S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
I am fully persuaded that one of the best springs of generous and worthy actions is the having generous and worthy thoughts of ourselves. Whoever has a mean opinion of the dignity of his nature will act in no higher a rank than he has allotted himself in his own estimation. If he considers his being as circumscribed by the uncertain term of a few years, his designs will be contracted into the same narrow span he imagines is to bound his existence. How can he exalt his thoughts to anything great and noble, who only believes that, after a short turn on the stage of this world, he is to sink into oblivion, and to lose his consciousness forever?
For this reason I am of opinion that so useful and elevated a contemplation as that of the souls immortality cannot be resumed too often. There is not a more improving exercise to the human mind, than to be frequently reviewing its own great privileges and endowments; nor a more effectual means to awaken in us an ambition raised above low objects and little pursuits, than to value ourselves as heirs to eternity.
If we look abroad upon the great multitude of mankind, and endeavour to trace out the principles of action in every individual, it will, I think, seem highly probable that ambition runs through the whole species, and that every man, in proportion to the vigour of his complexion, is more or less actuated by it.
Human nature appears a very deformed, or a very beautiful, object, according to the different lights in which it is viewed. When we see men of inflamed passions, or of wicked designs, tearing one another to pieces by open violence, or undermining each other by secret treachery; when we observe base and narrow ends pursued by ignominious and dishonest means; when we observe men mixed in society as if it were for the destruction of it; we are even ashamed of our species, and out of humour with our own being. But in another light, when we behold them mild, good, and benevolent, full of a generous regard for the public prosperity, compassionating each others distresses, and relieving each others wants, we can hardly believe they are creatures of the same kind. In this view they appear gods to each other, in the exercise of the noblest power, that of doing good; and the greatest compliment we have ever been able to make to our own being has been by calling this disposition of mind humanity. We cannot but observe a pleasure arising in our own breast upon the seeing or hearing of a generous action, even when we are wholly disinterested in it.
I can tell Parthenissa, for her comfort, that the beauties, generally speaking, are the most impertinent and disagreeable of women. An apparent desire of admiration, a reflection upon their own merit, and a precise behaviour in their general conduct, are almost inseparable accidents in beauties. All you obtain of them is granted to importunity and solicitation for what did not deserve so much of your time, and you recover from the possession of it as out of a dream.
You are ashamed of the vagaries of fancy which so strangely misled you, and your admiration of a beauty, merely as such, is inconsistent with a tolerable reflection upon yourself. The cheerful good-humoured creatures, into whose heads it never entered that they could make any man unhappy, are the persons formed for making men happy.
Take the whole sex together, and you find those who have the strongest possession of mens hearts are not eminent for their beauty. You see it often happen that those who engage men to the greatest violence are such as those who are strangers to them would take to be remarkably defective for that end.
If love be any refinement, conjugal love must be certainly so in a much higher degree. There is no comparison between the frivolous affectations of attracting the eye of women with whom you are only captivated by way of amusement, and of whom perhaps you know nothing more than their features, and a regular and uniform endeavour to make yourself valuable, both as a friend and a lover, to one whom you have chosen to be the companion of your life. The first is the spring of a thousand fopperies, silly artifices, falsehoods, and perhaps barbarities, or at best rises no higher than a kind of dancing-school breeding, to give the person a more sparkling air. The latter is the parent of substantial virtues and agreeable qualities, and cultivates the mind while it improves the behaviour.
One of the strongest incitements to excel in such arts and accomplishments as are in the highest esteem among men, is the natural passion which the mind of man has for glory; which though it may be faulty in the excess of it, ought by no means to be discouraged. Perhaps some moralists are too severe in beating down this principle, which seems to be a spring implanted by nature to give motion to all the latent powers of the soul, and is always observed to exert itself with the greatest force in the most generous dispositions. The men whose characters have shone the brightest among the ancient Romans appear to have been strongly animated by this passion.
The general mistake among us in the educating our children is, that in our daughters we take care of their persons and neglect their minds; in our sons we are so intent upon adorning their minds that we wholly neglect their bodies. It is from this that you shall see a young lady celebrated and admired in all the assemblies about town, when her elder brother is afraid to come into a room. From this ill-management it arises that we frequently observe a mans life is half spent before he is taken notice of; and a woman in the prime of her years is out of fashion and neglected.
The greatest misfortunes men fall into arise from themselves; and that temper which is called very often, though with great injustice, good-nature, is the source of a numberless train of evils. For which reason we are to take this as a rule, that no action is commendable which is not voluntary; and we have made this a maxim: That a man who is commonly called good-natured is hardly to be thanked for anything he does, because half that is acted about him is done rather by his sufferance than approbation.