Lectures to Young Men on
Various Important Subjects
Henry Ward Beecher, 1849
The Portrait Gallery
"My son, if sinners entice you — do not consent!" Proverbs 1:10
He who is allured to embrace evil under some
engaging form of beauty, or seductive appearance of good — is enticed. A man
is tempted to what he knows to be sinful; he is enticed where
the evil appears to be innocent. The Enticer wins his way by . . .
bewildering the moral sense,
setting false lights in the imagination,
painting disease with the hues of health,
making impurity to glow like innocency,
strewing the broad-road with flowers,
lulling its travelers with soothing music,
hiding all its chasms,
covering its pitfalls, and
closing its long perspective with the mimic glow of Paradise.
The young are seldom tempted to outright wickedness; evil comes to them as an enticement. The honest generosity and fresh heart of youth, would revolt from open baseness and undisguised vice. The Adversary conforms his wiles to their nature.
He tempts them to the basest deeds — by beginning with innocent ones, gliding to more objectionable ones, and finally, to positively wicked ones. All our warnings then must be against the spring beauty of vice. Its autumn and winter — none wish. It is my purpose to describe the enticement of particular men upon the young.
Every youth knows that there are dangerous men abroad who
would injure him by lying, by slander, by over-reaching and plundering him.
From such, they have little to fear, because they are upon their guard.
Few imagine that they have anything to dread from those who have no designs
against them; yet such is the instinct of imitation, so insensibly
does the example of men steal upon us and warp our conduct to their
likeness — that the young often receive a deadly injury from men with whom
they never spoke! Our thoughts, our tastes, our emotions, our partialities,
our prejudices, and finally, our conduct and habits — are insensibly
changed by the silent influence of men who never once directly tempted
us, or even knew the effect which they produced. I shall draw for your
inspection, some of those dangerous men, whose open or silent
enticement has availed against thousands, and will be exerted upon
I. The WIT.It is sometimes said by morose theologians, that Christ never laughed — but often wept. I shall not quarrel with the assumption. I only say that men have within them a faculty of mirthfulness which God created. I suppose it was meant for use. Those who do not feel the impulsion of this faculty, are not the ones to sit in judgment upon those who do. It would be very absurd for an owl in an ivy bush, to read lectures on optics to an eagle; or for a mole to counsel a lynx on the sin of sharp-sightedness.
He is divinely favored, who may trace a silver vein in all the affairs of life; see sparkles of light in the gloomiest scenes; and absolute radiance in those which are bright. There are in the clouds ten thousand inimitable forms and hues, to be found nowhere else; there are in plants and trees beautiful shapes and endless varieties of color; there are in flowers minute pencilings of exquisite shades; in fruits a delicate bloom — like a veil, making the face of beauty more beautiful. Sporting among the trees, and upon the flowers, are tiny insects — gems which glow like living diamonds. Ten thousand eyes stare fully upon these things — and see nothing at all; and yet thus the Divine Artist has finished his matchless work!
Thus, too, upon all the labors of life, the events of each hour, the course of good or evil; upon each action, or word, or attitude; upon all the endless changes transpiring among myriad men — there is a delicate grace, or bloom, or sparkle, or radiance — which catches the eye of Wit, and delights it with appearances which are to the weightier matters of life — what fragrance, colors, and symmetry are, to the marketable and commercial properties of matter.
A mind imbued with this feeling is full of dancing motes, such as we see moving in sunbeams when they pour through some shutter into a dark room; and when the sights and conceptions of wit are uttered in words, they diffuse upon others that pleasure whose brightness shines upon its own cheerful imagination.
It is not strange that the Wit is a universal favorite. All companies rejoice in his presence, watch for his words, repeat his language. He moves like a comet whose incomings and outgoings are uncontrollable. He astonishes the regular stars with the eccentricity of his orbit, and flirts his long tail athwart the heavens without the slightest misgivings that it will be troublesome, and romances the very sun with audacious familiarity.
When wit is unperverted, it . . .
makes the very face of care to shine,
diffuses cheerfulness among men,
multiplies the sources of harmless enjoyment,
gilds the dark things of life, and
heightens the luster of the brightest.
When wit is perverted, it . . .
becomes an instrument of malevolence,
gives a deceitful coloring to vice,
reflects a semblance of truth upon error,
and distorts the features of real truth, by false lights.
The Wit is liable . . .
to indolence — by relying upon his genius;
to vanity — by the praise which is offered as incense;
to malignant sarcasm — to revenge his affronts;
to dissipation — from the habit of exhilaration, and from the company which courts him.
The mere Wit is only a human bauble. He is to life what bells are to horses, not expected to draw the load — but only to jingle while the horses draw.
The young often repine at their own native dullness; and
since God did not choose to endow them with this shining quality —
they will make it for themselves. Forthwith, they are smitten with the
itch of imitation. Their ears purvey to their mouth the borrowed jest;
their eyes note the Wit's manner — and the awkward youth clumsily apes, in a
side circle . . .
the Wit's deft and graceful gesture,
the smooth smile,
the roguish twinkle,
the sly look.
Every community is supplied with self-made Wits. One retails other men's sharp witticisms. Another roars over his own brutal quotations. Another invents a witticism by a logical deduction of circumstances, and sniffs and giggles over the result as delightfully as if other men laughed too. Other self-made Wits lie in wait around your conversation, to trip up some word, or strike a light out of some sentence. Others fish in dictionaries for pitiful puns — and all fulfill the prediction of Isaiah: "You shall conceive chaff — and bring forth stubble!"
It becomes a mania. Each school has its allusions, each circle has its apish motion, each companionhood its stock of wit-artillery. We find street-wit, shop-wit, school-wit, fool's-wit, whisky-wit, business-wit, and almost every kind of wit — but mother-wit. We find puns, quibbles, catches, would-be jests, thread-bare stories, and gew-gaw tinsel — everything but the real diamond — which sparkles simply because God made it so that it could not help sparkling. Real, native wit, is like a pleasant rill which quietly wells up in some verdant nook, and steals out from among reeds and willows noiselessly, and is seen far down the meadow, as much by the fruitfulness of its edges in flowers, as by its own glimmering light.
Let everyone beware of the insensible effect of witty men upon him! The perverted wit gild lies — so that base coin may pass for true. That which is grossly wrong — wit may make fascinating. When no argument could persuade you — the coruscations of wit may dazzle and blind you. When duty presses you — the threatenings of this human lightning may make you afraid to do right.
Remember that the very best office of wit, is only to lighten the serious labors of life; that it is only a torch, by which men may cheer the gloom of a dark way. When it sets up to be your Counselor or your guide — it is the fool's fire, flitting irregularly and leading you into the quagmire or morass. The great Dramatist represents a witty fairy to have put an donkey's head upon a man's shoulders; beware that you do not let this mischievous fairy put an ape's head upon yours!
If God has not given you this quicksilver — no art can
make it; nor need you regret it. The stone, the wood, and the iron are a
thousand times more valuable to society — than pearls and diamonds and rare
gems. And sterling common-sense, and industry, and
integrity — are better a thousand times, in the hard work of living,
than the brilliance of Wit.
II. The HUMORIST. I do not employ the term to designate one who indulges in that pleasantest of all wit — inherent wit; but to describe a creature who conceals a coarse animalism under a brilliant, jovial exterior. The dangerous humorist answers very well to the Psalmist's description: "Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice." Whatever is pleasant in ease, whatever is indulgent in morals, whatever is solacing in luxury — the jovial few, the convivial many, the glass, the cards, the revel, and midnight uproar — these are his delights. His manners are easy and agreeable; his face redolent of fun and good nature; his whole air that of a man fond of the utmost possible bodily refreshment.
Withal, he is sufficiently circumspect and secretive of his course, to maintain a place in genteel society; for that is a luxury. He is not a glutton — but a choice eater. He is not a gross drinker, only a gentlemanly consumer of every curious compound of liquor. He has traveled; he can tell you which, in every city, is the best bar, the best restaurant, the best motel. He knows every theater, each actor; particularly is he versed in the select morsels of the scandalous indulgence peculiar to each. He knows every race-course, the history of all the famous matches, and the pedigree of every distinguished horse. The whole vocabulary of pleasure is vernacular — its wit, its slang, its watchwords, and blackletter literature. He is a profound annalist of scandal; every stream of news, clear or muddy, disembogues into the gulf of his prodigious memory. He can tell you, after living but a week in a city, who gambles, when, for what sums, and with what fate; who is impure, who was, who is suspected, who is not suspected — but ought to be. He is a morbid anatomist of morals; a brilliant flesh-fly — unerring to detect taint.
Like other men, he loves admiration and desires to extend his influence. All these manifold accomplishments are exhibited before the naive young. That he may secure a train of useful followers, he is profuse of money; and moves among them with an easy, insinuating frankness, a never-ceasing gaiety, so spicy with fun, so diverting with stories, so full of little hits, sly innuendoes, or solemn wit, with now and then a rare touch of dexterous mimicry, and the whole so pervaded by the indescribable flavor, the changing hues of humor — that the young are bewildered with idolatrous admiration.
What mirthful young man, who is old enough to admire himself and be ashamed of his parents, can resist a man so bedewed with humor, narrating exquisite stories with such mock gravity, with such slyness of mouth, and twinkling of the eye, with such grotesque attitudes, and significant gestures? He is declared to be the most remarkable man in the world. Now take off this man's dress, put out the one faculty of mirthfulness, and he will stand disclosed without a single positive virtue! With strong appetites deeply indulged, hovering perpetually upon the twilight edge of every vice; and whose wickedness is only not apparent, because it is garnished with flowers and garlands; who is not despised, only because his various news, artfully told, keep us in good humor with ourselves!
At one period of youthful life, this creature's influence supplants that of every other man. There is an absolute fascination in him which awakens a craving in the mind to be of his circle; plain duties become drudgery, home has no light; life at its ordinary key is monotonous, and must be screwed up to the concert pitch of this wonderful genius! As he tells his stories, so with a wretched grimace of imitation, apprentices will try to tell them; as he gracefully swings through the street, they will roll; they will leer because he stares genteelly; he sips, they guzzle — and talk impudently, because he talks with easy confidence. He walks erect, they strut; he lounges, they loll; he is less than a man, and they become even less than he.
Copper-rings, huge blotches of breastpins, wild streaming
handkerchiefs, jaunty hats, odd clothes, superfluous walking-sticks,
ill-uttered oaths, stupid jokes, and blundering pleasantries — these are the
first fruits of imitation! There are various grades of it, from the office,
store, shop, street, clear down to the stable. Our cities are filled with
these juvenile nondescript monsters, these compounds of vice, low wit, and
vulgarity. The original is morally detestable, and the counterfeit is a very
base imitation of a very base thing; the dark shadow of a very ugly
III. The Cynic.The Cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man — and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness — and blind to light; mousing for vermin — and never seeing noble game. The Cynic puts all human actions into only two classes — openly bad, and secretly bad. All virtue and generosity and unselfishness are merely the appearance of good — but selfish at the bottom. He holds that no man does a good thing, except for profit. The effect of his conversation upon your feelings, is to chill and sear them; to send you away sour and morose. His criticisms and innuendos fall indiscriminately upon every lovely thing, like frost upon flowers.
If a man is said to be pure and chaste, he will answer: "Yes, in the day-time."
If a man is pronounced virtuous, he will reply: "Yes, as yet Mr. A. is a religious man — yes, on Sundays. Mr. B. has just joined the church, certainly — the elections are coming on."
The minister of the gospel is called an example of diligence: "it is because it is his trade."
Such a man is generous: "it is of other men's money."
This man is obliging: "it is to lull suspicion and cheat you."
That man is upright: "it is because he is naive."
Thus his eye strains out every good quality — and takes
in only the bad. To him . . .
religion is hypocrisy,
honesty is a preparation for fraud,
virtue is only lack of opportunity,
and undeniable purity is asceticism.
The live-long day, he will coolly sit with sneering lip, uttering sharp speeches in the quietest manner, and in polished phrase — crucifying every character which is presented. His words are softer than oil — yet are they drawn swords.
All this, to the young, seems a wonderful knowledge of human nature; they honor a man who appears to have found out mankind. They begin to indulge themselves in flippant sneers; and with supercilious brow, and impudent tongue, wagging to an empty brain — deprecate the wise, the long tried, and the venerable.
I do believe that man is corrupt enough; but something of good has survived his wreck; something of evil, religion has restrained, and something partially restored; yet, I look upon the human heart as a mountain of fire. I dread its crater. I tremble when I see its lava roll the fiery stream. Therefore, I am the more glad, if upon the old crust of past eruptions, I can find a single flower springing up. So far from rejecting appearances of virtue in the corrupt heart of a depraved race, I am eager to see their light as ever mariner was to see a star in a stormy night.
Moss will grow upon gravestones; the ivy will cling to the moldering pile; the mistletoe springs from the dying branch; and, God be praised, something green, something fair to the sight and grateful to the heart — will yet entwine around and grow out of the seams and cracks of the desolate temple of the human heart!
Who could walk through Thebes, Palmyra, or Petra, and survey the wide waste of broken arches, crumbled altars, fallen pillars, effaced cornices, toppling walls, and crushed statues, with no feelings but those of contempt? Who, unsorrowing, could see the owl's nest upon the carved pillar, satyrs dancing on marble pavements, and scorpions nestling where beauty once dwelt, and vermin the sole tenants of royal palaces? Amid such melancholy magnificence, even the misanthrope might weep! If here and there an altar stood unbruised, or a graven column unblemished, or a statue nearly perfect — he might well feel love for a man-wrought stone — so beautiful, when all else is so dreary and desolate. Thus, though man is as a desolate city, and his passions are as the wild beasts of the wilderness howling in kings' palaces — yet he is God's workmanship, and a thousand touches of exquisite beauty remain. Since Christ has put his sovereign hand to restore man's ruin, many points are remolded, and the fair form of a new fabric already appears growing from the ruins, and the first faint flame is glimmering upon the restored altar.
It is impossible to indulge in such habitual severity of opinion upon our fellow-men — without injuring the tenderness and delicacy of our own feelings. A man will be what his most cherished feelings are. If he encourages a noble generosity — every feeling will be enriched by it. If he nurses bitter and envenomed thoughts — his own spirit will absorb the poison; and he will crawl among men as a burnished adder, whose life is mischief, and whose errand is death!
Although experience should correct the indiscriminate
confidence of the young, no experience should render them callous to
goodness wherever seen. He who hunts for flowers — will find flowers;
and he who loves weeds — may find weeds. Let it be remembered, that no man,
who is not himself mortally diseased, will have a relish for disease
in others. A swollen wretch, blotched all over with leprosy, may grin
hideously at every wart or excrescence upon beauty. A wholesome man will be
pained at it, and seek not to notice it. Reject, then, the morbid ambition
of the Cynic — or cease to call yourself a man!
IV. The Libertine.I fear that few villages exist without a specimen of the Libertine. His errand into this world is to explore every depth of sensuality — and collect upon himself the foulness of every one. He is proud to be vile; his ambition is to be viler than other men. Were we not confronted almost daily by such wretches, it would be hard to believe that any could exist, to whom purity and decency were a burden — and only corruption a delight. This creature has changed his nature, until only that which disgusts a pure mind, pleases his. He is lured by the scent of carrion. His coarse feelings, stimulated by gross excitants, are insensible to delicacy. The exquisite bloom, the dew and freshness of the flowers of the heart, which delight both good men and God himself, he gazes upon, as a Behemoth would gaze enraptured upon a prairie of flowers. It is just so much pasture. The forms, the fragrances, the hues are only a mouthful for his terrible appetite.
Therefore, his breath blights every innocent thing. He sneers at the mention of purity, and leers in the very face of Virtue, as though she were herself corrupt, if the truth were known. He assures the credulous disciple that there is no purity; that its appearances are only the veils which cover indulgence. Nay, he solicits praise for the very openness of his evil; and tells the listener that all act as he acts — but only few are courageous enough to own it. But the uttermost parts of depravity are laid open, only when several such monsters meet together, and vie with each other, as we might suppose shapeless mud-monsters amuse themselves in the slimiest ooze. They dive in fierce rivalry which shall reach the most infernal depth, and bring up the blackest sediment.
It makes the blood of an honest man run cold, to hear but the echo of the shameless rehearsals of their lewd enterprises. Each strives to tell a blacker tale than the other. When the abomination of their actual life is not damnable enough to satisfy the ambition of their unutterable corruption — they devise, in their imagination, scenes yet more flagrant; swear that they have performed them, and when they separate, each strives to make his lying boastings true.
It would seem as if miscreants so loathsome, would have no power of temptation upon the young. Experience shows that the worst men are, often — the most skillful in touching the springs of human action. A young man knows little of life; less of himself. He feels in his bosom the various impulses, wild desires, restless cravings he can hardly tell for what, a somber melancholy when all is mirthful, a violent exhilaration when others are sober. These wild gushes of feeling, peculiar to youth, the sagacious tempter has felt, has studied, has practiced upon, until he can sit before that most capacious organ, the human mind, knowing every stop, and all the combinations, and competent to touch any note through the organ.
As a serpent deceived the purest of mortals — so now a beast may mislead their posterity. He begins afar off. He decries the virtue of all men; studies to produce a doubt that any are under self-restraint. He unpacks his filthy stories, plays off the fire-works of his corrupt imagination — its blue-lights, its red-lights, and green-lights, and sparkle-spitting lights; and edging in upon the yielding youth, who begins to wonder at his experience, he boasts his first exploits, he hisses at the purity of women! He grows yet bolder, tells more wicked deeds, and invents worse even than he ever performed, though he has performed worse than good men ever thought of. All thoughts, all feelings, all ambition, are merged in one — and that the lowest, vilest, most detestable ambition.
Had I a son, I could, with thanksgiving, see him go down to the grave — rather than fall into the maw of this most besotted devil. The plague is mercy, the cholera is love, the deadliest fever is refreshment to man's body — in comparison with this epitome and essence of moral disease! He lives among men as Hell's ambassador with full credentials; nor can we conceive that there should be need of any other fiend to perfect the works of darkness, while he lives among us, stuffed with every pestilent drug of corruption.
The heart of every virtuous young man should loathe him; if he speaks, you should as soon hear a wolf bark. Gather around you the venomous snake, the poisonous toad, the foul vulture, the prowling hyena — and their company would be an honor to you above his; for they at least remain within their own nature; but he goes out of his nature that he may become more vile than it is possible for a mere animal to be. He is hateful to religion, hateful to virtue, hateful to decency, hateful to the coldest morality. The stenchful purulence of his dissolute heart, has flowed over every feeling of his nature, and left them as the burning lava leaves the garden, the orchard, and the vineyard.
And it is a wonder that the bolt of God which
crushed Sodom does not slay him. It is a wonder that the earth does not
refuse the burden and open and swallow him up. I do not fear that the young
will be undermined by his direct assaults. But some will imitate
him — and their example will be again freely imitated — and finally, a
remote circle of disciples will spread the diluted contagion among the
virtuous. This man will be the fountain-head, and though none will come to
drink at a hot spring — yet further down along the stream it sends out, will
be found many scooping from its waters.
V. The polished Libertine.I have just described the devil in his native form — but he sometimes appears as an angel of light. There is a polished Libertine, in manners studiously refined, in taste faultless; his face is mild and engaging; his words drop as pure as newly-made honey. In general society, he would rather attract regard as a model of purity, and suspicion herself could hardly look askance upon him. But under this brilliant exterior — his heart is like a sepulcher, full of all uncleanness! Contrasted with the gross libertine, it would not be supposed that he had a thought in common with him. But if his heart could be opened to our eyes, as it is to God's — we would perceive scarcely dissimilar feeling in respect to appetite. Professing unbounded admiration of virtue in general — he leaves not in private, a point untransgressed.
His reading has culled every glowing picture of amorous poets, every tempting scene of loose dramatists, and looser novelists. Enriched by these, his imagination, like a rank soil, is overgrown with a prodigal luxuriance of poison-herbs and deadly flowers.
Men such as this man is, frequently aspire to be the censors of morality. They are hurt at the injudicious reprehensions of vice from the pulpit! They make great outcry when plain words are employed to denounce base things. They are astonishingly sensitive and fearful lest good men should soil their hands with too much meddling with evil. Their cries are not the evidence of sensibility to virtue — but of too lively a sensibility to vice. Sensibility is, often, only the fluttering of an impure heart.
At the very time that their voice is ringing an alarm
against immoral reformations, they are secretly skeptical of every tenet of
virtue, and practically unfaithful to every one. Of these two
libertines, the most refined is the more dangerous. The one is a
rattlesnake which carries its warning with it; the other, hiding his
burnished scales in the grass, skulks to perform unsuspected deeds in
darkness. The one is the visible fog and miasma of the quagmire; the other
is the serene air of a tropical city, which, though brilliant — is loaded
with invisible pestilence.
The Politician. If there be a man on earth whose
character should be framed of the most sterling honesty, and whose conduct
should conform to the most scrupulous morality, it is the man who
administers public affairs. The most romantic notions of integrity are here
not extravagant. As, under our institutions, public men will be, upon the
whole, fair exponents of the character of their constituents, the plainest
way to secure honest public men, is to inspire those who make them, with a
right understanding of what political character ought to be. Young men
should be prompted to discriminate between the specious — and the real; the
artful — and the honest; the wise — and the cunning; the patriotic — and the
pretender. I will sketch —
VI. The Demagogueis a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices. The lowest of politicians, is that man who seeks to gratify an invariable selfishness — by pretending to seek the public good. For a profitable popularity, he accommodates himself to all opinions, to all dispositions, to every side, and to each prejudice. He is a mirror, with no face of its own — but a smooth surface from which each man of ten thousand may see himself reflected. He glides from man to man coinciding with their views, pretending their feelings, simulating their tastes. With this person, he hates a man; with that person, he loves the same man. He favors a law — and he dislikes it. He approves — and opposes. He is on both sides at once. He attends meetings to suppress intemperance — but at elections makes every tavern free to all drinkers. He can with equal relish plead most eloquently for temperance — or drink up a dozen glasses in a dirty tavern.
He thinks that there is a time for everything, and therefore, at one time he swears and jeers and leers with a carousing crew; and at another time, having happily been converted, he displays the various features of devotion. Indeed, he is a capacious Christian — an epitome of faith. He was always a Methodist and always shall be — until he meets a Presbyterian; then he is a Presbyterian, old-school or new, as the case requires. However, as he is not a bigot — he can afford to be a Baptist, in a good Baptist neighborhood, and with a wink he tells the zealous elder, that he never had one of his children baptized, not he! He whispers to the Reformer that he abhors all creeds but the Bible. After all this, room will be found in his heart for the fugitive sects also, which come and go like clouds in a summer sky. His flattering attention at church edifies the simple-hearted preacher, who admires that a plain sermon should make a man whisper amen! and weep.
Upon the platform, his tact is no less rare. He roars and bawls with courageous plainness, on points about which all agree: but on subjects where men differ, his meaning is nicely balanced on a pivot that it may dip either way. He depends for success chiefly upon humorous stories. A glowing patriot telling stories is a dangerous antagonist; for it is hard to expose the fallacy of a hearty laugh, and men convulsed with merriment are slow to perceive in what way an argument is a reply to a story.
Perseverance, effrontery, good nature, and versatile
cunning — have advanced many a bad man higher than a good man could attain.
Men will admit that he has not a single moral virtue — but he is smart. We
object to no man for amusing himself at the fertile resources of the
politician here painted; for sober men are sometimes pleased with the
grimaces and mischievous tricks of a versatile monkey; but would it
not be strange indeed if they should select him for a ruler, or make him an
exemplar to their sons?
7. The Party Man.I describe next a more respectable and more dangerous politician — the Party Man. He has associated his ambition, his interests, and his affections with a political party. He prefers, doubtless, that his side should be victorious by the best means, and under the championship of good men; but rather than lose the victory, he will consent to any means, and follow any man. Thus, with a general desire to be upright — the exigency of his party constantly pushes him to dishonorable deeds. He opposes fraud by craft; lie, by lie; slander, by counter-aspersion. To be sure, it is wrong to mis-state, to distort, to suppress or color facts; it is wrong to employ the evil passions; to set class against class; the poor against the rich, the country against the city, the farmer against the mechanic, one section against another section. But his opponents do it, and if they will take advantage of men's corruption — so he must, or lose by his virtue.
He gradually adopts two characters, a personal and a political character. All the requisitions of his conscience, he obeys in his private character; all the requisitions of his party, he obeys in his political conduct. In one character he is a man of principle; in the other, a man of mere expedients. As a man, he means to be genuine, honest, moral; as a politician, he is deceitful, cunning, unscrupulous — anything for party. As a man, he abhors the slimy demagogue; as a politician, he employs him as a scavenger. As a man, he shrinks from the flagitiousness of slander; as a politician, he permits it, smiles upon it in others, rejoices in the success gained by it. As a man, he respects no one who is rotten in heart; as a politician, no man through whom victory may be gained can be too bad. As a citizen, he is an apostle of temperance; as a politician, he puts his shoulder under the men who deluge their track with whisky, marching a crew of brawling patriots, pugnaciously drunk, to exercise the freeman's noblest franchise — the Vote. As a citizen, he is considerate of the young, and counsels them with admirable wisdom; then, as a politician, he votes for aspirants scraped from the ditch, the tavern, and the brothel; thus saying by deeds which the young are quick to understand: "I jested, when I warned you of bad company; for you perceive none worse than those whom I delight to honor."
For his religion, he will give up all his secular interests; but for his politics, he gives up even his religion. He adores virtue — and rewards vice. While bolstering up unrighteous measures, and more unrighteous men — he prays for the advancement of religion, and justice, and honor! I would to God that his prayer might be answered upon his own political head; for never was there a place where such blessings were more needed!
I am puzzled to know what will happen at death to this political Christian — but most unchristian politician. Will both of his characters go heavenward together? If the strongest prevails — he will certainly go to Hell. If his weakest, (which is his Christian character,) is saved — then what will become of his political character? Shall he be sawn in two, as Solomon proposed to divide the contested infant? If this style of character were not flagitiously wicked, it would still be supremely ridiculous — but it is both! Let young men mark these amphibious exemplars, to avoid their influence. The young have nothing to gain from those who are saints in religion and morals, and devils in politics; who have partitioned off their heart, invited Christ into one half, and Belial into the other.
It is wisely said, that a strictly honest man who desires purely the public good, who will not criminally flatter the people, nor take part in lies, or party-slander, nor descend to the arts of the rat, the weasel, and the fox — cannot succeed in politics. It is calmly said by thousands that one cannot be a politician — and a Christian. Indeed, a man is liable to downright ridicule, if he speaks in good earnest of a scrupulously honest and religiously moral politician. I regard all such representations as false. We are not without men whose career is a refutation of the slander. It poisons the community to teach this fatal necessity of corruption, in a course which so many must pursue. It is not strange, if such be the popular opinion, that young men include the sacrifice of strict integrity, as a necessary element of a political life, and calmly agree to it, as to an inevitable misfortune, rather than to a dark and voluntary crime!
Only if a man is an ignorant heathen, can he escape blame for such a decision! A young man, at this day, in this land, who can coolly purpose a life of most unmanly deceit, who means to earn his bread and fame by a sacrifice of integrity — is one who requires only temptation and opportunity to become a felon!
What a heart has that man, who can stand in the very middle of the Bible, with its transcendent truths raising their glowing fronts on every side of him, and feel no inspiration, but that of immorality and baseness! He knows that for him have been founded the perpetual institutions of religion; for him prophets have spoken, miracles been wrought, Heaven robbed of its Magistrate, and the earth made sacred above all planets as the Redeemer's birth and death place — he knows it all, and plunges from this height to the very bottom of corruption! He hears that he is immortal, and despises the immortality; that he is a creation of God, and scorns the dignity; a potential heir of Heaven, and infamously sells his heirship, and himself, for a contemptible mess of loathsome pottage!
Do not tell me of any excuses. It is a shame to attempt
an excuse! If there were no religion, if that vast sphere, out of which glow
all the supereminent truths of the Bible, was a mere emptiness and void —
yet, methinks, the very idea of Fatherland, the exceeding preciousness of
the Laws and Liberties of a great people — would enkindle such a high and
noble enthusiasm, that all baser feelings would be consumed! But if . . .
the love of country,
a sense of character,
a manly regard for integrity,
the example of our most illustrious men,
the warnings of religion and all its solicitations,
and the prospect of the future — as dark as Perdition to the evil, and as bright as Paradise to the holy
— cannot inspire a young man to anything higher than a sneaking, truckling, dodging scramble for fraudulent fame and dishonest bread — it is because such a creature has never felt one sensation of manly virtue — it is because his heart is a howling wilderness, inhospitable to innocence!
Thus have I sketched a few of the characters which
abound in every community; dangerous, not more by their direct
temptations, than by their insensible influence. The sight of
their deeds, of their temporary success, their apparent happiness . . .
relaxes the tense rigidity of a scrupulous honesty,
inspires a ruinous liberality of sentiment toward vice,
and breeds the thoughts of evil. And Evil Thoughts are the cockatrice's eggs, hatching into all Evil Deeds.
Remember, if by any of these you are enticed to ruin, you
will have to bear it alone! They are strong to seduce — but
heartless to sustain their victims. They will . . .
exhaust your means,
teach you to despise the God of your fathers,
lead you into every sin,
go with you while you afford them any pleasure or profit — and then, when the inevitable disaster of wickedness begins to overwhelm you — they will abandon whom they have debauched!
When, at length, DEATH gnaws at your bones and knocks at your heart; when staggering, and worn out, your courage wasted, your hope gone, your purity gone, and long, long ago your peace gone — will he who first enticed your steps, now serve your extremity with one office of kindness? Will he encourage you? — cheer your dying agony with one word of hope? — or light the way for your coward steps to the grave? — or weep when you are gone? — or send one pitiful scrap to your desolate family? What reveler wears death-crape for a dead drunkard? — what gang of gamblers ever intermitted a game for the death of a companion? — or went on kind missions of relief to broken-down fellow-gamblers? What harlot weeps for a harlot? — what debauchee mourns for a debauchee? They would carouse at your funeral — and gamble on your coffin! If one flush more of pleasure were to be had by it, they would drink shame and ridicule to your memory out of your own skull — and roar in bacchanalian-revelry over your damnation!
All the shameless atrocities of wicked men, are nothing to their heartlessness toward each other when broken-down. As I have seen worms writhing on a carcass, crawling over each other, and elevating their fiery heads in petty ferocity against each other, while all were enshrined in the corruption of a common carrion — I have thought, ah! shameful picture of wicked men tempting each other, abetting each other, until calamity overtook them — and then fighting and devouring or abandoning each other, without pity, or sorrow, or compassion, or remorse!
Evil men of every degree will use you, flatter you, lead you on until you are useless; then, if the virtuous do not pity you, or God compassionate you — you are without a friend in the universe!
"My son, if sinners entice you — do not give in to them. If they say: 'Come along with us; let's lie in wait for someone's blood, let's waylay some harmless soul; let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit! We will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse.' My son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves!" Proverbs 1:10-18