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MARTIN STERLING ON PRINCIPLE.

Non, si quid turbida Roma
Elevet, accedas : examenve improbum in illa
Castiges trutinâ : nec te quæsiveris extra."

Pers.

The observation of the Roman Satirist, which we have placed at the head of our Essay, may, with many other passages

of the like nature, be looked upon not less in a moral than in a literary point of view. The Poet is reprobating the conduct of those who form their opinion of letters, not from the suggestions of their own knowledge, but from the sentiments which they hear expressed around them ; who find fault with unpopular works, merely because they are unpopular; and chime in with the taste of the day, merely because it is the taste of the day. The beautiful though somewhat forced metaphor, with which the passage concludes, strongly expresses the contempt which the author feels for those, who, receiving from the mouths of others the opinion which they ought to ground upon their own judgment, do, as it were, look abroad for themselves. How much more contemptible, and, alas ! how much more dangerous, is this system of compliance with the will of the world, when it requires, not merely a sacrifice of feeling or sound taste in criticism, but a dereliction of principle or a neglect of religion. Yet we are so blind to the truths which are perpetually before our eyes, that when we find a person ready to confirm with his obedient “Yes,” the opinions of whoever may have been the last speaker on literary topics, we sneer at such a yielding spirit of servility; while, on the other hand, when we meet with the sycophant who is accustomed to square his ideas of morality according to the sentiments of the companion of the moment, such a character, so lost to all semblance of freedom and of self-respect, is too frequently passed over without censure, and without disgust.

Among the minor foibles of young men there are few for which we entertain a greater contempt than a needless affectation of singularity. However absurd the manners of the world may be, still, provided they are only manners, we would rather see a young man comply assiduously with them, than deviate assiduously from them. Were we to visit Muscovy we would endeavour to eat caviere; and were we to reside in Holland we would certainly study High-Dutch. But a broad line of distinction must be drawn between manners and morals. The flexibility which is advisable, or rather necessary, in the one case, is in the highest degree reprehensible in the other; and the unbending disposition, which is ridiculous and displeasing when it only influences our manners, deserves the highest commendation when it acts as the safeguard of our morals.

The way in which we are about to apply these observations, will not, we hope, induce our schoolfellows to suppose that we affect any undue superiority over them—any self-assumed censorship with respect to their pleasures and pursuits ; still we trust they will not be offended with us for being sometimes serious, nor listen less willingly to the friendly suggestions of their equals, than to the more rigid admonitions of their seniors.

In a work undertaken solely with a view to their amusement and reputation, far be it from us to impute to them any want of principle, or any loose notions upon practical religion. But there is another fault, which, although it wears at first sight a less dangerous appearance, must ultimately tend to the same pernicious effect. We allude to that species of false shame which leads us to conceal the feelings of virtue, of which we are really sensible; which disguises the existence of honourable sentiments from the apprehension of ridicule; and puts on the semblance of vicious habits from a wish for the applause of the unprincipled. When Vice clothes herself in the garments of Virtue, she sets an example of propriety to all who do not discover the deceit, but when Virtue goes abroad bearing the similitude of Vice, she betrays her own cause, and misleads, by the veil which she throws over good qualities, too many, who cannot perceive the purity which is beneath it.

These, it is true, are general remarks, and, in common with the plain truths of morality, have occurred to the wise in very distant ages. But they are more particularly appropriate when addressed to the inmates of a public school. There it is too much the fashion to regulate conduct rather by the fear of ridicule than by the suggestions of honest integrity. It too frequently happens, that young men who have been educated with the most rigid attention to propriety, who have acquired the most correct ideas of right and wrong, and who would feel seriously hurt if the firmness of their belief were called in question, are notwithstanding ashamed to acknowledge that they are religious, and rather choose to appear before the world in the character of wildness and extravagance, not to use a harsher expression. They endeavour to persuade themselves, that if in matters of serious importance they act in obedience to the dictates of conscience; if they take care to commit no great crime, to neglect no essential duty ;-it then matters little what are the external features of their behaviour. They think themselves justified in dissembling their virtue, provided they are not neglectful of its precepts.

Alas! this is a fatal mistake! When we have once assumed the semblance of vice, it is difficult to confine ourselves to the semblance. Licentiousness of language leads, gradually, but certainly, to irregularity of con

VOL. I.

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or a sarcasm.

duct; and thenceforward we have put the stone in motion, and we know not how to stop its impetuosity.

But the pernicious consequences of this mode of conduct are not confined to ourselves. When we scrutinize our own hearts, and search there for the motives of our actions, we are apt to deceive ourselves, and to rest satisfied with the performance of only half the duty of selfexamination. We say to ourselves, “ have we studied the observance of this precept ? have we avoided the temptation to that crime ?” And it is well if these questions are satisfactorily answered. But this is not sufficient. We have an example to set to those around us ; we have to prove to them that the religion, which enabled the primitive Christians to brave the tortures of the stake and the wheel, is not in us to be shaken by a sneer

We have to show that there is nothing beautiful in profaneness, nothing mean in piety; that we are not time-servers in religion, nor ashamed of the Cross of our Redeemer.

The obligation of a public profession of their sentiments upon this point is more especially incumbent upon those, who, either by rank, or wealth, or any other circumstances, are placed in an exalted situation. The peasant naturally looks up to his lord for the model of his conduct: the child naturally expects that his parents will lead him by the way in which he ought to tread. If we were not apprehensive of an imputation of presumption, we would go on to recommend this truth to the consideration of the senior members of our little world; but they will no doubt perceive the justness of the application, and be sensible, that although in the indulgence of a few trifling follies they may see no harm, so far as relates to themselves, they ought to pause before they take any step which may, in the smallest degree, influence the habits of those who, newly entering upon their course, watch the path of their predecessor, and expect from him information and support. :

“ Maxima debetur puero reverentia."

We have seldom seen the danger of the false shame we have been describing more strongly exemplified than in the life of Lionel Vernon. It is a melancholy tale, and we cannot reflect without pain upon its concluding incidents; but if the reader is weary of the moralizing humour which we have been indulging for a longer time than usual, he may not perhaps be unwilling to accompany us to something of a more interesting nature.

Lionel Vernon was the only son of a Clergyman residing in Cumberland. It was, perhaps, a fortunate circumstance for him that his mother died shortly after his birth; for, as she was of an extravagant turn of mind, and carried her fondness for her offspring almost to infatuation, her unthinking affection might probably have encouraged him in that love of show and dissipation which the stronger attention of his father was unable entirely to subdue. Lionel received an excellent education. As might be expected by all who were acquainted with the strict character of his father, he was thoroughly instructed in the great principles of religion ; and the eager desire which he evinced for distinction and fame was kept within proper bounds by the timely admonition, that wealth, power, reputation, --whatever this world contains of glorious and of great,-are nothing, if they must be attained by the sacrifice of a peaceful conscience. Lionel was a very docile pupil. He had considerable genius and penetration, a very retentive memory, and invincible good-humour. As a child he was perfection itself in the eyes of the inhabitants of the village ; but his father had discovered one fault in his character, which, like some of the blemishes that show themselves on the body, might spread its influence very widely, if not eradicated in early life. He had such an excessive vivacity of spirits, that he could not endure to spend one minute upon the attentive consideration of any suggestion which was offered to him. In consequence of this he was too apt to fall in with the opinions which others

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