not received them ;? if they are truly pious men, surely among the lessons which they are enjoined to learn, lowliness and humility of mind should rank first and foremost. If, however, their religion is only a cloke, a flimsy garb worn but on the Sunday, and during the remainder of the week they clothe their schemes of fraud with “odd old ends stolen forth of Holy Writ,”2 quoting Scripture glibly with the lip, but not feeding on it in the heart ;—what ground have such men for pride? Ought they not rather to be covered with shame and confusion of face, and to look forward with fear, to the Great
i 1 Corinthians, iv. 7.
2 King Richard III., i. 3.
h not a Jew eyes.'s ? fed with the es, mealed by the
Day when all hollow pretences will stand open and unmasked before an assembled world?
We find a beautiful commentary in Shakspere on the words of Scripture, that “God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth,”1 and one which is admirably adapted to show the wickedness and absurdity of those bitter animosities which have, from time to time broken out in the world, annong those who entertain different opinions upon subjects of religious belief.
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is.-Merchant of Venice, iii. 1.
In the same Play, we find the same account as the Bible furnishes, of the increase of Jacob's flocks, an increase which was “swayed and fashion’d by the hand of Heaven,” (i. 3)— cf. Genesis, xxxi. There also we see the fulfilment of Divine Prophecy in the treatment of a Jew; that “sufferance is the badge of all their tribe," that they live separately among the nations of the earth, 2 loathed and despised, — an astonishment, a proverb, and a by-word among the people. In the character of Shylock the Jew, Shakspere has set before us a man, whose hardheartedness and pitiless revenge excite our disgust, and utter indignation ; but with the candour and truth which belong to a Poet of nature, he has not failed to show us also, the long-continued acts of oppression, and the unchristian contempt which had served to fan the unholy feeling of revenge into a flame, and to stir up that settled wrath which the soft answer of the Judge had no power to turn away.4
1 Acts, xvii. 26.
2 Ezekiel, xx. 23.
Let us now take another instance of the minute correspondence of our Poet's teaching with that of Holy Scripture. The Bible assures us that "favour is deceitful:" that it is vain to put our trust in men, or to repose confidence even in the most powerful and exalted among the princes of the earth. “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. It is better to trust in the Lord.” ?
O momentary grace of mortal men,
King Richard III., iji. 4.
Romeo and Juliet, iii. 2.
Or (to use the words of the Psalmist), “ They are estranged from the womb, they go astray, as soon as they be born, speaking lies.”4 “ The faithful fail from among the children of men.” 5
There is a habit, into which men are very prone to fall, from a forgetfulness of the importance of the work which each one has to perform, and of the short time which has been allotted to him for its performance. I mean the habit of perpetually interfering with the concerns of their neighbours. Men of this sickly stamp are to be found in every circle of society. Any one of us could doubtless point out one or two of them among his own acquaintance,
i Proverbs, xxxi. 30.
3 Proverbs, xxiii. 34. 5 Psalm xii. 1.
Psalm cxlvi. 3; Psalm cxviii. 9.
4 Psalm lviii. 3.