Слике страница

ating every thing to self, withholds bread from the hungry-not the worldly spirit, that makes all its calculations with the sole view to present loss and gain-not the jealous temper that keeps, by day and by night, a cat-like watch, and dares trust nobody-not the slyness that habitually prefers stratagem to openness of conduct

- not the cowardice that shrinks from the responsibility or the danger, to which duty calls.—Though, by a mora. abuse of words, these severally, have been dignified with the name of Prudence, they are very unlike that gen uine prudence with which wisdom deigns to dwell.

Prudence of the right stamp, is the practical exposition both of a correct judgment and a correct heart. It regards the future, as well as the present; immortality as well as time; and each according to their respective importance. It seeks the attainment of worthy objects by worthy and suitable means. It keeps the end in view, and the means it properly adapts to the end. It shuns the evil that is avoidable, and what is unavoidable, it meets with resignation and firmness.

The quality of prudence is of perpetual use in all the concerns of life; and though, being rather an intellectual, than a moral quality, it is sometimes found in alliance with sordid selfishness, it gives support, as well as direction, to the noblest virtues. An ounce of Prudence is worth a pound of unbridled Genius. What signifies fine sense, exalted sense, even the best theoretical sense in the world, if, it produces worse than nonsense in practice? What signifies that one has great parts and great learning, united, if, notwithstanding, he acts the part of a fool?

“How empty learning, and how vain is art,

Save where it guides the life, or mends the heart." Look at Bibulus, the most exalted, yet the most selfdegraded of men !' Seemingly, he never thinks foolishly, nor ever acts wisely. Endowed with uncommon talents, and possessing the advantages of superior learning, his whole life, nevertheless, is a series of inconsistencies, errors and follies; and all from the want of prudence, without which, no man is truly great, or can be useful to others, or even to himself.

[ocr errors]

Prudence consists in soundness of judgment, together with firmness of resolution to follow the dictates of judgment. For want of such firm resolution, many act absurdly, though they speculate wisely; being drawn astray, contrary to their better knowledge, by indolence, timidity, ungoverned passion, or their propensities to particular vices.

Prudence, as particularly respects the concerns of this life, is a gift of Nature, distributed, like other natural gifts, in different degrees among mankind. Some discover the rudiments of it even from childhood; there being in them as it were an instinct of good sense, which carries them along the direct road, both in reasoning and conduct. Others are naturally rash, headstrong, and disposed to follow the impulse of the moment without either foresight or reflection; till taught to their cost, and sometimes happily cured, in the school of experience. While others again, notwithstanding excellent advantages for learning discretion, continue as to this particular, radically defective to the end of their lives. They have quickness of apprehension, readiness of wit, volubility of tongue, and besides, dame experience has severely disciplined them in her school. But all this, notwithstanding, they still have the weakness of infancy in this respect; in middle age, and even to old age, their minds are yet in the cradle.

But though the prudence of which I am now speaking is a natural gift, it is an improveable gift. Where there are any rudiments of it in the young mind, it may, by proper means, be strengthened and increased; and it is one of the essential parts of education to lead the pupil into the habit of forethought and reflection, and to cultivate in him a well-directed decision of character, which, in fact, is a main pillar of the human heart. As many persons are imprudent for want of education, so, unquestionably, the ruinous imprudencies of many others are owing to a perverted or unsound education; an education that leads them to contemn the condition allotted to them by Providence, and to restless irations after one that is unattainable.

A sound education, correct habits, and a just way of thinking, in early life, generally lead to prudence of conduct in its following stages; while, on the other hand, the flagrant imprudence of mature age, is, for the most part, to be traced to the wrong bias or false impressions received in the juvenile period.

One of the many important branches of prudence, is carefully to avoid incurring enmities, as far as can be done consistently with uprightness of character and a good conscience. For seldom does one unnecessarily make an enemy of his fellow-creature but he finds cause to regret it afterwards; and as seldom has one had reason to be


that he has used the soft answer which turneth away wrath.


Of Truth-speaking, as denoting courage.

" Dare to be true; nothing can need a lie;

The fault that needs it most, grows two there'sy." It requires no inconsiderable degree of courage always to speak the truth. And henre, in the 14th and 15th centuries, commonly termed the age of chivalry, the two points of honor, in the male sex, were Valor and Veracity; particularly a steadfast adherence to plighted faith, or one's word and promise; lying, or falsehood, being considered as indicative of cowardice, and abhorred rather for its meanness than for its moral turpitude. Accordingly, the chivalrous knights, whilst little regarding any other part of the second table of the holy decalogue, and least of all the sixth, seventh and tenth commandments, would suffer any pains and penalties in preference to the imputation of word-breaking, lying, or prevarication. In the old Romance, Amadis de Gaul, king Lisuarte being reduced to the dire alternative of breaking his word, or delivering up his daughter into the hands of an utter stranger: he is represented as exclaiming, “ My daughter must fare as God hath appointed; but my word shall never be wilfully broken."

The age of chivalry is long since past; but some of its relics have floated down the stream of time, and are visible even at the present instant. In some of the high circles of fashion, as well among descendants of Europeans in other countries, as in Europe itself, Valor and Veracity are considered not merely as indispensable requisites of a gentleman, but as almost the only points of honor that are necessary to his character. A man may be a blasphemer of God and religion, a notorious profligate, a seducer of female virtue; he may be all this, and yet rank high as a gentleman: he may be all this, and yet be received into what fashion calls good company, with as cordial welcome as if his character were pure as the driven snow. But if he lie under the imputation of direct cowardice, or of the indirect cowardice of uttering a wilful falsehood, he is despised, banished, and proscribed, as unfit for the company of ladies and gentlemen. For which reason, a man of this sort of high fashion, when charged directly or by implication, of being a coward, or a liar, finds his chivalrous spirit roused up, to the highest pitch.

Call him a foe to God, a debauchee, a violator of the connubial ties, and he is able to laugh it off; for it does not touch his honor: but call him a coward, or a liar, and he thinks nothing but

your blood can wash away the stain. But apart from the notions of chivalry, the vice of lying ranks among the meanest of vices. It is the vice of slaves. It is the vice that chiefly abounds among nations in political slavery, and with that low and wretched class of our fellow beings who are in personal bondage. Slavish fear prompts them to prevaricate and lie, as it were, in self-defence. Nor is this the less mean for its becoming an attribute of freemen. Its meanness as well as its guilt, is increased by this circumstance; since, in the last case there is far less urgency of temptation, and a far clearer knowledge of duty. Assuredly, with people possessing freedom, and enjoying the light of christianity, a strict regard to truth should be considered as a cardinal point in character, and every species of wilful falsehood be held in utmost disgrace; nor merely in disgrace for its meanness, but in abhorrence for its moral turpitude.

Though, as I observed before, it requires courage to speak the truth at all times, and under all circumstances, yet this sort of courage is of no difficult attainment in the school of christian morals. And, as to the rest, speaking the truth is one of the easiest things in the world: for it is merely the expression of one's own perceptions, or of what lies clearly in his memory. The veriest child that has attained the use of the or. gans of speech, is capable of, this ;-while to speak falsehood requires effort and art. Falsehood is fiction, and needs invention and contrivance, so to frame and fashion it as to make it bear the semblance of truth. As he that dances upon a rope is not a moment at his ease, but must constantly employ effort to keep his balance, even so it fares with a liar. His mind is ever on the alert to escape detection. And after all, the very expedients he uses for this end, often produce the consequences which he wishes to avoid. He proceeds, with cunning art, to cover one lie with another, till at last, the cover being too narrow or too thin, the whole series is clearly seen through.

I will remark further, that lying, even in its simplest and most inoffensive forms, is by no means free of all mischief. Confidence is the cement, or rather the main pillar of society. Without it friendship is but a name, and social intercourse a sort of war in disguise. And as falseness of speech, in any shape or degree whatever, has a tendency to destroy or weaken social confidence, so it tends, of course, to unhinge society. From this, as well as from the more solemn and more awful view of the subject, it clearly follows that nothing is of greater necessity in the moral education of children, than to learn them betimes to pay a strict regard to trnth.

In conclusion, I will just throw out the hint, that by an imprudent habit of expressing themselves hyperbol. ically, some incur a foul imputation which does not really belong to them. Another hint may be given without the least hazard : one who endeavors to bolster

up his sayings with profane oathis or asseverations, is sure to be suspected of falsehood, whether be speaks the truth or not.

« ПретходнаНастави »