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always be practicable or just, when applied to the goods of fortune : but the case of advice, information, and laws of conduct, comes within that of Ennius, to suffer our neighbour to light his candle at our lamp. To do so will enrich him, without making us a jot the poorer. We should indeed respect the right of private judgment, and scarcely in any case allow our will to supersede his will in his own proper province. But we should on no account suffer any cowardly fears for ourselves, to induce us to withhold from him any assistance that our wider information or our sounder judgment might supply to him.
The next consideration by which we should be directed in the exercise of the faculty of speech, is that we should employ it so as should best conduce to the pleasure of our neighbour. Man is a different creature in the savage and the civilised state. It has been affirmed, and it may be true, that the savage man is a stranger to that disagreeable frame of mind, known by the name of ennui. He can pore upon the babbling stream, or stretch himself upon a sunny bank, from the rising to the setting of the sun, and be satisfied. He is scarcely roused from this torpid state but by the cravings of nature. If they can be supplied without effort, he immediately relapses into his former supineness; and, if it requires search, industry and exertion to procure their gratification, he still more eagerly embraces
the repose, which previous fatigue renders doubly welcome.
But, when the mind has once been wakened up from its original lethargy, when we have overstepped the boundary which divides the man from the beast, and are made desirous of improvement, while at the same moment the tumultuous passions that draw us in infinitely diversified directions are called into act, the case becomes exceedingly different. It might be difficult at first to rouse man from his original lethargy: it is next to impossible that be should ever again be restored to it. The appetite of the mind being once thoroughly awakened in society, the human species are found to be perpetually craving after new intellectual food. We read, we write, we discourse, we ford rivers, and scale mountains, and engage in various pursuits, for the pure pleasure that the activity and earnestness of the pursuit afford us. The day of the savage and the civilised man are still called by the same name. They may be measured by a pendulum, and will be found to be of the same duration. But in all other points of view they are inexpressibly different.
Hence therefore arises another duty that is incumbent upon us as to the exercise of the faculty of speech. This duty will be more or less urgent according to the situation in which we are placed. If I sit down in a numerous assembly, if I become one of a convivial party of ten or twelve persons, I may unblamed be for the greater part, or entirely silent, if I please. I must appear to enter into their sentiments and pleasures, or, if I do not, I shall be an unwelcome guest; but it may scarcely be required for me to clothe my feelings with articulate speech.
But, when my society shall be that of a few friends only, and still more if the question is of spending hours or days in the society of a single friend, my duty becomes altered, and a greater degree of activity will be required from me. There are cases, where the minor morals of the species will be of more importance than those which in their own nature are cardinal. Duties of the highest magnitude will perhaps only be brought into requisition upon extraordinary occasions; but the opportunities we have of lessening the inconveniences of our neighbour, or of adding to his accommodations and the amount of his agreeable feelings, are innumerable. An acceptable and welcome member of society therefore will not talk, only when he has something important to communicate. He will also study how he may amuse his friend with agreeable narratives, lively remarks, sallies of wit, or any those thousand nothings, which, set off with a wish to please and a benevolent temper, will often entertain more and win the entire good will of the person to whom they are addressed, than the wisest discourse, or the vein of conversation which
may exhibit the powers and genius of the speaker to the greatest advantage.
Men of a dull and saturnine complexion will soon get to an end of all they felt it incumbent on them to say to their comrades. But the same thing will probably happen, though at a much later period, between friends of an active mind, of the largest stores of information, and whose powers have been exercised upon
the greatest variety of sentiments, principles, and original veins of thinking. When two such men first fall into society, each will feel as if he had found a treasure. Their communications are without end; their garrulity is excited, and converts into a perennial spring. The topics upon which they are prompted to converse are so numerous, that one seems to jostle out the other. It may proceed thus from day to day, from month to month, and perhaps from year to year. But, according to the old proverb, “It is a long lane that has no turning.” The persons here described will have a vast variety of topics upon which they are incited to compare their opinions, and will lay down these topics and take thern up again times without number. Upon some, one of the parties will feel himself entirely at home while the other is comparatively a novice, and, in others, the advantage will be with the other; so that the gain of both, in this free and unrestrained opening of the soul, will be incalculable. But the time will come, like as in perusing an author of the most extraordinary genius and the most versatile powers, that the reading of each other's minds will be exhausted. They know so much of each other's tone of thinking, that all that can be said will be anticipated. The living voice, the sparkling eye, and the beaming countenance will do much to put off the evil day, when we shall say, I have had enough. But the time will come in which we shall feel that this after all is but little ; and we shall become sluggish, ourselves to communicate, or to excite the dormant faculties of our friend, when the spring, the waters of which so long afforded us the most exquisite delight, is at length drawn dry.
I remember in my childish years being greatly struck with that passage in the Bible, where it is written, “But I say unto you, that, for every
idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account in the day of judgment:" and, as I was very desirous of conforming myself to the directions of the sacred volume, I was upon the point of forming a sort of resolution, that I would on no account open my mouth to speak, without having a weighty reason for uttering the thing I felt myself prompted
But practical directions of this sort are almost in all cases of ambiguous interpretation. From the context of this passage it is clear, that by “idle words” we are to understand vicious words, words tending to instil into the mind unauthorised impulses, that shew in the man who speaks “a will most rank, foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural,"
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