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only be of a general and comparative nature; for we evidently want the means of acquiring any thing respecting it, that deserves the name of accurate and positive knowledge.
An opinion, however, has emanated from the highest antiquity, and has been transmitted by some writers to the present age, that the world is in a degenerate state. We may trace this opinion in the pages of the heathen poets and philosophers; and it has been adopted, too hastily, perhaps, by some of the pious fathers of the Christian Church. But it was an office well suited to the wisdom of the inspired author of the text, to refute this gloomy persuasion; which seems as opposite to truth, as it is hostile to virtue. Say not thou,” he observes, “ what is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.”
Taking it for granted, that the opinion here censured is the result of some observation, or inquiry, and not a mere prejudice adopted from imitation, we may venture to assert, that it seems to be founded on the common infirmities of human nature, and to be occasionally strengthened by ignorance, vanity, and self-love.
From the very nature of the subject, it must form the decision and complaint of the aged. In those of middle life, the comparative knowledge which it implies, would seem presumptuous, or at least premature; and as to the young, who know but little from experience, they can only indulge the powers of imagination, or retail such sentiments as have been propagated by others.
As it is said of those who form comparisons, (from their own observation, we will suppose) in favor of former times, and consequently disadvantageous to the present, that “they do not inquire wisely concerning this;" it may be practically useful, in discoursing farther on the words of the text, to consider on what errors of judgment, or on what peculiar failings of mind and disposition, this charge of not “ inquiring wisely,” may be reasonably founded.
The wise and merciful Creator has graciously bestowed on his intelligent creatures blessings and enjoyments, that are adapted to the progressive stages of their existence. It is the province of youth, and at the same time, it is their duty, within proper limits, to enjoy the present, and to look forward with some delight to the future. With the aged, it is a serious and appropriate employment, among other things, to
ponder the path of life;"—to look back on what is past, and to mature the lessons of experience into the warnings and precepts of true wisdom. In the safe retreats of age, they can mark in others the folly of romantic expectations, the dangerous excesses of pleasure, and the miseries and disappointment, that often follow in the train of ardent passions, even when their progress is not contaminated with sin and guilt; but their own recollections, and the sentiments which they attach to the pleasures enjoyed in early life by themselves, are deemed pure, and unmixed with this alloy. They present little more than images of delight, which are remembered with some tenderness of regret, only because they are past, and cannot return. They are not associated with any ideas of folly, vice, or danger; because the wisdom which could fully convince them of either, was not then formed in the understanding, or the heart, and must necessarily be the fruit of a later season.
As we advance in life, therefore, we are apt to bring the gratifications and pursuits of the young to a very different test and standard; and one error in judgment evidently arises from supposing, that their vices and follies are more enormous, only because our principles have varied, our experience has been enlarged, and our feelings and associations are no longer the same. "It must not be forgotten, also, that our capacities of enjoyment do not long remain 'sta." tionary, if we except such as are purely intelu lectual, and such as are connected with the high hopes and important duties of religion The lively relish of delight is soon palled by redt petition. Even the most beautiful scenes of nature, as well as the finest productions of art, may be viewed so often, as to be passed over! without being viewed at all. Nothing in after life, perhaps, can equal our early gratifications ; the first impressions, that were made on usti by a beautiful poem, by exquisite music, or by the exhibition of such scenes and objects, ago were best adapted to our peculiar taste ando feelings. Now, it is the necessary condition of the aged, forming, in some measure, what mayas be called their profit and their loss, to be familiar with almost every thing. The pleasurable sensations that arise from novelty can no longer i exist;-at least, in no great variety, and in no powerful degree ;-—and, to form a just judgment" of things for which we have lost all relish, or for which our pleasure is greatly diminished,
supposes such a measure of pure intellect as must not be expected of man. Let us not imagine, then, that genius is extinct, because we can no longer view its productions with the early charm of youth ; nor let us form unjust and invidious comparisons between former days and the present; because our best opinions are! apt to be warped and corrupted, unless we have the wisdom to make the most accurate allowance for the privations of feeling and novelty, as well as for the gradual accessions of knowledge and experience, which must necessarily be the characteristics only of declining life.
These considerations alone will lead, per. haps, to a sufficient justification of the wise man's censure as expressed in the text : but others may be added. The period of youth is, or ought to be, devoted to necessary and useful acquisitions ;-to the pursuits of knowledge, and the important rudiments of virtue and religion. With respect to the world, young persons are, and, perhaps, should be, for the most part, extremely ignorant. Parents and guara dians rightly judge, that the worst consequences : may be apprehended from making them familiari with corruption, vice, and wickedness. Even when no actual commission of evil may be