« PreviousContinue »
EPHES. V. 15, 16.
See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeem
ing the time, because the days are evil.
HAT social life has a particular value, that it is
good and desirable, is a matter whereof no one doubts ; of this, my pious hearers, our own experience assures us. But how it is to be ordered, what we are to observe, and what avoid in it, if we desire it to be of great value: and what peculiarly gives it this value, are questions we do not often enough consider, though the solution of them is of the utmost importance in the use and enjoyment of it. The first of these questions I have answered in my preceding discourse. We thence faw what good qualities, what virtues, we are'to bring with us into social life, and there employ, and at the same time what faults we should avoid, if we desire it to afford us real pleafure and solid advantage. It must be, namely, honesty and openness of heart, but not rudeness ; generous freedom, but not licentiousness and arrogance; polite, elegant, engaging manners, but not foppiihness or formal and constrained behaviour; it must be benevolence and philanthropy, but not coldness and jealousy, not flattery, not artificial sensibility ; it must
be rational and discreet affability, but not babbling and loquacity; innocent mirth, but not petulance and diffolute merriment; that must prevail in social life, if it be to procure us pleasures no less diversified than
pure, advantages no less durable than folid. The questions that still remain to be answered are, What confers this value on focial life? Wherein does it confift? What is the utility, what are the pleasures it procures us? To reply expressly to these questions is the object of my present discourse. Happy he who shall learn from it more justly to prize, and more circumspectly to use, the value of the riches it pofiesses, the means of improvement and happiness it offers!
Social life is, first, the most natural and the most abundant source of the knowledge of mankind. And, without the knowledge of characters, we can neither be so useful to our brethren nor they to us, as our duty and our common interest require. The fage, who in the silence of retirement reflects upon mankind, and at the same time narrowly observes himself, may certainly make great progress in the knowledge of human nature: he may make acute and just remarks on the capacities and powers of the human mind, on the process and connection of its ideas, on its present and future destination, on human passions, prejudices, virtues and vices; he may investigate the motives of human actions, and weigh the intrinsic value of their sentiments and actions. But it is only in intercourse with them, it is only in social life, that
he will learn to apply the principles and rules by which he judges of mankind, to a thousand particular persons and occurrences, and put their precision to the proof. There will he first learn to judge of the infinite variety of human minds, the difference of manners, of human dispositions and tempers. There he perceives every feature of human nature 'multiplied and diversified a thousand ways, fees every faculty of the human mind as differently exerted; every human propensity and passion fhew itself under the most variegated and diffimilar aspects, and produce as manifold and different effects. There will he find combinations and mixtures of strength and weakness, of wisdom and folly, of good and bad qualities, of virtues and failings, which, remote from the actual world, he would scarcely have thought poffible. And how much must not this extend and rectify his knowledge of mankind !
How many phænomena in the moral world will it not elucidate, how måný mysteries unravel, which were inexplicable to him, and which by mere meditation he could never have solved !
In society we learn, not only to know mankind in general, but in particular those persons among whom we live, and with whont we are obliged to associate, our acquaintance, our fellow - citizens, our friends, every person with whom we are connected by business, by office and employment, and by or. dinary affairs.
There, on numberless occasions, their principles, their prejudices, their errors, their
propensities, their passions, their sound and their weak fide, discover themselves to us by degrees. There we learn to know the measure of their mental faculties, the sphere of their comprehension, their way of acting, the proportions of their strength or their weakness, the avenues to their heart, and the influence which certain persons or things have on them. There we may confequently learn, how far we may reckon upon them, or whether reckon upon them at all, trust ourselves to them or not, what we have and what we have not to expect from them.
And how useful, how necessary to us is this knowledge, if we would neither deal unjustly by ourselves or others, require neither too much nor too little of any, injure none by ungrounded distruít, nor by too much confidence tempt or perplex them, if we would prosecute our affairs with prudence and success, difcharge our duty towards every man by the fittest means, make use of others to promote our designs, and in return contribute our means to the advancement of theirs, afford others the most useful services, and obtain similar services from them! From how many mistakes and errors should we not be saved by such a knowledge of mankind ! How much more. speedily and securely, in numberless cases, should we not gain our ends!
How much more certainly know where to be firm, and where to yield; when we should go strait forward, and where reach our aim by a circuitous way; what maxims we should here use, and what there, for producing the best ef
fects ; how take in hand such a case, how manage such a business, how deal with such a person, how behave in such an occurrence! With how much greater ease and safety discharge our duty on one hand, and on the other promote our own lawful and honest designs! How much more good be able to perform, and how much more to enjoy! And must not then the social life that enables us to acquire this knowledge of mankind be of great value to us?
Yes, certainly great is its value! For, at the same time that it improves us in the knowledge of mankind, it in the second place supplies us with the most excellent means of exercising our mental faculties, of enlarging the sphere of our views, of rectifying and bringing into action the knowledge we have already acquired, and of increasing it with new discoveries. If we wish to impart our sentiments on any subject to others, in a manner satisfactory to them : then we must represent the case at the same time in a more perspicuous method to ourselves, and more precisely discriminate our conceptions of it, and weigh them apart, than we commonly do when we reflect upon them only for ourselves. If we would hearken to others with intelligence, perfectly understand them, and apprehend their opinion or their judgment on any subject with full conviction, or oppose them with solid arguments: then must we more strenuously exert our attention, and more stri@ly investigate the matter, than if we were to determine upon it merely for ourselves by the suggestions of