Leonard Withington.

The Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) online

. (page 6 of 15)
Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


fore God ; and yet he has not scrupled to say, that he



THE PURITAN. 97

was not a whit behind the very chiefest of the apos
tles ; and he has taught us, according to the common
reading, to covet earnestly the best gifts*

As to what is said respecting the morbid sensibility
which this passion produces ; the ravages which it
made on the mind of a Saul or a Marius, I must be
permitted to remark, that these evils result not from
emulation alone. It was not the emulation of man,
but of Marius, that made that insolent warrior frantic
when he saw the signature of his rival. It was an
emulation grown into ambition ; swollen with vanity ;
woven into a cruel and unprincipled heart ; an em
ulation not for good things, but a passion nursed in
blood ; it was a race between two rivals, to see which
should outstrip each other in wasting their country,
and in inflicting miseries on mankind. I take it, all
our passions receive a tincture from the particular
mind in which they spring up, and from the principles
with which they are combined. It is sometimes

* After all, this question must be settled, if possible, from the
Bible. Now, though our Lord has said (Luke xxii. 25.) that
the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they
that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors ; but ye
shall not be so; see also Matthew xxiii. 8 12; the question
still remains, whether this prohibits a desire for a just reputa
tion, and a just desire for influence, when we compare our
selves with others. Certainly he did not mean to prostrate all
civil authority among Christians, when he speaks of lordships;
and. in the college of Apostles, we must remember, that, ac
cording to his own appointment, Peter was first,



98 THE PURITAN.

dangerous to argue from the individual to the species.
It is fallacious to argue from a passion governed by
principle, to the operation of that passion, uncom-
bined with principle, and in its ungoverned state. It
was not the fault of Saul or Marius that they had the
sentiments of emulation in their breasts ; but that
they were totally destitute of higher principles, which
should control them. Because a wild horse may run
away with you, if you mount him without a bridle ;
it does not follow, that he may not be ridden with
perfect safety, when tamed by discipline, and governed
by the rein.

But perhaps you will ask, considering the inflam
mable character of the human heart ; is it possible
to address this principle, in any degree, without lead
ing it to arise to excess ? If you encourage it in
your schools, will you not inevitably bring forward
young Mariuses and young Caesars, in whose breasts
this principle shall absorb all others ? Here are two
boys, of nearly equal industry and talent. If you set
them to comparing themselves with each other, and
acting on that principle, will it not be inevitably bad?
This is the very pinch of the question. If the use of
the principle, like the use of alcohol, is necessarily
connected with the abuse, why then every Christian
moralist will conclude, whatever intellectual advan
tages it may be connected with, it should be aban
doned by all those who set virtue higher than know
ledge.



THE PURITAN. 99

But I apprehend, that when a rule can be laid
down, which a boy of an honest conscience may
always apply a rule which separates the lawful from
the unlawful ; the moderate from the excessive ; in
such cases, there is no necessity of connecting the
use of a principle with the abuse. He knows when
he reaches the line of justice ; and he knows he
ought not to pass over it. Let us suppose, for ex
ample, that the rooms of the treasurer s office in our
State House were full of gold ; and the legislature
have passed a law, that every one of my readers shall
take a portion of it exactly equal to the weight of his
body. The proclamation is made ; and here are the
scales, moving with the truest beam, and adjusted
with the nicest care. Certainly there need be no
difficulty in distributing this gold ; it will not neces
sarily be connected with scrambling, or with heart
burning, or bitterness, or recriminations. We have
only to step into the balances, and take the gold
answering to our weight, and depart, poorer probably
than some, and richer than others. Now 1 must
contend, that in a public school, and also in public
life, there are these perfect balances, to weigh out the
precious metal of reputation, according to each indi
vidual s mental gravity. Every scholar, every man,
finds his level ; fashion and party spirit, envy and
personal dislike, may conceal a man s name for a
time, as the clouds for a season may obscure the
brightest stars in the nocturnal sky ; but as the fair



100 THE PURITAN.

weather winds are sure at length to arise, and brush
away the clouds, and the hidden star shines out in all
its original lustre and native beauty ; so a clouded
reputation is sure to be seen and admired at last.
Take some single quality, to be sure, and you may
sometimes wonder at the disproportion between a
man s merit, and his fame ; but when you look at the
whole compound of his character, it is surprising to
see how much justice there is in the public sentiment.
In a public school, it is still more clear that every
scholar finds his true point of elevation. For, if the
master should be envious, or distrustful, or partial,
the scholars will be sure to reverse his decrees. They
recite together daily ; they know each other s appli
cation and powers ; and their opinions, founded on the
most intimate knowledge, are generally correct. The
truth is, they must judge of each other s standing ;
it would be impossible to prevent it. Now which is
best, to attempt to suppress what it is impossible to
suppress, or to allow at once nature to have her
course, and to endeavor to regulate her impulses ac
cording to the rules of justice ?

But perhaps you will ask another question. Sup
pose it should be granted that much of this principle
will exist, and it is impossible to suppress it ; should
not all the influence of moral action lean the other
way ? Nature will certainly supply enough of it ; you
need not encourage it by excitements, holding a pos
itive place in your systems of education. It may be



THE PURITAN. 101

important that your boys should play and laugh ;
should jump and exercise ; should urge the rolling
circle s speed, and chase the flying ball ; but we never
saw these articles insisted on as duties, in the regu
lation of any school. There are many cases in which
all the powers of moral discipline should lean against
the impulses of nature ; though the existence of these
impulses, in every degree, may not be absolutely
wrong.

In reply, I would remark, that the chief error on
the subject of emulation has been, applying it to
those minds for which it is least needed. It is of the
nature of a stimulant, to be given, not to those who
have already a feverish excitement to the love of
station and of praise ; but those doubtful and dis
couraged natures, who view the summits of learning,
and despair of scaling them. In this view, it seems to
me, it is needed ; and it ought to have a place in our
systems of discipline. In some instances, it is the
only principle which can wake up the mind or infuse
confidence. We are often incited to do ourselves, by
viewing what others have done. We compare our
weakness with their weakness ; our difficulties with
their difficulties ; and learn to hope for ourselves, by
observing what they have conquered. How naturally
does a jaded horse quicken his pace when a chaise
passes him. It is a law of universal nature, and was
not given in vain. I have no hesitation in saying,
that there are some people who have not emulation



102 THE PURITAN.

enough. There are some hearts in which this quick
ening fire needs to be lighted up. What is the man,
and what is the boy, that is lost to all sense of char
acter, and is alike insensible to approbation or shame?
There are, too, some gloomy, discouraged minds,
who need only to compare their powers with those of
others, and they will be excited to exertion, by be
lieving in the possibility of success. I should be very
sorry, I should esteem it hazardous, with all the va
rieties of human nature before me, with all its weak
ness and all its diseases, to be precluded from the use
of this medicine of peculiar minds ; in some cases,
perhaps the only resort.

Then, too, consider the indolence of our nature.
Consider with wl at difficulty boys are brought to
make exertions necessary to success in learning; how
little capable they are of appreciating distant good,
or of feeling the refined motives which may be suited
only to saintly minds. You must take human nature
as it is ; and though you are not to encourage its
corruptions, you must move it, if you move it at all,
according to its original laws.

If you were to expel all emulation from a school,
and attempt to reduce to one dead level every mind,
I question whether you would not. make it so different
from the world in which your pupils must act, that it
would hardly be a place of salutary discipline ; and
perhaps the best thing about your plan would be, that
such is the force of nature, it would be impossible






THE PURITAN. 103

for you perfectly to succeed. The imperfections of
your scheme would be its only redeeming qualities.

But while I would warn you from one extreme, I
would also caution you on the other side. While I
would not extinguish emulation, nothing can be more
dangerous than to appeal to that principle alone.
Perhaps the grand error of the present day is, paying
the Christian religion the decent compliment of ac
knowledging its excellences, and then acting, in de
tail, as if it were not true. But the claims of that
religion are as wide as the actions of men ; it is a
rule for practice. There is great emphasis in that
passage of Scripture which commands us to walk by
faith. The precepts of religion are the results of its
doctrines, and both of them should influence every
part of life. If any thing I have said goes to exclude
the strictest principles of the gospel from our systems
of education, I abandon my ground ; for I agree with
Augustine, constat inter omnes veraciter pins, ncminem
sine vera pietate, id est, veri Dei vero cultu vcram
posse habcre virtutem, nee earn veram esse, quando
gloria servit humance. Civitate Dei, Lib. v. cxix.

It is the fault of our great cities, that every thing
in education is conducted on a system of flattery.
The young master is sent to the public exhibition to
be admired ; and the young miss is presented before
the company to be admired. Our praises are de
manded, and almost plundered from us, when she
presents us the composition, that is not English ;



104 THE PURITAN.

the painting, which resembles nothing; and the music,
of which the discords are the most pleasing parts.
Emulation is taught even in frivolous attainments ;
and ambition is addressed as if it were a virtue. In
the mean time, a religion, which knows nothing of
humility, presides over the whole. The dangerous
pride of the human heart is kept out of sight ; kept
out of sight did I say 1 nay ; it is made the chief
stock on which the social virtues are grafted ; and by
the nurture of its evil sap, they are expected to bloom
and bear fruit.

The conclusion, then, to which we come, is that
it is not a question whether emulation is to be ad
mitted into schools, for it will exist there whether we
will or no. Non scripta ; sed nata lex ; quam non
didicimus, accepimus, legimus, verum ex natura ipsa
arripuimus, hausimus, express imus ; ad quam non
docti ; sedfacti; non instituti ; sed imhuti sumus ;
that since nature has admitted its existence, we are
to allow it ; but always to apply it where most needed,
and to endeavor to combine it with higher principles.
Finally, to direct it only to worthy objects, and teach
it to submit to the regulations of a sagacious justice.
In a public school, every boy has a share of reputa
tion, which can be measured out to him with almost
mathematic certainty ; let him take it, and therewith
be content. Within these bounds, emulation may
fire the genius (sEmulatio edit ingcnid) without in
flaming the passions or corrupting the heart.



THE PURITAN. 105

If, however, experience must overthrow this theory * ;
if the existence of the thing is necessarily connected
with the abuse; if, in the intellectual house, you
cannot place on the hearth, the smallest spark of this
fire, without wrapping the whole building in a confla
gration, then, I confess, we must bend all our moral
powers against it; for we must abhor that conven
tional morality, which calls to the aid of virtue, the
incitements of vice. Nunquam enim virtus vitio ad-
juvanda est, se contenta. Experience must decide;
but let it be a careful experience ; let it not be based
on a prejudiced observation, or a superficial insight
into an inadequate number of facts.

* Hardly a theory, however, for the whole world has said so.



VOL. II.



THE PURITAN
No. 41.



Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,

While proudly riding o er the azure realm,

In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes ;

Youth on the prow, and pleasure at the helm ;

Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind s sway,

That, hushed in grim repose, expects his evening prey.

Oray^s Bard,

THE RIVER OF LIFE.

RETURNING home one evening, after having been
employed, during a solitary walk, in reflecting on the
illusiveness of human expectation, the vanity of human
prospects, and the folly of the vast multitude, who live
without virtue, and die without repentance ; and,
having revolved these melancholy reflections in my
mind, until they had extorted the solemn aspiration
What is man, that thou art mindful of him ? I re
tired to my pillow, and fell into the following vision.

I seemed to be standing on a desolate island, in a
wide river ; a place so excessively barren, that it



THE PURITAN. 107

yielded neither fruit, nor shrub, nor plant, nor any
thing to delight the eye, or gratify the taste. All
around me was barren uniformity, and seemed strik
ingly to figure out the inanity of an infant mind. I
was told that it was called the Island of Nativity ; a
most dreary, desolate spot, where no one wished to
reside; that all who found themselves here, immediately
launched in boats, which floated down from above,
into the river of life, which was rolling its waters
before me ; that none ever returned to occupy their
former residence, since of those, who thus ventured,
some were landed in flowery gardens, on a happier
shore ; and as for the others, they perished down a
tremendous cataract at the end of the river : I was
told further, that the channel of the river was winding
and intricate ; crossed by many counter-currents and
rocks, which increased the danger ; that none of the
navigators could be relied on as pilots, since none
ever navigated it but once ; and that, consequently,
vast numbers ultimately perished. Amidst these
dreary considerations, however, there was one com
fort. A great Benefactor had, in compassion to the
miserable voyagers, drawn an accurate chart of the
river ; by duly attending to which, all who wished,
might escape destruction.

I had no sooner heard this, than I seized one of
the boats, and launched off little doubtino- of success,

7 O "

and receiving a chart, rather from the importunity of
a friend, than for any essential benefit that I sup.
posed it could bestow.



108 THE PURITAN.

I had advanced but a small way into the river, when
I perceived that it separated into two channels, one
on the right hand, the other on the left. That on the
right hand ran along a dark and desolate shore ;
craggy clefts frowned terribly above, while the river
rolled its turbid waters through a narrow channel be
low ; not a flower grew on the bank ; not a grove or
a valley gladdened the prospect. There were but few
voyagers ; and they appeared to pass their time be
tween the awful agitations of doubtful hope, or settled
despondency. I was told, that this was called the
bank of wisdom. That on the other side presented a
very different appearance. Flowers and fruits bor
dered the stream, and the yielding waters curled be
neath the embraces of Arabian winds. The prospect
was everywhere delightful ; the channel was crowded
with passengers, who sported and sung, without sor
row or care. All was beauty and hilarity. This
side, I was told, was called the bank of pleasure.

On both sides, they appeared solicitous to make me
of their party. They on the right hand, told me of
the safety and happiness which they should gain at
last ; that though this channel appeared frightful and
forbidding at a distance, yet those gloomy appearances
vanished on a nearer approach, arid that it was even
more quiet and serene than that on the opposite side ;
whether more pleasant or not, it was the strait and
narrow way, by which we must avoid the cataract,
and arrive at bliss. They on the other side, told me



THE PURITAN. 109

<P

of the companions and pleasures I should enjoy on
my passage they pointed to their flowers, and invited
me to partake of their sweets ; as for the dangerous
cataract, they said, it was very doubtful whether there
was one, or, if there was, it would be time enough to
avoid it hereafter. They declared, that they them
selves were steering for the shores of bliss, and only
took a more circuitous course, to avoid the rocks that
frowned on the opposite shore. One party addressed
my senses, the other my understanding ; one allured
me with smiles, the other exhorted me with tears ;
one promised me a pleasant voyage, the other a profit
able one.

I was a long time doubtful which course to take;
but, finding that I was already nearest to the bank of
pleasure, and that the current strongly set that way,
I yielded to its impulse ; firmly resolving, however,
soon to change my course, and get over to the bank
of wisdom. " At least," said J, " I may try it for a
little while."

On joining my new companions, I found them all
busy, cheerful, and apparently happy. Some were
employed in cropping the flowers, that grew on the
bank ; some in angling for the golden fishes, that
swam in the stream. Some spread out every sail, to
catch the delicious gale ; others found their happiness
in toiling at the laborious oar. Some were employed
in explaining to us the various windings of the river ;
and, in their anxiety to teach others the way, fre-



110 THE PURITAN.

quently got on the rocks themselves. Others exerted
all their eloquence to disprove the authenticity of our
chart, though it was evident, that in their calmer
moments, they dreaded the correctness of its delinea
tions themselves. All were active about something ;
and all had much happiness, because they all were
possessed of much hope.

By reason of the many meanderings of the stream,
it was impossible for us to discern our course for
any considerable distance before us. But one thing
was very remarkable we always found, that the
scenery on our banks was less pleasant, as we ap
proached it. The flowers, on a nearer inspection,
had a fainter hue, and the trees a less pleasing
verdure. Sometimes, when we were approaching a
projecting promontory, on the further side of which
we expected to see unusual fertility and beauty in the
scene, we found the country still less pleasant than
before, and sometimes, even a barren sand. I re
member one in particular, which sorely disappointed
us. As we approached it, there was a remarkable
turn in the river, and we expected that Paradise was
beyond it. We turned but Paradise was not there.
At that promontory, I was told we had measured
about one third of the stream.

One thing that struck me, was the remarkably slow
manner in which we seemed to descend. I really
feared that the waters would stagnate. On looking
more narrowly, however, I found that the current



THE PURITAN. HI

set with a fearful impetuosity, which no force could
stop, or for a moment retard ; and, what was still
more alarming, the velocity of the stream seemed to
accumulate at every stage of our progress.

Our hilarity was frequently interrupted by the sol
emn warnings and reproofs of those on the opposite
side. They told us of our temerity, in hazarding the
dangers of the cataract ; they expatiated on its terrors,
and the certainty of our own destruction, if we con
tinued in our present course ; they entreated us, as
we loved our lives, to come over to them, and prom
ised us safety if we would but join them. Triey fre
quently appealed to the chart, and showed the exact
coincidence there was between that and the part of
the river we had already passed ; they talked of the
fearful probability of the coincidence still to be found.
We listened, hesitated, and persisted in our course.
The timid sighed the fearless laughed and most of
us went on as before.

I observed, how r ever, that in the earlier part of our
course, now and then one would go over from the
bank of pleasure to the batik of wisdom. The number
of these grew less and less continually, as we got
further down the stream. One thing was remarkable
many of our party went over to them ; but none,
that fairly got over to them, ever returned to us.

Many of us were split to pieces on untimely rocks,
and whirled beneath the waters down the stream. I
was sailing, in full glee, with a companion by my



112 THE PURITAN.

side. His bark struck a rock, and I saw the waters
close over his head. I started and, for once, re
solved to steer over to the other side. I turned my
bark, fixed my oafs, and had already reached the di
viding line. I saw them beckon me with smiles I
was almost there but a violent current set strong
against me my companions drew me back, and I
found myself again on the stream of pleasure.

Finding this attempt fruitless, I resolved on another
expedient. I perceived there were many who seemed
to take a middle course, so that we knew not to which
party they belonged. Sometimes they were wry near
the bank of wisdom, and sometimes they were on the
bank of pleasure. They wished to be numbered with
the voyagers on each side, though they, in fact, in
curred the suspicion of both. I tried their course for
a while, but found it more unpleasant than any other.
There were so many counter-currents and eddies,
that it was impossible to steer straight. I was told,
moreover, that these doubtful beings generally per
ished, down the cataract, with the rest.

As we proceeded on, I perceived that the banks on
the opposite side grew more pleasant, and ours grew
more dreary ; their countenances became more cheer
ful, and ours more sad. We were no longer fanned by
fragrant winds, or exhilarated by nutritious fruits.
The eye saw nothing but sterility around us ; the ear
heard nothing but noises of alarm. We saw the cat
aract delineated on our chart, as just before us.



THE PURITAN. 113

Some disbelieved, and threw away their chart ; many
hesitated ; all feared.

The stream still descended, and we went on. We
caught hold of the reeds and rushes to retard our pro
gress, but they broke, and we still went on. The
song of youth was heard no more, or heard with dis
gust. We looked back on the flowery field by which
we had passed, saw others tasting their sweets, but
they were beyond our reach. Our comforts were
gone, and our hopes, like a tropical twilight, grew
darker fast.

While I was surveying this mournful change, I
heard a voice address me " Thoughtless mortal !
thou hast spent the day of probation the day that
departs, but does not return. With life and death
before thee, thou hast chosen the latter ; the votaries
of folly have beguiled thee by their flatteries, and the
streams of pleasure have caught thee in their vortex.
Behold destruction before! Who shall struggle with
these conflicting elements? Who shall survive the
cataract of destruction ? "

I started up, and heard the dashing of waters, and
the shrieks of perishing wretches. The waves were
already heaping around me I was on the tremen
dous brink, when I awoke, glad to find a respite
from that destruction, which is not the dream of the
moment, but an endless death !



THE PURITAN
No. 42.



Beneath a sable vale, and shadows deep,

Of unaccessible and dimming light,

In silence, ebbing clouds more black than night,
The world s GREAT MIND his secrets hid doth keep,
Through whose thick mists when any mortal wight

Aspires, with halting pace, and eyes that weep

To pry, and in his mysteries to creep,


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 15)