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N° 21. SATURDAY, MAY 19.
Ut flos in septis, secretus nascitur hortis,
The other day, as I was pursuing an agreeable train of thought, in a view to the entertainment of the public, a letter from one of my town correspondents gave me so rude a check, that I was obliged to take three turns in the filbert-walk, to recover my composure.
The letter brought me advice of a very sore evil, in the commerce of society, which increases with a growth so rank and rapid, that all the spirit I can assume, and all the influence I can exert, must be condensed, in a manner, towards this one point for the present. The rage for gaming is the danger about which this alarum has been rung by my correspondent; and, if the facts and instances which he has collected for me be as well grounded as other instructions which have come to me from the same quarter, I tremble for all that is sacred, or decent, or honourable, in life; and my heart misgives me, at the rumour of a pestilence that must soon produce a general rottenness in the higher ranks of society, and poison all the springs of virtue and humanity. There is no vice or passion, among all the badges of human misery, that is of a nature so spreading and malignant as the practice of gaming ; nor will it be difficult to discover the ground of this mischievous pre-eminence, if we attend to the course of its operation and progress in the mind.
There is something in the very aspect and colour of other vices which shocks the moral sense, and is at open hostility with whatever good principles or habits have been nourished in us by education or example; but we easily persuade ourselves to look upon gaming as a practice in which we trust to the fair issue of chance; and, by shutting our eyes against its consequences, we not only veil over its reproach, but lend to it a degree of plausibility, which renders its temptation irresistible. By this deceitful accommodation, and despicable casnistry, the odium of this vice is melted away, and nothing but the first blush of innocence is opposed to it, and a certain decorum of sentiment, which is the natural growth of
every well-constituted mind. The effects therefore of this vice are always first perceived on the side of feeling and delicacy; and oftentimes, while the principle of virtue is left standing itself, all its decorations and attractions will be mouldering away, under the influence of this sour ungenial habit. But although the infantine advances of this pestilent practice degrade the mind with no stain of reproach or criminality, yet ruin that is slow, is not the less certain'; and when the first repugnance of habit is removed, the progress to corruption is easy and direct. Other vices attack us more openly, and alarm at once all the vigour and caution of our minds; sometimes take us by assault; sometimes are repulsed in the onset; but the practice of gaming undermines and reduces us by slow and subtle degrees ; and, while our conscience reposes in a flattering security, robs it of that timidity of feeling, and sensibility of honour, which constitute its principal safety.
Thus the progress of gaming is so much the more successfully fatal, as it enters into our habits with little opposition from our principles, takes full possession of our souls by imperceptible degrees, and delays its attack upon the sacred citadel of virtue, till it has effected a desertion of all those delicacies of sentiment, which form a noble defence about it. It is on the same account that the most disgusting influence of this sordid practice is remarked in female minds, which lose their fairest distinctions and privileges, when they lose the blushing honours of modesty, delicacy, and peace. It is here that the habit shows itself in its pride of deformity, and appears in the most afflicting shapes of wretchedness and ruin. A female mind deprived of its sensibriities, is one of the most desolate scenes in the world; and a man bereft of his reason is hardly a more abo ject and sorrowful spectacle. These ruinous consequences of gaming, my correspondent assures me, have already begun to display themselves in the character and deportment of the gentler sex : already the sweetest qualities of womanhood are perishing under its blast; and, having nearly completed its havoc on the blossoms and the foliage, it
must soon reach to the very root and principle of society itself.
To behold a fine eye, that was made to swell with the tender feelings of conscious love, to exalt, to correct, to animate, to transport its object, lend all its ardours and its ecstasies to the icy appetite of avarice; and to contemplate a hand and arm, that nature had cast in her happiest mould, like the tendril of the vine, to act as the graceful bond of union and atfection, busied in the beggarly office of conducting a Faro bank; is a sad perversion of nature's decrees, and an outrage upon all that is decorous or lovely in the female character. But it were ridiculous to complain only of the solecisms of behaviour and deformities of appearance produced in the female world by this unblushing vice, as if these were its worst effects. It has a destroying appetite, that swallows up all the regards and charities of the mind, and leaves in it no principle of activity, but covetousness and desperation. To the female gamester, virtue, and probity, and faith, as never coming mto use, are of little value, and no where so cheaply purchased as in these unprincipled resorts ; so that, as I am told, every practised seducer, who can be gratified with less than the costly sacrifice of innocence, seeks his objects at the gaming-table, where he finds a very few attractions will carry him a great way in a course of easy victories.
In the whole compass of language no terms are so misapplied, as those which are expressive of happiness; and happiness itself is a word which all of us are prompt in explaining, but which none of us in fact understand. Thus, what is denominated the gay world, consists in reality of the gravest and dullest part of mankind; and he who loves to see the hu.
man face overspread with genuine joy, will certainly not find his account in the regions of high life, and the crowded haunts of fashion. Where every hope of a woman's heart is rivetted on her neighbour's purse, and every feeling is engaged for her own; where the rapture of one is the ruin of another; where gain is without credit, and loss without consolation ; there can be little room or occasion for the relaxations of harmless mirth, and the sportiveness of innocent pleasure. That vacancy of mind, that excursiveness of fancy, and that rambling of thought, in which true mirth and jollity delight, is not surely to be found in those courts of avarice, where all our sensibilities are absorbed by the appetite of gain, and a groveling solicitude about the issue of a card or a number.
About fourteen years ago, Sophia was the envy of her own sex, and the idol of curs. She was then in the prime of her age, and beautiful was that prime : but her beauty was her least praise; for her heart had all the luxury of feeling, and her understanding all the graces of improvement. A winning unconsciousness of her own charms, an innocent playfulness of manner, and a kind-hearted attention to her inferiors, distinguished her among her companions, and made her the delight and ornament of every circle. But her ill-fortune would not suffer her to remain long in this sovereignty of innocence at her father's house in -shire : at the age
twentyone she was married to the member for the county ; and, in the winter of 1777, began her career in town with such company as her equipage and condition entitled her to keep. A long time she held out against all the obligations of fashion and allurements of example: she had an in-bred abhorrence of gambling; and while she patiently sustained the impu