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from the independency of their situation, and their detachment from the subordinate occupations of society, may be supposed best qualified to determine and act wisely for the good of the whole; like the Athenian general Iphicrates, who was neither an archer or a targeteer, a trooper or a foot-soldier, but one who knew how to command, and make use of them all *. And without a like disengagement from particular professions, those especially which are accounted less liberal, there is small probability of being able, either to form plans of public utility, or properly to estimate them when formed by others.
4. The last character of the curiosity here meant to be censured is, that it fails to yield even an innocent amusement, which, from whatever source derived, ought to be treated neither with severity, nor indifference. The world is full of care, and can afford no abatement of any harmless satisfaction; nor is it to be denied, that a man may entertain himself with a newspaper or a political pamphlet, without violating any law of religion or morality, or any duty of social or civil life. The evil only is, and which we fear is common, when such an amusement takes up too much time, dissipates, or unduly agitates the mind, generates ill-temper, or unfits a man for a better world.
* “The General Iphicrates, when Callias, the son of Cabrias, asked him, What art thou? art thou an archer, or a targeteer, a trooper, or a foot-soldier? answered well, I am none of these, but one who commands them all.” PLUTARCH's Morals.
That much time is employed upon political topics every one must be sensible. The spirit of the old Athenians, who spent their days in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some nero thing*, (ranv.] spov, the newest, or, as we should now say, the latest intelligence) still continues in full vigour. On every side we see multitudes,
Whoe'er on wing with open throats Fly at debates, expresses, votes, Just in the manner swallows use, Catching their airy food of news:
* Acts. xvii. 21.
Which, to him who seriously considers the importance of time, and that on the use we make of it hangs all our future hopes and expectations, must afford matter of melancholy reflection; especially in respect of those who have but little time at their command, and who spend it in a manner so unprofitable both to themselves and to those around them. Such an amusement, if so it must be accounted. is one surely which is accompanied with no small degree of folly and criminality.
Again : It is a character of legitimate amusement, that it prepares, or, at least, that it does not disqualify a man for a return to his serious duties. It must, therefore, be something which is suited to collect and quiet, and not to scatter and dissipate the spirits. When by this rule we examine our vulgar politics, we find them not of a quality to stand the trial, as being singularly hostile to composure and recollection. While a common newsmonger is at his desk, or behind his counter; at the anvil, or in the field; his thoughts are rambling to the ends of the earth; he is watching the wind, and looking out with solicitude for the next mail, that may bring him intelligence of the politics and projects agitated at Paris, or at Petersburgh, at Vienna, or at Constantinople ; or of the event of some war or negotiation, perhaps in the East or West Indies : objects indeed which may laudably engage the attention of a statesman, as they relate to his office; or of others who enjoy much leisure, together with a degree of public influence; but to a man who takes them up merely for amusement, and to the neglect of his proper calling, they can, at best, only prove a source of idle dissipation and unprofitable anxiety.
Further: A third unhappy consequence of a meddling political curiosity is, that it generates ill temper. Those who are ever prying into the character and quality of public men and measures, easily contract a captious and quarrelsome spirit that can be satisfied with nothing; every man is incompetent or knavish, and every measure absurd or pernicious. This spirit usually springs out of vanity, presumption, or malignity, (passions rooted in our common nature) and sometimes from all of them in conjunction. From the first, since to criticise and censure others, those especially who are of rank or eminence in the state, seems to argue a superiority of parts and character, which is a distinction that, of all others, is most flattering to vanity. From the second, because, as nearly allied to vanity, it affects a like pre-eminence; and because too it is heady and violent, impatient of inquiry, apt to fasten upon single circumstances, and consequently prone to judge and condemn without a proper knowledge of the cause, and without that respect to persons and things to which they are entitled. And from the third, because it is of the very nature of malignity to be captious and hostile, to disparage whatever is excellent or eminent, and to aggravate every fault or imperfection. From the three, therefore, in conjunction, and operating within the sphere of vulgar politics, where they cannot fail to be powerfully exerted, and called forth into full activity, the contentious and dissocial spirit of which we are