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in the fulfilment of which, the Pleasures of Human Life are invariably comprised, and a succinct retrospection of those errors and defects, to the development of which the Miseries of Human Life are immutably allied.
There are, it is more than probable, many readers of the present work, to whom its portraits and precepts are far from acceptable-readers, who, deluded by the tinsel of a word, and blinded by the phantom denominated Pleasure, have expected to possess in it a manual of enjoyments, which should either stimulate appetites, already palled and jaded by fruition, or, if really of the Epicurean sect, that should depict the fair face of nature as one universal Eden of enchantment and delight. But in the discussion and delineation of so inflammable a theme as worldly pleasure, whilst it has been our wish to advance the great interests of morality and religion, it has, at the same time, been our object to shew their intimate connection with every allowable species of personal gratification. How many generous souls, in the absence of such a friendly beacon, are entangled, irremediably, in this modern Charybdis; and, unaided and unguided in their pursuit of its delights, “ go down alive into
Alas! that it should ere have been
The same in heav'n, as it is here;
But it hath pain or peril near :
That what we take for virtue's thrill,
Of the heart's balance into ill. It is very certain that a knowledge of the world, as it is generally called, will teach such a kind of wisdom as will tend to advance one's interest, and procure connections; but still, in itself, and uncontrolled by moral principles, it is a despicable kind of wisdom, for it is always incompatible with the ingenuousness of a good mind. It inculcates a submission to many meannesses-it renders life a continued series of deceits; and, indeed, so far from esteeming the wisdom which it gives superior to that derivable from books, I cannot help thinking it a more refined, and consequently a more execrable species of knavery. The morality of books enlarges the views, and induces us not to esteem our interest at a higher rate than our conscience and our independence. It enables us to join to the alluring qualities of an insinuating address, the respectable ones of a manly spirit and unshaken integrity. He who sets out in life with a mind untinctured with the morality of books, though he may probably attain success, can neither deserve it, nor adorn it, nor enjoy it. He who sets out in life with moral principles deeply fixed in his mind, though a deceiving and deceived world should neglect him, will find in his heart a source of joy, which the world, with all its riches and honours, cannot bestow.
But there is another objection raised against books. They are charged with requiring too much, and with prescribing rules, and suggesting ideas of excellence, at which human creatures can never arrive. With all his pretended knowledge of the heart of man, a reader of moral books is said to be, in general, quite ignorant of it, and to derive all his conceptions from beings who have not yet fallen. To learn such wisdom, it is said, we must shut those books where pictures are exhibited, whose originals are not to be found in this sublunary sphere. The church, the porch, the lyceum, and the academy, furnish only imaginary notions. If you would attain realities, you are obliquely referred to the brothel, the gaming-table, and to all the haunts of avarice, fraud, and vicious pleasure. These, say they, are the schools in which man is described as he really exists; and, in these, the knowing part of mankind seek and find that wisdom which is vainly sought by fools in the church or in the library.
It is true that books do indeed represent things better than they are; but, in doing so, it is as true, that they do what they ought. It is their praise, and not their shame. They endeavour to raise human nature, and they succeed in the attempt; for, however bad the world may be, the extremes of wickedness are to be found among those who do not read, not among those who have been educated in the doctrines advanced by moral philosophers; and whatever exalted excellence occurs in the world, is produced by those whose minds have been cultivated by moral instruction. If things were to be described by the moralist merely as they are,-if only such precepts were to be given by him, as tend to teach the young mind how to deceive, and to practise those vices which abound in the world, -public degeneracy and corruption would certainly increase to a degree which can hardly be conceived. Wretched indeed is man without the assistance of a moral guide; and infernal would be the state of society, if books were not continually employed in checking our precipitate course to moral degeneracy. We can hardly conceive the appearance which society would assume, if books were precluded; because we can never experience any thing like it in these ages, when scarcely an individual arrives at maturity without receiving some instruction, oral or written, derived from books. It has been objected to Addison, by men of the world, that they could not approve his writings, because, as they said, he labours to render man that which he can never be. Notwithstanding this charge, however, it may safely be asserted, that more good has been done to the English nation by the lucubrations of Addison, than by the active labours of any one individual, however high his station and powerful his influence. That the British nation is not sunk to the level of its neighbours, may be attributed, in a great degree, to a book of moral instruction, in which things are represented better than they are, and the comparative dignity of human nature nobly vindicated.
It is from the erroneous idea that very little advantage in the condnct of life is to be derived from books of moral instruction, that our English sermons, which abound in the best morality, enforced in the most powerful manner, are almost universally neglected. They are bought by young divines for the use of the pulpit, but they are little read in the closet. An unconcerned spectator would be led to suspect that most men were insincere, and that there subsisted a tacit agreement between them to deceive and to be deceived: for they who attend to and applaud a sermon, as it is pronounced by the preacher from the pulpit, would blush to be found in their retirements with a volume of sermons in their hands. If they really believed the matter of sermons, it is of so very interesting a nature, that they must be tempted to read them with avidity; but the same unfortunate idea prevails, that though the moral discourse may serve, in its proper place, to amuse an audience, it is not sufficiently efficacious to be able to influence the conduct of life. It is considered as a matter of form, which very good sort of people may attend to from motives of decency, and then return to their former conduct unaltered and unimproved.
The end which I have primarily in view is, not only to recommend an attention to moral books and instructive discourses, but to produce, if possible, an alteration in the scope and object of that attention. Books should be taken up with a desire to receive from them moral instruction, and not merely literary entertainment. Every one, how great soever his improvements, is liable to relax in his principles, unless they are strengthened and renewed by admonition. Fortunately, books of morality abound; and places where instruction is given in the most solemn manner, and under the most awful sanctions, are almost daily opened for our reception. But, alas! how few purchase and peruse a book with a sincere desire to be rendered better men; and how many attend to the preacher solely to gratify curiosity and derive amusement! And what are the books which men in the exercise of power, and men of business, chiefly regard? Only such as have a tendency to facilitate the mechanical parts of their several employments,-poor and mean objects, in comparison with the sublimity of objects moral and religious! Yet, all others they are too apt to consider as trifling and nonsensical, serving indeed to fill up the time of those who have nothing else to do, but not worthy the notice of the man of sense and of the world. From such modes of thinking originate narrowness, illiberality, and ignorance, the fruitful parents of every vice wbich can render their possessor miserable, and be injurious to society.
Having, therefore, vindicated the plan of the present work by pointing out the solid advantages to be derived from books which unite entertainment with moral and practical instruction, let us proceed to enumerate, in conclusion, the rules of conduct by which every gratification that life is capable of affording, may, with the greatest chance of probability, be secured to any individual.
The infirmity of human nature is a topic on which the profligate love to enlarge. They are apt to deduce an argument from it no less injurious than fallacious. They infer from the concession that man is naturally weak and corrupt, that the precepts of strict morality are utterly useless, and originate in one of the main proofs of human imbecility,-an ill-grounded pride. Man is, indeed, a weak creature, but he is also an improvable creature. He has strong passions; but he has also strong powers within him to counteract their operation. He possesses reason; and his happiness certainly depends upon the voluntary use or abuse, the neglect or the exertion, of this faculty. It seems probable that they who urge the inefficacy of philosophical and moral precepts, are only endeavouring to excuse their own indolence. They who feel themselves little inclined to correct their misconduct, are very solicitous to persuade themselves that they are unable. Indeed, wherever human creatures are to be found, there also are to be found vice and misery. Nor is this appearance only among the rude and the illiterate, but among those who are adorned with all the arts of human knowledge. Observation affords many examples of those, who, after having commended virtue in the most forcible manner with all the appearance of sincerity, have at last fallen into the disgrace and wretchedness of singular profligacy. Contrary to