[blocks in formation]

regulates everything which nothing else regulates, where there is no propriety, and no duty, to be consulted. The reference is always to habit—in dress, in ceremony, in equipage, in all the circumstances of life, where almost any conduct would be virtuous, a compliance with custom is the only conduct that is wise, and a man of sense is rather pleased that the public legislate for him on points where choice would neither be easy nor useful. It is a strong mark of a good understanding, to allow custom an easy empire on these occasions. It is a much surer mark of talent, that men should rise above the influence of habit, and be better and greater than that to which the circumstances of their lives, or the character of their age, would appear to doom them. This is the reason why we admire men, who, born in poverty, and accustomed to objects of sense, have been able to conceive the dignity, the value, and the pleasure of intellectual gratification; who, deviating from every model they had seen, and guided only by their inward light, have steadily, and successfully, pursued the path of virtuous fame. By this subjugation of habitual thoughts, and escape from habitual objects, Bacon the friar, Czar Peter, Lord Verulam, and all great men, in law and in arts, have preceded the ages in which they lived, and become the beacons of future times. The mass of men, say whatever is said, do whatever is done, think whatever is thought, and can not easily conceive anything greater and better than what is already created. But, in the grossest period of monastic ignorance, Bacon saw that the whole art of war might be changed by the invention of gunpowder; the Czar pulled down a nation habitually victorious, roused and elevated a people habitually stupid and depressed: Lord Verulam looked upon his own times with the same cool estrangement from the influence of habit, as if he were contemplating a nation of the ancient world; and was so little imposed upon by the imperfect philosophy which then prevailed, that he effected that entire revolution in physical reasoning, by which we are all benefited to the present hour. Such victories over present objects—such power of reflecting, where attention is not stimulated by novelties- -are generally great triumphs of the human understanding, and decisive proofs of its vigour and excellence, in every individual instance where they are found. Whoever is learned in an ignorant age; whoever is liberal in a bigoted age; whoever is temperate and respectable


in a licentious age; whoever is elegant and enlarged in his views, where his profession chains him down to technical rules and narrow limits; whoever has gained any good which habit opposes, or avoided any evil which habit might induce—that man has vindicated the dignity and the power of his mind, by the fairest of all tests-by doing what the mass of mankind cannot do.



A BEAUTIFUL effect of habit is, that it endows with preternatural strength every quality of the mind or heart which it calls into more than ordinary action. If protection is wanted, men are ready, long habituated to the fear of death. If gentleness and benevolence are wanted to lessen the miseries of life, women are habitually gentle and benevolent. If patient industry, you have it in the laborer, and the mechanic. What but the power of habit, has given to us the advantage of those fine legal understandings, that have gradually formed the system of law in this country? How are our naval victories gained, but by habitual character, skill, and courage? Whence the effusions of eloquence every day to be witnessed in the senate, but by that intrepidity, self-possession, and command of words and images, which habit only can confer? Fresh, youthful, untaught nature can never do such things as these. It is nature in its manhood, instructed by failure, fortified by precedent, confirmed by success, riveted by habit, and carried to a pitch of glory, by intense adhesion to one object, which, with all the primary efforts of its rude vigour, it never could have reached; diminishing the pleasure of vice, and strengthening the habit of virtue.


THE passions are in morals, what motion is in physics: they create, preserve, and animate; and without them, all would be silence and death. Avarice guides men across the deserts of the ocean; pride covers the earth with trophies, and mausoleums, and pyramids; love turns men from their savage rudeness; ambition shakes the very foundations of kingdoms. By the love of glory, weak nations swell into magnitude and strength. Whatever there


is of terrible, whatever there is of beautiful in human events, all that shakes the soul to and fro, and is remembered while thought and flesh cling together-all these have their origin from the passions. As it is only in storms, and when their coming waters are driven up into the air, that we catch a sight of the depths of the sea, it is only in the season of perturbation that we have a glimpse of the real internal nature of man. It is then only, that the might of these eruptions shaking his frame, dissipates all the feeble coverings of opinion, and rends in pieces that cobweb veil, with which fashion hides the feelings of the heart. It is then only that Nature speaks her genuine feelings; and, as at the last night of Troy, when Venus illumined the darkness, Æneas saw the gods themselves at work—so may we, when the blaze of passion is flung upon man's nature, mark in him the signs of a celestial origin, and tremble at the invisible agents of God!


Look at great men in critical and perilous moments, when every cold and little spirit is extinguished: their passions always bring them out harmless; and at the very moment when they seem to perish, they emerge into greater glory. Alexander, in the midst of his mutinous soldiers; Frederick of Prussia, combating against the armies of three kingdoms; Cortes breaking in pieces the Mexican empire:-their passions led all these great men to fix their attention strongly upon the objects of their desires; they saw them under aspects unknown to, and unseen by common men, and which enabled them to conceive and execute those hardy enterprises, deemed rash and foolish, till their wisdom was established by their success. It is in fact the great passions alone which enable men to distinguish between what is difficult and what is impossible: a distinction always confounded by merely sensible men; who do not even suspect the existence of those means, which men of genius employ to effect their object. It is only passion which gives a man that high enthusiasm for his country, and makes him regard it as the only object worthy of human attention;

-an enthusiasm, which to common eyes appears madness and extravagance; but which always creates fresh powers of mind, and commonly insures their ultimate success. In fact, it is only the great passions, which, tearing us away from the seductions of indolence, endow us with that continuity of attention, to which alone superiority of mind is attached. It is to their passions,



alone, under the providence of God, that nations must trust, when perils gather thick about them, and their last moments seem to be at hand. The history of the world shows us that men are not to be counted by their numbers, but by the fire and vigour of their passions; by their deep sense of injury; by their memory of past glory; by their eagerness for fresh fame; by their clear and steady resolution of ceasing to live, or of achieving a particular object, which, when it is once formed, strikes off a load of manacles and chains, and gives free space to all heavenly and heroic feelings. All great and extraordinary actions come from the heart. There are seasons in human affairs, when qualities fit enough to conduct the common business of life, are feeble and useless; and when men must trust to emotion, for that safety which reason at such times can never give. These are the feelings which led the ten thousand over the Carduchian mountains; these are the feelings by which a handful of Greeks broke in pieces the power of Persia: they have, by turns, humbled Austria, reduced Spain; and in the fens of the Dutch, and on the mountains of the Swiss, defended the happiness, and revenged the oppressions, of man! God calls all the passions out in their keenness and vigour, for the present safety of mankind. Anger and revenge, and the heroic mind, and a readiness to suffer:-all the secret strength, all the invisible array, of the feelings-all that nature has reserved for the great scenes of the world. For the usual hopes, and the common aids of man, are all gone! Kings have perished, armies are subdued, nations mouldered away! Nothing remains, under God, but those passions which have often proved the best ministers of his vengeance, and the surest protectors of the world.






PREACHING has become a bye-word for long and dull conversation of any kind; and whoever wishes to imply, in any piece of writing, the absence of everything agreeable and inviting, calls it

a sermon.

One reason for this is the bad choice of subjects for the pulpit The clergy are allowed about twenty-six hours every year for the instruction of their fellow-creatures; and I can not help thinking this short time had better be employed on practical subjects, in explaining and enforcing that conduct which the spirit of Christianity requires, and which mere worldly happiness commonly coincides to recommend. These are the topics nearest the heart, which make us more fit for this and a better world, and do all the good that sermons ever will do. Critical explanations of difficult passages of Scripture, dissertations on the doctrinal and mysterious points of religion, learned investigations of the meaning and accomplishment of prophecies, do well for publication, but are ungenial to the habits and taste of a general audience. Of the highest importance they are to those who can defend the faith and study it profoundly; but God forbid it should be necessary to be a scholar, or a critic, in order to be a Christian. To the multitude, whether elegant or vulgar, the result only of erudition, employed for the defence of Christianity, can be of any consequence: with the erudition itself they can not meddle, and must be fatigued if they are doomed to hear it. In every congregation there are a certain number whom principle, old age, or sickness, has rendered truly de

*From the Preface to the Collection of Sermons, at Edinburgh, 1800.

« ElőzőTovább »