S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
A person accustomed to a life of activity longs for ease and retirement; and when he has accomplished his purpose finds himself wretched. The pleasure of relaxation, indeed, is known to those only who have regular and interesting employment. Continued relaxation soon becomes a weariness; and, on this ground, we may safely assert that the greatest degree of real enjoyment belongs, not to the luxurious man of wealth, or to the listless votary of fashion, but to the middle classes of society, who, along with the comforts of life, have constant and important occupation.
The last method which I shall mention for the giving life to a mans faith is frequent retirement from the world, accompanied by religious meditation. When a man thinks of anything in the darkness of the night, whatever deep impressions it may make in his mind, they are apt to vanish as soon as the day breaks about him. The light and noise of the day, which are perpetually soliciting his senses, and calling off his attention, wear out of his mind the thoughts that imprinted themselves in it, with so much strength, during the silence and darkness of the night. A man finds the same difference as to himself in a crowd and in a solitude: the mind is stunned and dazzled amidst that variety of objects which press upon her in a great city. She cannot apply herself to the consideration of those things which are of the utmost concern to her. The cares or pleasures of the world strike in with every thought, and a multitude of vicious examples gives a kind of justification to our folly. In our retirements everything disposes us to be serious. In courts and cities we are entertained with the works of men; in the country, with those of God. One is the province of art; the other, of nature.
Retirement from the cares and pleasures of the world has been often recommended as useful to repentance. This at least is evident, that every one retires whenever ratiocination and recollection are required on other occasions: and surely the retrospect of life, the disentanglement of actions complicated with innumerable circumstances, and diffused in various relations, the discovery of the primary movements of the heart, and the extirpation of lusts and appetites deeply rooted and widely spread, may be allowed to demand some secession from sport and noise and business and folly. Some suspension of common affairs, some pause of temporal pain and pleasure, is doubtless necessary to him that deliberates for eternity, who is forming the only plan in which miscarriage cannot be repaired, and examining the only question in which mistake cannot be rectified.
It is certainly a great disparagement to virtue and learning itself that those very things which only make men useful in the world should incline them to leave it. This ought never to be allowed to good men, unless the bad had the same moderation, and were willing to follow them into the wilderness. But if the one shall contend to get out of employment, while the other strive to get into it, the affairs of mankind are likely to be in so ill a posture that even the good men themselves will hardly be able to enjoy their very retreats in security.
There is scarce a thinking man in the world, who is involved in the business of it, but lives under a secret impatience of the hurry and fatigue he suffers, and has formed a resolution to fix himself, one time or other, in such a state as is suitable to the end of his being. You hear men every day in conversation profess that all the honour, power, and riches, which they propose to themselves, cannot give satisfaction enough to reward them for half the anxiety they undergo in the pursuit or the possession of them. While men are in this temper (which happens very frequently), how inconsistent are they with themselves! They are wearied with the toil they bear, but cannot find it in their hearts to relinquish it: retirement is what they want, but they cannot betake themselves to it. While they pant after shade and covert, they still affect to appear in the most glittering scenes of life. Sure this is but just as reasonable as if a man should call for more light, when he has a mind to go to sleep.