صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

remoter view, than the prefent gratification of their paffions. Of thefe fome, haughty and impetuous, fly from fociety only because they cannot bear to repay to others the regard which themselves exact; and think no state of life eligible, but that which places them out of the reach of cenfure or controul, and affords them opportunities of living in a perpetual compliance with their own inclinations, without the neceffity of regulating their actions by any other man's convenience or opinion.

There are others of minds more delicate and tender, eafily offended by every deviation from rectitude, foon difgufted by ignorance or impertinence, and always expecting from the converfation of mankind more elegance, purity, and truth, than the mingled mafs of life will eafily afford. Such men are in hafte to retire from groffnefs, falfehood, and brutality; and hope to find in private habitations at leaft a negative felicity, an exemption from the fhocks and perturbations with which publick feenes are continually diftreffing them.

To neither of thefe votaries will folitude afford that content, which fhe has been taught fo lavishly to promife. The man of arrogance will quickly difcover, that by escaping from his opponents he has loft his flatterers, that greatnefs is nothing where it is not feen, and power nothing where it cannot be felt and he, whofe faculties are employed in too close an obfervation of failings and defects, will find his condition very little mended by transferring his attention from others to himfelf; he will probably foon come back in queft of new objects, and be glad

glad to keep his captioufnefs employed on any character rather than his own.

Others are feduced into folitude merely by the authority of great names, and expect to find those charms in tranquillity which have allured statesmen and conquerors to the fhades: thefe likewise are apt to wonder at their difappointment, for want of confidering, that those whom they aspire to imitate carried with them to their country feats minds full fraught with fubjects of reflection, the confciousness of great merit, the memory of illuftrious actions, the knowledge of important events, and the feeds of mighty designs to be ripened by future meditation. Solitude was to fuch men a releafe from fatigue, and an opportunity of usefulness. But what can retirement confer upon him, who having done nothing can receive no fupport from his own importance, who having known nothing can find no entertainment in reviewing the paft, and who intending nothing can form no hopes from profpects of the future: he can, furely, take no wifer courfe than that of lofing himself again in the crowd, and filling the vacuities of his mind with the news of the day.

Others confider folitude as the parent of philofophy, and retire in expectation of greater intimacies with fcience, as Numa repaired to the groves when he conferred with Egeria. These men have not always reason to repent. Some ftudies require a continued profecution of the fame train of thought, fuch as is too often interrupted by the petty avocations of common life: fometimes, likewife, iz

is neceffary, that a multiplicity of objects be at once present to the mind; and every thing, therefore, must be kept at a distance, which may perplex the memory, or diflipate the attention.

But though learning may be conferred by folitude, its application must be attained by general converse. He has learned to no purpose, that is not able to teach; and he will always teach unfuccessfully, who cannot recommend his fentiments by his diction or addrefs.

Even the acquifition of knowledge is often much facilitated by the advantages of fociety: he that never compares his notions with thofe of others, readily acquiefces in his firft thoughts, and very feldom discovers the objections which may be raised against his opinions; he, therefore, often thinks. himself in poffeffion of truth, when he is only fondling an error long fince exploded. He that has neither companions nor rivals in his studies, will always applaud his own progrefs, and think highly of his performances, because he knows not that others have equalled or excelled him. And I am afraid it may be added, that the student who withdraws himfelf from the world, will foon feel that ardour extinguished which praise or emulation had enkindled, and the advantage of fecrefy to fleep, rather than to labour.

There remains yet another set of reclufes, whofe intention intitles them to higher refpect, and whose motives deserve a more ferious confideration. These retire from the world, not merely to bask in cafe or gratify curiofity; but that being difengaged from common cares, they may employ more time in


the duties of religion: that they may regulate their actions with ftricter vigilance, and purify their thoughts by more frequent meditation.

To men thus elevated above the mifts of mortality, I am far from prefuming myfelf qualified to give directions. On him that appears " "to pass through "things temporary," with no other care than "not "to lofe finally the things eternal," I look with fuch veneration as inclines me to approve his conduct in the whole, without a minute examination of its parts; yet I could never forbear to wish, that while vice is every day muliplying feducements, and ftalking forth with more hardened effrontery, virtue would not withdraw the influence of her prefence, or forbear to affert her natural dignity by open and undaunted perfeverance in the right. Piety practifed in folitude, like the flower that blooms in the defart, may give its fragrance to the winds of Heaven, and delight thofe unbodied fpirits that furvey the works of God and the actions of men; but it bestows no affiftance upon earthly beings, and however free from taints of impurity, yet wants the facred fplendor of beneficence.

Our Maker, who, though he gave us fuch varieties of temper and fuch difference of powers, yet defigned us all for happiness, undoubtedly intended, that we fhould obtain that happiness by different means. Some are unable to refift the temptations of importunity, or the impetuofity of their own paffions incited by the force of prefent temptations: of these it is undoubtedly the duty to fly from enemies which they cannot conquer, and to cultivate, in the calm of folitude, that virtue which is too tender to en: dure

dure the tempefts of publick life. But there are others, whofe paffions grow more ftrong and irre gular in privacy; and who cannot maintain an uniform tenor of virtue, but by expofing their manners to the publick eye, and affifting the admonitions of confcience with the fear of infamy: for fuch it is dangerous to exclude all witneffes of their conduct, till they have formed ftrong habits of virtue, and weakened their paffions by frequent victories. But there is a higher order of men fo infpired with ardour, and fo fortified with refolution, that the world paffes before them without influence or regard: thefe ought to confider themselves as appointed the guardians of mankind: they are placed in an evil world, to exhibit publick examples of good life; and may be faid, when they withdraw to folitude, to defert the station which Providence affigned them.

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »