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The Arts of deceiving Conscience. I ;
T is easy for every man, whatever be his character and therefore censure, contempt, or conviction of crimes, feldom deprive him of his own favour. Those, indeed, who can see only external facts, may look upon him with abhorrence; but when he calls himself to his own tribunal, he finds every fault, if not absolutely effaced, yet so much palliated, by the goodness of his intention, and the cogency of the motive, that very little guilt or turpitude remains; and when he takes a furvey of the whole complication of his character, he discovers fo
many latent excellencies, so many virtues that want but an opportunity to exert themselves in act, and so many kind wishes for universal happiness, that he looks on himself as suffering unjustly under the infamy of single failings, while the general temper of his mind is unknown or unregarded.
It is natural to mean well, when only abstracted ideas of virtue are proposed to the mind, and no particular paffion turns us aside from rectitude; and so willing is every man to flatter himself, that the difference between approving laws and obeying them, is frequently forgotten; he that acknowledges the obligations of morality, and pleases his vanity with enforcing them to others, concludes himself zealous in the cause of virtue, though he has no longer any regard to her precepts than they conform to his own desires; and counts himself among her warmest lovers, because he praises her beauty, though every rival steals away his heart.
There are, however, great numbers who have little recourse to the refinements of speculation, but who yet live at peace with themselves, by means which require less understanding, or less attention. When their hearts are burthened with the consciousness of a crime, instead of seeking for some remedy within themselves, they look round upon
the rest of mankind, to find others tainted with the fame guilt: They please themselves with ob
serving, that they have numbers on their side ; and that though they are hunted out from the society of good men, they are not likely to be condemned to solitude.
No man yet was ever wicked without secret discontent; and according to the different degrees of remaining virtue, or unextinguished reason, he either endeavours to reform himfelf, or corrupt others; either to regain the station which he has quitted, or prevail on others to imitate his defection; for, as guilt is propagated, the power of reproach is diminished; and, among numbers equally detestable, every individual may be sheltered from shame, though not from conscience.
The man who is branded with cowardice, may, with some appearance of propriety, turn all his force of argument against a stupid contempt of life, and rafh precipitation into unneceffary danger. Every recession from temerity is an approach towards cowardice; and though it be confessed that bravery, like other virtues, stands between faults on either hand, yet the place of the middle point may always be disputed; he may therefore often impofe upon careless understandings, by turning the attention wholly from himself, and keeping it fixed invariably on the opposite fault; and by shewing how many evils are avoided by his behaviour, he may conceal for a time those which are incurred.
It is generally not so much the desire of men, sunk into depravity, to deceive the world, as themselves; for when no particular circumstances make them dependent on others, infamy disturbs them little, but as it revives their remorse, and is echoed to them from their own hearts. The sentence most dreaded is that of reason and conscience, which they would engage on their side at any price but the labours of duty, and the forrows of repentance. For this purpose every seducement and fallacy is sought; the hopes still rest upon some new experiment, till life is at an end; and the last hour steals on unperceived, while the faculties are engaged in refisting reason, and repressing the sense of the Divine disapprobation,
On the Guilt of incurring Debts, without an
Intention or Prospect of Payment. MÒNG the various devices which young men A in and in ruin, none is more frequent than that of incurring debt without any real necessity. No sooner is the aspiring youth emancipated from his school, or his guardian and superintendents, than he becomes, in his own idea, a man, and not only so, but a man of consequence, whom it behoves to dress and make a figure. To accomplish the purpose of making a figure, some expensive vices are to be affected or practised. But as the stipends of young men just entering into life are usually inconsiderable, it is neceffary to borrow on the most disadvantageous terms, or to purchase the various requisites of a pleasurable life on credit. The debt foon accumulates from small beginnings to a great sum. The young adventurer continues, while his credit is good, in the same wild career ; but adieu to real pleasure, to improvement, to honest industry, and to a quiet mind. His peace is wounded. A perpetual load seems to weigh him down; and though his feelings may, by length of time and habit, become too callous to be affected by the misery of his situation, yet he is loft to all fincere enjoyment; and if he fall not a victim to defpair, survives only to gain a precarious existence at the gaming-table, to deceive the unwary, and to elude the researches of persecuting creditors. Even if he be enabled, by the death of his parents or rich relations, to pay the debts which his youthful folly has contracted; yet has he suffered long and much, and lost the beginning of life, the season of rational delight and solid improvement, in distress and fears; in fabricating excuses and pretences, and in flying from the eager pursuit of duns and bailiffs.
But this folly, however pregnant with misery, is entitled to pity, and may, in some degree, admit of thofe
usual palliations, youthful ardour and want of experience. Thousands, and tens of thousands, have ruined their fortunes and their happiness by hastily running into debt before they knew the value of money, or the consequences of their embarrassment. We pity their misfortune, but in the first part of their progress we do not usually accuse them of dishonesty.
But the habit of incurring debt, though in the earlier periods of life it may originate in thoughtlessness, commonly leads to a crime most atrocious in itself, and injurious to society. He who prayed against poverty, leit he should be poor and steal, understood human nature. Difficulties and diftreffes have a natural tendency to leffen the restraints of conscience. The fortress of honour, when stormed by that fort of poverty which is occasioned by profligacy, and not defended with sound principles (such as men of the world do not often poffess) has for the most part yielded at discretion. He then who began with incurring debt merely because he was strongly stimulated by passion or fancy, and was not able to pay for their gratification, proceeds, when the habit is confirmed, and the first scruples dismiffed, to contract debt wherever unsuspecting confidence will afford him an opportunity.
Many of the persons who live on the fubftance of others, by borrowing, purchasing, or employing, without intending, and without being able, to pay, make a fplendid figure, and pass for gentlemen and men of ho. nour. But however they may felicitate themselves on their success, and in the gratification of their pride and vanity, I shall not hesitate to pronounce them more criminal and detestable than highwaymen and housebreakcrs, because, to the crime of actual theft, they add a most ungenerous breach of confidence.
Learning should be sometimes applied to cul
tivate our Morals.
'NVY, curiosity, and our sense of the imperfection
of our present state, incline us always to estimate the advantages which are in the possession of others above their real value. Every one must have remarked what powers and prerogatives the vulgar imagine to be conferred by learning. A man of science is expected to excel the unlettered and unenlighted, even on occafions where literature is of no use, and among weak minds lofes part of his reverence by discovering no superiority in those parts of life in which all are unavoidably equal; as when a monarch makes a progress to the remoter provinces, the rustics are said fometimes to wonder that they find him of the fame size with themselves.
These demands of prejudice and folly can never be fatisfied, and therefore many of the imputations which learning suffers from disappointed ignorance, are without reproach. Yet it cannot be denied, that there are some failures to which men of study are peculiarly exposed. Every condition has its disadvantages.
The circle of knowledge is too wide for the moft active and diligent intellect, and while science is pursued with ardour, other accomplishments of equal use are necefsarily neglected; as a small garrison must leave one part of an extensive fortrefs naked, when an alarm calls them to another.
The learned, however, might generally support their dignity with more success, if they suffered not themselves to be milled by superfluous attainments of qualifications which few can understand or value, and by skill which they may fink into the grave without any conspicuous opportunities of exerting. Raphael, in return to Adam's enquiries into the courses of the stars and the revolutions of heaven, counsels him to with