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profligate forefathers have poured like a puddle into their veins. Yet such are they, whom, in all probability, you will set up by the entail of your wealth. How would it shock you to foresee, after all the provision you have made for your posterity, that one of them, having spent his inheritance, and being through pride and sloth incapable of earning honest bread, shall become the dastardly slave of some fool, the despicable fool of some villain, for no other wages than vexation of spirit? Or that another, reduced to the same circumstances, shall betake himself to theft or robbery, and carry your dignified name to the gallows ? It would not perhaps give you much less concern, could you foresee, that the fortune you are now ransacking sea and land for, with infinite toil and danger of your life, probably of your very soul, is in the next generation to be lavished away among fools and knaves, and to pass, by death, or extravagance into the hands of those who have not a drop of your blood in their veins; who, it may be, are descended from your servants, or enemies; and who shall call your house and estate by their own names, while they blot out the memory of yours from among mankind. Will you not therefore, as these are no uncommon cases, consider what you are doing, as' vanity,' and what may follow, as "vexation of spirit ?
Perhaps your riches have brought with them an honorary title, or your heart is set on that, or on some high place in the state. In this desire, there is gross vanity; and both in the pursuit and accomplishment of it, you must lay your account for great vexation of spirit. Your ambition is but a low thing, if it does not wish for a crown; it is also a wrong thing, if it looks not so high, in case a probability of success should offer itself; for why ambition at all, if it is to be checked, before it hath attained to its highest object, and in that its highest gratification? But consider, whether it is really great to be a slave. Yet are there in the galleys or mines such slaves, as on thrones? Do not princes depend on whole nations and armies ? And surely a dependence on so many self-interested, fickle, and false people, hath neither real grandeur nor happiness in it. Besides, the life of a prince is that of a hare, harassed with continual apprehensions and fears. The dog that turns a wheel, or the hackney-horse, the flesh of whose shoulder is laid bare to the draft, have more rest and ease than he. And what is there to make him patient under all this? It is ridiculous to be told. A little pageantry and finery; a little state and attendance. You have seen a horse in a waggon, dressed out with ribands and fringes, and at every step jingling two or three little bells. In this you have seen the emblem of a king. Here is the very pinnacle of vanity; and vexation of spirit, in perfection. Every wise king will, at least when he comes to die; make you the same report of royalty that Solomon hath made.
But you say, you aim not so high, and would be satisfied with some inferior degree of power and grandeur, wherein more ease and safety are to be found; and I answer, you know neither your own passion, nor the object that passion aspires to. It is impossible, your ambition should ever rest in any thing short of independent power, nay it is well, if it can sit down contented with even that, and not wish for power without limits or control. Besides, you know not, it seems, that the higher you go in this progress, the vanity and vexation will increase, at least in proportion to your ascent.
There are other things perhaps which expose you to vanity and vexation, whereof you ought to be well aware, such as your strength and beauty.
As to the first, it will be sufficient, 1 hope, to remind you, that it is only the strength of dust and ashes; that there are other men, and numbers of brutes, much stronger than you; and that, not only a thousand unhappy accidents, but the simplest thing in nature, a draught of water, or a blast of wind, is able to throw up your heels, and lay you either on a sick bed, or in your grave, so that the puniest man of your acquaintance shall say, with a kind of triumph, how vain is strength ! how easily is it overthrown !'
If you are vain of your comely countenance or fine person, you are, of all mortals, the most likely to be a fool. What is beauty at best, but the bloom of a very perishable flower, over which the wind passeth, and it is gone? Do you value yourself for a regular face, a straight bone, or a white skin? Poor conceit indeed! and never found but in a low and little soul. All your excellence sits on the surface; and, unhappily for you, from thence only serves to keep up a dangerous communication between your inward weaknesses and outward temptations, perpetually introducing them to each other, and acting the part of a traitor and procurer, till your mind is ten times more distinguishable for its deformity, than your body for its beauty. And then, what are you, but a pretty cabinet, full of trifles and trash, or of dung and poison? The vanity in this case is visible, and the vexation of spirit is keenly felt in the miserable effects of that pride, or wantonness, to which your beauty hath betrayed you.
Of all things, you are most apt to be vain of your understanding and knowledge, as appears by your resenting nothing so warmly, as an imputation of defect in this particular. Now, among all the kinds of vanity, this is unquestionably the most absurd, because your knowledge is nothing, if it does not make you sensible, you are a very ignorant creature. This is so plain a truth, that you must be perfectly stupid, not to have found it out. How often have you been stiffy peremptory, and haughtily confident of that, which, in a few minutes afterward, you found to be a gross and shameful mistake? Blush for this by yourself, grow modest, and you will be wise. Vanity and emptiness, in this instance, are but different names for the same thing. We seldom see a mind swell so much, as that which hath little or nothing within. You must be wiser in your own conceit, than Solomon, or you would confess your wisdom to be vanity, as he did, when he pronounced vanity and vexation on all the pursuits of this life. If your eyes are opened,' what do they see, but your own nakedness ?' what are all your critical refinements, but impertinence ? and what do your disputations, wherewith you distract yourself, and tease your acquaintances, discover, but a smattering mind, that bewilders itself, and seeks to mislead or triumph over those of other men? Do you not embrace opinions just as you do your estate, merely because you had them from your father, or as you do your mistress, merely because you love them? Or do you not reject opinions, and turn infidel, because you think, you know too much to believe any thing, and are too wise to learn?
There is no one thing under the sun, wherein there is
more vanity, and which gives occasion to more vexation, than custom. It is even grown to a proverb, that a man had better be out of the world, than out of the fashion. But if right reason were to govern us, we should think, it was the devil's Solomon that made this proverb; for what does it prescribe, but that an evil custom, grown old, should be kept as a law,' though never so much folly should be authorized, or wickedness countenanced by it? You that live at the fountain of this evil, I mean in the fashionable world, are you so enslaved, as not sometimes to think it inconsistent with that liberty you value yourself so much upon, to have your method of eating, drinking, dressing, conversing, and doing the most natural and necessary actions of life, prescribed to you by the will of others, perhaps of the vainest and wickedest of mankind ? It were a thing much to be wished, that the dominion of this tyrant extended only to such as can afford to be fools, and not, as it actually does, to the lower ranks of people. Folly and vice run down in the channel of example, from the king even to the scullion and beggar, in a full tide, so that an awkward mimickry of that which is deemed genteel is often seen among the meanest of mankind, on whom rags and fashion find a way to unite. Expense follows. Distress pursues that, and so vanity and vexation, intermixed, come to be established by a kind of law.
Another vanity, which you may have observed, if not promoted, is, as Solomon hath expressed it, that there be just men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked, and wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous ;' that is, wicked men who prosper in oppression, and all manner of iniquity; and good men who are persecuted, merely for being good. Thus sin is honoured, and virtue disgraced, in the sight of mankind, and therefore the best natures retire and hide themselves in obscurity, while the worst, push for fortunes, rise to places, and grow as able, as they are willing, to do mischief. If you have ever seen a man of each character on the stage of life together, it is odds, you have seen the bad man splendidly attended, assisted, caressed, and almost adored by the spaniels of power, who know how to fawn on the fowler, to set the prey, and share it; while, in the mean time, the good man, you may have observed, is either neglected, or treated with the utmost cruelty by the greater dogs of faction, who worry him in his fortune, and by the smaller curs of private spleen, who stand at a distance, yelping at his character.
The service you pay to God, if you are not one of a thousand, is as liable to the censure in my text, as the enormities I have already mentioned. How seldom do you go to his house or table, if you have a call of any consequence elsewhere? And, when you do go, how rarely do you give him more than your lips? Do you not find more warmth in your heart to a thousand other things, which you ought to despise or hate, than to him whom you ought to adore and love, with all your soul? There is no work under the sun, done so ill, done so carelessly and stupidly, as the work of religion. God is the worst served of all masters, the worst paid of all creditors or benefactors. Others get thoughts, actions, things; he little more than words and empty professions. This is the vanity of vanities.' This is a 'vexation of spirit,' even of the Holy Spirit.
But that which makes emptiness and vanity, with a witness, of all that is done under the sun, is death, the consequence, the punishment, the ridicule of all other vanities. One climbs the hill of ambition, another amasses wealth; one pursues pleasure, another deals in party, and state plots; one makes long voyages, another fights dangerous battles; this oppresses, that is oppressed ; this labours his body, that racks his mind. See how their passions and drifts interfere ! what a face of bustle and importance! Death, as the poet says, grins horribly a ghastly smile at all this. The moment he lifts his hand, they perish, and are swept away like a bed of ants. All they thought, did, desired, possessed, vanishes into nothing. • The king and the beggar lie down together,' and the worm makes his supper on that body, which was attended by dukes at dinner. O the despicable figure that is made by worldly grandeur, under the hand of death! man lays out all his thoughts, and his very soul on a scheme, and death removes him in the midst of it, and then all his thoughts perish, and his very soul with them. He himself passes away like a shadow, and his designs, like dreams. His body rots, his memory stinks, or