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AN ESSAY ON CURIOSITY.
psalmist—"Set a watch, O Lord, before Different feelings, however, operate on my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” the minds of the man of God, and of the
To those who have suffered from evil- man of the world, under such unfortunate speakers, I would recommend the resolu. dilemmas. While the former treats, with tion of Plato, the heathen philosopher- a becoming spirit, unaccompanied by re“I will live so as no person shall believe venge, the ambiguous designs of his nomithem."
S.S. nal friend ; the latter, not only breaks off Preston-Brook, 1831.
the connexion, but evinces a desire to return the injury. The language of scripture is decisive on this point. We are
commanded not to return evil for evil, but, No stronger proof can be adduced of an contrariwise, good. The line of duty is, idle and disorderly mind, than an indul- therefore, plain, simple, and imperative; gence in vain curiosity; nor is any pro- and hence, though we may, with the pensity of the human mind more calcu- ulmost propriety, decline farther familiar lated io alienate friends, imbitter enemies, intercourse with those who have abused and sow dissension and ill-will among our confidence, we are strictly forbidden mankind. No man likes to have his pri- to shew an implacable spirit, or to visit on vate affairs unnecessarily pried into, and, the heads of the delinquents the evil conindeed, it is highly improper for any one sequences of their imprudent and culpable to make the attempt. Every person has, conduct. The well-disposed man feels a or ought to have, enough to do, in the desire rather to reclaim than to irritate an management of his own concerns; and it opponent, no matter whether in the form of may be safely concluded, that, if he busies a disguised friend, or an avowed enemy; himself about another man's, his own will and, though he may not trust him with his be neglected. Those who thrive most in secrets, or admit him to social intercourse, the world are such as give their minds be dismisses from his mind all animosity fully to their own business, and find no against him, and very sincerely longs for time for undue animadversions on another his reformation. man's proceedings.
It may be here observed, that few friendIndependently of the discredit which too ships are formed, which are totally exempt much inquisitiveness into another man's from jealousy or intrusion; and the reason concerns throws upon those who are guilty is obvious,—they are seldom formed and of it, the circumstance that it cannot but cemented by gospel precepts.
Into the give pain, and awaken resentment in natural mind, unillumined by the light of those whose feelings are injured, should God's word, the spirit of discord finds too check the first impulses to such unwar- ready an ingress; and when the obligations rantable indulgences, and teach the curious of duty are not mutually felt, encroachto thwart their inclinations, both on their ments will he made, calculated to produce own account, and on that of others; for if bitter recriminations and dissensions. a man feel himself aggrieved, either by The disturbance of the peace of society dictation or animadversion, he is apt to is not the only effect of curiosity, when it retaliate the injury, and it generally hap- becomes a passion of the mind : the peace pens that the assailant the more vulner- of every one who indulges in it is unsettled: able of the two, and that his affairs, in and the over-curious are led from such consequence of his unhappy propensity, objects as might conduce to their own are found to be in a stale of greater con. welfare and tranquillity. The human mind fusion,
is an active principle, which will ever be Amicable feelings cannot be long sus- employed ; and if the objects of its pursuits tained between parties, when the object of be not praise-worthy, they will be detrieither is to usurp authority over the other; mental alike to individuals and to society; or, which is much the same thing, when for every one, whose attention is not dieither is ever and anon displaying a dispo- rected to such things as peculiarly belong sition to encroach upon the other's personal to his own sphere of action, may be comliberties or domestic privacies, with a view monly found giving advice where it is not to give unwelcome advice, or confer im- wanted, and hazarding opinions regarding pertinent counsel. A feeling of jealousy the conduct of others, who are, as they and dislike naturally takes possession of the may easily be, in every respect, his supeminds of those who are unworthily treated, riors both in activity, regularity, and pruand they consequently, with great reason, dence. It is incompatible with reason, renounce the society of their too busy com- and manifestly absurd, for a man to find panions.
fault with others about the neglect of duties, of which he himself is notoriously guilty: unable to look up to those who hold higher and yet this is precisely the character of all or more honourable situations than themwho are more bent upon blaming others selves, even though their conduct may than reforming themselves; in a word, of make them worthy of those situations, all who pry into their neighbours' affairs, without feeling an envious spirit—a spirit and neglect their own.
which is easily made to go all lengths, in We may conclude, when we see men order to attain its unballowed object. For busying themselves about things which do this reason, among many others, the man not concern them, that they have ulterior who is brought prominently forward on the objects in view, and that the pleasures they stage of life, should be unceasingly wary derive from searching into, and passing and circumspect in all his ways, that the judgment on, the motives of others, and devices of the busy-body, whose inquiries decrying the works of their hands, do not go to rake up flaws in his character, that he arise from a desire to conceal the informa. may disseminate them to his disadvantage, tion they surreptitiously obtain, but from may fail in their object, and that the reputthe wicked intention of publishing it to the able part of mankind may see into his world, with most provoking and aggra- intentions, and expose their turpitude. vating additions and distortions, fabricated To blast the prospects of the fortunate, for the purpose of destroying the reputa- to curtail the usefulness of the industrious, tions of ihose who are held in higher esti- to injure the circumstances of the respect. mation than themselves, as well as of gra- able, is too often the aim of the inquisitive. tifying their own corrupt and depraved There must be some object in view, when hearts. Every inquiry they make, every inquiries are made into the affairs of others; look, indicates a heart pregnant with ill and as those who eagerly make them are designs. The good which others do, is frequently such as have tarnished their own intentionally overlooked, if, indeed, a pre- names, and blasted their prospects, by their judicial construction be not attempted to conduct, it follows, as a natural but grievbe placed upon it; whilst every false step ous consequence, that they are pained on is carefully noted, and infinite pains taken hearing that others are in a happier conto give to every error the most forbidding dition than themselves, and, by the most aspect. Nay, so evil-disposed, and so tho- unprincipled means, to bring them down to roughly lost to all sense of shame and de- their own level, or, if possible, to sink corum, so utterly reckless of their own cha. them below it. It matters not what preracters, and regardless of those of others, tence they may form to blind the observers are the wholsesale dealers in detraction of their behaviour, or to cast a cloak over and defamation, that, when the most dili. their dark intentions; the eye of the world gent inquiries fail to furnish a tale to the is acute in detecting fraud, and unceremoprejudice of their neighbours, they will nious in exposing it: and even were not have the unhesitating and unblushing this the case to the full extent of what it is, effrontery to propagate the figments of the frequent want of caution in the most their own brains, the suggestions of their practised adepts in the art of dissembling, imaginations, in order to spread ruin and would be sure, sooner or later, to bring to dismay through their respective neighbour- light their busy intermeddlings and their hoods,
deep-laid schemes. An evil report, either wholly without There is a most dangerous sort of enmity, foundation, or at best with a very slight however, and it is that which comes under relation to fact, augments rapidly as it the semblance of friendship. An open gains circulation, and is soon made to con- enemy may be guarded against with some sign, in too many instances, to obloquy chance of averting the blow which he inand reproach the fair fame of one who tends to give ; a suspected underminer ought to have received better treatment, may be carefully watched; but from the and who is exposed, merely because of his man whose words are as honey, and derespectability, to the shafts of malice, and signs as gall, who can protect himself? to the inventive and deadly machinations Who but must be in danger of having his of an inveterate foe. To account for the reputation injured, and his confidence motives by which a man is actuated, who abused, before he has sufficient experience can, clandestinely, or openly, proceed to of the false appearances, to make him take away the character, and blast the cautious ? prospects, of a fellow-mortal who has never An easy unreservedness of intercourse, injured him, might appear a difficult task, and a pleasing interchange of sentiment, did we not know that the corruptions of are among the blessings derived from human nature are such, that too many are friendship, and, therefore, the misplacing
and abuse of confidence must engender of giving them the greatest publicity. They bitterness of spirit.
are taught not to harbour evil thoughts of Having ascertained by the most secret others, yet their practice shows, but too inquiries, the plan of attack which, he plainly, that their suspicions of the princiconceived, may do the most mischief, ples and conduct of their fellow-creatures the double-faced detractor, at first, stabs in are of the most malevolent description. Althe dark, and, at length, when the eye of though they cannot but know that it is him whom he attacks is open to the highly sinful to rejoice at the transgressions treachery of his conduct, unable to defend of those around them, they seem to be pehimself from the charge of duplicity, he culiarly elate on the discovery of their being generally fabricates an excuse from some guilty of some culpable breach of duty, or insult or injury he pretends to have sus- wilful irregularity. Their duty calls them tained, and pushes his malignant purposes
to make the character of every one appear to the utmost extremity. Bad passions in the fairest light; their inclinations prompt cherished in the mind will completely them to throw a shade over every virtue, banish from it every feeling of satisfaction and aggravate every crime. Such is the and comfort. In the place of those con- depravity of human nature; such the prosolatory reflections which are the peculiar pensity of the human mind. Till man be enjoyments of the good and benevolent, made a new creature, till his mind be imare implanted in the breasts of the evil- bued with Divine grace, he will continue to minded the most corroding and anxious see the mote in his brother's eye, without
perceiving the beam in his own; detraction Never was there seen a man, in the pos- will be his delight, and charity a strange session of happiness himself, who wished work. to see others miserable. Such a circum- In the best of men there is much room stance cannot occur; it is not in the nature for personal improvement, for amendment of things. The evil-intentioned alone can in heart and life; and it is a well-establishemploy their time in sowing the seeds of ed fact, that those who come nearest to the discord, and undermining the fair fabric performance of their duties, see most clearly of an honourable reputation, and such bad their own need of repentance and faith, and intention will most undoubtedly inflict the their utter unworthiness in the sight of God. bitterest anguish on the destroyers of the The reason of this is clear; sin is of a blindhappiness of others—an anguish far more ing and hardening nature, and, hence, those intense, and far less supportable, as the generally stand highest in their own estimacause of it may be brought home to their tion who are most alienated from God and own bosoms. Whoever has felt the con. divine things
It follows, therefore, that sequences of the base calumniator's foul those who give the greatest loose to that and meddling spirit, may be sufficiently prying sort of curiosity, which seeks to feed vexed and disturbed, but there are gene- on lost reputations, are, in a great measure, rally found worthy characters to compas- unconscious of their own infirmities, and sionate his case, and soothe his mind; easily brought to imagine themselves free whilst the base calumniator himself will be from the faults of those whom they are the left to writhe under his own inflictions, most eager to censure. It would, however, and feel the misery he tried to dispense, be no difficult matter to find sins indulged shunned by the world, and left to reflections in to a greater excess by the censorious, worse than death itself.
than by those who are the constant objects The religion which our blessed Saviour of their malevolent attacks. How, it may came into the world to teach to the children well be asked, can those attend to their of men, and which has been continually own advancement in piety and virtue, who spreading ever since throughout the habit- merge every other consideration in the all. able globe, is either wholly neglected, or absorbing one of intruding upon others their unworthily professed, by the censorious advice or reprehension ? Such are meddler. Even in our own highly-favoured mindful of their deficiencies, and regardless isle, where the inestimable privileges of of their duties, and take especial care to reading the scriptures, and having them have as little leisure as inclination to turn faithfully preached, are, unquestionably, en- their thoughts from others to themselves joyed to a degree far beyond that of most from evil surmises and artful inventions, to other nations, it is lamentable to see the a careful redemption of time—from things great prevalence of envy and ill-will. In. on earth, to things in heaven. stead of looking with a charitable eye on If, among the insidious throng, there are the failings of others, far too many are em- any to be found who are at all conscious of ployed in the unthankful and odious office their own failings, they seem, at the same
MY NOTE-BOOK.-NO, I.
ON THE WRITINGS OF COWPER.
tiine, perfectly satisfied with retaining their cernible to the whole world, and we fall an defects
, provided they can find others easy prey to the consequences of our imequally neglectful of their duties, and prudence. equally bent on pursuing heedless careers. Discarding all vain curiosity, let our This is a most fatal mistake. To be content minds be absorbed in the discharge of the with one's self, when guilty of error, because duties of our callings, and we shall be others happen to be the same, is not the amply rewarded by the prosperity and way to reform. As men must stand or fall comfort of our circumstances. Let us, inby their conduct, by their faith and prac- stead of descanting on the moral degradatice, it is evidently a most destructive delu- tion of others, attend to our own vital insion, for them to be at peace while in a terests, that we may be happy ourselves, state of alienation from God, merely because and be the means of extending happiness others are in the same condition. Their to others. This is the only proper course habits of inquiry, their diligent searchings to be adopted ; and it is a course, which into any affairs not their own, have a ma- will yield to every one who pursues it, a terial tendency, however, to blind their un- satisfaction which this world can neither derstandings, and corrupt their hearts. The give nor take away. process, from a man's censuring others, to Edenhall.
Thos. IRELAND. his imbibing self-righteous views, is certain and rapid. He soon persuades himself that he is as good as his neighbours, better, indeed, than many around him, and is apt to mistake a spirit of malevolence, and a propensity to slander, for a virtuous indig
“We have few writers whose value is more ster. nation at vice, and a desire to put it down. ling than that of Cowper. In every page of his com. It is, no doubt, a duty to censure sin in
positions, you will find the most vigorous intellect,
combined with the poblest principle." Anonymous. every shape; but then, those that do so should do it in a proper spirit, that their One of the most interesting, engaging, and examples may add power and efficacy to instructive authors with whom an enlighttheir reproofs. These reflections, the mali. ened, and, especially, a pious individual, cious busybody should carefully weigh over can be familiar, is the distinguished poet to in his mind; for he may rest assured, that, whom this short paper immediately alludes, if he be not made to feel a detestation of and whose name and works will uniformly sin himself, and the warmest and purest command the esteem and admiration of the zeal for the reformation and happiness of reading world. all who have gone astray; all is not right There was much associated with the with him. He may suspect his own mo- character of Cowper peculiarly calculated to tives, when he feels a desire to know what fix the attention, to induce the attachment, others are doing, and apprehend that some and to awaken the sensibilities of pensive malignant feeling may lie at the bottom of and devotional individuals; and his sorrows all his investigations. See we not now, are .and depressions were so dark, cheerless, we not fully sensible, that our affairs must and protracted, that it is impossible to greatly suffer, that perplexity and ruin will peruse his writings, and mark how his attend them, if we so far forget our duties, mind is developed, how bis emotions are as to engage our whole attention, and oc- imbodied, and how his condition is illuscupy our times, in administering to others trated, without being powerfully and affectadvice mingled with reproof.
ingly impressed. There are few lives more That impertinent curiosity, which leads riveting than the life of Cowper; few can the mind astray, is the greatest bane con- inspire more sorrowful and sympathetic ceivable to tranquillity, and the most for- feelings; and it is rarely that we meet with midable foe that can be encountered in this a memoir, from the perusal of which, world. Other evils may be overcome; greater instruction, or more valuable adother obstructions to our peace may be vantage, can be derived. With all the removed, if our minds be concentrated, and deficiencies and defects of Hayley's Life of engaged in appropriate exercises, in the Cowper, and we admit they are neither performance of individual, social, and re- few nor trivial, we can scarcely refer to any ligious obligations. But when our minds book which is more engaging, or which become dissipated and unstable; when the produces a more forcible impression on the failings of others are sedulously investi- mind of a discriminating, intelligent, and gated, and joyfully proclaimed, and personal pious reader. inspection and improvement wholly neg- The most attractive charm of that work, lected, then it is that our weakness is dis- however, arises from the letters of the 20. SERIES, No. 15.--VOL. II.
lamented poet, with which it is so highly sionally, too sudden and ungraceful; and beautified and enriched. They are, un- his numbers are often not so flowing and questionably, beautiful and finished speci- harmonious as we could desire. But, after mens of the epistolary style. They are making these concessions, we inquire, exquisitely penned. There is much nature Where is the man of true poetic taste and and unaffectedness; there is no trickery or sensibility, and of genuine principle, who artifice; there is no tawdry or meretricious can be insensible to the striking excellencies finery; there is no exaggeration, bombast, which the muse of Cowper exhibits ? The or ridiculous soaring. Every sentence is language he employs is bold, idiomatic, penned with the most perfect artlessness. energetic, and impressive; the descriptions The simplicity which characterizes almost of scenery which he furnishes are graphical, every passage is a striking attraction. There and eloquent; his delineations of character are rich and beautiful descriptions furnished. are often strikingly beautiful; his satire Some of the delineations of character are and sarcasm are as keen and caustic as very graphical and impressive. The finest could be developed ; his humour is the and most philosophical remarks are often most playful, original, and profound ; his thrown out; a pleasing sportiveness, and views of truth are commandingly just and original vein of humour, mark the entire impressive; his exhibition of the christian series;
the most genuine and elevated piety character, and, especially, of the gospel is broadly developed; and there is a mel- ministry, is exquisitely furnished ; and lowness, a clearness, a purity, an elegance, representations of the errors, the follies, and an ease, a classic finish, in the style, which the vices of the age, are as accurately and scarcely any writer has excelled. Cowper, luminously sketched, as the pen of the poet as an epistolary writer, is, confessedly, one could delineate them. of the very highest order, and, by every The tendency of all Cowper's poetry is person of accurate taste, of sound and dis- to do good. There is no scepticism, no wancriminating views, and of ardent piety, his tonness, no profanity, no jesting with sacred letters will be highly prized, and regarded things, no trifling; he has an object to acas some of the choicest gems, as it respects complish, and that object is to advocate expression, delineation, and sentiment, the claims of Christianity, to honour the which the English language can furnish. God of truth, and to inculcate the sublime
We form a very high judgment of the and momentous principles of the gospel. Letters of Beattie, so vivacious, so elo- His “ Table Talk” abounds in clever, quent, so classical ; but we do not consider smart, and, vivacious, pungent dialogue, in them at all comparable to the exquisite which the most valuable sentiment will epistolary effusions of the “ bard of Olney.” be found. His pieces, entitled “Hope,”
But, inimitable as are many of the Letters Expostulation,” “ Truth," and several of Cowper, it is apparent that his fame others, are admirable specimens of vigorarises principally from his poetry; and, ous and glowing versification, the princiwhatever some may think of the rigidness ples imbodied are pure and elevated ; and of his morality, of the breadth and keen- many passages are uncommonly rich and ness of his irony, and of the unqualified beautiful, in expression and imagery. language in which he so often indulges, it His “ Review of Schools” is peculiarly is evident, we apprehend, to all lovers of valuable, for the just and philosophic genuine “poesy,” that few specimens of the sentiment with which it is enriched. The art are more deserving of praise, or more lines on “ Friendship” are, unquestionably, worthy of preservation, than those which some of the finest in the language. His Cowper has furnished. When his poems poem on his mother's picture, I have unifirst appeared, they attracted public atten- formly considered one of the most touching, tion, and secured for hiin a large measure eloquent, and beautiful specimens, which of approbation, and that popularity has can be furnished. been increasing till the present period; so The great production of Cowper is evithat there is scarcely any diversity of dently “ The Task;" and it is a noble moopinion, respecting the commanding claims nument of his taste, piety, and genius. In which those poems prefer.
that fine poem, how strikingly and beautiWe concede that many objections may fully has he sketched character, painted the be urged against the poetry of Cowper. It joys and endearments of home, described is often flat and prosaic; his humour is the quiet and sunny scenery of creation, sometimes vulgar and inappropriate; his and exhibited the pure and exquisite ensarcasm and invective are frequently in- joyments of religion! To a mind imbued temperate and unmeasured ; his transitions with poetic taste and sensibility, and chefrom serious to trifling subjects are, occa- rishing the religious sentiments of Cowper,