Page images
PDF
EPUB

Against Inrousistency in our Expectations.

FROM AN ESSAY BY MRS. BARBAULD.

Better writing or reasoning than the following it would not be easy to find. There are some additional remarks in the original, which, though not without merit, we cannot help thinking by an inferior hand, and have, therefore, omitted. Every sentence here set down is admirable; nor is there anything, however vigorous in the tone, which a noble-minded woman might not utter, without committing the delicacy of her sex. All is conformable to kindness as well as zeal, and to the beauty of right thinking.

In reading this excellent piece of advice one feels astonished to think how so many could have stood in need of it, ourselves perhaps among the number. But so it is. We feel it to have been necessary, while we are surprised at its having been so; and we become anxious that all the world should be acquainted with it. The good it is calculated to do is evident, and of the greatest importance. We have heard of reflecting men who are proud to acknowledge their obligations to it; who say it has influenced the greater part of their lives; and we know of others who have spoken of it with admiration; Mr. Hazlitt for one.

At the same time, good as the spirit of the admonition is for everybody, the line drawn between the seekers of wealth and the cultivators of wisdom appears to us to be a little too strong; or at least to have become so in our days, whatever the case may have been in those in which it was written. The recognition of the beauty and even the utility of mental accomplishments has latterly been keeping better pace with commercial industry; men in trade have influenced the opinions of the world on the most unexpected and important points, by means of their share of them; and in the passages extracted from the biography of Hutton, the reader has seen an account of a man who, in Mrs. Barbauld's own time, rose to wealth from the humblest beginnings, and whose career was accompanied, nevertheless, by a love of books and by liberal feelings, by the regard and assistance of men of genius, and by the warmest affections of his family. The instance of his distinguished friend Bage, the novelist and paper-maker, is still more striking on the side of independence. But we have noticed them both more at large in the place referred to, as well as the exceptions to sordid rules that have occurred in all ages and nations. Still the essay remains necessary to many, useful and a good caution to all.

Our gratitude must not forget, that the chief honor of the admonition remains with the good old Stoic philosopher, the following passage out of whose writings Mrs. Barbauld made the text of her

sermon:

“What is more reasonable than that they who take pains for anything, should get most in that particular for which they take pains ? They have taken pains for power, you for right principles ; they for riches, you for a proper use of the appearance of things. See whether they have the advantage of you in that for which you have taken pains, and which they neglect. If they are in power, and you not, why will not you speak the truth to yourself, that you do nothing for the sake of puwer, but that they do everything ? No; but since I take care to have right principles, it is more reasonable that I should have power. Yes, in respect to what you take care about, your principles; but give up to others the things in which they have taken more care than you; else it is just as if, because you have right principles, you should think it fit that when you shoot an arrow you should hit the mark better than an archer, or that you should forge better than a smith.”—CARTER's Epictetus.

As most of the unhappiness in the world arises rather from

disappointed desires than from positive evil, it is of the utmost consequence to attain just notions of the laws and order of the universe, that we may not vex ourselves with \ fruitless wishes, or give way to groundless and unreasonable discontent. The laws of natural philosophy, indeed, are tolerably understood and attended to; and, though we may suffer inconveniences, we are seldom disappointed in consequence of them. No man expects to preserve oranges through an English winter; or when he has planted an acorn, to see it become a large oak in a few months. The mind of man naturally yields to necessity, and our wishes soon subside when we see the impossibility of their being gratified. Now, upon an accurate inspection, we shall find in the moral government of the world, and the order of the intellectual system, laws as determinate, fixed, and invariable as any in Newton's Principia. The progress of vegetation is not more certain than the growth of habit; nor is the power of attraction more clearly proved, than the force of affection, or the influence of example. The man, therefore, who has well studied the operations of nature in mind as well as matter, will acquire a certain moderation and equity in his claims upon Providence; he will never be disappointed either in himself or others; he will act with precision, and expect that effect, and that alone, from his efforts, which they are naturally adapted to produce. For want of this, men of merit and integrity often censure the dispositions of Providence for suffering the characters they despise to run away with advantages which, they yet know, are purchased by such means as a high and noble spirit could never submit to. If you refuse to pay the price, why expect the purchase ? We should consider this world as a great mart of commerce, where Fortune exposes to our view various commodities, riches, ease, tranquillity, fame, integrity, knowledge. Everything is marked at a settled price. Our time, our labor, our ingenuity, is so much ready money we are to lay out to the best advantage. Examine, compare, choose, reject, but stand to your own judgment, and do not, like children, when you have purchased one thing, repine that you do not possess another which you did not purchase. Such is the force of

« PreviousContinue »