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At the very suggestions of fraud and cruelty, the heart shrinks instantly, with a horror, which saves, from the guilt of injustice or oppression, all those, whose minds are not unworthy of better feelings; but the suggestions of pleasure present nothing to the mind, at least till indulgence have become excessive,—with which any feelings of loathing and abhorrence can be associated. The corruption of the mind goes on silently, and gives no alarm, till the mind is already too corrupt, to be capable of the vigorous effort, which would be necessary, for shaking off a power, that shackles and debases it,,but which seems still rather to seduce, than to oppress, and which is scarcely hated by the unfortunate victim, even while it appears to him, to have destroyed his happiDess forever.
60, treacherous Conscience! While she seems to sleep
On rose and myrtle, lull'd with siren song ;
It is not, however, only when health, and fortune, and dignity, and the affection of those whom we love, have been completely sacrificed, that conscience comes boldly forward, and proclaims a guilt of which we were little dreaming. There are thoughts of higher objects, that rise to the mind, with an accusation which it is quick to feel, but which it hastens to forget, in a repetition of the idle and profitless, and worse than profitless, enjoyment. At length the accusation, which cannot be suppressed, is heard, with a more painful impatience, but with an impatience, which leads only to a wilder riot, in the hope of stilling murmurs, which are not to be stilled.
* Young's Night Thoughts, B. II. v. 256–269.
* The low
On the happiness which attends the remembrance of a life of virtue, it would surely be unnecessary to enlarge. It is a happiness, of which even the guilty,—though they may be incapable of conceiving all its delight,-yet know sufficiently the value, to look to it, with wishes, that do not covet it the less, for coveting it hopelessly. Strange as it may seem, in a world in which vice is so abundant, there yet can be little doubt, that the only object of desire, which is truly universal, is the delight of a good conscience. The pleasures of power and splendour, and indolent luxury, strong as their sway is over the greater number of minds, find yet some minds, to which they are objects either of indifference or contempt. But who is there, who has ever said in his own soul, in forming plans of future life, let me live and die, without the remembrance of a single good action? There are crimes, indeed, conceived and perpetrated with little regard to that virtue, which is for the time abandoned. But there is still some distant vision of repentance, and better thoughts,—which are to be the happiness of old age at least,—that is present to the most profligate, when he ventures to look forward to old age, and to that event by which age must at last be terminated. It is not because virtue is wholly despised that guilt exists; but the great misery is, that the
uncertain duration of life allows the guilty to look forward to years that are, perhaps, never to arrive, and to postpone every better purpose, till their heart has become incapable of shaking off the passions to which it is enslaved. Yet still, repentance and virtue, at some period, are delightful objects, which they never wholly exclude from their prospects of the future ; and if it were possible to be virtuous, without the sacrifice of vice, they would not delay the happiness for a single instant.
The happiness of having something in past years, on which to look back with delight, is then, a happiness, which is the wish of all; and if it were a thing that could be plundered, like mere wealth,-or invaded and usurped, like honour and dignities,-it would probably be one of the first things on which the robber would lay his violent hands, and which even the most frivolous aspirer, after the most frivolous trappings of courtly honour, would wish to obtain as soon, at least almost as soon, as that wand or ribbon, to which his ambition is obliged to be at present limited. This, however, though it is the only possession which is safe from violence or fraud, is still safe from these. The tyrant, with all his power, cannot divest of it the most helpless of those, on whom his tyranny is exercised; he cannot purchase it, even for a single moment, with all the treasures which he has amassed,—with all the lands which he has desolated,—with all that power which, in his hands, far from facilitating the acquisition, only renders more hopeless, the attainment of those delights of conscience, to which he would still vainly aspire.
“ Magne pater divum,-gævos punire tyrannos
Haud alia ratione velis,-cum dira libido
And it is well for the world, that the only consolation of which the virtuous stand in need, cannot be forced from virtue, and usurped by vice. If the powerful could, by the promise of a re
* Persius. Sat. III. 35-43.
ward, like that which the Persian monarch offered, obtain the means of forming to themselves, or purchasing at the same cheap rate, at which they purchase their other pleasures, that new pleasure of virtuous satisfaction, which nothing but virtue can give, vice would, indeed, have little to restrain it; and if he, who can order the virtuous resister of oppression to the dungeon, or to distant exile,- who can separate him,- I will not say, from his home, and his domains, and external dignities,—for the loss of these is comparatively insignificant,but from all those, whom he loves and honours, from that conjugal, and filial, and parental, and friendly kindness, which would now be doubly valuable,-when he might still have the comfort of seeing eyes, to which his own had often been turned in kindness, and of hearing voices, the very sound of which had often, in other griefs, been felt to be consolation, before the gentle meaning itself was uttered,-if the oppressor, who can strip his victim of all these present and external means of comfort, could strip him also of those remembrances, which allow him to look back on the past with satisfaction, and to the future with the confidence of one who knows, that, whatever his path may be, he is to be received, at the close of it, by that Being, whose majesty, awful as it is, is still only the majesty of a benevolence surpassing all earthly love,- if this could be done, then, indeed, might virtue, in this world, seem to be abandoned to the vengeance, or, the mercy of the guilty. But while these remain, what is there of which the glorious sufferer, I had almost said, if the words admitted combination, the happy sufferer,--can be truly said to be bereaved of? The friendships of those who are to meet again, and to meet forever, are lost but for a moment;the dignities, the wealth, are not lost; all that is valuable in them, -the remembrance of having used them, as Heaven wishes them to be used, -remains ;—there are years of happiness past, and an immortality of happiness, which is separated from the past only by a moment, and which will not be less sure, whether that moment be spent in fetters, with the pity, and gratitude, and veneration of the good, or, with the same gratitude and veneration, be spent,-if a moment can be said to be spent,-in liberty and opulence.
Man, indeed, is too frail, not to yield occasionally to temptations; but he yields to temptations because he is stupified by pas
sion, and forgets, at the moment, the differences of the state of the vicious and the virtuous, that in calmer hours are present to him with an influence of which he delights to feel the power. If these differences—the mere constrast of the feeling with which the pure and the guilty look back on the years of their glorious or inglorious life-could be made constantly present to the mind, there is little reason to think, that all the seductions of power and momentary pleasure could prevail over him who sees what the good are, even in those adversities which the world considers as most afflicting, and what the guilty are, even in the midst of their enjoyments, without taking into account what they must be when those short and palling enjoyments have ceased,
“ One self-approving bour whole years outweighs,
Or stupid starers, and of loud buzzas, -
* The wicked man," says Rousseau," fears and flies himself. He endeavours to be gay, by wandering out of himself. He turns around him his unquiet eyes, in search of an object of amusement, that may make him forget what he is. Even then his only pleasure is a bitter raillery,—without some contemptuous sarcasms, some insulting laughter, he would be forever sad. On the contrary, the serenity of the virtuous man is internal. His smile is not a smile of malignity, but of joy; he bears the source of it within himself; he is as gay alone as in the midst of the gayest circle ; he does not derive his delightful contentment from those who approach him; he communicates his own to them."
Such are the emotions which are excited in us when we consider the past, in reference to ourselves, as moral agents; and, if we knew nothing more of virtue and vice than these feelings alone, and knew, at the same time, that in a future state of existence there was a happiness destined for those who felt emotions of one or the other kind, could we hesitate for a moment, in determining in which class we were to look for those, by whom the happiness was to be inherited ? It would not require any abstract notions of what is morally good and what is morally evil. The emotions themselves would distinguish, sufficiently, all that required to
Pope's Essay on Man, Ep. IV. v. 255-258.