Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

lead us into very useful rules of life. What I shall here take notice of in custom, is its wonderful eificacy in making everything pleasant to us. A person who is addicted to play or gaming, though he took but little delight in it at first, by degrees contracts so strong an inclination towards it, and gives himself up so entirely to it, that it seems the only end of his being. The love of a retired or busy life will grow upon a man insensibly, as he is conversant in the one or the other, till he is utterly unqualified for relishing that to which he has been for some time disused. Nay, a man may smoke, or drink, or take snuff, till he is unable to pass away his time without it; not to mention how our delight in any particular study, art, or science, rises and improves, in proportion to the application which we bestow upon it. Thus, what was at first an exercise becomes at length an entertainment. Our employments are changed into our diversions. The mind grows fond of those actions she is accustomed to, and is drawn with reluctancy from those paths in which she has been used to walk.

Not only such actions as were at first indifferent to us, but even such as are painful, will by custom and practice become pleasant. Sir Francis Bacon observes in his natural philosophy, that our taste is never pleased better than with those things which at first created a disgust in it. He gives particular instances, of claret, coffee, and other liquors, which the palate seldom approves upon the first taste; but, when it has once got a relish of them, generally retains it for life. The mind is constituted after the same manner, and, after having habituated herself to any particular exercise or employment, not only loses her first aversion towards it, but conceives a certain fondness and affection for it. I have heard one of the greatest geniuses this age has produced, who had been trained up in all the polite studies of antiquity, assure me, upon his being obliged to search into several rolls and records, that, notwithstanding such an employment was at first very dry and irksome to him, he at last took an incredible pleasure in it, and preferred it even to the reading of Virgil or Cicero. The reader will observe, that I have not here considered custom as it makes things easy, but as it renders them delightful; and though others have often made the same reflections, it is possible they may not have drawn those uses from it with which I intend to fill the remaining part of this paper.

If we consider attentively this property of human nature, it may instruct us in very fine moralities. In the first place, I would have no man discouraged with that kind of life, or series of action, in which the choice of others, or his own necessities, may have engaged him. It may perhaps he very disagreeable to him at first; but use and application will certainly render it not only less painful, but pleasing and satisfactory.

In the second place, I would recommend to every one that admirable precept which Pythagoras is said to have given to his disciples, and which that philosopher must have drawn from the observation I have enlarged upon: "Optimum vita? genus eligito, nam consuetudo faciet jucundissimum ;"— " Pitch upon that course of life which is the most excellent, and custom will render it the most delightful." Men, whose circumstances will permit them to choose their own way of life, are inexcusable if they do not pursue that which their judgment tells them is the most laudable. The voice of reason is more to be regarded than the bent of any present inclination, since, by the rule above mentioned, inclination will at length come over to reason, though we can never force reason to comply with inclination.

In the third place, this observation may teach the most sensual and irreligious man to overlook those hardships and difficulties which are apt to discourage him from the prosecution of a virtuous life. "The gods," said Hesiod, "have placed labour before Virtue: the way to her is at first rough and difficult, but grows more smooth and easy the farther you advance in it." The man who proceeds in it with steadiness and resolution, will in a little time find that " her ways are ways of pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace."

To enforce this consideration, we may further observe, that the practice of religion will not only be attended with that pleasure which naturally accompanies those actions to which we are habituated, but with those supernumerary joys of heart that rise from the consciousness of such a pleasure, from the satisfaction of acting up to the dictates of reason, and from the prospect of an happy immortality.

In the fourth place, we may learn from this observation, which we have made on the mind of man, to take particular care, when we are once settled in a regular course of life, how we too frequently indulge ourselves in any the most innocent diversions and entertainments; since the mind may insensibly fall off from the relish of virtuous actions, and, by degrees, exchange that pleasure which it takes in the performance of its duty, for delights of 1 a much more inferior and unprofitable nature.

The last use which I shall make of this remarkable property in human nature, of being delighted with those actions to which it is accustomed, is to show how absolutely necessary it is for us to gain habits of virtue in this life, if we would enjoy the pleasures of tho next. The state of bliss we call heaven will not be capable of affecting those minds which are not thus qualified for it: we must in this world gain a relish of truth and virtue, if we would be able to tasto that knowledge and perfection which are to make us happy in tho next. The seeds of those spiritual joys and raptures, which are to rise up and flourish in the soul to all eternity, must be planted in her during this her present state of probation. In short, heaven is not to be looked upon only as the reward, but as the natural effect of a religious life.

On the other hand, those evil spirits, who, by long custom, have contracted in the body habits of lust and sensuality, malice and revenge, and aversion to everything that is good, just, or laudable, are naturally seasoned and prepared for pain and misery. Their torments have already taken root in them; they cannot be happy when divested of the body, unless we may suppose that Providence will in a manner create them anew, and work a miracle in the rectification of their faculties. They may, indeed, taste a kind of malignant pleasure in those actions to which they are accustomed, whilst in this life; but when they are removed from all those objects which are here apt to gratify them, they will naturally become their own tormentors, and cherish in themselves those painful habits of mind which are called, in Scripture phrase, "the worm which nevei dies." This notion of heaven and hell is so very conformable to the light of nature, that it was discovered by several of the most exalted heathens. 2It has been finely improved by many eminent divines of the last age, as in particular by Archbishop Tillotson and Dr. Sherlock: but there is none who has raised such noble speculations upou it as Dr. Scot, in the first book of his Christian Life, which is one of the finest and most rational schemes of divinity that is written in our tongue, or in any other. That excellent author has shown how every particular custom and habit of virtue will, in its own nature, produce the heaven, or a state of happiness in him who shall hereafter practise it; as, on the contrary, how every custom or habit of vice will be the natural hell of him in whom it subsists.

LORD BOLINGBROKE.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.

Henry St. John, Viscount Boltnqbroke, was born at Battersea in 1678. lie was the son of Henry St. John of that place by his first wife, Mary, daughter of Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick. The family of St. John was of very old and exalted lineage; and Bolingbroke used to boast that he united in himself the highest Norman and the highest Saxon blood. The St. Johns were also divided politically; for while the branch of the family to which Bolingbroke's father belonged was devoted to the cause of Charles I., the St. Johns of Bletsoe, the elder branch, were stanch adherents of the Parliament. Moreover, the mother of Bolingbroke was grand-daughter of the famous Oliver St. John, also a connection of the family, who defended Hampden in the memorable trial for ship-money, and was a zealous Commonwealth's man. Bolingbroke's father, Henry St. John, was a man of gay and dissipated habits; but the influence of his grandfather Sir Walter, and his wife, who lived to a great age, so far predominated at Battersea, that something of the severity and seriousness of Puritanism leavened the household. Whatever Presbyterian or Puritan associations Bolingbroke may have thus imbibed made little or no permanent impression on his character. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church; and when he arrived at manhood, he exhibited nothing of the Roundhead in his politics, or of the Puritan in his life. His morals, in fact, were extremely loose, and he very soon became notorious for his debaucheries. In 1701 he entered Parliament for Wootton-Basset, a borough which was at the disposal of his family; and he at once made himself conspicuous as a powerful and eloquent speaker, and a most uncompromising Tory. In 1704 hewas appointed Secretary at War, but was compelled, four years afterwards, to resign office, owing to the recovered ascendency of the Whigs. He was succeeded by Robert Walpole, who had made his parliamentary debut at the same time as St. John, and became almost from that day forth his recognised opponent and rival. The succeeding two years were spent by St. John at his country seat in Berkshire ; and during this time he seems to have devoted himself with considerable diligence to literary pursuits. In 1710 the Tories again got the upper hand in

« AnteriorContinuar »