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MANNERS OF THE GREAT
To a large and honourable class of the community,
to persons considerable in reputation, important by their condition in life, and commendable for the de cency of their general conduct, these slight hints are respectfully addressed. They are not intended as a satire upon vice, or a ridicule upon folly, being written neither for the foolish nor the vicious. The subject is too serious for ridicule; and those to whom it is addressed are too respectable for satire. It is recommended to the consideration of those who, filling the higher ranks in life, are naturally regarded as patterns, by which the manners of the rest of the world are to be fashioned.
The mass of mankind, in most places, and especially in those conditions of life which exempt them from the temptation to shameful vices, is perhaps
chiefly composed of what is commonly termed by the courtesy of the world good kind of people; for persons of very flagitious wickedness are almost as rare as those of very eminent piety. To the latter of these, admonition were impertinent; to the former it were superfluous. These remarks, therefore, are principally written with a view to those persons of rank and fortune who live within the restraints of moral obligation, and acknowledge the truth of the Christian religion; and who, if in certain instances they allow themselves in practices not compatible with a strict profession of Christianity, seem to do it rather from habit and want of reflection, than either from disbelief of its doctrines, or contempt of its precepts.
Inconsideration, Fashion, and the World, are three confederates against Virtue, with whom even good kind of people often contrive to live on excellent terms: and the fair reputation which may be obtained by a complaisant conformity to the prevailing practice, and by mere decorum of manners, without a strict attention to religious principle, is a constant source of danger to the rich and great. There is something almost irresistibly seducing in the contagion of general example: hence the necessity of that vigilance, which it is the business of Christianity to quicken by incessant admonition, and which it is the business of the world, to lay asleep by the perpetual opiates of ease and pleasure.
A fair reputation is among the laudable objects of human ambition; yet this really valuable blessing is sometimes converted into a snare, by inducing a treacherous security as soon as it is obtained; and by leading him who is too anxious about obtaining it, to stop short without aiming at a higher motive of action. A fatal indolence is apt to creep in upon the soul when it has once acquired the good opinion of mankind, if.
the acquisition of that good opinion was the ultimate end of its endeavours. Pursuit is at an end when the object is in possession; for he is not likely to " press forward" who thinks he has already "attained." The love of worldly reputation, and the desire of God's favour, have this specific difference, that in the latter, the possession always augments the desire; and the spiritual mind accounts nothing done while any thing remains undone.
But after all, a fair fame, the support of numbers, and the flattering concurrence of human opinion, is obviously a deceitful dependance; for as every individual must die for himself, and answer for himself, both these imaginary resources will fail, just at the moment when they could have been of any use. A good reputation, even without internal piety, would be worth obtaining, if the tribunal of heaven were fashioned after the manner of human courts of judicature. If at the general judgment we were to be tried by a jury of our fellow mortals, it would be but common prudence to secure their favour at any price. But it can stand us in little stead in the great day of decision, it being the consummation of infinite goodness not to abandon us to the mercy of each other's sentence; but to reserve us for his final judgment who knows every motive of every action; who will make strict inquisition into singleness of heart, and uprightness of intention: in whose eyes the sincere prayer of powerless benevolence will outweigh the most splendid profession, or the most dazzling action.
We cannot but rejoice in every degree of humau virtue which operates favourably on society, whatever be the motive, or whoever be the actor; and we should gladly commend every degree of goodness, though it be not exactly squared by our own rules and notions. Even the good actions of such persons as are too much actuated by a regard to appearances,
are not without thei: beneficial effects. The righte ousness of those who occupy this middle region of morality among us, certainly exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees; for they are not only exact in ceremonials, but in many respects fulfil the weightier matters of law and conscience. Like Herod, they often "hear gladly," and "do many "things." Yet I am afraid I shall be thought severe in remarking that, in general, those characters in the New Testament, of whose future condition no very comfortable hope is given, seem to have been taken, not from the profligate, the abandoned, and the dishonourable; but from that decent class commonly described by the term of good sort of people; that mixed kind of character in which virtue appears, if it do not predominate. The young Ruler was certainly one of the first of this order; and yet we are left in dark uncertainty as to his final allotment. The rich man who built him barns and storehouses, and only proposed to himself the full enjoyment of that fortune, which we do not hear was unfairly acquired, might have been, for all that appears to the contrary, a very good sort of man; at least, if we may judge of him by multitudes who live precisely for the same purposes, and yet enjoy a good degree of credit, and who are rather considered as objects of respect, than of censure. His plan, like theirs, was " to take his ease, to eat, drink, and be merry." 66
But the most alarming instance is that of the splendid epicure, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. He committed no enormities that have been transmitted to us; for that he dined well and dressed well, could hardly incur the bitter penalty of eternal misery. That his expences were suitable to his station, and his splendour proportioned to his opulence, does not exhibit any objection to his character. Nor are we told that
be refused the crumbs which Lazarus solicited.
yet this man, on an authority which we are not permitted to question, is represented, in a future state, as lifting up his eyes being in torments. His punishment seems to have been the consequence of an irreligious, a worldly spirit, a heart corrupted by the softnesses and delights of life. It was not because he was rich, but because he trusted in riches; or, if even he was charitable, his charity wanted that principle which alone could sanctify it. His views terminated here; this world's good, and this world's applause, were the motives and the end of his actions. He forgot God; he was destitute of piety; and the absence of this great and first principle of human actions rendered his shining deeds, however they might be admired among men, of no value in the sight of God.
There is no error more common, or more dangerous, than the notion that an unrestrained indulgence of pleasure, and an unbounded gratification of the appetites is generally attended with a liberal, humane, and merciful temper. Nor is there any opinion more false and more fatal, or which demands to be more steadily controverted, than that libertinism and goodnature are natural and necessary associates. For after all that corrupt poets, and more corrupt philosophers, have told us of the blandishments of pleasure, and of its tendency to soften the temper and humanize the affections, it is certain, that nothing hardens the heart like excessive and unbounded luxury; and he who refuses the fewest gratifications to his own voluptuousness, will generally be found the least susceptible of tenderness for the wants of others. In one reign the cruelties at Rome bore an exact proportion to the dissoluteness at Capreæ. And in another it is not less notorious, that the Imperial fiddler became more barbarous, as he grew more profligate. Prosperity, says the Arabian proverb, fills the heart till it