Page images

Hence, instead of lowliness, which is itself a virtue of the most excellent character, and productive of every thing that is great and good, men were taught to cherish a proud elation of mind, aiming at distinction, confiding in its own vigour, and presuming on its own independent support. Mence also, instead of a passive and enduring fortitude, they encouraged a daring spirit of military glory, which, though connected with patriotism, and softened by a remembrance of the offices of friendship and the intercourse of hospitality, yet generated a great severity, and often cruel and vindictive excesses ; excited a love of enterprize which disregarded the appeal of justice and humanity; and stimulated feelings which led men to be. come ostentatious and inflated; to give vent to a contemptuous asperity against others, and to express their sentiments of defiance and indignation even against the gods. · The martial spirit excited by an admiration of the heroes who destroyed the monsters which ravaged the earı h, and opposed the tyrants who oppressed mankind, fostered by every institution, inspired by eloquence, and in Greece inflamed by poetry, prompted men to enterprises in which the boundaries

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

of justice were transgressed; and produced an overbearing temper, which carried its effects into every private scene ; while the existing superstition infused but little of mildness or benevolence to direct the sensibilities, and soften the manners of social and dumestic life.

Where the general sentiment was thus prejudicial, it was not to be expected that the conduct of individuals should be regulated by moderation and forbearance.

Self-confidence, the prolific source of evil, seemed every where to prevail, utterly devoid of that caution which results from a conscious sense of unworthiness, and of the evil bias of a fallen nature, and directly opposite to that humility, which while it leads the Chris. tian to regard his best exertions as insufficient, yet stimulates to every effort which may produce a conformity to the will of God.

In the earlier times, among the Greeks and Romans, much temperance and modesty were to be found, particularly in the female character, but these virtues were gradually impaired under the influence of luxury and corruption *

* Currumpere et corrumpi seculum vocatur. Sallust Catalin.

It may be observed also, that the sports and public games, which at all times were passionately admired, tended to keep up a harsh and inexorable sternness, little favourable to the virtues of domestic life. · The combats of gladiators, and the savage spectacles exhibited of animals tearing or destroying each other, were amongst the amusements of ages highly civilized ; at which females of the greatest refinement, the diffident virgin, and the dignified matron, did not scruple to appear, and even to give the signal for the death of those who bled for their diversion.

These sights, while they were calculated to deaden all the sensibilities of the human mind, and to destroy the delicacy of the female character, tended to render the sex callous and depraved, and we are not surprised at the effrontery and corruption which the Roman satirist attributes to the noble women of his time *

Notwithstanding, however, these descriptions, much of humanity and benevolence was occasionally displayed in the scenes of public and private life, among the Greeks and Romans; and the writings of Plato, Socrates, Cicero, and others, abound with noble sentiments of philanthropy, and with passages expressive of great benevolence. Terence, in his interesting character of Chremes, makes him declare, that as a man, he deemed nothing relating to human nature foreign to himself*: and Juvenal, in a similar spirit, enquires, what good man ever regarded any evil as unconnected with his own case; and he remarks, that this compassionate temper distinguishes man from the brute creation, and characterizes minds capable of divine things t. Notwithstanding also pride and revenge were too generally fostered among the Heathens ; there are not wanting examples of many who recommended and practised forgiveness of injuries.

* Juvenal, sat. vi. 1. 397-410. et passim.

Menander represents him to be the best of men, who has learnt to bear injuries better than others; and Ariston, the Spartan, to one who said, “it is royal to do good to “ friends and to do evil to enemies," replied, “ rather it is so, to do good to friends,

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

" and to render those who are enemies, “ friends :" Dion also, the liberator of Sicily, observed, that the true demonstration of philosophy is to be placed in this, that every one should be kind towards friends ; but if any one is affected by injury, he should be open to entreaty, and indulgent towards those who have committed it. Juvenal considers revenge as the mark of a little mind *; and many other liberal sentiments of benevolence and kindness might be produced from other writers t.

They are to be found, however, most abundantly in the works of those authors who lived after the promulgation of the Gospel, as in the writings of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the last of whom seems to have borrowed literally a precept from the Gospel, when he directed us to do to another what we would that he should do to us.

The abandoned licentiousness of manners which prevailed among the Heathens has already been sufficiently stated. It was the nuore deplorable, we have observed, inasmuch as it was not only tolerated, but often sanc


i Sat. xii, 1. 190, 191.

† Horace, &c.

« PreviousContinue »