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Thus, in wishing, mankind are nearly alike; but it is chiefly the striking incongruity that exists betwixt their actions and thoughts, that checkers society, and produces those endless varieties of character and situation which prevail in buman life.
Some men, with the best intentions, have so little fortitude, and are so fond of present ease or pleasure, that they give way to every temptation ; while others, possessed of greater strength of mind, hold out heroically to the last, and then look back with complacency on the difficulties they have overcome, and the thousands of their fellow-travellers that are lagging far behind, railing at fate and dreaming of what they might have been. This difference in the progress which men make in life, who set out with the same prospects and opportunities, is a proof, of itself, that more depends upon conduct than fortune. And it would be good for man, if, instead of envying his neighbor's lot, and deploring his own, he would begin to inquire what means others have employed that he has neglected, and whether it is not possible, by a change of conduct, to secure a result more proportioned to his wishes.
Were individuals, when unsuccessful, often to institute such an inquiry, and improve the hints it would infallibly suggest, we should hear fewer complaints against the partiality of fortune, and witness less of the wide extremes of riches and poverty. But the great misfortune is, that few have courage to undertake, and still fewer candor to execute, such a system of self-examination. Conscience may per haps whisper that they have not done all which their circumstances permitted; but these whispers are soon stifled amidst the plaudits of self-esteem, and they remain in a happy ignorance of the exertions of others, and a consoling belief in the immutability of fortune.
Others, who may possess candor and firmness to undertake
Incongruity, unsuitableness of one thing to another, inconsistency, want of symmetry or adaptation: in, 33; ity, 102. - Infallibly, without failure, certainly: in, 33. - Plaudits, applause, shout of approbation.
this inquiry, are quite appalled at the unwelcome truths it forces upon their notice. Their own industry, which they believed to be great, and their own talents, which they fancied were unequalled, are found to suffer by a comparison with those of others; and they betake themselves, in despair, to the refuge of indolence, and think it easier, if not better, to want wealth, than encounter the toil and trouble of obtaining it. Thus do thousands pass through life, angry with fate, when they ought to be angry with themselves - too fond of the comforts and enjoyments which riches procure ever to be happy without them, and too indolent and unsteady ever to persevere in the use of those means by which alone they are attainable.
Probably one frequent cause of disappointment in the young, may be traced to that overweening confidence in their own powers, which leads them to trust more to their own romantic anticipations, than the tried and experimental knowledge of their seniors. While the progress of learning, and the refinements of education, confer upon the present race an elegance and polish unknown to their fathers, they are too apt to magnify this merit, and regard their elders as
beings of an inferior capacity. They forget completely that - a taste for literature and the arts differs widely from that sober and experimental knowledge which can be brought to bear upon the real business of life, and enable its possessor to preserve his place in that great crowd, where every individual is constantly endeavoring to press forward by jostling his neighbor.
Even a man of very ordinary parts, who has lived long in the world, and probably, after a thousand blunders, learned to conduct himself with ability and prudence, is better qualified for imparting instruction to others, than those who in other respects are most remarkable for their talents and attainments. Experience in this, as in every thing else, is
Appalled, frightened, depressed. - Overweening, thinking too highly of one's self, conceited, arrogant, opinionated: over, 39. — Capacity, state of . being capable or capacious, power of holding, mental power, ability : ity, 102.
the great mistress of wisdom; and were men guided by her safe, though often unwelcome counsels, in preference to their own fond imaginations, there would be a mighty diminution of that misery, with which ignorance and obstinacy are constantly filling the world.
There is little new under the sun; and the walks of life, numerous and diversified as they appear, are filled both with beacons that warn of the fate of the imprudent, and monuments that record the triumphs of the successful. That so many fail, therefore, in a task apparently so simple and easy, can only be accounted for by the false confidence which men repose in their own powers, which disposes them to slight instruction, and neglect the assistance of those charts and descriptions which have been furnished by the industry of preceding travellers.
Another circumstance, that marks the danger of the young neglecting the counsel of the old, is that revolution which experience and the progress of knowledge necessarily produce in the opinions and impressions of every human being. He must have little acquaintance with books, and less with life, who has not remarked this of others as well as of himself. Man is not the same being to-day that he was yesterday. His mind, like his body, is in a constant state of revolution.
The discovery of a new truth, or the adoption of a new opinion, often produces a total change in his views and sentiments, and gives a new turn to his most ordinary actions. This he feels and perceives, but seldom anticipates. It is the great error of his life constantly to overrate his present knowledge and attainments; and, although at every new addition to them, he discovers his former deficiency, he still secretly flatters himself that he has at last reached perfection. Like the torrent that rushes from the mountains, he begins his course, filled with a thousand impurities; and it is not till his knowledge has passed through the filters of the
Beacon, a fire lighted on a height by way of signal to navigators, a conspicuous mark. - Filter, any substance, material, or contrivance for straining and purifying liquids.
world, that error and prejudice sink to the bottom, and truth assumes its native transparency.
To this cause we must ascribe that striking diversity of feeling and sentiment which so often prevails between the pupil and preceptor, and which makes the former believe That to adopt the opinions of the latter were to doubt the evidence of his senses. To the cool and experienced, the world and its concerns have lost the master-charm of novelty; and hence the young find it as difficult to enter into the feelings of the old, as to read with their spectacles, or walk upon their crutches. But they should remember that these hoary advisers were once young and romantic like themselves, and that it is from a knowledge of the errors into which feelings are apt to betray us that these advisers caution us to be on our guard against their influence.
We would not, however, be understood as asserting that there are no prejudices peculiar to age, or that the young are never in danger of being misled by their instructors; - this would be hazarding too much; and it is sufficient for every purpose of instruction to affirm, that the instances in which the old are apt to feel biased, are precisely those in which the prejudices of the young run strongest in a contrary direction ; and that, at all events, there is infinitely more danger to be apprehended from their paying too little than too much deference to the opinion of others.
42. Hymn on the Seasons.
These, as they change, Almighty Father, these
Transparency, power or state of being seen through, clearness trans, 56; ency, 82. — Biased, turned away from a right, fair, or impartiai judg ment, influenced, inclined to one side.
Thy beauty walks, thy tenderness, and love.
Mysterious round! what skill, what force divine,
Nature, attend ! join, every living soul