« السابقةمتابعة »
their own colour. Neutrality is a state into which the busy passions of man cannot easily subside; and he who is in danger of the pangs of envy, is generally forced to recreate his imagination with an effort of comfort.
Some, however, may be found, who, súpported by the consciousness of great abilities, and elevated by a long course of reputation and applause, voluntarily consign themselves to singularity, affect to cross the roads of life because they know that they shall not be jostled, and indulge a boundless gratification of will because they perceive that they shall be quietly obeyed. Men of this kind are generally known by the name of Humorists, an appellation by which he that has obtained it, and can be contented to keep it, is set free at once from the shackles of fashion : and can go in or out, sit or stand, be talkative or silent, gloomy or merry, advance absurdities or oppose demonstra. tion, without any other reprehension from mankind than that it is his way, that he is an odd fellow, and must be let alone.
This seems to many an easy passport through the various factions of mankind; and those on whom it is bestowed, appear too frequently to consider the patience with which their caprices are suffered as an undoubted evidence of their own importance, of a genius to which submission is universally paid, and whose irregulari. ties are only considered as consequences of its vigour. These peculiarities, however, are always found to spot a character, though they
may not totally obscure it; and he who expects from mankind, that they should give up established customs in compliance with his single will, and exacts that deference which he does not pay, may be endured, but can never be approved.
Singularity is, I think, in its own nature universally and invariably displeasing. In whatever respect a man differs from others, he must be considered by them as either worse or better; by being better, it is well known that a man gains admiration oftener than love, since all approbation of his practice must necessarily condemn him that gives it; and though a man often pleases by inferiority, there are few who desire to give such pleasure. Yet the truth is, that singularity is almost always regarded as a brand of slight reproach ; and where it is associated with acknowledged merit, serves as an abatement or an allay of excelle by which weak eyes are reconciled to its lustre, and by which, though kindness is not gained, at least envy is averted.
But let no man be in haste to conclude his own merit so great or conspicuous, as to require or justify singularity, it is as hazardous for a moderate understanding to usurp the prerogatives of genius, as for a common form to play over the airs of uncontested beauty. The pride of men will not patiently endure to see one whose understanding or attainments are but level with their own, break the rules by which they have consented to be bound, or
forsake the direction which they submissively follow. All violation of established practice implies in its own nature a rejection of the common opinion, a defiance of common censure, and an appeal from general laws to private judgment: he, therefore, who differs from others without apparent advantage, ought not to be angry if his arrogance is punished with ridicule; if those whose example he superciliously overlooks, point him out to derision, and hoot him back again into the common road.
The pride of singularity is often exerted in little things, where right and wrong are indeterminable, and where, therefore, vanity is without excuse. But there are occasions on which it is noble to dare to stand alone. To be pious among infidels, to be disinterested in a time of general venality, to lead a life of virtue and reason in the midst of sensualists, is a proof of a mind intent on nobler things than the praise or blame of men, of a soul fixed in the contemplation of the highest good, and superior to the tyranny of custom and example.
In moral and religions questions only, a wise man will hold no consultations with fashion, because these duties are constant and immutable, and depend not on the notions of men, but the commands of Heaven; yet even of these, the external mode is to be in some measure regulated by the prevailing taste of the age in which we live; for he is certainly no friend te virtue, who neglects to give it any lawful attraction, or suffers it to deceive the eye
or alienate the affections for want of innocent compliance with fashionable decorations.
It is yet remembered of the learned and pious Nelson, that he was remarkably elegant in his manners, and splendid in his dress. He knew, that the eminence of his character drew many eyes upon him; and he was careful not to drive the young or the gay away from religion, by representing it as an enemy to any distinction or enjoyment in which human nature may innocently delight.
In this censure of singularity, I have, therefore, no intention to subject reason or conscience to custom or example. To comply with the degree and practices of mankind, is in some notions the duty of a social being; because by compliance only he can please, and by pleasing only he can become useful: but as the end is not to be lost for the sake of the means, we are not to give up virtue to complaisance; for the end of complaisance is only to gain the kindness of our fellow-beings, whose kindness is desirable only as instrumental to happiness, and happiness must be always lost hy departure from virtue.
ILL-NATURED HUSBANDS. It has often been a solid grief to me, when I have reflected on this glorious nation, which is the scene of public happiness and liberty, that there are still crowds of private tyrants,
against whom there neither is any law now in being, nor can there be invented any by the wit of man. These cruel men are ill-natured husbands. The commerce in the conjugal state is so delicate, that it is impossible to prescribe rules for the conduct of it, so as to fit ten thousand nameless pleasures and disquietudes which arise to people in that condition. But it is in this as in some other nice cases, where touching upon the malady tenderly is half way to the cure; and there are some faults which need only to be observed, to be amended. I am put into this way of thinking by a late conversation, which I am going to give an account of,.'.
I made a visit the other day to a family for which I have a great honour, and found the father, the mother, and two or three of the younger children drop off designedly, to leave me alone with the eldest daughter, who was but a visitant there as well as myself, and is the wife of a gentleman of a very fair character in the world. As soon as we were alone I saw her eyes full of tears, and methought she had much to say to me, for which she wanted encouragement. “ Madam," said I, “ you know I wish you all as well as any friend you have: speak freely what I see you are oppressed with ; and you may be sure, if I cannot relieve your distress, you may at least reap so much present advantage, as safely to give yourself the ease of uttering it." She immediately assumed the most becoming compo