Page images

the mind continually engaged in, or occupied by, fome laudable purfuit. The earliest profesfors of a life of Solitude, although they removed themselves far from the haunts of men, among "caverns deep” and “deserts idle,” where nature denied her fons the most common of her bleffings, employed themselves in endeavouring to cultivate the rude and barren foil during those intervals in which they were not occupied in the ordinary labours of religion; and even those whofe extraordinary fanctity confined them the whole day to their cells, found the neceffity of filling up their leifure, by exercifing the manual arts for which they were respectively fuited. The rules, indeed, which were originally established in most of the convents, ordained that the time and attention of a monk fhould never be for a moment vacant or unemployed; but this excellent precept was foon rendered obfolete; and the fad confequences which refulted from its nonobfervance we have already, in fome degree, defcribed.



HE anxiety with which I have endeavoured


to defcribe THE ADVANTAGES and THE DISADVANTAGES which, under particular circumstances, and in particular fituations, are likely to be experienced by those who devote themselves to folitary retirement, may, perhaps, occafion me to be viewed by fome as its romantic panegyrift, and by others as its uncandid cenfor. I fhall, therefore, endeavour, in this concluding chapter, to prevent a misconstruction of my opinion, by explicitly declaring the inferences which ought in fairness to be drawn from what I have faid.

The advocates for a life of uninterrupted SOCIETY will, in all probability, accuse me of being a morose and gloomy philofopher; an inveterate enemy to focial intercourfe; who, by recommending a melancholy and fullen feclufion, and interdicting mankind from enjoying the pleafures of life, would four their tempers, fubdue their affections, annihilate the best feelings of the heart, pervert the noble faculty of reason, X



and thereby once more plunge the world into that dark abyfs of barbarifm, from which it has been so happily rescued by the establishment and civilization of fociety.

The advocates for a life of continual SOLITUDE will moft probably, on the other hand, accufe me of a design to deprive the fpecies of one of the most pleasing and fatisfactory delights,* by exciting an unjust antipathy, raising an unfounded alarm, depreciating the uses, and aggravating the abuses, of SOLITUDE; and by these


* But the right of indulging this delight, even fuppofing it to exift, is denied by a very able philofopher. "Some of those fages," fays he, "that have exercifed their abilities in the enquiry after the fupreme good, have been of opinion, that the highest degree of earthly happiness is quiet; a calm repofe both of mind and body, undisturbed by the fight of folly, or the noife of business, the tumults of public commotion, or the agitations of private interefts: a state in which the mind has no other employment, but to obferve and regulate her own motions, to trace thought from thought, combine one image with another, raife fyftems of science, and form theories of virtue. To the scheme of these folitary fpeculatifts it has been justly objected, that if they are happy, they are happy only by being ufelefs: that mankind is one vaft republic, where every individual receives many benefits from the labours of others, which, by labouring in his turn for others, he is obliged to repay; and that where the united efforts of all are not able to exempt all from mifery, none have a right to withdraw from their task of vigilance, or to be indulged in idle wifdom or folitary pleafures."

means of endeavouring to encourage that spirit of licentiousness and diffipation which fo ftrongly marks the degeneracy, and tends to promote the vices of the age.

The respective advocates for these opinions, however, equally mistake the intent and view I had in compofing this Treatife. I do fincerely affure them, that it was very far from my intention to cause a relaxation of the exercise of any of the civil duties of life; to impair in any degree the focial difpofitions of the human heart; to leffen any inclination to rational Retirement; or to prevent the beneficent practice of self-communion, which Solitude is beft calculated to promote. The fine and generous philanthropy of that mind which, entertaining notions of universal benevolence, feeks to feel a love for, and to promote the good of, the whole human race, can never be injured by an attachment to domeftic pleasures, or by cultivating the foft and gentle affections which are only to be found in the fmall circles of private life, and can never be truly enjoyed, except in the bofom of Love, or the arms of FRIENDSHIP: nor will an occafional and rational retirement from the tumults of the world leffen any of the noble fympathies of the human heart; but, on the contrary, by enlarging those ideas and feelings

X 2

feelings which have fprung from the connections and dependencies which its votary may have formed with individuals, and by generalizing his particular interefts and concerns, may enable him to extend the focial principle, and encrease the circle of his benevolence.

God loves from whole to parts; but human foul
Muft rife from individual to whole.

Self-love but ferves the virtuous mind to wake,
As the small pebble ftirs the peaceful lake:
The centre mov'd, a circle strait fucceeds;
Another still, and still another spreads :
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace;
His country next; and next, all human race.

The chief defign of this work was to exhibit the neceffity of combining the ufes of SOLITUDE with those of SOCIETY, to fhew, in the ftrongest light, the advantages they may mutually derive from each other; to convince mankind of the danger of running into either extreme; to teach the advocate for UNINTERRUPTED SOCIETY, how highly all the social virtues may be improved, and its vices eafily abandoned, by habits of folitary abstraction; and the advocate for CONTINUAL SOLITUDE, how much that indocility and arrogance of character which is contracted by a total abfence


« PreviousContinue »