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behaviour flows from native affection, it is valuable and amiable. But the exterior manner alone may be learned in the school of the world; and often, too often, is found to cover much unfeeling hardness of heart. Professions of sensibility on every trifling occasion, joined with the appearance of excessive softness, and a profusion of sentimental language, afford always much ground for distrust. They create the suspicion of a studied character. Frequently, under a negligent and seemingly rough manner, there lies a tender and feeling heart. Manliness and sensibility are so far from being incompatible, that the truly brave are for the most part generous and humane; while the soft and effeminate are hardly capable of any vigorous exertion of affection.
As sensibility supposes delicacy of feeling with respect to others, they who affect the highest sensibility are apt to carry this delicacy to excess. They are, perhaps, not incapable of the warmth of disinterested friendship; but they are become so refined in all their sensations; they entertain such high notions of what ought to correspond in the feelings of others to their own; they are so mightily hurt by every thing which comes not up to their ideal standard of reciprocal affection, as to produce disquiet and uneasiness to all with whom they are connected. Hence, unjust suspicions of their friends; hence, groundless upbraidings and complaints of unkindness; hence, a proneness to take violent offence at trifles. In consequence of examining their friends with a microscopic eye, what to an ordinary observer would not be unpleasing, to them is grating and disgusting. At the bottom of the character of such persons there always lie much
pride and attention to themselves. This is indeed a false species of sensibility. It is the substitution of a capricious and irritable delicacy, in the room of that plain and native tenderness of heart, which prompts men to view others with an indulgent eye, and to make great allowances for the imperfections which are sometimes adherent to the most amiable qualities.
THERE are others who affect not sensibility to this extreme, but who found high claims to themselves upon the degree of interest which they take in the concerns of others. Although their sensibility can produce no benefit to the person who is its object, they always conceive that it entitles themselves to some profitable returns. These, often, are persons of refined and artful character; who partly deceive themselves, and partly employ their sensibility as a cover to interest. He who acts from genuine affection when he is feeling along with others in their joys and sorrows, thinks not of any recompence to which this gives him a title. He follows the impulse of his heart. He obeys the dictates of his nature; just as the vine by its nature produces fruit, and the fountain pours forth its streams. Wherever views of interest, and prospects of return mingle with the feelings of affection, sensibility acts an imperfect part, and entitles us to small share of praise.
BUT supposing it to be both complete and pure, I must caution you against resting the whole merit of your character on sensibility alone. It is indeed a happy constitution of mind. It fits men for the proper discharge of many duties, and gives them access to many virtuous pleasures. It is requisite for our
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acceptance either with God or man. time, if it remain an instinctive feeling alone, it will form no more than an imperfect character. Complete virtue is of a more exalted and dignified nature. It supposes sensibility, good temper, and benevolent affections; it includes them as essential parts; but it reaches farther: It supposes them to be strengthened and confirmed by principle; it requires them to be supported by justice, temperance, fortitude, and all those other virtues which enable us to act with propriety in the trying situations of life.
It is very possible for a man to possess the kind affections in a high degree, while at the same time he is carried away by passion and pleasure into many criminal deeds. Almost every man values himself on possessing virtue in one or other of its forms. He wishes to lay claim to some quality which will render him estimable in his own eye, as well as in that of the public. Hence it is common for many, especially for those in the higher classes of life, to take much praise to themselves on account of their sensibility, though it be, in truth, a sensibility of a very defective kind. They relent at the view of misery when it is strongly set before them. Often too, affected chiefly by the powers of description, it is at feigned and pictured distress, more than at real misery, that they relent. The tears which they shed upon these occasions they consider as undoubted proofs of virtue. They applaud themselves for the goodness of their hearts; and conclude that with such feelings they cannot fail to be agreeable to Heaven. At the same time these transient relentings make slight impression on conduct. They give rise to few, if any, good deeds; and soon after such
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persons have wept at some tragical tale, they are ready to stretch forth the hand of oppression, to grasp at the gain of injustice, or to plunge into the torrent of criminal pleasures. This sort of sensibility affords no more than a fallacious claim to virtue, and gives men no ground to think highly of themselves. We must inquire not merely how they feel, but how their feelings prompt them to act, in order to ascertain their real character,
I SHALL conclude with observing, that sensibility, when genuine and pure, has a strong connection with piety. That warmth of affection and tenderness of heart, which lead men to feel for their brethren, and to enter into their joys and sorrows, should naturally dispose them to melt at the remembrance of the divine goodness; to glow with admiration of the divine Majesty; to send up the voice of praise and adoration to that Supreme Being, who makes his creatures happy. He who pretends to great sensibility towards men, and yet has no feeling for the high objects of religion, no heart to admire and adore the great Father of the universe, has reason to distrust the truth and delicacy of his sensibility. He has reason to suspect, that in some corner of his heart there lodges a secret depravity, an unnatural hardness and callousness, which vitiates his character. study to join all the parts of virtue in proper union; to be consistently and uniformly good; just and upright, as well as pitiful and courteous; pious, as well as sympathising. Let us pray to him who made the heart, that he would fill it with all proper dispositions; rectify all its errours; and render it the happy abode of personal integrity and social tenderness, of purity, benevolence, and devotion.
On the IMPROVEMENT of TIME.
GENESIS, xlvii. 8.
And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou?
TIME is of so great importance to mankind that
it cannot too often employ religious meditation. There is nothing in the management of which wisdom is more requisite, or where mankind display their inconsistency more. In its particular parcels, they appear entirely careless of it; and throw it away with thoughtless profusion. But, when collected into some of its great portions, and viewed as the measure of their continuance in life, they become sensible of its value, and begin to regard it with a serious eye. While day after day is wasted in a course of idleness or vicious pleasures, if some incident shall occur which leads the most inconsiderate man to think of his age, or time of life; how much of it is gone; at what period of it he is now arrived; and to what proportion of it he can with any probability look forward, as yet to come; he can hardly avoid feeling some secret compunction, and reflecting seriously upon his state. Happy if that virtuous impression were not of momentary continuance, but retained its influence amidst the succeeding cares and pleasures of the world! To the good old