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Credebant hoc grande nefas, et morte piandum,
Juv. Sat. xiii. 54.
| I KNOW no evil under the sun so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common. It has diffused itself through both sexes, and all qualities of mankind; and there is hardly that person to be found, who is not more 5 concerned for the reputation of wit and sense, than of honesty and virtue. But this unhappy affectation of being wise rather than honest, witty than good-natured, is the source of most of the ill habits of life. Such false impressions are owing to the 10 abandoned writings of men of wit, and the awkward imitation of the rest of mankind.
For this reason Sir Roger was saying last night, that he was of opinion none but men of fine parts deserve to be hanged. The reflections of such men 15 are so delicate upon all occurrences which they are concerned in, that they should be exposed to more than ordinary infamy and punishment, for offending against such quick admonitions as their own souls give them, and blunting the fine edge of their minds 20 in such a manner, that they are no more shocked at vice and folly than men of slower capacities. There
is no greater monster in being, than a very ill man of great parts. He lives like a man in a palsy, with one side of him dead. While perhaps he enjoys
the satisfaction of luxury, of wealth, of ambition, 5 he has lost the taste of good-will, of friendship, of
innocence. Scarecrow, the beggar in Lincoln's-inn-
night, is not half so despicable a wretch, as such a 10 man of sense. The beggar has no relish above sen
sations; he finds rest more agreeable than motion; and while he has a warm fire, never reflects that he deserves to be whipped. Every man who termi
nates his satisfactions and enjoyments within the 15 supply of his own necessities and passions, is, says
Sir Roger, in my eye, as poor a rogue as Scarecrow. "But," continued he, "for the loss of public and private virtue we are beholden to your men of fine
parts forsooth; it is with them no matter what is 20 done, so it be done with an air.
who am so whimsical in a corrupt age as to act according to nature and reason, a selfish
in the most shining circumstance and equipage, appears in the
same condition with the fellow above-mentioned, 25 but more contemptible in proportion to what more he robs the public of, and enjoys above him.
I lay it down therefore for a rule, that the whole man is to move together; that every action, of any importance, is to have a prospect of public good: and
But to me,
that the general tendency of our indifferent actions ought to be greeable to the dictates of reason, of religion, of good-breeding; without this, a man, as I have before hinted, is hopping instead of walking, he is not in his entire and proper motion.”
5 While the honest knight was thus bewildering himself in good starts, I looked intentively upon him, which made him, I thought, collect his mind a little.
“What I aim at," says he,"is to represent that, I am of opinion, to polish our understandings, 10 and neglect our manners, is of all things the most inexcusable. Reason should govern passion, but instead of that, you see, it is often subservient to it; and as unaccountable as one would think it, a. wise man is not always a good man." This degen- 15 eracy is not only the guilt of particular persons, but also, at some times, of a whole people; and perhaps it may appear upon examination, that the most polite ages are the least virtuous. This may be attributed to the folly of admitting wit and learning 20 as merit in themselves, without considering the application of them. By this means it becomes a rule, not so much to regard what we do, as how we , do it. But this false beauty will not pass upon 4 men of honest minds and true taste. Sir Richard 25 Blackmore 5 says, with as much good sense as virtue, It is a mighty shame and dishonor to employ excellent faculties and abundance of wit, to humor and please men in their vices and follies. The great
enemy of mankind, notwithstanding his wit and angelic faculties, is the most odious being in the whole creation.” He goes on soon after to say,
very generously, that he undertook the writing of 5 his poem
“to rescue the Muses out of the hands of ravishers, to restore them to their sweet and chaste mansions, and to engage them in an employment suitable to their dignity." This certainly ought to
be the purpose of every man who appears in public, 10 and whoever does not proceed upon that founda
tion, injures his country as fast as he succeeds in his studies. When modesty ceases to be the chief ornament of one sex, and integrity of the other,
society is upon a wrong basis, and we shall be ever 15 after without rules to guide our judgment in what
is really becoming and ornamental. Nature and reason direct one thing, passion and humor another. To follow the dictates of these two latter, is going
into a road that is both endless and intricate; when 20 we pursue the other, our passage is delightful, and what we aim at easily attainable.
I do not doubt but England is at present as polite a nation as any in the world; but any man who
thinks, can easily see, that the affectation of being 25 gay and in fashion, has very near eaten up our good
sense, and our religion. (Is there anything so just as that mode and gallantry should be built upon exerting ourselves in what is proper and agreeable to the institutions of justice and piety among us?
And yet is there anything more common, than that we run in perfect contradiction to them? All which is supported by no other pretension, than that it is done with what we call a good grace.
Nothing ought to be held laudable or becoming, 5 but what nature itself should prompt us to think so. Respect to all kind of superiors is founded, I think, upon instinct; and yet what is so ridiculous as age! I make this abrupt transition to the mention of this vice, more than any other, in order to introduce a 10 little story, which I think a pretty instance that the most polite age is in danger of being the most vicious.
“It happened at Athens, during a public representation of some play exhibited in honor of the 15 commonwealth, that an old gentleman came too late for a place suitable to his age and quality.? Many of the young gentlemen, who observed the difficulty and confusion he was in, made signs to him that they would accommodate him if he came 20 where they sat. The good man bustled through the crowd accordingly; but when he came to the seats to which he was invited, the jest was to sit close and expose him, as he stood, out of countenance, to the whole audience. The frolic went round the 25 Athenian benches. But on those occasions there were also particular places assigned for foreigners. When the good man skulked towards the boxes appointed for the Lacedæmonians, that honest