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“ So, for a good old gentlemanly vice,
I think I must take up with Avarice."
As a want of fixed and steady principle is the ruin of youth, so a too strict adherence to our interest frequently becomes the disgrace and canker of old age : the first destroys the tender buds of our Spring with the pestilential influence of a blight; the other congeals, paralyzes, and deforms our Winter, with its chilling frost. The former having been treated of in a preceding Number, I shall confine myself to the rise, progress, and final effects of the latter. This “ old gentlemanly vice” steals upon us, together with age, and is generally supposed to be the consequence, as well as characteristic, of declining years. But its seeds are not different from those of other vices. They are sown in youth; and, though seldom visible to every one, are easily distinguished by the microscopic eye of the moralist. When, indeed, parsimony, and an interested regard for money are discoverable in early life, it is manifest that these seeds will ripen into avarice and rapacity ; we easily perceive that the young Pacuvius may hereafter be rich, but that his riches will never bestow happiness upon their possessor, or contribute to that of his fellow-creatures. A few words may suffice to delineate the life of such a person. The calculating and penurious character of his youth is despised by his companions, whose actions are dictated by the more exalted motives of youthful generosity and feeling ; his riper years are wasted in the obscure and grovelling pursuit of wealth, which will be a benefit to no one, and will not even afford enjoyment to the infatuated being who is at once its master and its slave; who, urged on by the powerful influence of avarice, will not scruple to break down any principle of honour, morality, or religion; and who, in his unbridled career, will turn a deaf ear even to the voice of nature. These observations upon the probable conduct of the covetous man are not merely speculative; they are confirmed by the examples afforded us, drawn from the history of all ages and countries. No motive (religious fanaticism excepted) has led to more horrors than avarice. It has been the incentive to crime in sovereigns, favourites, and adventurers : reigning lord of the ascendant in the minds of the two former, it has frequently proved a scourge to the Old World; and, leading on the daring enterprizes of the latter, had nearly
caused the utter annihilation of the inhabitants of the other · Hemisphere. Such is the conduct of men, when engaged in the attainment of wealth ; the fruition of which is an object as unworthy the attention of mankind, as the pursuit of it is laborious and harassing. But when age renders man incapable of the latter, and the time which he has spent in it should have brought him to the former, he shows as much obstinacy in retaining his wealth, as he did rapacity and perseverance in amassing it. He neither enjoys the fruit of his labour himself, nor contributes to the enjoyment and happiness of others : he would appear, at first sight, to hold the creed of the Indians, that the same wants and cares, which are daily experienced in this world, are to accompany us beyond the grave; and we should conclude that he was making provision for his support in the next world. But it is rather from habit, than from any assignable reason, that arises this almost unaccountable propensity to render his acquisitions useless : he has been so accustomed to consider the possession of money as the chief good of life, that he cannot persuade himself to part with it. The misery and punishment which the covetous bring upon themselves are admirably predicted in the following lines of Juvenal :
“ Vivat Pacuvius quæso, vel Nestora totum :
Exæquet: nec amet quemquam, nec ametur ab ullo.” It is seldom (as I before observed) that the seeds of this vice are manifest in youth ; yet, like the seed of the thistle, which is carried in the air, and falls unseen upon the soil, they are often too deeply sown before they are perceived. A minute and studied concern for every thing which concerns self, and a neglect of the interests and welfare of others, are the sources to which every year will add a tributary stream, until they expand into avarice and covetousness, and finally overwhelm all the barriers which honour and morality oppose to their course. The force and power, which these vices finally obtain, are, of course, greater or less in proportion to the magnitude or exiguity of the fountainhead. 'n
I have already detailed the rise, progress, and effects of avarice, which is powerful and manifest, even at its beginning; it is now time that I should consider the vice of interested selfishness, which is smaller at its rise, but not less rapid in its increase, or less mischievous in its consequences. This vice is the more dangerous from the nature of its sources, which are concealed until they obtain uncontrollable force. Selfishness may have existed and increased for a long time in youth before it assumes its visible and definite form. We are seldom apt to apply the epithet of selfish to the idle or the extravagant; and, because
they neglect their real interest, we fancy that they are indifferent to themselves. This is far from being the case : the fact is, they think of nothing but their idol self, and of that which will afford it present enjoyment. Idleness and profusion are the shapes which selfishness usually takes in early life, as avarice is that which it assumes in age; for youth, somewhat after the manner of the Epicureans, fancies it sees its interest in present en oyment.
Eugenio has obtained the character and reputation of a dashing fellow, because he spends a profusion of money; and, disregarding discipline and constraint, follows all those pleasures which his fortune has placed within his reach, and which fasbion tempts him to pursue. “ He is the most generous creature in the world,” says one of his companions. “ His purse is always open," says another. True; his purse is always open, because he is always engaged in such pursuits as require it; but ask him to open it for any other object than that of procuring pleasure for himself, and it will be found to retain its contents with the close grasp of the miser; from whom its possessor differs in a very slight degree. The one adores the money itself; the other its produce: and both are equally careful that no one except themselves shall be a partaker of the enjoyments which accrue to them from their possessions. Adrastus has, in the same pursuit, wasted gifts of nature more valuable than those of fortune : copiously endowed with the former, he has omitted to improve them, from a want of power over himself ; his good sense admonishes him not to lose the opportunity of becoming useful to society, by cultivating and exercising his talents, but self has acquired such an ascendency over him, that it scorns control, and hurries him headlong into the abyss of pleasure. Though limited, with regard to fortune, his slender means are no obstacle to his course ; the same cause (the gratification of his passion for himself) which urged him to neglect his talents, draws him on into the snares of debt. He obtains trust from creditors whom he knows he can never pay; and thus, step by step, loses all sense of honour and integrity : for, accustomed from youth to consider himself before everybody and everything, it is natural that he should not scruple even to defraud others for his own gratification, and that he should disregard the interests of other men, when put in competition with his own. Many other instances of the various descriptions of youthful selfishness might be enumerated; but I have been contented with these two, as they are the most common, and are sufficient to show the powerful influence and baneful effects of that vice. Let us now consider what it leads to in after-life. Ripening in years, the selfish man still continues to consult his own interest, and that alone, in all his actions and undertakings : he now finds, that it is his interest to obtain authority, influence, or wealth; that the days are past when his idol was to be satisfied with mere pleasure; and that they have been spent in such a manner, that he is unable to appease its present cravings, without making a greater sacrifice than he was wont in his early years. In proportion to the magnitude of the object in view, must be the sacrifice made to attain it. In his youth he disregarded the admonitions of others, and even of his own good sense;-his idol now demands a Hecatomb; and in obedience to it, he sets at defiance the dictates of his conscience, which will in vain strive to oppose any measure which interest bids him pursue. To him indeed
“ Sweet is the scent which from advantage springs,
And nothing dirty wbicn good interest brings.”
Leonatus was from a' boy of a selfish disposition ; yet that vice which brought disgrace upon his riper years was scarcely oberved in his youth; he always rejoiced in an opportunity to distinguish himself at the expense of any of his companions ; he would inwardly chuckle at the prospect of answering a question, which had been fruitlessly proposed to his neighbours; and when his assistance might have saved another from punishment, he invariably withheld it, lest he should lose the opportunity of publicly showing that he was acquainted with the subject of which his schoolfellow was ignorant. This was kindly attributed to an ardent spirit of emulation, yet he would never sacrifice his own wishes or enjoyments, in order to be distinguished ;the selfish path of pleasure held out too many temptations, and he made no effort to forsake it. His idleness and extravagance, which were the consequence of this, received the fashionable appellations of juvenile thoughtlessness and spirit. Thus, while his youth lasted, his selfishness was disguised under various forms and colours; but in his manhood it threw off the mask, and appeared in its distinguishable shape. Overburdened with debt, the fruit of his pleasures, Leonatus married an heiress, whose fortune he did not scruple to sacrifice to the demands of his creditors—relieved from whom he enjoyed a moderate fortune, but his interest prompted him to increase it; whether the means by which he could accomplish this purpose were creditable or disgraceful, was to him a matter of indifference: he chose such measures as would lead him most speedily, and with the least trouble, to the fulfilment of his wishes. The power of the Ministry seemed on the decline ; his professed principles had always been in union with theirs, yet he hesitated not to join a violent Opposition in order to obtain a part of the spoils of his former friends, the exertions which he made to
raise himself to consideration in his party were great, and ruinous to his fortune ; and after a few years he found that the undertaking in which he had embarked was fruitless, and the ray of hope which had gleamed upon his party proved an ignis fatuus, which led him to the brink of ruin. The alluring prospect of a place tempted him; he perceived interest beckoning to him from the treasury bench; he obeyed her commands, received his bribe, and, from the bold and stormy patriot, became the
“ Placeman, all tranquillity and smiles.”
This step, though suggested by a regard for his interest, did not prove in the end more beneficial to Leonatus than his former speculation. An opposition was raised against him at the next election, and his constituents, enraged at his parliamentary conduct, declared themselves in favour of his antagonist; and, after having spent the remainder of his shattered fortune in an unsuccessful contest, he lost his seat in parliament, and sunk into the insignificance of a pensioned courtier. Thus all he reaped by his attention to interest in the prime of his life, was a poor miserable old age, embittered by the contempt and disgrace which awaits the apostate, and soured by disappointment, the seldom-failing punishment which hangs over the heads of the ambitious and covetous. The great danger of selfishness to youth is, that working underground and unseen, it saps the foundations of virtue and happiness, for it needs but to be seen in order to be despicable and odious: it has therefore been more the object of this paper, to bring selfishness into the light, stripped of the coverings and disguises which surround it, than to dwell upon its deformity. The manner in which the former may be accomplished, is by examining, not only the actions, faults, and virtues of men as they appear to our view, but also the latent sources from which they arise. These are two in number: one is Generosity, a clear and limpid stream rising amidst the pure shows of the mountains, gradually expanding into a noble and beneficent river, fertilizing and adorning the land through which it flows ;-the other is Selfishness, taking its rise in low swamps and marshes, swelling its polluted tide by receiving the confluent sewers of vice, and spreading noxious and pestilential yapours over the adjacent countries. From the first flow Honour, Friendship, . Morality, and Philanthropy; from the latter Idleness, Fraud, Profligacy, and Avarice. The cup of Virtue is replenished from the pure rill of Generosity,—that of vicious Pleasure with the ditch-water of Interested Selfishness.
A. L. B.