« PreviousContinue »
LX.- MISTAKEN VIEWS OF HAPPINESS.
(JOSEPH STEVENBUCKMINSTER was born May 26, 1784, at Portsmouth, New Hamp ikira; ordained as pastor of the church in Brattle Street, in Boston, January 30, 1805; and died June 9, 1812. Few men have ever brought higher qualifications to the sacred office which he held. His religious faith was deep and fervid, and his life and conver. ation, from his childhood upward, were of spotless purity. His mind was rich, vig. brous, sound, and discriminating; and his attainments, both in his own profession and m general literature, were extensive and accurate. The style of his sermons is rich, finished, and yet simple - easily rising into eloquence, and adapting itself to the highest tone of discussion, and at the same time presenting practical truths with the utmost plainness and directness. It is hardly possible to overstate the effect he produced as a preacher, for his admirable discourses were commended by rare personal advantages as a speaker. His countenance was beautiful and expressive, his voice of magic sweetness, and his manner dignified, persuasive, and natural. Few men have ever accomplished more in a life of twenty-eight years, whether we look at the growth of his own powers or his moral and spiritual influence over others. He was social in his tastes, and was regarded by his friends with a peculiar mixture of admiration, reverence, and love.
Two volumes of Mr. Buckminster's sermons have been published, with an introdua tory memoir by the Rev. Samuel Cooper Thacher; and a more extended biography, by his sister, Mrs. Eliza Lee, appeared in 1849, from the press of Messrs. Crosby & Nichols, of Boston.]
The first mistake, which is too common, especially among those who have experienced many trials and difficulties in life, is, that happiness is to be found in rest. Ask those who are so busy in the active pursuits of life, to what they look forward with such ardent expectation, and they will tell you that they are toiling for repose. They look with envy upon the condition of that man who, in the language of the world, “has nothing to do but enjoy himself.” They look upon exertion as a species of servitude, as if he only were the independent man, who is reposing upon his laurels or his gains. But, as has been pointedly remarked, that man is most restless who is most at rest. Nothing else is so hard as the pillow of perpetual indolence; nothing so oppressive as the stagnant, unelastic air of entire inactivity. The truth is, that the mind which is not constantly directed to something exterior preys upon itself. The bed-ridden intellect pines away in atrophy and the everlasting uneasiness of sloth. Most of those who have nothing to do, commonly do nothing, or do wrong; and it is necessary to have advanced much farther than most of us have in the work of our intellectual perfection, to be able to relinquish, without great misery, the career of active exertion.
A second mistake upon the subject of happiness is, that it is to be found in prosperity. The truth is, that of the objects of human acquisition, very few are, beyond a certain limit, even the means of happiness. We are perpetually making this mistake in respect to riches, and confounding two things completely distinct; that is, property and happiness. Ask those, I pray you, who have accumulated the most enormous fortunes, whether they have ever yet been able to increase their possessions faster than their wants. It is indeed a trite maxim that 6 a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth ;” yet, common as it is, it would seem as if it were a doubtful truth, which remains to be established. For, when we look at those above us, and find that they are able to supply those wants to which we, in our actual situation, are most sensible, it is natural to conclude that they are happy; because we should be happy if we could remove, as they can, our most pressing needs. We do not consider, that, the higher we ascend, and the wider we can see, the more we desire; and it is often true, that, the more extensive our horizon, the more barren appears the soil around us.
These are all common truths ; but, trite as they are, allow me to repeat, that he who can command every thing will soon find that he must want something, he knows not what, which he cannot command. It is true, the rich man can enjoy more; but, on the other hand, he can endure less. He now dares to envy the man whom he once only looked up to with hopeless admiration. He finds that the pleasures he once enjoyed with exquisite satisfaction have now strangely lost all their relish, and there is not so much satisfaction in possession as there was in expectation. There is a strange charm in the idea of property. We think that the enjoyment of any good is infinitely heightened by the consciousness that it is our own. These little words exercise a powerful influence over our judgments. And yet how many thousands are there, who, as soon as they are able to say of any thing, in truth, “This is mine,” lose at once all their interest in it, and strangely neglect sources of enjoyment which, when they possessed them not, they thought inexhaustible.
A third mistake on this subject consists in supposing that happiness is to be found in perpetual excitement. Hence thousands always confound pleasure with mirth, and think nothing tolerable which is not exquisite. Others think nothing pleasant which is not riotous, nothing interesting which is not boisterous, nothing satisfactory which is not intoxicating. It is this mistake which leads so many through the ever-shifting varieties of dissipation, when what ought to be only an occasional recreation is made necessary to common comfort, and all satisfaction is lost in the wearisome chase after novelty.
Others, from the same diseased fancy, cannot confine themselves to a single spot. They cannot endure home-born pleasures and every-day enjoyments. Every thing little seems to them insignificant, every thing permanent seems to them tedious. All these mistaken pursuers of good are, sooner or later, the prey of excessive ennui. Having been always gay, they are never contented; always delighted, they are never tranquil. Having been happy only in the excitement of society, they are miserable when alone. Old age proves to such beings, if they ever reach it, a most oppressive condition. Deluded as they have been with the notion that happiness consists in perpetual excitement, in great events, strong feelings, continued novelties, and vivid pleasures, they sink into dejection, indolence, melancholy, and become weary of life before it is time for them to leave the scene of human action and enjoyment.
A fourth mistake in relation to happiness is, that we make
our provision only for the present world. We do not take into view the whole of our existence; and of course, as soon as the season of activity is over, and we are so near the turn of human life that we are compelled, however reluctantly, to think of the world which is to come, we are filled with apprehensions of indistinct calamity, and thus the remnant of life is imbittered. We find ourselves in the situation of beings who are about to enter, naked and unfriended, into a new condition of existence. God has so constituted the nature of our happiness that it will be ever impossible to attain to the full enjoyment even of this life, without taking into view the life to come ; for, as long as there remains in any mind an apprehension that it may exist hereafter, that mind can never be at ease till it is conscious of possessing some sources of happiness which this change of residence cannot impair.
In comparison with eternity, what consolation is it to have laid
up here treasures for ten or ten thousand years ? What is the comfort of being “ clothed in purple and fine linen,” and of “faring sumptuously every day”? No wonder he is never happy, who thinks, when he reflects at all, that death will cut him off at once from all that he has been accustomed to call life; that the pleasures of the palate will no more reach the taste, the eye will no more indulge itself in the contemplation of fine forms, the organ of hearing will no longer be fed with the music of sweet sounds; and, every object of exterior employment at once struck out of his reach, he will be left with nothing but the intrinsic possessions of the mind nd heart; and of these how small and worthless will be found the inventory!
LXI.- HAPPINESS DEPENDENT ON THE HABICS.
[WILLIAM PALEY was born in Peterborough, in England, in 1743, and died in 1806. He was a clergyman of the established church of England. He wrote a work on Moral and Political Philosophy, (from which the following extract is taken ;) a View of the Evb dences of Christianity; Horæ Paulinæ, a work showing the coincidences between the Epistles of St. Paul and his history as related in the Acts of the Apostles; a treatise on Natural Theology, and several sermons. He is a vigorous writer, remarkable for clear D688 of argument and strength and transparency of style. The leading doctrine of his treatise on morals — that it is the utility of any moral rule which constitutes the obligation of it, may well be doubted; but the work is full of excellent good sense and admirable rules for the guidance of life. The second part of the work, which treats of political pbilosophy, is written in a manly spirit, and shows a most sagacious practical understanding. Paley's private character was most estimable. He was a firm friend of civil and religious liberty, independent in his views, and faithful in the discharge of the duties of life.]
HAPPINESS depends upon the prudent constitution of the habits. The art in which the secret of human happiness in a great measure consists, is to set the habits in such a manner that every change may be a change for the better. The habits themselves are much the same; for whatever is made habitual becomes smooth and easy, and nearly indifferent. The return to an old habit is likewise easy, whatever the habit be. Therefore the advantage is with those habits which allow of an indulgence in the deviation from them. The luxurious receive no greater pleasure from their dainties than the peasant does from his bread and cheese; but the peasant, whenever he goes abroad, finds a feast; whereas the epicure must be well entertained, to escape disgust.
Those who spend every day at cards, and those who go every day to plough, pass their ime much alike; intent upon what they are about, wanting nothing, regretting nothing, they are both for the time in a state of ease; but then, whatever suspends the occupation of the card player distresses him; whereas to the laborer every interruption is a refreshment; and this appears in the different effects that Sunday produces upon the two, which proves a day of recreation to the one, but a lamentable burden to the other.