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reason to lay them under some restraint even in lawful things, because the practice of such things was inexpedient, in many respects ; And because, if all other considerations might be overlooked, it is enough that an unrestrained indulgence in them begets slavish habits, and would, in the end, destroy, or very much impair, their moral freedom.
Of the words, thus far opened, I propose to make this use; to dissuade you from giving a full scope to the pursuit even of innocent pleasures; and that, from the two considerations, expressed in the text :
I. That such devotion of ourselves to them is, on many other accounts, hurtful and improper -- all things are not expedient: And
II. That, in particular, it violates the dignity of human nature, by taking from us, or weakening to a great degree, that manly authority of reason, that virtuous self-command, which we should always retain, and be in a condition to exert, even in indifferent mattersI will not be brought under the power of any.
1. Wealth and prosperity have a natural tendency to alter, that is, in the language of
moralists, to corrupt, the public manners. Hence it is that the old English habits of plainness, industry, and frugality, are, now, exchanged for those of indulgence, dissipation, and expence. All the elegant accommodations of life have an unusual stress laid
upon and there seems to be a general effort to advance them all to the last degree of refinement. The superfluous, which we call the fine arts, excite an universal admiration, and administer, in ten thousand ways, to a luxurious, which, again, takes the name of a polite, indulgence. Hence, society, which used to fill only the vacant intervals of business, is now become the business of life ; and yet is found insipid (so insatiable is the love of dissipation) if it be not, further, quickened by amusements. These have multiplied upon us so prodigiously, that they meet us at every turn, and in every shape; nay, are grown so common, that they would almost lose the name of amusements, if every possible art were not employed to give a poignancy to them, and if fashion, after all, more than the pleasure they afford, did not support the credit of them. As the last resource of the weary disappointed mind, we have found means to interest our keenest passions in one species of amusement, which is therefore called play, by way of eminence; and is become the favourite
one, because the most violent : just as the hottest cordials succeed to the free use of strong liquors.
In this state of things (a very alarming one, in all views) nothing threatens the utter ruin of the little virtue, that is left among us, so much, as the general persuasion, that such pursuits may be indulged to any degree, because they are commonly acknowledged to be lawful. Here, then, the distinction of the Apostle comes in very seasonably, and may, one would hope, be pressed on the lovers of pleasure, with some effect. We may question, it seems, the expediency of these pursuits, how indifferent soever they be in their own nature; and a little reflexion will shew that they are, indeed, inexpedient, that is, unprofitable, unadvisable, improper, in a great variety of respects.
I do not suppose, at present, that the expence of them is ruinous to those, who devote themselves to these pleasures (for then they would plainly not be lawful to such persons); but consider, if you can afford to pay the price of them ever so well, they take up too much of your time: abundantly too much, if
have any profession to follow, or to prepare your
selves for, as most men have; but too much, if
you have not, because it might, and should be employed on better things.
Then, of the little time, they leave to yourselves, they disable you, in sone degree, for making the proper use.
For they dissipate the attention; they relax the nerves of industry and application; they spread a languor over all the faculties, and make the exertion of them, valuable
purpose, painful at least, if not impossible. We hear it generally observed, that there is a scarcity of able men in all the departments of life. Can it be otherwise, when the vigour of the mind, which should nourish all great and laudable efforts, which is so requisite to push the active powers of invention, or recollection, to their full extent, is wasted on trifles, is checked by frivolous habits, and ļeft to languish under them?
have force of mind enough to elude this so natural effect of dissipation, is it nothing that, by giving your countenance to it, you draw in weaker spirits to make the dangerous experiment? that you help to propagate the enfeebling passion through all. quarters, till, from this authorized scene of vanity, the Capital, the contagion spreads (as we see it now does) to the smaller towns, and even to private houses, in the remotest provinces? that you contribute to make respectable I know not what frivolous and worthless arts, and, of course, to multiply the professors of them, to the great discouragement and decay of useful industry ? that you hurt the interests of society, by giving an air of importance to the veriest trifles, and by diverting on these the attention, and the passion, that should regularly, and would otherwise, exert themselves on nobler objects ?
I might push these questions still further. For I remember what history attests, and what wise men have said, on the chapter of polite arts and elegant amusements.
“ They tell us, how sad a sign of the times it is, when they grow into general repute among us; that from incessantly indulged appetites (let the object of them be what it will) such an impotence of mind may follow, such a lust of gratification, such an impatience of controuling a predominant fancy, as shall overleap all the
2 SIGNA, TABULAS PICTAS, VASA reckoned, by the philosophical historian, among the prognosticks of falling Rome.