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To him who is ignorant of the world, or to him who loveth it, who is but one and the same man, these reflections must appear perfectly amazing.
Yet, surely, they are as true, as they may seem surprising, since Solomon hath made them. He, we know, was the wisest, the wealthiest, and most magnificent of kings. He out-built, out planted, out-dressed, out-treated, all the world. He wanted nothing that could please his senses, his appetites, or his passions. He denied himself no enjoyment which his immense riches brought within his reach. He, if ever man did, knew how to taste the sweets of sensual pleasure, and leave the sour behind. Yet having tried all, having gone the rounds of every gratification, and run the gantlope of experience; he returns with this amazing expression in his mouth, an expression ever found true, and yet never believed, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
What, all! was there nothing but vanity in thy stately palaces; thy beautiful gardens, enriched with all the delicacies of nature; thy tables loaded with the most exquisite articles of luxury, and crowded with the choicest wits of the age; thy powerful and wealthy kingdom, thy throne of ivory, overlaid with gold and adorned with lions ! It was indeed no wonder thou shouldst have found abundance of vanity among so many concubines, and infinite vexation in such a crowd of wives. But was there nothing in thy wisdom! no, for it suffered thee to kneel and pray to a log of wood. Nothing in being the most powerful and happy of kings, who reigned long in profound peace, and in the highest honour! Was there nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit in all this ? Nothing, absolutely nothing, if we may believe a sentence pronounced, not only by all thy extensive wisdom and experience, but hy the infallible Spirit of God.
And is it only to enjoy like poor Solomon, who called all his grandeur, all his pleasures and possessions, vanity and vexation of spirit; that the rest of mankind, nay, the readers of Solomon, and of a greater than Solomon, lay out all their thoughts and labours ? Do they hope for more wealth, power, peace, and length of days, than he had? Or do they think they have more sense and taste to enjoy with, than fell to his lot? Is it not rather for one or two of these, or for a pitiful portion of them all, that most men struggle?
How few are there whose humble ambition proposes to itself a higher station than that of serving so great a prince? Or whose thirst of pleasure dare so much as wish for a place at the second table in his palace, or for a match with the meanest of his cast concubines? Yet, if Solomon could brand his own magnificence and pleasure, which were worldly magnificence and pleasure in perfection, with the names of vanity and vexation of spirit; what gratification can the low-pitched pride of others propose to itself in a second or third-rate degree of exaltation? What contentment can avarice hope for in a small share of his riches? Or what enjoyment can sensuality expect in meaner houses and gardens, and in a less voluptuous board and bed, than his ?
What can the man do, who cometh after the king ?' so far after him?
But the men who place their desires on these things, will neither believe the report of Solomon, nor of God himself, in this case. Why do they not then examine them impartially themselves, and judge from their own experience.
What have you suffered in the pursuit (I speak to the sensualist, the covetous, and the ambitious), of temporal things? Compute your costs. How hath your body been fatigued, your mind racked, your conscience wounded, in this pursuit ? Heaven only could reward such labours of body, and such anxieties of soul, if endured for God. And hell only can punish the guilt of those detestable arts, those iniquitous schemes, that fraud, that falsehood, perjury, oppression, pollution, wherewith you have hunted the objects of your desires.
Now on the other hand compute your gains. Have you arrived at happiness, or even contentment? No. Can you reasonably hope to attain to either hereafter? No. No man, not even Solomon, ever did. But I will suppose, you
, have gained the height you at first had in view. How are you amazed and confounded to find, that, although it seemed, when you was below, to touch those heavens of pleasure you was climbing to, yet now you are raised to the pinnacle of all your former wishes, you are still as far beneath what you aspired to as ever. Are you able to rise yet higher, or even always to preserve the station you are in? Let it be granted, against all experience, that there is no fear of a fall; yet how ridiculously, how miserably are you disappointed, to find yourself stinted by your own nature, and the insurmountable necessity of things, to as much cloth as will cover one back, and as much food as will fill one stomach ? As to the finery of the garb, it is nothing, after the first wearing; and the deliciousness of the food, nothing, after the first tasting. If your reason does not do it, your very pride and your palate will convince you, there is nothing but emptiness and vanity in both. You have just finished a house, which you think beautiful and stately; and although it is not good enough to be a flanker to the meanest of Solomon's palaces, we will allow you to be as vain of it as you please, and will also ensure it against fire. Yet behold! after all the money, labour, and vexation it cost you, it hath scarcely entertained you two months, till it sinks on your imagination into a cottage, and serves only to defend you from the weather. All the flattery of your visitors cannot rebuild it. You go round it, you view it, and wonder where its height, extent, and ornaments are gone to. But when the agonies of death seize you in it, then it vanishes from about you like a castle in the air, and all your buildings are reduced to one, which costs you all you have, though it is but six feet in length.
The great fortune you have scraped together is not a whit more substantial. You are no sooner used to riches, than they dwindle into poverty, and you want ten times as much to fill your desires, perhaps to preserve you from distress. It would be well for you however, if your riches would be neuter, and only disappoint you with their vanity. But, unhappily! you can neither gather nor hold them without an infinite deal of trouble. You had all the world, the violent and artful world, to scramble with, when you was picking them up; and how many rugged scuffles, how * many shameful tumbles in the dirt, you have had during that time, your memory, and, it is to be feared, your conscience, can too well recollect. And, now you are in possession, is the pleasure of laying out, or keeping your riches, at all answerable to the high expectations that put you on gathering them ? No, you are as severely plagued in the decline of life with the spending, as you was in its vigour, with the acquiring, your fortune. Your horses devour you, your dogs hunt you, and your servants drive you almost to distraction. Your worthless visitors and trencher friends soothe you with their tongues, and tear you with their teeth. Besides, your wealth, thus managed, will infallibly bring with it, pride, wrath, gluttony, drunkenness, lust, sickness, pain, and death. Is not this one of the sorest evils under the sun, that your riches,' after costing you so much, “should be kept,' or say, enjoyed, by you their owner, ‘only to your hurt ?'
But you say, you have too much sense to lavish away a fortune, so painfully acquired, in so foolish a manner, and know very well how to keep it to yourself. Do you? Are you not afraid of the thief, the robber, the cut-throat, the sharper, and the man of law, worse than them all? Or pray, what do you mean by keeping your wealth to yourself? Will you
hoard it in a chest, or never send it out, but to bring in more? Do you compliment a conduct, so infinitely absurd, with the name of wisdom? You did not then gather to enjoy ? Or you gathered only for the pleasure of calling so many thousands your own, while you dare not make free with them for the comforts, it may be, for the very necessaries of life, no more than if they legally belonged to another. After a man hath laboured like a slave, for many years, to provide for the enjoyment of his pleasures, and the gratification of his pride; is it not a whimsical sight to observe him almost totally stripped of those passions he hath been all along providing for, just when his circumstances enable him to indulge them? Or though he should retain those passions, to see some other passion, such as avarice, turn spy upon his pleasure, and make it harder for him to wrest a little of his wealth from himself, than ever it was to squeeze it out of others? With wealth enough to be envied by a lord, he is poor enough to be pitied by a beggar. Give him a penny you that go from door to door. Is not this exactly your case? Is not your wealth become your task-master and tyrant? But how long think you, will you be able to keep this idol, to which you are so miserably enslaved ? • Thou fool! This night shall thy soul be required of thee, and then whose shall all these things be?'
Why, you say, they will be the property of your heir, and that it was for his sake, and to raise a family, you sa
anxiously gathered, and so miserably kept them. This might carry with it some shew of benevolence, had you a son or brother, or did you allow them, in case you have them, any enjoyment of your wealth, while you live. But how know you, odious miser, with certainty, that he whom you call your son, is really such, and not foisted on you by the infidelity of your wife? How know you, whether he does not wish for the death of so hard a father? How know you whether he that shall come after you will not be a fool,' that sort of fool, which you esteem the worst of fools, a spendthrift? Yet shall he have rule over all your labour wherein you laboured, and shewed yourself wise under the sun. Is not this,' think you,' vanity? Yea, is it not a sore travail ?'
But still you comfort yourself with this reflection, that, you
have so tied him up, as not to leave him a power to squander your fortune, and consequently, that your name and family will be distinguished among posterity. Wretched, senseless, comfort ! What will your family be to you, when you are dead? Will they not do all they can to extinguish your memory as an upstart, a man sprung from no other original but the dunghill; who heaped up riches by low, sordid, or viler arts, and who is only a disgrace to all his descendants ? Do you not see the vanity of all your penury, in their pride? And are not both a sore vexation of spirit to you? Few things give you keener disgust, than to be treated, notwithstanding all your wealth, with disdain by every insignificant or profligate mortal, on the pride of his blood, which was originally no better than your own.
And are all your labours of body and anxieties of mind laid out to enrich a family, only that the haughty coxcombs, or proud dames of your posterity may hold such men as you, and even the memory of you yourself, in contempt, if wealth, gotten as yours was, can stick long enough to your de scendants? You hear, with the greatest indignation, a little despicable sort of people, sunk in poverty, and drenched in vice, talking highly of their ancestors, and by a kind of popery in heraldry imputing to themselves the honours due to men who are long since dead. This you cannot bear, especially if those who do it, are now poor, and have no other blood to boast of, but that which the sins of their