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I CONSIDER a generous mind as the noblest work of the creation; and am persuaded whereever it resides, no real merit can be wanting. It is, perhaps, the most singular of all the moral endowments: I am sure at least, it is often imputed where it cannot justly be claimed. The meanest self-love, under some refined disguise, frequently passes upon common observers for this godlike principle, and I have known many a popular action attributed to this motive, where it flowed from a no higher source than the sugges tions of concealed vanity. Good-nature, as it has many features in common with this virtue, is usually mistaken for it: the former, however, is but the effect possibly of a happy disposition of the animal structure, or as Dryden somewhere calls it, of a certain "milkiness of blood;"
whereas the latter is seated in the mind, and can never subsist where good sense and enlarged sentiments have no existence. It is entirely founded, indeed, upon justness of thought; which is perhaps the reason this virtue is so little the characteristic of mankind in general. A man whose mind is warped by the selfish passions, or contracted by the narrow prejudices of sects or parties, must undoubtedly want understanding. The same clouds that darken his intellectual views obstruct his moral ones; and his generosity is extremely circumscribed, because his reason is exceedingly limited.
It is the distinguishing pre-eminence of the Christian system, that it cherishes this elevated principle in one of its noblest exertions. Forgiveness of injuries, I confess, indeed, has been inculcated by several of the Heathen moralists, but it never entered into the established ordinances of any religion, till it had the sanction of the Great Author of ours. I have often, however, wondered that the antients, who raised so many virtues and affections of the mind into divinities, should never have given a place in their temples to generosity; unless perhaps they included it under the notion of FIDES or HONOS. But surely, she might reasonably have claimed a separate altar and superior rites. A principle of
honour may restrain a man from counteracting the social ties, who yet has nothing of that active flame of generosity, which is too powerful to be confined within the humbler boundaries of mere negative duties. Free generosity rises above the ordinary rules of social conduct, and flows with much too full a stream to be comprehended within the precise marks of formal precepts. It is a vigorous principle in the soul, which opens and expands all her virtues beyond those which are only the forced and unnatural productions of a timid obedience. The man who is influenced singly by motives of the latter kind, aims no higher than at certain authoritative standards, without ever attempting to reach those glorious elevations, which constitute the only true heroism of the social character. Religion, without this sovereign principle, degenerates into slavish fear; and wisdom into a specious cunning; and learning is but the avarice of the mind, and wit its more pleasing kind of madness. In a word, generosity sanctifies every passion, and adds grace to every acquisition of the soul; and if it does not necessarily include, at least it reflects a lustre upon the whole circle of moral and intel lectual qualities.
LOVE OF LIFE INCREASING WITH AGE.
AGE, that lessens the enjoyment of life, increases our desire of living. Those dangers which in the vigour of youth we had learned to despise, assume new terrors as we grow old. Our caution increasing as our years increase, fear becomes at last the prevailing passion of the mind; and the small remnant of life is taken up in useless efforts to keep off our end, or to provide for a continued existence.
Strange contradiction in our nature, and to which even the wise are liable! If I should judge of that part of life which lies before me, by that which I have already seen, the prospect is hideous. Experience tells me that my past enjoyments have brought no real felicity, and sensation assures me, that those I have felt are
stronger than those which are yet to come. Yet experience and sensation in vain persuade: hope, more powerful than either, dresses out the distant prospect in fancied beauty, some happiness in perspective still beckons me to pursue, and like a losing gamester, every new disappointment increases my ardour to continue the game.
Whence this increased love of life, which grows upon us with our years; whence comes it that we thus make greater efforts to preserve our existence, at a period when it becomes scarcely worth the keeping? Is it that nature, attentive to the preservation of mankind, increases our wishes to live, while she lessens our enjoyments; and as she robs the senses of every pleasure, equips imagination with the spoil? Life would be insupportable to an old man, who loaded with infirmities, feared death no more than when in the vigour of manhood; the numberless calamities of decaying nature, and the consciousness of surviving every pleasure, would at once induce him with his own hand to terminate the scene of misery; but happily the contempt of death forsakes him at a time when it could be only prejudicial; and life acquires an imaginary value, in proportion as its real value is no more.
Our attachment to every object around us increases in general from the length of our ac