« PreviousContinue »
to fhew how far human nature can go. Though it may not be proper, or desirable, that numbers should seclude themselves from the common duties and ordinary avocations of life, for the aufterer lessons of the cloister, yet it is not unuseful that some should push their virtues to even a romantic height; and it is encouraging to reflect in the hour of temptation that the love of ease, the aversion to pain, every appetite and passion, and even the strongest propensities in our nature, have been controuled; that the empire of the mind over the body has been asserted in its fullest extent; and that there have been men in all ages, who voluntarily renounce all the world offers, voluntarily suffer all it dreads, and live independent, and unconnected with it. Nor was it a small advantage, or ill calculated to support the dignity of science, that a learned man might be respectable in a coarse gown,
a leathern girdle, and bare-footed. Cardinal Ximenes preserved the severe simplicity of a convent amidst the pomp and luxury of palaces, and to those who thus thought it becoming in the highest statitions to affect the appearance of poverty, the reality surely could not be very dreadful.
THERE is yet another light in which these institutions may be considered. It is, surely, not improper to provide a retreat for those, who stained by some deep and enormous crime, wish to expiate by severe and uncommon penitence those offences which render them unworthy of freer commerce with the world. Repentance is never fo fecure from a relapse as when it breaks off at once from every former connection, and entering upon a new course of life, bids adieu to every object that might revive the idea of temp
tations which have once prevailed. In these folemn retreats, the stillness and acknowledged fanctity of the place, with the striking novelty of every thing around them, might have great influence in calming the passions; might break the force of habit, and suddenly induce a new turn of thinking. There are likewise afAictions so overwelming to humanity, that they leave no relish in the mind for any thing else than to enjoy its own melancholy in silence and folitude; and to a heart torn with remorse, or opprest with sorrow, the gloomy severities of La Trappe are really a relief. Retirement is also the favourite wish of age. Many a statesman, and many a warriour, fick of the bustle of that world to which they had devoted the prime of their days, have longed for some quiet cell where, like cardinal Wolsey or Charles V. they might shroud their grey hairs, and lose sight of the follies
with which they had been too much tainted.
THOUGH there is, perhaps, less to plead for immuring beauty in a cloister; and confining that part of the species who are formed to shine in families and sweeten fociety, to the barren duties and austere discipline of a monaftic life; yet, circumstances might occur, in which they would, even to a woman, be a welcome refuge. A young female, whom accident, or war, had deprived of her natural protectors, must, in an age of barbarism, be peculiarly exposed and helpless. A convent offered her an asylum where she might be safe, at least, if not happy; and add to the consciousness. of unviolated virtue the flattering dreams of angelic purity and perfection. There were orders, as well amongst the women, as the men, instituted for charitable pur
poses, such as that of the Virgins of love, or Daughters of mercy, founded in 1660, for the relief of the sick poor ; with others for instructing their children. These must have been peculiarly suited to the softness and compassion of the sex; and to this it is no doubt owing, that ftill, in catholic countries, ladies of the highest rank often visit the hospitals and houses of the poor ; waiting on them with the most tender assiduity, and performing fuch offices as our protestant ladies would be shocked at the thoughts of. We should also consider, that most of the females who now take the veil, are such as have no agreeable prospects in life. Why should not these be allowed to quit a world which will never miss them? It is easier to retire from the public, than to support its disregard. The convent is to them a shelter from poverty and neglect. Their little community grows dear to