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The English reader : or, Pieces in prose and poetry, selected from the best writers... With a few preliminary observations on the principles of good reading (Volume 1829a) online

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9. If then, not our globe only, but this whole system, be so very
diminutive, what is a. kingdom or a. country f What are a few lord-
ships, or the so much aamired pairiraonies'of those who are styled
wealthy ? When I measure them with my own little pittance, they
swell into proud and bloated dimensions : but when I take the uni-
verse for my standard, how scanty is their size ! how contemptible-
their figure'! They shrink into pompous nothings. Addison.

On He power of custom, and the uses to tchich it may be applied.

1. There is not a common saying, which has a better turn of
S'ense in it, than what we often hear in the mouths of the vulgar,
that ' Custom is a second nature.' It is indeed able to form the
man anew : and give him inclinations and capacities altogether
different from those ho was born with.

2. A person who is addicted to play or gaming, though he took
but little delight in it at first, by degrees contracts so strong an
inclination towards it, and gives" hiinself up so entirely to it, that
i'f seems the only end of his^boing. The love of a retired or busy
life will grow upon a man insen'sibly, as he is conversant in the
one or tlie other, till he is utterly unqualified for relishing that
to which he has been for some time disused.

3. Nay, a man may smoke, or drink, or take sni^ff, till he is una-
ble to pass away his time v.itiiout it ; not to mention hov/ our de-
light in any particular study, art, or science, rises and improves,
in proportion to the application which v.-e bestow upon it. Thus,
v'hat was at first an exercise, becomes at length an entertainment.
Our employments are changed into diversions. The mind grows
fond of those actions it is accustomed to ; and is drawn with re-
luctaucy from those paths in which it has been used to walk.

4. If we attentively consider this property of human nature, it
may instruct us in ve'ry fine moralities. In the first place, 1 w^ould
have no man diacourag-ed v/ith that kind of liie, or series of action,
in which the choice of others, or his own necessities, may have
engaged him. It may perhaps be very disagreeable to him, at
fir~t ; but use and application will certalrJy render it not only less
painful, but pleasing and satisfactory.

ih In the second place, I would recommend to every one, the
admirable precept, wiiich Pythagoras is said to have sfiven to his
disciples, and which tiiat pliiiosopher must have drawn from the
observation I have enlarged upon : " Pitch upon that course of life
v/hich is the most excellent, and custom will render it the most

G. JMen, whose circumstances will permit them to choose their
own way of life, are inexcusable if they do not pursue that which
their judgement tells them is the most laudable. The voice of
reason is more to be regarded, than the bent of any present incli-
nation : since, by the r'ule above-mentioned, incl'ination will at
length come over to reason, though we can never force reason to
comply with inclination.

7. In the third place, this observation may teach the most sensual
and irreligious man, to overlook those hardships and difficulties,
which are apt to discourage him from the prosecution of a virtuous
life. '• The gods," said Hesiod, " have placed labour before vir-


tue ; the way to her is at first rough and difficult, but grows more
smooth and easy the farther we advance in it." The man who
proceeds in it with steadiness and resolution, will, in a little time,
tind that " her ways are ways of pleasantness, and that all her
paths are peace."

8. To enforce this consideration, we may further observe, that
the practice of religion will not only be attended with that plea-
sure which naturally accompanies those actions to which we are
habituated, but with those supernumerary joys of heart, that rise
from the consciousness of such a pleasure ; from the satisfaction
of acting up to the dictates of reason ; and from the prospect of
a happy immortality.

9. In the fourth place, we may learn from this observation
which we have made on the mind of man, to take particular care,
wh«n we are once settled in a regular course of life, how we too
frequently indulge ourselves in even the most innocent diversions
and entertainments ; since the mind may insensibly fall off from
the relish of virtuous actions, and by degrees, exchange that
pleasure which it takes in the performance of its duty, for de-
lights of a much inferiour and unprofitable nature.

10. The last use which I shall make of this remarkable proper-
ty in human nature, of being delighted with those actions to which
it is accustomed, is, to show how absolutely necessary it is for us to
gain habits of virtue in this life, if we would enjoy the pleasures of
the next. The state of bliss we call heaven, will not be capable
of affectino- those minrls which are not thus qualified for it: we
must, inthfs world, irain a relish for truth and virtue, if we would
be able to taste that knowledge and perfection, which are to make
us happy in the next. The seeds of those spiritual joys and rap-
tures, wliich are to rise up and flourish in the soul to all eternity,
must be planted in it during this its present state of probation. In
aiiort, heaven is not to be looked upon only as the reward, but as
the natural effect of a religious life. addison.

The pleasures residthis: from a proper use of our faculties.

1. Happy is that man, who, unembarrassed by vulgar cares, is
master of himself, his time, and fortune ; who spends his time in
makino- himself wiser ; and his fortune, in making others (and there-
fore himself) happier : who, as the will and understanding are the
two ennoblincr faculties of the soul, thinks himselt not complete,
till his understanding is beautified with the valuable furniture of
knowledo-e, as well as his will enriched with every virtue: v/ho
has furnished himself with all the advantages to relish solitude
and enliven conversation ; who when serious, is not sullen ; and
when cheerful, not indiscreetly gay ; whose ambition is, not to
be admired for a false glare of greatness, but to be beloved tor
the o-entle and sober lustre of his wisdom and goodness.

2.^The o-reatest minister of state has not more business to do,
in a publiclc capacity, than he, and indeed every other man, may
find in the retired and still scenes of life. Even in his private walks,
every thuw that is visible convinces him there is present a Being
invisible. "Ai.ied by natural philosophy, he reads plain legible
traces of the Divinity in every thing he meets : he sees the Deity


in every tree, as well as Moses did in t'le burning bush, though
not in so glaring a manner : and when he sees him, he adores him
with the tribute of a grateful heart. seed.

Description of candour.

1. True candour is altogether different from that guarded, inof-
fensive language, and that studied openness of behaviour, which
we so frequently meet with among men of the world. Smiling,
very often, is the aspect, and smooth are the words, of those who
inwardly are the most ready to think evil of others. That can-
dour which is a Christian "virtue, consists, not in fairness of
speech, but in fairness of heart.

2. It rnay want the blandishment of external courtesy, but sup-

flies its place with a humane and generous liberality of sentiment,
ts manners are unaffected, and its professions cordial. Exempt,
on one hand, from the dark jealousy of a suspicious mind, it is no
less removed, on the other, from that easy credulity which is im-
posed on by every specious pretence. It is perfectly consistent
with extensive knowledge of the v/orld, and with due attention
to our own safety.

3. In that various intercourse, which we are obliged to carry on
with persons of every different character, suspicion, to a certain
degree, is a necessary guard. It is only when it exceeds the
bounds of prudent caution, that it degenerates into vice. There
is a proper mean between undistinguished credulity, and univer-
sal jealousy, which a sound understanding discerns, and which
the man of candour studies to preserve.

4. He makes allowance for the mixture of evil with good,
which is to be found in every human character. He expects none
to be faultless : and he is unwilling to believe that there is any
without some commendable qualities. In the midst of many de-
fects, he can discover a virtue. Under the influence of personal
resentment, he can be just to the merit of an enemy.

5. He never lends an open ear to those defamatory reports and
dark suggestions, which, among tlie tribes of the censorious, cir-
culate with so m.uch rapidity, and meet with so ready acceptance.
He is not hasty to judge ; and he requires full evidence before he
will condemn.

6. As long as an action can be ascribed to different motives, he
holds it as no mark of sagacity to impute it always to the worst.
Where there is just ground for doubt, he keeps his judgement un-
decided ; and, during the period of suspense, leans to the most
charitable construction which an action can bear. When he musi
condemn, he condemns with regret ; and without those aggrava-
tions which the severity of others adds to the crime. He listens
calmly to the apology of the offender, and readily admits eve%-
extenuating circumstance, which equity can suggest.

7. How much soever he may blame the principles of any sect
or party, he never confounds, imder one general censure, all who
belong to that party or sect. He charges them not wuth such con-
sequences of their tenets, as they refuse and disavow. From one
wrong opinion, he does not infer the subversion of all sound prin-
ciples ; nor from one bad action, conclude that all regard to con-
science is overthrown.


8. When he " beholds the mote in his brother's eye," he re-
members " the beam in his own." He commiserates human
frailty ; and judges of others according to the principles, by which
he would think it reasonable that they should judge of hlra. In
a word, he viev/s men ana actions in the clear sunshine of charity
and good nature ; and not in that dark and sullen shade which
jealousy and party-spirit throw over all characters. blair.


On the imperfection of that happiness which rests solely on worldly


1. The vanity of human pleasures, is a topick which might be
embellished with the pomp of much description. But I shall stu-
diously avoid exaggeration, and only point out a threefold vanity
in hunian life, v.'hich every impartial observer cannot bat admit ;
disappointment in pursuit, dissatisfaction in enjoyment, uncer-
tainty in possession.

2. f irst, disappointment in pursuit. When we look around us
on the vvorld, we every where behold a busy multitude, intent en
the prosecution of va.rious designs, vrhich their wants or desires
have suggested. Wo behold them employing every method which
ingenuity can devise; some the patience of industry, some tl\e
boldness' of enterprise, others the dexterity of stratagem, la order
to compass their ends.

3. Ot' thi-* incessant stir and activity, v/hat is the fruit ? In
comparison of the crov.'d who have toiled in vain, how small is
the number of the successful ? Or rather where is the man who
will declare, that in every point he has completed his plan, and
attained his utmost wish .''

4. No extent of human abilities has been able to discover a path,
which, in any line of life, leads unerringly to success. " The race
is not ai'.vays to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor richea
to men of understanding." We may form our plans with the
most profound sagacity, and with the most vigilant caution may
guard against dangers on every side. But some unforeseen oc-
currence comes across, which' bailies our wisdom, and lays our
labours in the dust.

5. Were such disappointments confined to those who aspire at
engrossing the higher departments of life, the misfortune would be
less. The'humiliation of the mighty, and tlie fall of ambition from
its towering height, little concern the bulk of mankind. These
are objects on wnich, as on distant meteors, they gaze from afar,
without drawing personal instruction from events so much above

6. But, alas ! when we descend into the regions of private life,
we find disappointment and blasted hope equally prevalent there.
Neither the moderation of our views, nor the justice of our pre-
tensions, can ensure success. But "time and chance happen to
all." Against the stream of events, both the worthy and the un-
deservin^cr are obliged to struggle ; and both are frequently over -
borne alike by the current.

7. Bcoides disappointment in pursuit, dissatisfaction in enjoy-
ment is a farther vanity, to which the human state is subject. Tiii-'5
is the severest of ail mortifications ; after having been successr'.il


in the pursuit, to be baffled in the enjoyment itself. Yet this is
found to be an evil still more oenerarthan the former. Some
may be so fortvmate as to attain what tiiey have pursued ; but
none are rendered completely happy by what they have attained.

8. Disappointed hope is misery ; and yet successful hope is only
imperfect bliss. Look through all the ranks of mankind. Examine
,the condition of those v.ho "appear most prosperous ; and you will
tiiid that thev are never just what they desire to be. If retired,
they lanu-uish for action ; if busy, they'complain of fatio-ue. If in
""i^uUe life, they are impatient for distinction ; if in high stations,
t :y sigh after freedom and ease. Something is still wanting to
mat plenitude of satisfaction, which they expected to acquire. To-'
gether with every v^ish that is gratified, a new demand arises. One
void opens in. the heart, as another is filled. On wishes, wishes
grow ; and to the end, it is rather the expectation of what t\\ej
Lave not, than the enjoyment of what they have, which occupies
and interests .tlie most successful.

9. This dissatisfaction in the midst of human pleasure, springs
partly from the nature of our enjoyments themselves, and partly
Irom circumstances wiiich corrupt them. No worldly enjoyments
are adequate to the high desires and powers of an immortal spirit.
Fancy paints them at a distance with splendid colours ; but pos-
session unveils tlie fallacy. The eagerness of passion bestows
upon them, at first, a brislc and lively relish. But it is their fate
Jilways to pall by familiarity, and sometimes to pass from satiety
iiito (iisgust.

10. Happy would the pogr man think himself, if he could enter on
all the treasures of the rich ; and happy for a short time he might,
be : but before lie had long contemplated and admired his state,
his j)ossessions would seem to lessen, and his cares would grow.

1 i. Add to the unsatisfying nature of our pleasures, the attend-
mg circumstances which'^never fail to corrupt them. JFor, such as
'they are, tliey are at no time possessed unmixed. To human lips
it is not given to taste the cup of pure joy. When external cir-
cumstances show fairest to the world, the envied man groans in
pri\ ate under his own burden. Some vexation disquiets, some
passion corrodes him ; some distress, either felt or feared, gnaws
iike a worm, the root of his felicity. When there is nothing from
without to disturb the prosperous, a secret poison operates within.
For worldly happiness ever tends to destroy itself, by corrupting
the heart. It fosters the loose and the violent passions. It engen-
ders noxious habits ; and taints the mind with false delic'acyj
which makes it feel a thousand unreal evils.

12. But put the case in the most favourable light. Lay aside
from human pleasures both disappointment in pursuit, and deceit-
fulness in enjoyment ; suppose them to be fully attainable, and
completely satisfactory ; still there remains to be considered the
vanity of uncertain possession and short duration. Were there
in worldly tilings any fixed point of security which we could gain,
the mind'woulu t(hen have some basis on vv^hich to rest.

13. But our condition is such, that every thing wavers and
totters around us. '• Boast not thyself of to-morrow ; for thou
knowest not what a day may bring "forth." It is much if, during
its course, thou hearest not of somewhat to disquiet or alaxm thee.

■i26 THE ENGLISH HEADER. Pari i: .

For life never proceeds long in a uniform train. It is continuallv
varied by unexpected events.

14. Tlie seeds of alteration are every where sown ; and the sun-
sliine of prosperity commonly acceierales their a^rowth. If our en-
joyments are numerous, we lie more open on different sides to be
wounded. If we have possessed them lont^, we have greate**
cause to dread an approaching change. By slow degrees pros-
perity rises ; but rapid is the progress of evil. It requires no
preparation to bring it forward.

15-. The edifice which it cost much time and labour to erect,
one inauspicioas event, one sudden biov/, can level with the dust.
Even supposing the accidents of life to leave us untouched, human
bliss must still be transitory ; for chauges of himself, I'xo
course of enjoyment can delight us long. What amused our youth,
loses its charm in maturer age. As years advance, our powers are
blunted, and our pleasurable feelings decline.

16. The silent lapse of time is ever carrying somewhat from us,
till at length the period comes, when all must be swept away.
The prospect of tliis termination of our labours and pursuits, is
sufficient to mark our state with vanity. " Our days are a hand's
breadth, and our age is as nothing." Within that little space ig
ail our enterprise bounded. We crowd it with toils and cares, with
contention and strife. We project great designs, entertain high
hopes, and then leave our plans unfinished, and sink into oblivion.

17. This much let it sutiice to have said concerning the vanity
of the w^orld. That too much has not been said, roust appear
to every one v.-ho considers how generally mankind lean to the
opposite side ; and how often, by undue attaclimentto the present
state, thes both feed the most sinful passions, and " pierce them-
selves through with many sorrows." blair.

What are the real and solid evjoymerJs of life.

1. It -must be admitted, that unmixed and complete happiness is
unknown on earth. No regulation of conduct can altogether pre-
x'ent passions from disturbing our peace, and misfortunes from
v/oundingour heart. But after this concession is made, will it
follow, that there is no object on earth which deserves our pur-
f?uit, or that all enjoyment becomes contemptible which is not per-
fect? Let us survey our state with an impartial eye, and be just
to the various gifts of Heaven.

2. How vain soever this life, considered in itself, may be, th.e
comforts and hopes of religion are sufficient to give solidity to the
enjoyments of the righteous. In the exercise of good affections,
and the testimony of an approving conscience ; m the sense oi
peace and reconciliation with God, through the great Redeemer
^f mankind ; in the firm confidence of being conducted through
all the trials of life, by infinite Wisdom and Goodness; and in i
tiie joyful prospect of arriving, in the end, at immortal felicity ; ..
they possess a happiness, whfch, descending from a purer and
more perfect region than this world, partakes not of its vanity.

3. Besides the enjoyments peculiar to religion, there are other
pleasures of our present state, which, thouffli of an inferiour order,
must not be overlooked in the estimate of human life. It is ne-


cessary to call attention to these, in order to check that repining
and unthankful spirit to which man is always too prone.

4. Some degree of importance must be 'allowed to the com-
forts of health, to the innocent gratifications of sense, and to the
entertainment afforded us by all the beautiful scenes of nature ;
some to the pursuits and harmless amusements of social life ; and
more to the internal enjoyments of thought and reflection, and to
the pleasures of affectionate intercourse with those whom we love.
These comforts are often held in too low estimation, merely be-
cause they are ordinary and common; although that is the cir-
cumstance which ought, in reason, to enhance their value. They
lie open, in some degree, to all ; extend through every rank of
life ; and fill up agreeably many of those spaces in our present
existence, which are not occupied with higher objects, or with
serious cares.

5. From this representation it appears, that, notwithstanding tjie
vanity of the world, a considerable degree of comfort is attainable
in the present state. Let the recollection of this serve to recon-
cile us to our condition, and to repress the arrogancepf com-
plaints and murmurs. — What art thou, O son of man ! who, hav-
ing sprung but yesterday out of the dust, darest to UiV'up thy
voice against thy Maker, and to arraign his providenc;^ because
ail things are not ordered according to thy wish ? V

6. What title hast thou to find fault with the order of^'the uni-
verse, whose lot is so much beyond what thy virtue or merit gave
thee around to claim ! Is it nothing to thee to have been intro-
duced into this magnificent world ; to have been admitted as a
spectator of the Divine wisdom and works ; and to have had ac-
cess to all the comforts which nature, with a bountiful hand, has
poured forth around thee ? Are all the hour*-»forgotten which
thou hast passed in ease, in complacency, or joy ?

7. Is it a small favour in thy eyes, that the hand of Divine Mercy
has been stretciied forth to aid thee ; and, if thou reject not its
proffered assistance, is ready to conduct thee to a happier state of
existence ? When thou com'parest thy condition with thy desert,
blush, and be ashamed of thy complaints. Be silent, be grateful,
and adore. Receive with thankfulness the blessings wnich are
allowed thee. Revere that government which at present refuses
thee more. Rest in this conclusion, that though there are evils
in the world, its Creator is wise and good, and has been bountiful
to thee. jBlair.

Scale of beirij^s.

1. Though there is a ^reat deal of pleasure in contemplating'
ihe material world ; by which I mean, that system of bodies, into
which nature has so curiously wrought the mass of dead matter,
with the several relations that those bodies bear to one another ;
there is still, methinks, somethino- more wonderful and surprising,
in contemplations on the world of life ; by which I intend, all those
animals with which every part of the universe is furnished. The
material world is only the shell of the universe : the world of
life are its inhabitants.

2. If we consider those parts of the material world, which lie the
nearest to us, and axe Uierefore subject to oui cbservatioo, aad ifn-


quiries, it is amazing' to consider the infinity of animals with which
thev are stocked. Every part of matter is peopled ; every green
leaf swarms with inhabitants. There is scarcely a single humour
in the hody of a man, or of any other animal, in which our glasses
do not discover myriads of living creatures. We find, even in the
most solid bodies, as in marble itself, innumerable cells and cavi-
ties, wiiich are crowded with imperceptible inhabitants, too little
for the naked eye to discover.

3. On the otli^er hand, if we look mto the more bulky parts of
nature, we see the seas, lakes, and rivers, teeming- witli number-
less kinds of living creatures. We find every mountain and marsh,
wilderness and v/ood, plentifully stocked with birds and beasLs ;
and every part of matter affordinof proper necessaries and conve-
niences, tor the livelihood of the multitudes wjiich inhabit it.

4. The autlior of "the Plurality of Worlds," drav,-s a very
good argument from this consideration, for the peopling of every
planet; "as indeed it seems very probable, from the anaiog-y of
reason, that if no part of matter, v^'ith which we are aoquainted,
lies waste and useless, those great bodies, which are at such a
distance from us, are not desert and unpeopled ; but rather.
that they are furnished with beings adapted to their respective

5. Existence is a blessing to those beings only which are endow-
ed with perception ; '^nd is in a manner thrown away upon dead
matter, any farther than as it is subservient to beings which are
conscious of their existence. Accordingly we find, from the bodies

Online LibraryLindley MurrayThe English reader : or, Pieces in prose and poetry, selected from the best writers... With a few preliminary observations on the principles of good reading (Volume 1829a) → online text (page 17 of 35)