« AnteriorContinuar »
Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Dark heaving;-boundless, endless, and sublime—
Of the Invisible; even from out thy slime
And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
On the use and abuse of amusements.—ALISON.
Ir were unjust and ungrateful to conceive that the amusements of life are altogether forbid by its beneficent Author. They serve, on the contrary, important purposes in the economy of human life, and are destined to produce important effects, both upon our happiness and character. They are, in the first place, in the language of the Psalmist, "the wells of the desert;" the kind resting-places in which toil may relax, in which the weary spirit may recover its tone, and where the desponding mind may resume its strength and its hopes.
They are, in another view, of some importance to the dignity of individual character. In every thing we call amusement, there is generally some display of taste and imagination, some elevation of the mind from mere animal indulgence, or the baseness of sensual desire. Even in the scenes of relaxation, therefore, they have a tendency to preserve the dignity of human character, and to fill up the vacant and unguarded hours of life with occupations innocent, at least, if not virtuous. But their principal effect,
perhaps, is upon the social character of man. amusement is sought, it is in the society of our brethren; and whenever it is found, it is in our sympathy with the happiness of those around us. It bespeaks the disposition of benevolence, and it creates it.
When men assemble, accordingly, for the purpose of general happiness or joy, they exhibit to the thoughtful eye, one of the most pleasing appearances of their original characters. They leave behind them, for a time, the faults of their station and the asperities of their temper ;-they forget the secret views, and selfish purposes of their ordinary life, and mingle with the crowd around them with no other view than to receive and to communicate happiness. It is a spectacle which it is impossible to observe without emotion; and, while the virtuous man rejoices at the evidence which it affords of the benevolent constitution of his nature, the pious man is apt to bless the benevolence of that God, who thus makes the wilderness and the solitary place be glad, and whose wisdom renders even the hours of amusement subservient to the cause of virtue.
It is not, therefore, the use of the innocent amusements of life which is dangerous, but the abuse of them;—it is not when they are occasionally, but when they are constantly pursued; when the love of amusement degenerates into a passion, and when, from being an occasional indulgence, it becomes an habitual desire. What the consequences of this inordinate love of amusement are, I shall now endeavor very briefly to show you.
When we look, in a moral view, to the consequences of human pursuits, we are not to stop at the precise and immediate effects which they may seem to have upon character. It is chiefly by the general frame of mind they produce, and the habitual dispositions they create, that we are to determine whether their influence is fortunate or unfortunate on those who are engaged in them. In every pursuit, whatever gives strength and energy to the mind of man, experience teaches to be favorable to the interests of piety, of knowledge, and of virtue ;-in every pursuit, on the contrary, whatever enfeebles or limits the powers of mind, the same experience every where shows to be hostile to the best interests of human nature.
If it is in this view we consider the effects of the habitual love even of the most innocent amusement, we shall find that it produces necessarily, for the hour in which it is in
dulged, an enfeebled and dependent frame of mind; that in such scenes energy resolves, and resolution fades ;-that in the enjoyment of the present hour, the past and the future are alike forgotten; and that the heart learns to be satisfied with passive emotion, and momentary pleasure.
It is to this single observation, my young friends, that I wish at present to direct your attention; and to entreat you to consider what may be expected to be the effects of such a character of mind, at your age, upon the honor and happiness of future life.
1. It tends to degrade all the powers of the understanding. It is the eternal law of nature, that truth and wisdom are the offspring of labor, of vigor, and perseverance in every worthy object of pursuit. The eminent stations of fame, accordingly, and the distinguished honors of knowledge, have, in every age, been the reward only of such early attainments, of that cherished elevation of mind which pursues only magnificent ends, and of that heroic fortitude which, whether in action or in speculation, pursues them by the means of undeviating exertion.
For the production of such a character, no discipline can be so unfit as that of the habitual love of amusement. It kindles not the eye of ambition ;-it bids the heart beat with no throb of generous admiration ;-it lets the soul be calm, while all the rest of our fellows are passing us in the road of virtue or of science. Satisfied with humble and momentary enjoyment, it aspires to no honor, no praise, no pre-eminence, and, contented with the idle gratification of the present hour, forgets alike what man has done, and what man was born to do.
If such be the character of the youthful mind, if it be with such aims and such ambition that its natural elevation can be satisfied, am I to ask you, what must be the appearances of riper years?—what the effect of such habits of thought upon the understanding of manhood? Alas! a greater instructer, the mighty instructer, experience, may
show you in every rank of life what these effects are.-It
will show you men born with every capacity, and whose first years glowed with every honorable ambition, whom no vice even now degrades, and to whom no actual guilt is affixed, who yet live in the eye of the world only as the objects of pity or of scorn,-who, in the idle career of habitual amusement, have dissipated all their powers, and lost all their ambition, and who exist now for no purpose, but
to be the sad memorials of ignoble taste and degraded understanding.
2. The inordinate love of pleasure is, in the second place equally hostile to the moral character. If the feeble and passive disposition of mind which it produces be unfavor able to the exertions of the understanding, it is, in the same measure as unfavorable to the best employments of the heart. The great duties of life, the duties for which every man and woman is born, demand, in all situations, the mind of labor and perseverance. From the first hour of exist ence to the last,-from the cradle of the infant, beside which the mother watches with unslumbering eye, to the grave of the aged, where the son pours his last tears upon the bier of his father,-in all that intermediate time, every day calls for exertion and activity, and the moral honors of our being can only be won by the steadfast magnanimity of pious duty.
If such be the laborious but animating destiny of man, is it in the enervating school of habitual amusement, that the young are to fit themselves for its high discharge? Is it from hence that the legislator is to learn those lengthened toils which decide the happiness of nations; or the warrior, that undaunted spirit, which can scorn both danger and death in the defence of his country? Or is it here, my young friends, that experience tells you, you can best learn to perform the common duties of your coming days; those sacred duties of domestic life which every one is called to discharge, from which neither riches nor poverty are free, and which, far more than all others, open to you the solemn prospect of being either the blessings or the curses of society.
Alas! experience has here also decided; it tells you, that the mind which exists only for pleasure, cannot exist for duty-it tells you, that the feeble and selfish spirit of amusement gradually corrodes all the-benevolent emotions of the heart, and withers the most sacred ties of domestic affection; and it points its awful finger to the examples of those, alas! of both sexes, whom the unrestrained love of idle pleasure first led to error and folly, and whom, with sure but fatal progress, it has since conducted to be the objeets of secret shame, and public infamy.
3. In the last place, this unmanly disposition is equally fatal to happiness as to virtue. To the wise and virtuous, to those who use the pleasures of life only as a temporary relaxation, as a resting-place to animate them on the great
journey on which they are travelling, the hours of amusement bring real pleasure; to them the well of joy is ever full, while to those who linger by its side, its waters are soon dried and exhausted.
I speak not now of those bitter waters which must mingle themselves with the well of unhallowed pleasure,—of the secret reproaches of accusing conscience, of the sad sense of shame and dishonor,-and of that degraded spirit, which must bend itself beneath the scorn of the world;-I speak only of the simple and natural effect of unwise indulgence; -that it renders the mind callous to enjoyment;-and that, even though the "fountain were full of water," the feverish lip is incapable of satiating its thirst. Alas! here too, we may see the examples of human folly ;-we may see around us every where the fatal effects of unrestrained pleasure,the young sickening in the midst of every pure and genuine enjoyment; the mature hastening, with hopeless step, to fill up the hours of a vitiated being;—and, what is still more wretched, the hoary head wandering in the way of folly, and, with an unhallowed dotage, returning again to the trifles and the amusements of childhood.
Such then, my young friends, are the natural and experienced consequences of the inordinate love even of innocent amusement, and such the intellectual and moral degradation to which the paths of pleasure conduct. Let me entrea you to pause, ere you begin your course; ere those habits are acquired which may never again be subdued ;-and ere ye permit the charms of pleasure to wind around your soul their fascinating powers.
Think, with the elevation and generosity of your age, whether this is the course that leads to honor or to fame ;whether it was in this discipline that they were exercised, who, in every age, have blessed, or have enlightened the world,-whose shades are present to your midnight thoughts, -and whose names you cannot pronounce without the tear of gratitude or admiration.
Think, still more, whether it was to the ends of unmanly pleasure that you were dedicated, when the solemn service of religion first enrolled you in the number of the faithful, and when the ardent tears of your parents mingled with the waters of your baptism. If they live, is it in such paths that their anxious eyes delight to see you tread ?—If they are no more, is it on such scenes that they can bend their venerated heads from Heaven, and rejoice in the course of their children?