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First, by lewdness and debauchery. So violent is the propension of mankind to sensual indulgence, that no human power can always restrain them from open and scandalous excesses. Indeed by the strict execution of the laws now in force amongst us, and by others to supply the deficiency of the present, much more might be done to check the progress of evils, which threaten even our political existence; though, after every provision, nothing could prevent bad men from diffusing their poison in a more subtle and insinuating manner, whether by the dubious turn of their conversation, or the general style of their behaviour. And in regard to that great medium of communication, the press, unless very severe and perhaps unwise restrictions were laid upon it, the corruption of authors will be sure to make it an engine of obscenity, as well as of other mischiefs; at least, in a covert and delicate way, which being less shocking to our moral feelings, is suited to spread the contagion with greater effect. These therefore are evils, which are more the subjects
Secondly, by gaming: which, although it has no particular ground in human nature, and is no more than an accidental determination of its general propensity to dissipation; when it has once made its way into society, and obtained the sanction of fashion, is an evil not easily to be suppressed, or even checked, by the wisest government. Of this we have a striking example in our Own country, where, in spite of many discouraging statutes *, it prevails to an alarming degree, defeating every provision of law by a principle of false honour, which has often a strange influence with men who possess but little sense either of virtue or decency.
Thirdly, by profaneness. By this I understand a contemptuous disregard to the being and providence of God, which commonly shows itself by using his name with irreverence, and neglecting his worship, Mr. Boyle is said never to have mentioned the name of God, without a visible pause in his discourse; and whoever does it with
habitual levity, discovers a mind destitute of every religious principle. The neglect of public, which I fear is almost always accompanied with an equal neglect of domestic worship, may be thought no less chargeable with profaneness; as it seems to insinuate, either that there is no God, or that our obligations to him require no such acknowledgment; or that we are too indolent, or too proud to offer it; for we can hardly admit with some, that the heart may be inspired with devotion when so considerable an expression of it is wanting. And were this indeed possible, such abstracted piety, by assuming the appearance of irreligion, must have the same effect upon others, and on this account be very culpably deficient. The small success of the methods taken by our legislature to remedy these evils, shows how little can be expected from fines and penalties, in those points which relate to our most important interests.
Fourthly, by a want of due respect to the constitution, whether religious or civil, under of our country with insolence or scurrility, or even as subjects of mere disputation, is manifestly an offence to public decency; although such grave discussion as may serve to their correction or improvement, is not only consistent with the regard we owe them, but may proceed from it. How to suppress the former without discouraging the latter, is a difficulty to which no policy is equal. There have been periods when prescription was reason, and when time gave a sanction to the grossest usurpations upon the persons and property, the understandings and consciences of men; there have been periods too in which a wild and lawless spirit has gone forth, and boldly called in question every opinion consecrated by the veneration, and every institution confirmed by the practice, of former ages. If men could have been taught wisdom by past example, by this time they would have learned, first, in respect to truth, to have sought it, though without a superstitious attachment, yet not without a becoming deference to ancient opinions;
rulers would have learned to act for the people, and the people to submit cheerfully to lawful and moderate government. The fact is, that, till some great revolution take place in human nature, the world will go on at its old rate, will continue to be swayed by its interests and passions, and perpetually be vibrating between truth and error, tyranny and licence, in spite of all the efforts of patriots and philosophers.
Fifthly, by incivility. It has been often justly observed, that the miseries of the present life arise not so much from great calamities, which but seldom happen, as from a succession of small vexations, which fret a man's spirit, exhaust his patience, and so bring him into a state of perpetual irritation. Whatever therefore tends to obviate these petty evils, highly deserves the attention of every one who either values his own quiet or that of others. On this account civility is an object of important consideration, as it serves to prevent those minute offences which are so apt to disturb our friendly intercourse, and frequently to