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of life, he feels his own miseries, without knowing that they are common to all the rest of the species; and therefore, though he will not be less sensible of pain by being told that others are equally tormented, he will at least be freed from the temptation of seeking, by perpetual changes, that ease which is no where to be found; and, though his disease still continues, he escapes the hazard of exasperating it by remedies.
The gratifications which affluence of wealth, extent of power, and eminence of reputation confer, must be always, by their nature, confined to a very small number; and the life of the greater part of mankind must be lost in empty wishes and painful comparisons, were not the balm of philosophy shed upon us, and our discontent at the appearances of an unequal distribution soothed and appeased.
It seemed, perhaps, below the dignity of the great masters of moral learning, to descend to familiar life, and caution mankind against that petty ambition which is known among us by the name of Vanity; which yet had been an undertaking not unworthy of the longest beard, and most solemn austerity. For though the passions of little minds, acting in low stations, do not fill the world with bloodshed and devastations, or mark, by great events, the periods of time, yet they torture the breast on which they seize, infest those that are placed within the reach of their influence, destroy pri vate quiet and private virtue, and undermine insensibly the happiness of the world.
The desire of excellence is laudable, but is very frequently ill directed. We fall, by chance, into some class of mankind, and, without consulting nature or wisdom, resolve to gain their regard by those qualities which they happen to esteem. I once knew a man remarkably dim-sighted, who, by conversing much
with country gentlemen, found himself irresistibly determined to sylvan honors. His great ambition was to shoot flying, and he therefore spent whole days in the woods pursuing game; which, before he was near enough to see them, his approach frighted away.
When it happens that the desire tends to objects which produce no competition, it may be overlooked with some indulgence, because, however fruitless or absurd, it cannot have ill effects upon the morals. But most of our enjoyments owe their value to the peculiarity of possession, and when they are rated at too high a value, give occasion to stratagems of malignity, and incite opposition, hatred, and defamation. The contest of two rural beauties for preference and distinction, is often sufficiently keen and rancorous to fill their breasts with all those passions, which are generally thought the curse only of senates, of armies, and of courts; and the rival dancers of an obscure assembly have their partisans and abettors, often not less exasperated against each other, than those who are promoting the interests of rival monarchs.
It is common to consider those whom we find infected with an unreasonable regard for trifling accomplishments, as chargeable with all the consequences of their folly, and as the authors of their own unhappiness: but, perhaps, those whom we thus scorn or detest, have more claim to tenderness than has been yet allowed them. Before we permit our severity to break loose upon any fault or error, we ought surely to consider how much we have countenanced or promoted it. We see multitudes busy in the pursuit of riches, at the expense of wisdom and of virtue; but we see the rest of mankind approving their conduct, and inciting their eagerness, by paying that regard and deference to wealth, which wisdom and virtue only can deserve.
We see women universally jealous of the reputa® of their beauty, and frequently look with contemp the care with which they study their complexions, deavor to preserve or to supply the bloom of you regulate every ornament, twist their hair into cu and shade their faces from the weather. We reco mend the care of their nobler part, and tell them h little addition is made by all their arts to the graces the mind. But when was it known that female go ness or knowledge was able to attract that officiot ness, or inspire that ardor, which beauty produc whenever it appears? And with what hope can we e deavor to persuade the ladies, that the time spent the toilet is lost in vanity, when they have every m ment some new conviction, that their interest is mo effectually promoted by a riband well disposed, than l the brightest act of heroic virtue?
In every instance of vanity it will be found that th blame ought to be shared among more than it gene ally reaches; all who exalt triffes by immoderate prais or instigate needless emulation by invidious incite ments, are to be considered as perverters of reason and corrupters of the world; and since every man i obliged to promote happiness and virtue, he should b careful not to mislead unwary minds, by appearing t set too high a value upon things by which no real er cellence is conferred.
END OF VOL. IV.