S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Learn to feel the supreme interest of the discipline of the mind; study the remarkable power which you can exercise over its habits of attention and its trains of thought; and cultivate a sense of the deep importance of exercising this power according to the principles of wisdom and of virtue . Judging upon these principles, we are taught to feel that life has a value beyond the mere acquirement of knowledge and the mere prosecution of our own happiness. This value is found in those nobler pursuits which qualify us for promoting the good of others, and in those acquirements by which we learn to become masters of ourselves. It is to cultivate the intellectual part for the attainment of truth,and to train the moral being for the solemn purposes of life, when life is viewed in its relation to a life which is to come.
How different is the view of past life in the man who is grown old in knowledge and wisdom, from that of him who is grown old in ignorance and folly! The latter is like the owner of a barren country, that fills his eye with the prospect of naked hills and plains, which produce nothing either profitable or ornamental; the other beholds a beautiful and spacious landscape, divided into delightful gardens, green meadows, fruitful fields, and can scarce cast his eye on a single spot of his possessions that is not covered with some beautiful plant or flower.
Irresolution on the schemes of life which offer themselves to our choice, and inconstancy in pursuing them, are the greatest and most universal causes of all our disquiet and unhappiness. When ambition pulls one way, interest another, inclination a third, and perhaps reason contrary to all, a man is likely to pass his time but ill who has so many different parties to please. When the mind hovers among such a variety of allurements, one had better settle on a way of life that is not the very best we might have chosen, than grow old without determining our choice, and go out of the world, as the greatest part of mankind do, before we have resolved how to live in it. There is but one method of setting ourselves at rest in this particular, and that is by adhering steadfastly to one great end as the chief and ultimate aim of all our pursuits. If we are firmly resolved to live up to the dictates of reason, without any regard to wealth, reputation, or the like considerations, any more than as they fall in with our principal design, we may go through life with steadiness and pleasure; but if we act by several broken views, and will not only be virtuous, but wealthy, popular, and everything that has a value set upon it by the world, we shall live and die in misery and repentance.
In short, I would have every one consider that he is in this life nothing more than a passenger, and that he is not to set up his rest here, but to keep an attentive eye upon that state of being to which he approaches every moment, and which will be forever fixed and permanent. This single consideration would be sufficient to extinguish the bitterness of hatred, the thirst of avarice, and the cruelty of ambition.
I am very much pleased with the passage of Antiphanes, a very ancient poet, who lived near a hundred years before Socrates, which represents the life of man under this view, as I have here translated it word for word. Be not grieved, says he, above measure for thy deceased friends. They are not dead, but have only finished the journey which it is necessary for every one of us to take. We ourselves must go to that great place of reception in which they are all of them assembled, and, in this general rendezvous of mankind, live together in another state of being. I think I have, in a former paper, taken notice of those beautiful metaphors in Scripture, where life is termed a pilgrimage, and those who pass through it are called strangers and sojourners upon earth.
Augustus, a few minutes before his death, asked his friends who stood about him, if they thought he had acted his part well; and upon receiving such an answer as was due to his extraordinary merit, Let me then, says he, go off the stage with your applause; using the expression with which the Roman actors made their exit at the conclusion of a dramatic piece. I could wish that men, while they are in health, would consider well the nature of the part they are engaged in, and what figure it will make in the minds they leave behind them, whether it was worth coming into the world for; whether it be suitable to a reasonable being; in short, whether it appears graceful in this life, or will turn to advantage in the next.
I would recommend to every one that admirable precept which Pythagoras is said to have given to his disciples, and which that philosopher must have drawn from the observation I have enlarged upon: Optimum vitæ genus eligito, nam consuetudo faciet jucundissimum: Pitch upon that course of life which is the most excellent, and custom will render it the most delightful. Men whose circumstances will permit them to choose their own way of life are inexcusable if they do not pursue that which their judgment tells them is the most laudable. The voice of reason is more to be regarded than the bent of any present inclination, since, by the rule above mentioned, inclination will at length come over to reason, though we can never force reason to comply with inclination.
Though we seem grieved at the shortness of life in general, we are wishing every period of it at an end: the minor longs to be at age; then to be a man of business; then to make up an estate; then to arrive at honours; then to retire.
It shall ever be my study to make discoveries of this nature in human life, and to settle the proper distinctions between the virtues and perfections of mankind and those false colours and resemblances of them that shine alike in the eyes of the vulgar.
There is no unmixed good in human affairs: the best principles, if pushed to excess, degenerate into fatal vices. Generosity is nearly allied to extravagance; charity itself may lead to ruin; the sternness of justice is but one step removed from the severity of oppression. It is the same in the political world: the tranquillity of despotism resembles the stagnation of the Dead Sea; the fever of innovation the tempests of the ocean. It would seem as if, at particular periods, from causes inscrutable to human wisdom, a universal frenzy seizes mankind: reason, experience, prudence, are alike blinded; and the very classes who are to perish in the storm are the first to raise its fury.
As we advance from youth to middle age, a new field of action opens, and a different character is required. The flow of gay impetuous spirits begins to subside; life gradually assumes a graver cast; the mind a more sedate and thoughtful turn. The attention is now transferred from pleasure to interest; that is, to pleasure diffused over a wider extent and measured by a larger scale. Formerly the enjoyment of the present moment occupied the whole attention; now no action terminates ultimately in itself, but refers to some more distant aim. Wealth and power, the instruments of lasting gratification, are now coveted more than any single pleasure; prudence and foresight lay their plan; industry carries on its patient efforts; activity pushes forward; address winds around; here an enemy is to be overcome, there a rival to be displaced; competition warms, and the strife of the world thickens on every side.
Believe me, the providence of God has established such an order in the world, that of all which belongs to us the least valuable parts can alone fall under the will of others. Whatever is best is safest, lies most out of the reach of human power, can neither be given nor taken away. Such is the great and beautiful work of nature,the world; such is the mind of man, which contemplates and admires the world, where it makes the noblest part. These are inseparably ours; and as long as we remain in one we shall enjoy the other. Let us march, therefore, intrepidly, wherever we are led by the course of human accidents. Wherever they lead us, on what coast soever we are thrown by them, we shall not find ourselves absolutely strangers.
Since a few minutes can turn the healthiest bodies into breathless carcasses, and put those very things which we had principally relied on into the hands of our enemies, it were little less than madness to repose a distrustless trust in these transitory possessions or treacherous advantages which we enjoy but by so fickle a tenure. No; we must never venture to wander far from God upon the presumption that death is far enough from us; but rather, in the very height of our jollity, we should endeavour to remember that they who feast themselves to-day may, themselves, prove feasts for the worms to-morrow.
Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs. We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world; but the time will come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies: when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark will remain,the impalpable principle of life and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature: whence it came, it will return, perhaps to pass through gradations of glory,from the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph . It is a creed in which I delight, to which I cling. It makes eternity a rest, a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end.
Some real lives dofor certain days or yearsactually anticipate the happiness of heaven; and I believe if such perfect happiness is once felt by good people (to the wicked it never comes) its sweet effect is never wholly lost. Whatever trials follow, whatever pains of sickness or shades of death, the glory precedent still shines through, cheering the keen anguish and tinging the deep cloud. I will go further: I do believe there are some human beings so born, so reared, so guided from a soft cradle to a calm and late grave, that no excessive suffering penetrates their journey. And often these are not pampered, selfish beings, but Natures elect, harmonious and benign; men and women mild with charity, kind agents of Gods kind attributes . But it is not so for all. What then? His will be done! as done it surely will be, whether we humble ourselves to resignation or not.
When the stoic [Seneca] said that life would not be accepted if it were offered unto such as knew it, he spoke too meanly of that state of being which placeth us in the form of men. It more depreciates the value of this life, that men would not live it over again; for although they would still live on, yet few or none can endure to think of being twice the same men upon earth, and some had rather never have lived, than to tread over their days once more . But the greatest underweening of this life is to undervalue that unto which this is but exordial, or a passage leading unto it. The great advantage of this mean life is thereby to stand in a capacity of a better; for the colonies of heaven must be drawn from earth, and the sons of the first Adam are only heirs unto the second.
If length of days be thy portion, make it not thy expectation. Reckon not upon long life: think every day the last, and live always beyond thy account. He that so often surviveth his expectations lives many lives, and will scarce complain of the shortness of his days. Time past is gone like a shadow; make time to come present. Approximate thy latter times by present apprehensions of them: be like a neighbour unto the grave, and think there is but little time to come. And since there is something of us that will still live on, join both lives together, and live in one but for the other. He who thus ordereth the purposes of this life will never be far from the next; and is in some manner already in it, by a happy conformity and close apprehension of it.
And surely, if we deduct all those days of our life which we might wish unlived, and which abate the comfort of those we now live, if we reckon up only those days which God hath accepted of our lives, a life of good years will hardly be a span long, the son in this sense may outlive the father, and none climacterically old.
Though I think no man can live well once but he that could live well twice, yet for my own part I would not live over my hours past, or begin again the thread of my days: not upon Ciceros ground, because I have lived them well, but for fear I should live them worse.
The nearer we approach to the goal of life, the better we begin to understand the true value of our existence, and the real weight of our opinions. We set out much in love with both; but we leave much behind us as we advance. We first throw away the tales along with the rattles of our nurses: those of the priest keep their hold a little longer; those of our governors the longest of all. But the passions which prop these opinions are withdrawn one after another; and the cool light of reason, at the setting of our life, shows us what a false splendour played upon these objects during our more sanguine seasons. Happy, my lord, if, instructed by my experience, and even by my errors, you come early to make such an estimate of things as may give freedom and ease to your life. I am happy that such an estimate promises me comfort at my death.
It is wise, indeed, considering the many positive vexations and the innumerable bitter disappointments of pleasure in the world, to have as many resources of satisfaction as possible within ones power. Whenever we concentre the mind on one sole object, that object and life itself must go together. But though it is right to have reserves of employment, still some one object must be kept principal, greatly and eminently so; and the other masses and figures must preserve their due subordination, to make out the grand composition of an important life.
As the rose-tree is composed of the sweetest flowers and the sharpest thorns; as the heavens are sometimes fair and sometimes overcast, alternately tempestuous and serene; so is the life of man intermingled with hopes and fears, with joys and sorrows, with pleasures and with pains.
How true is that old fable of the sphinx who sat by the wayside, propounding her riddle to the passengers, which if they could not answer, she destroyed them! Such a sphinx is this life of ours to all men and societies of men. Nature, like the sphinx, is of womanly celestial loveliness and tenderness; the face and bosom of a goddess, but ending in claws and the body of a lioness. There is in her a celestial beauty, which means celestial order, pliancy to wisdom; but there is also a darkness, a ferocity, a fatality, which are infernal. She is a goddess, but one not yet disimprisoned; one still half imprisoned,the inarticulate, lovely, still encased in the inarticulate, chaotic. How true! And does she not propound her riddles to us? Of each man she asks daily, in mild voice, yet with a terrible significance, Knowest thou the meaning of this day? What thou canst do to-day, wisely attempt to do. Nature, universe, destiny, existence, howsoever we name this great unnameable fact in the midst of which we live and struggle, is as a heavenly bride and conquest to the wise and brave, to them who can discern her behests and do them; a destroying fiend to them who cannot. Answer her riddle, it is well with thee. Answer it not, pass on regarding it not, it will answer itself: the solution of it is a thing of teeth and claws. Nature is a dumb lioness, deaf to thy pleadings, fiercely devouring.
I highly approve the end and intent of Pythagorass injunction: which is, to dedicate the first part of life more to hear and learn, in order to collect materials out of which to form opinions founded on proper lights, and well-examined sound principles, than to be presuming, prompt, and flippant in hazarding ones own slight crude notions of things; and then, by exposing the nakedness and emptiness of the mind, like a house opened to company before it is fitted either with necessities or any ornament for their reception and entertainment.
Some men make a womanish complaint that it is a great misfortune to die before our time. I would ask, What time? Is it that of nature? But she, indeed, has lent us life, as we do a sum of money, only no certain day is fixed for payment. What reason, then, to complain if she demands it at pleasure, since it was on this condition you received it?
The two most precious things on this side the grave are our reputation and our life. But it is to be lamented that the most contemptible whisper may deprive us of the one, and the weakest weapon of the other. A wise man, therefore, will be more anxious to deserve a fair name than to possess it, and this will teach him so to live as not to be afraid to die.
No man can promise himself even fifty years of life, but any man may if he please live in the proportion of fifty years in forty: let him rise early, that he may have the day before him; and let him make the most of the day, by determining to spend it on two sorts of acquaintance only; those by whom something may be got, and those from whom something may be learnt.
Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindnesses, and small obligations, given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart, and secure comfort.
You gladly now see life before you, but there is a moment which you are destined to meet when you will have passed across it and will find yourself at the farther edge. Are you perfectly certain that at that moment you will be in possession of something that will enable you not to care that life is gone? If you should not, what then?
Nothing new under the sun. I compare life to a little wilderness, surrounded by a high dead wall. Within this space we muse and walk in quest of the new and happy, forgetting the insuperable limit, till, with surprise, we find ourselves stopped by the dead wall: we turn away, and muse and walk again, till, on another side, we find ourselves close against the dead wall. Whichever way we turnstill the same.
The lives of most men are misspent for want of a certain end of their actions; wherein they do, as unwise archers, shoot away their arrows they know not at what mark. They live only out of the present, not directing themselves and their proceedings to one universal scope: whence they alter upon every change of occasions, and never reach any perfection; neither can do other but continue in uncertainty and end in discomfort. Others aim at one certain mark, but a wrong one. Some, though fewer, level at a right end, but amiss. To live without one main and common end is idleness and folly. To live at a false end is deceit and loss. True Christian wisdom both shows the end and finds the way; and as cunning politics have many plots to compass one and the same design by a determined succession, so the wise Christian, failing in the means, yet still fetcheth about to his steady end with constant change of endeavours: such an one only lives to purpose and at last repents not that he hath lived.
Of the great prizes of human life it is not often the lot of the most enterprising to obtain many: they are placed on opposite sides of the path, so that it is impossible to approach one of them without proportionally receding from another; whence it results that the wisest plans are founded on a compromise between good and evil, where much that is the object of desire is finally relinquished and abandoned in order to secure superior advantages.
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
Life bears us on like the stream of a mighty river. Our boat at first glides down the narrow channel through the playful murmurings of the little brook, and the winding of the grassy borders. The trees shed their blossoms over our young heads, the flowers on the brink seem to offer themselves to our young hands; we are happy in hope, and we grasp eagerly at the beauties around us; but the stream hurries us on, and still our hands are empty. Our course in youth and manhood is along a wilder and deeper flood, amid objects more striking and magnificent. We are animated at the moving pictures of enjoyment and industry passing around us. We are excited at some short-lived disappointment. The stream bears us on, and our joys and griefs are alike left behind us. We may be shipwreckedwe cannot be delayed; whether rough or smooth, the river hastens to its home, till the roar of the ocean is in our ears, and the tossing of the waves is beneath our feet, and the land lessens from our eyes, and the floods are lifted up around us, and we take our leave of earth and its inhabitants, until of our further voyage there is no witness save the Infinite and Eternal.
These things are linked and, as it were, chained one to another: we labour to eat, and we eat to live, and we live to do good; and the good which we do is as seed sown with reference unto a future harvest.
The microscope declares that creative perfection is measured neither by stature nor volume, and that the tiniest creatures often reveal in their structures a more marvellous reach of adaptive art than animals which at first sight appear more perfect. It was thought that the functions of life were simple. Experiments on living animals have proved the most unexpected complexity in every vital act and in every organ. Thus observation daily reveals fresh instances of the infinity of creation. Nature is a standing proof not only of the beneficence of the One Great Power, but also of His omniscience and His omnipotence.
With a telescope directed towards one end of things created, and a microscope towards the other, we sigh to think how short is life, and how long is the list of acquirable knowledge. Alas! what is man in the nineteenth century! It is provoking that, now we have the means of learning most, we have the least time to learn it in. If we had but the longevity of the antediluvian patriarchs, we might have some hope, not of completing our education, but of passing a respectable previous examination prior to our admittance into a higher school. The nearer we approach to infinite minuteness, the more we appreciate the infinite beauty and the infinite skill in contrivance and adaptation which marks every production of the one great creative hand.
There is certainly no greater happiness than to be able to look back on a life usefully and virtuously employed, to trace our own progress in existence by such tokens as excite neither shame nor sorrow. Life, in which nothing has been done or suffered to distinguish one day from another, is to him that has passed it, as if it never had been, except that he is conscious how ill he has husbanded the great deposit of his Creator. Life made memorable by crimes, and diversified through its several periods by wickedness, is indeed easily reviewed, but reviewed only with horror and remorse.
The great consideration which ought to influence us in the use of the present moment is to arise from the effect which, as well or ill supplied, it must have upon the time to come; for though its actual existence be inconceivably short, yet its effects are unlimited; and there is not the smallest point of time but may extend its consequences, either to our hurt or our advantage, through all eternity, and give us reason to remember it forever with anguish or exultation.
Remember, my son, that human life is the journey of a day. We rise in the morning of youth, full of vigour and full of expectation; we set forward with spirit and hope, with gaiety and with diligence, and travel on awhile in the straight road of piety towards the mansions of rest. In a short time we remit our fervour, and endeavour to find some mitigation of our duty, and some more easy means of obtaining the same end. We then relax our vigour, and resolve no longer to be terrified with crimes at a distance, but rely upon our own constancy, and venture to approach what we resolve never to touch. We thus enter the bowers of ease and repose in the shades of security. Here the heart softens, and vigilance subsides; we are then willing to inquire whether another advance cannot be made, and whether we may not, at least, turn our eyes upon the gardens of pleasure. We approach them with scruple and hesitation; we enter them, but enter timorous and trembling, and always hope to pass through them without losing the road of virtue, which we, for a while, keep in our sight, and to which we propose to return. But temptation succeeds temptation, and one compliance prepares us for another; we, in time, lose the happiness of innocence, and solace our disquiet with sensual gratifications. By degrees we let fall the remembrance of our original intention, and quit the only adequate object of rational desire. We entangle ourselves in business, immerse ourselves in luxury, and rove through the labyrinths of inconstancy, till the darkness of old age begins to invade us, and disease and anxiety obstruct our way. We then look back upon our lives with horror, with sorrow, with repentance; and wish, but often too vainly wish, that we had not forsaken the ways of virtue. Happy are they, my son, who shall learn from thy example not to despair, but shall remember that though the day is past, and their strength is wasted, there yet remains one effort to be made; that reformation is never hopeless, nor sincere endeavours ever unassisted; that the wanderer may at length return after all his errors, and that he who implores strength and courage from above shall find danger and difficulty give way before him. Go now, my son, to thy repose, commit thyself to the care of Omnipotence, and when the morning calls again to toil, begin anew thy journey and thy life.
At our entrance into the world, when health and vigour give us fair promises of time sufficient for the regular maturation of our schemes and a long enjoyment of our acquisitions, we are eager to seize the present moment; we pluck every gratification within our reach without suffering it to ripen into perfection, and crowd all the varieties of delight into a narrow compass: but age seldom fails to change our conduct: we grow negligent of time in proportion as we have less remaining, and suffer the last part of life to steal from us in languid preparations for future undertakings, or slow approaches to remote advantages, in weak hopes of some fortuitous occurrence, or drowsy equilibrations of undetermined counsels.
Life consists not of a series of illustrious actions or elegant enjoyments: the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures; and we are well or ill at ease as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent observation.
Our senses, our appetites, and our passions are our lawful and faithful guides in most things that relate solely to this life; and therefore by the hourly necessity of consulting them we gradually sink into an implicit submission and habitual confidence.
If this life is unhappy, it is a burden to us, which it is difficult to bear; if it is in every respect happy, it is dreadful to be deprived of it: so that in either case the result is the same, for we must exist in anxiety and apprehension.
There is a greater difference both in the stages of life and in the seasons of the year than in the conditions of men: yet the healthy pass through the seasons, from the clement to the unclement, not only unreluctant but rejoicingly, knowing that the worst will soon finish, and the best begin anew; and we are desirous of pushing forward into every stage of life, excepting that only which ought reasonably to allure us most, as opening to us the Via sacra, along which we move in triumph to our eternal country. We labour to get through a crowd. Such is our impatience, such our hatred of procrastination, in everything but the amendment of our practices and the adornment of our nature, one would imagine we were dragging Time along by force, and not he us.
This life is a scene of vanity, that soon passes away and affords no solid satisfaction but in the consciousness of doing well, and in the hopes of another life: this is what I can say upon experience, and what you will find to be true when you come to make up the account.
The mere lapse of years is not life. To eat, and drink, and sleep,to be exposed to darkness and the light,to pace round in the mill of habit, and turn thought into an implement of trade,this is not life. In all this but a poor fraction of the consciousness of humanity is awakened; and the sanctities will slumber which make it worth while to be. Knowledge, truth, love, beauty, goodness, faith, alone can give vitality to the mechanism of existence. The laugh of mirth that vibrates through the heart; the tears that freshen the dry wastes within; the music that brings childhood back; the prayer that calls the future near; the doubt which makes us meditate; the death which startles us with mystery; the hardship which forces us to struggle; the anxiety that ends in trust; are the true nourishment of our natural being.
If you have made your profit of life, you have had enough of it, go your way satisfied . If you have not known how to make the best use of it, and if it was unprofitable for you, what need you care to lose it, to what end would you desire longer to keep it? Life in itself is neither good nor evil; it is the scene of good or evil, as you make it; and if you have lived a day, you have seen all: one day is equal, and like to all other days; there is no other light, no other shade; this very sun, this moon, these very stars, this very order and revolution of things, is the same your ancestors enjoyed, and that shall also entertain your posterity.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xix.
Pythagoras was wont to say, that our life retires to the great and populous assembly of the Olympick games, wherein some exercise the body, that they may carry away the glory of the prize in those contentions, and others carry merchandise to sell for profit. There are also some (and those none of the worst sort) who pursue no other advantage than only to look on, and consider how, and why, everything is done, and to be unactive spectators of the lives of other men, thereby the better to judge of, and to regulate their own; and, indeed, from examples all the instruction couched in philosophical discourses may naturally flow, to which all human actions, as to their best rule, ought to be especially directed.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxv.
Life is not entirely made up of great evils or heavy trials, but the perpetual recurrence of petty evils and small trials in the ordinary and appointed exercise of the Christian graces. To bear with the failings of those about uswith their infirmities, their bad judgment, their ill-breeding, their perverse tempers; to endure neglect when we feel we deserved attention, and ingratitude when we expected thanks; to bear with the company of disagreeable people whom Providence has placed in our way, and whom He has perhaps provided or purposed for the trial of our virtue; these are best exercises of patience and self denial, and the better because not chosen by ourselves. To beat with vexation in business, with disappointment in our expectations, with interruptions of our retirement, with folly, intrusion, disturbance,in short, with whatever opposes our will, contradicts our humour,this habitual acquiescence appears to be more of the essence of self-denial than any little rigours of our own imposing. These constant, inevitable, but inferior evils, properly improved, furnish a good moral discipline, and might, in the days of ignorance, have superseded pilgrimage and penance.
He had learnt a most useful principle of life, which was, to lay nothing to heart which he could not help, and how great soever disappointments had fell out, (if possible) to think of them no more, but to work on upon other affairs, and some, if not all, would be better natured.
Be every minute, man, a full life to thee! Despise anxiety and wishing, the future and the past! If the second-pointer can be no road-pointer, with an Eden for thy soul, the month-pointer will still be less so,for thou livest not from month to month, but from second to second! Enjoy thy existence more than thy manner of existence, and let the dearest object of thy consciousness be this consciousness itself! Make not the present a means of thy future; for this future is nothing but a coming present; and the present which thou despisest was once a future which thou desiredst.
I now found myself, in the decline of life, a prey to tormenting maladies, and believing myself at the close of my career without having once tasted the sublime pleasures after which my heart panted. Why was it that, with a soul naturally expansive, whose very existence was benevolence, I have never found one single friend with feelings like my own? A prey to the cravings of a heart which have never been satisfied, I perceived myself arrived at the confines of old age, and dying ere I had begun to live. I considered destiny as in my debt for promises which she had never realized. Why was I created with faculties so refined yet which were never intended to be adequately employed? I felt my own value, and revenged myself of my fate by recollecting and shedding tears for its injustice.
Every man is to himself what Plato calls the Great Year. He has his sowing time and his growing time, his weeding, his irrigating, and his harvest. The principles and ideas he puts into his mind in youth lie there, it may be, for many years apparently unprolific. But nothing dies. There is a process going on unseen, and by the touch of circumstances the man springs forth into strength, he knows not why, as if by a miracle. But, after all, he only reaps as he had sown.
I observed to you before, what danger there is in flattering ourselves with the hopes of long life: that it is apt to make us too fond of this world, when we expect to live so long in it; that it weakens the hopes and fears of the next world, by removing it at too great a distance from it; that it encourages men to live in sin, because they have time enough before them to indulge their lusts, and to repent of their sins, and make their peace with God, before they die; and if the uncertain hopes of this undoes so many men, what would the certain knowledge of it do? Those who are too wise and considerate to be imposed on by such uncertain hopes might be conquered by a certain knowledge of a long life.
Lifes evening, we may rest assured, will take its character from the day which has preceded it; and if we would close our career in the comfort of religious hope, we must prepare for it by early and continuous religious habit.
We talk of human life as a journey; but how variously is that journey performed! There are those who come forth girt, and shod, and mantled, to walk on velvet lawns and smooth terraces, where every gale is arrested and every beam is tempered. There are others who walk on the Alpine paths of life, against driving misery, and through stormy sorrows, over sharp afflictions; walk with bare feet and naked breast, jaded, mangled, and chilled.
The great inequality of all things to the appetites of a rational soul appears from this, that in all worldly things a man finds not half the pleasure in the actual possession that he proposed in the expectation.
As the pleasures of the future will be spiritual and pure, the object of a good and wise man in this transitory state of existence should be to fit himself for a better, by controlling the unworthy propensities of his nature, and improving all his better aspirations, to do his duty to his God, then to his neighbour, to promote the happiness and welfare of those who are in any degree dependent upon him, or whom he has the means of assisting, never wantonly to injure the meanest thing that lives, to encourage, as far as he may have the power, whatever is useful and tends to refine and exalt humanity, to store his mind with such knowledge as it is fitted to receive, and he is able to attain; and so to employ the talents committed to his care, that when the account is required, he may hope to have his stewardship approved.
He that can work himself into a pleasure in considering this being as an uncertain one, and think to reap an advantage by its discontinuance, is in a fair way of doing all things with a graceful unconcern and a gentlemanlike ease. Such a one does not behold his life as a short transient perplexing state, made up of trifling pleasures and great anxieties; but sees it in quite another light; his griefs are momentary, and his joys immortal. Reflection upon death is not a gloomy and sad thought of resigning everything that he delights in, but it is a short night followed by an endless day.
A man advanced in years that thinks fit to look back upon his former life, and call that only life which was passed with satisfaction and enjoyment, excluding all parts which were not pleasant to him, will find himself very young, if not in his infancy. Sickness, ill humour, and idleness will have robbed him of a great share of that space which we ordinarily call our life. It is therefore the duty of every man that would be true to himself, to obtain, if possible, a disposition to be pleased, and place himself in a constant aptitude for the satisfactions of his being. Instead of this, you hardly see a man who is not uneasy in proportion to his advancement in the arts of life.
All the world is perpetually at work, only that our poor mortal lives should pass the happier for that little time we possess them, or else end the better when we lose them: upon this occasion riches came to be coveted, honours esteemed, friendship pursued, and virtues admired.
Since there are many virtues and duties which belong only to this present life, let us lose no opportunity for the practice of them; for the next day, or the next hour, may put it forever out of our power to practise them. Eternity is a long duration indeed, but it will never afford us one season for visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry, or for charity and meekness towards those who injure us: eternity itself will never give us one opportunity for the pious labours of love toward the conversion of sinful acquaintance and relatives. Oh, let us not suffer this precious lamp of life to burn in vain, or weeks, and days, and hours, to slide away unemployed and useless. Let us remember, that while we are here, we work for a long hereafter: that we think, and speak, and act, with regard to an eternal state, and that in time we live for eternity.
Dr. Isaac Watts: Privilege of the Living above the Dead.
There appears to exist a greater desire to live long than to live well. Measure by mans desires, he cannot live long enough; measure by his good deeds, and he has not lived long enough; measure by his evil deeds, and he has lived too long.