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THE WASTE OF LIFE.
ANERGUS was a gentleman of a good estate; he was bred to no business, and could not contrive how to waste his hours agreeably. He had no relish for any of the proper works of life, nor any taste at all for the improvements of the mind; he spent generally ten hours of the four-and-twenty in his bed; he dozed away two or three more on his couch, and as many were dissolved in good liquor every evening, if he met with company of his own humor. Five or six of the next he sauntered away with much indolence: the chief business of them was to contrive his meals, and to feed his fancy beforehand with the promise of a dinner and supper; not that he was so very a glutton, or so entirely devoted to appetite; but chiefly because he knew not how to employ his thoughts better, he let them rove about the sustenance of his body. Thus he had made a shift to wear off ten years since the paternal estate fell into his hands; and yet, according to the abuse of words in our day, he was called a man of virtue, because he was scarce ever known to be quite drunk, nor was his nature much inclined to lewdness.
One evening, as he was musing along, his thoughts happened to take a most unusual turn; for they cast a glance backward, and began to reflect on his manner of life. He bethought himself what a number of living beings had been made a sacrifice to support his carcass, and how much corn and wine had been mingled with those offerings. He had not quite lost all the arithmetic that he learned when he was a boy, and he set himself to compute what he had devoured since he came to the age of man.
“About a dozen feathered creatures, small and great, have, one week with another,” said he, “given up their lives to prolong mine, which in ten years amounts to at least six thousand.
“Fifty sheep have been sacrificed in a year, with half a hecatomb of black cattle, that I might have the choicest part offered weekly upon my table. Thus a thousand beasts out of the flock and the herd have been slain in ten years' time to feed me, besides what the forest has supplied me with. Many hundreds of fishes have, in all their varieties, been robbed of life for my repast, and of the smaller fry as many thousands.
“A measure of corn would hardly afford fine flour enough for a month's provision, and this arises to above six score bushels; and many hogsheads of ale and wine, and other liquors, have passed through this body of mine, this wretched strainer of meat and drink.
“And what have I done, all this time, for God or man 2 What a vast profusion of good things upon an useless life and a worthless liver! There is not the meanest creature among all these which I have devoured but hath answered the end of its creation better than I. It was made to support human nature, and it hath done so. Every crab and oyster I have eat, and every grain of corn I have devoured, hath filled up its place in the rank of beings with more propriety and honor than I have done. O, shameful waste of life and time !” In short, he carried on his moral reflections with so just and severe a force of reason, as constrained him to change his whole course of life, to break off his follies at once, and to apply himself to gain some useful knowledge, when he was more than thirty years of age; he lived many following years, with the character of a worthy man, and an excellent Christian; he performed the kind offices of a good neighbor at home, and made a shining figure as a patriot in the senate-house; he died with a peaceful conscience, and the tears of his country were dropped upon his tomb. The world, that knew the whole series of his life, stood amazed at the mighty change. They beheld him as a wonder of reformation, while he himself confessed and adored the divine power and mercy, which had transformed him from a brute to a man. But this was a single instance; and we may almost venture to write MIRACLE upon it. Are there not numbers of both sexes, among our young gentry, in this degenerate age, whose lives thus run to utter waste, without the least tendency to usefulness? When I meet with persons of such a worthless character as this, it brings to my mind some scraps of Horace:
“Nos numerus sumus, et fruges consumere nati.
“There are a number of us creep
There are other fragments of that heathen poet, which occur on such occasions; one in the first of his satires, the other in the last of his epistles, which seem to represent life only as a season of luxury:
44 Exacto contentus tempore vitae
Which may be thus put into English :
“Life 's but a feast : and when we die,
[From the Pennsylvania Gazette, June 23, 1730.]
BETweeN PHILOCLES AND HORATIO, MEETING AccIDENTALLY IN THE FIELDs, CONCERNING viFTUE AND PLEASURE.
Philocles. My friend Horatio! I am very glad to see you; rithee how came such a man as you alone? and musing too? hat misfortune in your pleasures has sent you to philosophy for relief? Horatio. You guess very right, my dear Philocles: we pleasure-hunters are never without them; and yet, so enchanting is the game, we cannot quit the chase. How calm and undisturbed is your life, how free from present embarrassments and future cares! I know you love me, and look with compassion upon my conduct: show me, then, the path which leads up to that constant and invariable good, which I have heard you so beautifully describe, and which you seem so fully to possess. Phil. There are few men in the world I value more than you, Horatio; for, amidst all your foibles, and painful pursuits of pleasure, I have oft observed in you an honest heart, and a mind strongly bent towards virtue. I wish, from my soul, I could assist you in acting steadily the part of a reasonable creature: for, if you would not think it a paradox, I should tell you I love you better than you do yourself.
Hor. A paradox, indeed! Better than I do myself! when I love my dear self so well, that I love everything else for my own sake. Phil. He only loves himself well who rightly and judiciously loves himself. Hor. What do you mean by that, Philocles? You men of reason and virtue are always dealing in mysteries, though you laugh at them when the church makes them. I think he loves himself very well, and very judiciously too, as you call it, who allows himself to do whatever he pleases. Phil. What! though it be to the ruin and destruction of that very self which he loves so well? That man alone loves himself rightly who procures, the greatest possible good to himself through the whole of his existence, and so pursues pleasure as not to give for it more than it is worth. Hor. That depends all upon opinion. Who shall judge what the pleasure is worth Suppose a pleasing form of the fair kind strikes me so much that I can enjoy nothing without the enjoyment of that one object 3. Or, that pleasure in general is so favorite a mistress, that I will take her as men do their wives, for better, for worse, – minding no consequences, nor regarding what is to come Why should I not do it? Phil. Suppose, Horatio, that a friend of yours entered into the world, about two-and-twenty, with a healthful, vigorous body, and a fair, plentiful estate of about five hundred pounds a year; and yet, before he had reached thirty, should, by following his pleasures, and not, as you say, duly regarding consequences, have run out of his estate, and disabled his body to that degree that he had neither the means nor capacity of enjoyment left, nor anything else to do but wisely shoot himself through the head to be at rest,--what would you say to this unfortunate man's conduct? Is it wrong by opinion or fancy only, or is there really a right and wrong in the case? Is not one opinion of life and action juster than another, or one sort of conduct preferable to another? Or, does that miserable son of pleasure appear as reasonable and lovely a being, in your eyes, as a man who, by prudently and rightly gratifying his natural passions, had preserved his body in full health, and his estate entire, and enjoyed both to a good old age, and then died with a thankful heart for the good things he had received, and with an entire submission to the will of Him who first called him into being Say, Horatio ! are these men equally wise and happy? And is everything to be measured by mere fancy and opinion, without considering whether that fancy or opinion be right?
Hor. Hardly so, neither, I think; yet sure the wise and good Author of nature could never make us to plague us. He could never give us passions, on purpose to subdue and conquer them; or produce this self of mine, or any other self, only that it may be denied; for that is denying the works of the great Creator himself. Self-denial, then, which is what I suppose you mean by prudence, seems to me not only absurd, but very dishonorable to that supreme wisdom and goodness which is supposed to make So ridiculous and contradictory a creature, that must be always fighting with himself in order to be at rest, and undergo voluntary hardships in order to be happy. Are we created sick, only to be commanded to be sound 2 Are we born under one law, our passions, and yet bound to another, that of reason ? Answer me, Philocles, for I am warmly concerned for the honor of nature, the mother of us all. Phil. I find, Horatio, my two characters have frighted you; so that you decline the trial of what is good by reason, and had rather make a bold attack upon Providence; the usual way of you gentlemen of fashion, who, when, by living in defiance of the eternal rules of reason, you have plunged yourself into a thousand difficulties, endeavor to make yourselves easy by throwing the burden upon nature. You are, Horatio, in a very miserable condition indeed; for you say you cannot be happy if you control your passions, and you feel yourself miserable by an unrestrained gratification of them; so that here is evil, irremediable evil, either way. Hor. That is very true, — at least, it appears so to me. Pray what have you to say, Philocles, in honor of nature or Providence? Methinks, I am in pain for her; how do you rescue her ? poor lady! Phil. This, my dear Horatio, I have to say: that what you find fault with and clamor against as the most terrible evil in the world, self-denial, is really the greatest good, and the highest self-gratification. If indeed you use the word in the sense of some weak, sour moralists, and much weaker divines, you will have just reason to laugh at it; but, if you take it as understood by philosophers, and men of sense, you will presently see her charms, and fly to her embraces, notwithstanding her demure looks, as absolutely necessary to produce even your own darling sole good, pleasure; for self-denial is never a duty, or a reasonable action, but as it is a natural means of procuring more pleasure than you can taste without it; so that this grave, saint-like guide to happiness, as rough and dreadful as she has been made