« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
of the general tenor of our conversation. It is by this, more than by any thing else, that a man is reputed to be grave or gay, serious' or light-minded. The thoughts that lie deep within us, are unseen, and can be known only by some mode of manifestation. Now business in all its forms is essentially and mainly serious; it is bound down to this character of gravity by the very necessity of the case ; and it furnishes, therefore, no criterion of our disposition. Conversation only, and especially that of our unoccupied hours, is free. If then, it is chiefly employed upon light and trivial subjects, if its tone is habitually that of useless trifling, if its effort is always after jests and witticisms, the reputation of being thoughtless triflers will inevitably follow us. We may feel indeed, that the estimate does us injustice ; we may feel that we have our serious and solemn reflections, serious and solemn as those of other men who wear a grave countenance ; we may actually have them; and this, indeed, is the very thing to be regretted and complained of, that while we have our religious thoughts and feelings, they should be so completely covered over by the flimsy and fantastic veil of perpetual and pertinacious levity. We speak strongly, it may be thought ; we speak, indeed, as if there were a degree of obstinacy in this diseased habit of trifling; and it is true that the evil does sometimes go to this extent. The extreme buoyancy and the superabundant spirits of the young, do not unfrequently, for a while, when directed to no rational employment, assume this character of excessive and wasteful gayety. They can scarcely speak a word that must not be singular and droll; they can scarcely dismiss their levity at church, or their folly from the school-room, whither they have been sent to learn wisdom. This is not to be spoken of with severity, perhaps, till it advances into the age of reflection ; but then, surely, it is a sad misdirection and a grievous fault. It is a fault, as every careful observer must have perceived, which is particularly adverse to all elevated and manly improvement. The very spirit of that improvement, the spirit that has wrought deeply and struggled hard in the bosom of genius and of all high endeavour, has always been eminently serious ; its chosen manifestations have not been the utterance of apt drolleries or ebullitions of senseless mirth ; but the throbbing pulse and the bursting tear have been witnesses of unutterable thoughts within. And if it is an injurious fault, it
is equally to be regarded as an unhappy misdirection of faculties that are destined to meet the great moral issue of a being such as ours. It is a sad thing to play the part of harlequin, in a drama, so serious as that which is passing on earth, and so momentous as that which is opening to the scenes of eternity.
We are not of those who would restrain any reasonable hilarity. We would not say any thing to check the natural buoyancy of humor, or the occasional sallies of wit. It is when it becomes the habitual and almost uninterrupted tenor of any one's conversation, that it is an unseémly and burtful error.
Nor should we hastily, in our own judgment, draw the usual inference from this habit, even when it goes thus far. We have often seen the deepest dejection, indeed, veiled over with artificial mirth, and still oftener have we seen a real gayety, which was only the alternation of the profoundest sadness. We have sometimes found too, that deep and even religious reflection was hidden beneath this trifling demeanor, - have found this to be the drapery, and not the man, that was thus exhibited to the world.
But where such is the true interpretation of this apparent anomaly in character, where acquired habit or natural impulse leads any really serious person to unusual gayety in conversation or demeanor, the obligation upon him, for a distinct avowal of his higher sentiments, is doubly urgent. He is bound to give the more explicit testimony to those sentiments, in proportion as they are the more liable to be misapprehended. He should take pains most distinctly to say, or to do that which is tantamount to saying, “Though my temper leans to unusual buoyancy, and my spirits are naturally light and gay, yet let it not be supposed that I am indifferent to the great subject, in which every rational being should be interested. I may trifle, perhaps, more than I ought ; it is difficult to draw the line, that separates indulgence from excess; it is possible to be too constantly serious for one's physical or mental health ; but, God forbid that I should be at heart a trifler, or that any one should give me this unworthy name. Indeed, it may be peculiarly incumbent on a person of this character to express his reverence for religion, by formal acts of public or domestic devotion ; though we are aware that the common judgment would be otherwise. We know that a really serious and religious man sometimes says, “My manners are not sufficiently governed and grave,
VOL. XI. - N. S. VOL. VI. NO. II.
for me to profess religion’; but we cannot agree with him. We should say that it is particularly expedient for him to give a solemn and deliberate testimony of his reverence for
It is not of this, however, that we are now speaking, but of a testimony in words, in conversation, and, to a greater extent than many do, in the tenor of their conversation. Let them consider how great is the effect of an assumed character in this
respect upon themselves and upon the manner in which others will treat them. An attempt to support the character of a wit or of a trifler, or of an eccentric person, will often come in the way
both of a man's intellectual and religious improvement, — in the way of deep thought, and of all fervent, devotional affection. Others, too, by their almost unconscious expectations from him, by their constant treatment of him, will contribute to the same injurious result. Even good men, who are wont to hold solid and serious discourse with others, may never think of looking for any thing but amusement to him. Have we never seen one - capable, too, of sense and worth, gifted with powers that often showed themselves in the shrewd remark and the sharp answer,
have we never seen such an one made the laughing-stock of a village or neighbourhood, the butt of gibes and jests ; – to whom, as he passed, the ball of folly was fung out from every corner to rebound from the skull that covered his idle brain ;-one, in short, made a fool, by having been treated as a fool, and treated as a fool because, in some evil hour, he took upon himself the character of a fool! The instance is, indeed, an extreme one ; but some approach to that injury may be experienced by every one who makes any approach to the reputation of an habitual trifler or jester.
We must not leave the subject without noticing, as we have promised, two or three objections which are usually made, not to one mode or another of avowal, but to avowal itself. These are probably, in most minds, the leading and principal objections.
One says, “I have no religious experience to avow in any form,- neither in the communion, nor in domestic worship, nor in conversation.' Let the objection stop here, and let it be set down for a fair and honest statement, and we must allow that it removes the case from our present consideration. If a man has no religion, of course, we say, let him avow
none. We desire hypocrisy to bring no offerings. But is the objection a just and sincere one ? Does it stop at the point stated? We are convinced that, in many cases, it is quite otherwise. A man says, 'I have no religious experience to avow'; but he does not mean what his words mean.
He is not willing to deny himself the possession of every pure and holy sentiment. He is not willing to say that he is utterly alienated from God and from goodness ; that he is one whom neither heaven nor hell moves from his stupidity; whom the thoughts, neither of flying time nor of boundless eternity, arouse to any emotions, either serious or sublime. No; but his objection proceeds to qualifications. He has no religion to avow'; and there he is willing that the matter should rest, so long as it will serve simply as an excuse. But do you take him at his word, and tell him that you are then to consider him as one whom no sacred or pious thoughts ever visit, or whom they visit only to be abhorred; and he will probably change his tone, and say, that he has his thoughts of religion and his feelings about it, as well as another. Well; if he has religious thoughts and feelings, why shall he not avow them, avow so much as he has, and no more? Why not, at least, confess his deficiency, - a confession sometimes so made, made with such regret and pain, as to be one of the most interesting and promising of all avowals? But perhaps the objector means, not that he has no religion, but that he has not religion enough to make it proper for him to avow it. But is any
such distinction fairly to be made ? Is there any one point in religious experience where it is proper for avowal to begin ? Is the day of small things to be despised ? Must it not always come before the day of great things ? But perhaps it is a real and amiable modesty that leads some to hesitate. There may be a hearty interest in religion, and an earnest desire to promote it, but the possessor of these feelings says, “I am not the person to come forward with professions; I should be ashamed to say that I am good, or spiritually minded.' To such an one we have a single question to propose. Is modesty to stand in the place of all other virtues, and in the way of all other duties ? Let it be ever so amiable and praiseworthy, but let it not be extravagant ; let it not be held in exclusive respect as above all other claims. And if it were, yet what is this modesty after all? What is it but one of those virtues that fairly claim a frank and explicit acknowledgment? Modesty, a humble sense of our deficiences, is no disqualification from avowal, but a special reason for it.
But in the next place, some will say, We are afraid that we shall not keep our vows. If we were to establish a devotional service in our families, or were to attend the communion, and if we should talk of religion in a manner as if we were personally interested in it; and then, if after all this, we were to fall into those offences which we had professed our purpose to avoid, it were better that we had not professed.' We cannot admit this conclusion, and we fear that pride lies deeper in the objection, than humility does, notwithstanding its fair appearance. Why cannot a faithful and devoted man humbly and gratefully acknowledge the interest he takes in religion, with the full purpose, at the same time, that if he falls into sins inconsistent with that acknowledgment, he will yet more humbly confess them? Why shall he not be willing, through resolutions and confessions, through endeavours and humiliations, to work out his way to heaven? Why shall reproach be so dreaded a thing to a creature so frail and sinful, and who ought every day to reproach himself too deeply to be afraid of reproach from another?
Besides, avowal is one of the means which may have power to preserve him from falling into sin. Admit that it does not hold the highest place; yet if it has any power, is it for so weak a creature as man to dispense with it? There are moments of strong temptation, of blinding passion, when a man may forget, or lose sight of, his higher principles; and it is better that he should then remember his vows, and the stand he has taken before the world, than that he should remember nothing that will save him. Better surely than utter ruin is it, to be rescued by the fear of disgrace.
But in the last place, some will say, perhaps, that although the avowal proposed ought not to be precluded by modesty, or by the fear of falling into sin, yet that it would place them in an unfair position before society. "The eye of the world will be upon us,' they may say, and it will mark our slightest faults as gross offences. It will note every deviation from the strictest decorum and sobriety, every compliance even with the decent fashions and amusements of society, nay, every instance of innocent hilarity, as a monstrous inconsistency with our profession.'
Admit that there is a degree of unreasonableness and su