Sidor som bilder

of the affections; and that those circumstances, which, independent of systematic education, are favourable to their developement, only occur in the middle ranks of life. If the cultivation of the affections were made, as it ought to be, an important part of education, then rank or station would offer no impediment; but being, as it is, entirely excluded, and the matter left to chance, the consequences are such as might be expected: the poor, as we have seen, ignorant and intemperate, borne down by the pressure of their daily cares and wants, incapable of bestowing that attention upon their offspring which infancy demands; the rich and fashionable whirled away by the vortex of dissipation, sacrificing duty to pleasure; and thus, from opposite causes, withholding it from theirs.

Great, indeed, ought to be the advantages of high life, to compensate the loss of all those sweet and satisfying domestic joys relinquished for their sake. The offspring of the aristocracy, nursed by deputy, reared by deputy, educated by deputy, often, too, separated by distance, can know little of those daily and hourly endearments which form so strong a link of sympathy between the mother of middle rank and her child, and which, were it not for the intervention of pride, and restless, petty ambition, would be enough for rational happiness. The care of a governess is a poor substitute for that of a mother. The tide of natural affection thus early checked, is it surprising that the young English woman of high


birth should grow up cold, listless, and apathetic, lacking the energy requisite alike for the performance of great and noble actions, and the fulfilment of common duties; wanting an originality and individuality of character, alive only to the interests of matrimonial ambition and personal vanity; in short, fit only for the artificial existence which, to use Mrs. Austin's words, is her destiny?

The first tokens of sensibility in the infant being unquestionably mere instinct, though capable of being expanded into a discriminating affection, so also the yearnings of the parent's bosom towards the offspring are of a similar nature-not exceeding, and in many instances not equalling, the instinctive love and care displayed by the inferior animals towards their young. Parental affection, therefore, limited to those natural yearnings, ought not to be set forth as any very exalted merit, although the absence of it be a decided outrage against nature, and calls for and generally receives the utmost reprobation. Parents may love their offspring simply and solely because they belong to and are a part of themselves; not seldom, as I have elsewhere shewn, because they tend to the gratification and extension of the selfish principle. I am not aware that the circumstance of being herself a mother induces, in the female breast, any very lively or very universal sentiment of sympathy and affection towards the offspring of another. It may be, and I believe is, poetical orthodoxy to assert, that such amiable tenderness is inseparable from the maternal character; but I have witnessed many

instances to the contrary; where the heart, bound up in its own peculiar treasure, has appeared closed against all else. Family exclusivism is, I am convinced, quite as common, and quite as much opposed to general benevolence, as solitary egotism —but of this, more anon.

To be worthy of respect and admiration, parental love, far exceeding the natural yearnings just described, must evince itself in care for the spiritual as well as the temporal wants of the child. It must often do violence to itself, in order properly to correct, and so to perfect, the moral and intellectual training of the beloved object. It must take heed by day, and meditate by night, how best to fulfil so sacred a trust: in a word, devotion, entire devotion both of worldly possessions, time, and talents, so long as that devotion interferes not with the service due to God, and the claims of a more extensive benevolence, is the duty of parents towards those young and immortal beings, whom, in having given them existence, they have subjected to the trials and troubles of this world.



Considering the clear and comprehensive system of benevolence which Christianity unfolds to us, our notions, in relation to it, are strangely vague and indefinite, or, perhaps I should say, conventional, as conventional as our manners. Benevolence, with the majority, is lively or inactive, in

exact proportion to the rank and other worldly circumstances of the individual in whose behalf it is excited. "A stranger to human nature," observes Adam Smith, the philosophical author of "The Wealth of Nations," "who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine that pain must be more agonizing, and death more terrible, to persons of high rank than to persons of meaner station." Every day's experience shews the truth of this: we hear, unmoved, or at most but slightly so, of hundreds of our fellow-creatures among the labouring classes perishing of famine and disease, during seasons of scarcity or pestilence, or commercial distress. It would appear that, by common consent, they are regarded as legitimate victims; but let us read in the public papers, or hear mentioned in society, that a family of rank and consequence has lost, either through illness or accident, the heir to its wealth and honours; and lo! how ready are we then with our expressions of concern-nay, we even seem to take delight in placing ourselves, in imagination, in the circumstances of the great family, that we may sympathize the more fully and correctly in their affliction. The same disposition is manifested by us in a still greater degree in more circumscribed circles, where our pride may derive direct gratification from connecting ourselves, through sympathy, with some exalted ac

quaintance labouring under bodily or mental suffering. How constant are our inquiries at the house of the illustrious invalid! How eager are we to proffer assistance which is not needed, attentions that are held in little esteem! Our conversation, one amongst another, as naturally reverts to the interesting topic as though each were personally affected by it. All this would be exceedingly amiable and praiseworthy, if it really arose from sensibility; but do we act in like manner, and shew equal zeal and concern in the sickness of the poor and destitute of our neighbourhood? Are we as assiduous in our inquiries, as pressing in our offers of assistance, as pathetic in our condolence with their sorrows? I fear not.

Too much of this temper actuates us in all the concerns of social life. It is not upon the poor and needy that we lavish our substance in presents and entertainments, but upon the great and the opulent, who require them not. When we make a feast, it is not those who lack food that are invited, but those already labouring under a surfeit; thus reversing Scripture, and filling the rich with good things, while the hungry are sent empty away. Custom has sanctioned these practices until they have lost their incongruity in our eyes; they are, nevertheless, glaringly inconsistent with our profession as Christians. "When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen nor thy rich neighbours, lest they also bid thee again, and a recom

« FöregåendeFortsätt »