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It is, however, certain, that a devotional taste and habit are very desirable in themselves, exclusive of their effects in meliorating the morals and disposition, and promoting present and future felicity. They add dignity, pleasure, and security to any age; but to old age they are the most becoming grace, the most substantial support, and the sweetest comfort. In order to preserve them, it will be necessary to preserve our sensibility; and nothing will contribute so much to this purpose, as a life of temperance, of innocence, and simplicity.
enterprise by frequent miscarriages, it may justly be concluded that it is not easy for a man to know himself; for wherefoever we turn our view, we shall find almost all with whom we converse so nearly as to judge of their sentiments, indulging more favourable conceptions of their own virtue than they have been able to impress upon others, and congratulating themselves upon degrees of excellence, which their fondeft admirers cannot allow them to have attained.
Those representations of imaginary virtue are generally considered as arts of hypocrisy, and as snares laid for confidence and praise. But I believe the suspicion often unjust; those who thus propagate their own reputation, only extend the fraud by which they have been themselves deceived; for this failing is incident to numbers, who seem to live without designs, competitions, or pursuits; it appears on occasions which promise no accession of honour or of profit, and to persons from whom very little is to be hoped or feared. It is, indeed, not easy to tell how far we may be blinded by the love of ourselves, when we reflect how much a secondary passion can cloud our judgment, and how few faults a man, in the first raptures of love, can dilcover in the perfon or conduct of his mistress.
One fophism by which men persgade themselves that they have those virtues which they really want, is formed by the fubftitution of fingle acts for habits. A mifer who once relieved a friend from the danger of a prison, suffers his imagination to dwell for ever upon his own heroic generosity; he yields his heart up to indignation at those who are blind to merit, or insensible to mifery, and who can please themselves with the enjoyment of that wealth, which they never permit others to partake.
From any censures of the world, or reproaches of his conscience, he has an appeal to action and to knowledge; and though his whole life is a course of rapacity and avarice, he concludes himself to be tender and libe. ral, because he has once performed an act of liberality and tenderness.
As a glass which magnifies objects by the approach of one end to the eye, lefsens them by the application of the other, so vices are extenuated by the inversion of that fallacy by which virtues are augmented. Those faults which we cannot conceal from our own notice, are considered, however frequent, not as habitual corruptions, or fettled practices, but as casual failures, and fingle lapses. A man who has, from year to year, set his country to fale, either for the gratification of his ambition or resentment, confesses that the heat of party now and then betrays the severest virtue to measures that cannot be seriously defended. He that spends his days and nights in riot and debauchery, owns that his paffions oftentimes overpower his refolution. But each comforts himself that his faults are not without
precedent, for the best and the wiseft men have given way to the violence of sudden temptations.
There are men who always confound the praife of goodness with the practice, and who believe themselves mild and moderate, charitable and faithful, because they have exerted their eloquence in commendation of mildness, fidelity, and other virtues. This is an error almost universal among those that converse much with dependents, with such whose fear or interest disposes them to a seeming reverence for any declamation, however enthusiastic, and submission to any boast, however arrogant. Having none to recall their attention to their lives, they rate themselves by the goodness of their opinions, and forget how much more easily men may shew their virtue in their talk than in their actions.
The tribe is likewise very numerous of those who regulate their lives, not by the standard of religion, but
the measure of other men's virtue ; who lull their own remorse with the remembrance of crimes more atrocious than their own, and seem to believe that they are not bad while another can be found worse.
For escaping these and a thousand other deceits, many expedients have been proposed. Some have recommended the frequent consultation of a wise friend, admitted to intimacy, and encouraged to sincerity. But, this appears a remedy by no means adapted to general use ; for in order to secure the virtue of one, it
prefupposes more virtue in two than will generally be found. In the first, such a desire of rectitude and amendment, as may incline him to hear his own accufation from the mouth of him whom he esteems, and by whom, therefore, he will always hope that his faults are not discovered; and in the second, such zeal and honesty as will make him content, for his friend's advantage, to lose his kindness.
It seems that enemies have been always found by experience the most faithful monitors ; for adversity has ever been considered as the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, and this effect it must produce by withdrawing flatterers, whose business it is to hide our weaknesses from us; or by giving a loose to malice, and license to reproach ; or at least by cutting off those pleasures which called us away from meditation on our own conduct, and repressing that pride which too easily persuades us that we merit whatever we enjoy.
Part of these benefits it is in every man's power to procure to himself, by assigning proper portions of his life to the examination of the rest, and by putting himself frequently in such a situation, by retirement and abstraction, as may weaken the influence of external objects. By this practice he may obtain the solitude of adversity without its melancholy, its instructions without its censures, and its sensibility without its perturbations. M 3
There are few conditions which do not entangle us with fublunary hopes and fears, from which it is necessary to be at intervals disencumbered, that we may place ourselves in His presence who views effects in their causes, and actions in their motives; that we may, as Chillingworth expresses it, consider things as if there were no other beings in the world but God and ourselves; or, to use language yet more awful, may com mune with our own hearts, and be still.