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Austerities and mortifications are means by which the mind is invigorated and roused, by which the attractions of pleasure are interrupted, and the chains of fenfuality are broken. It is obferved by one of the fathers, that be who reftrains himself in the use of things lawful, will never encroach upon things forbidden. Abftinence, if nothing more, is, at least, a cautious retreat from the utmoft verge of permiffion, and confers that fecurity. which cannot be reasonably hoped by him that dares always to hover over the precipice of deftruction, or delights to approach the pleasures which he knows it fatal to partake. Aufterity is the proper antidote to indulgence; the difeafes of mind as well as body are cured by contraries, and to contraries we should readily have recourfe, if we dreaded guilt as we dread pain.
The completion and fum of repentance is a change of life. That forrow which dictates no caution, that fear which does not quicken our efcape, that aufterity which fails to rectify our affections, are vain and unavailing. But forrow and terror muft naturally precede reformation; for what other cause can produce it? He therefore that feels himself alarmed by his confcience, anxious for the attainment of a better state, and afflicted by the memory of his past faults, may juftly conclude, that the great work of repentance is begun, and hope by retirement and prayer, the natural and religious means of ftrengthening his conviction, to imprefs upon his mind fuch a fenfe of the divine prefence, as may overpower the blandifhments of fecular delights, and enable him to advance from one degree of holiness to another, till death fhall fet him free from mifery and temptation. What better can we do, than prostrate fall Before him reverent; and there confefs Humbly our faults, and pardon beg, with tears Wat'ring the ground, and with our fighs the air Frequenting, fent from hearts contrite, in fign Of forrow unfeign'd, and humiliation meek?
The Duty of Secrecy.
[Rambler, No. 13,]
T is related by Quintus Curtius, that the Perfians
of a man, who had violated the laws of fecrecy; for they thought, that, however he might be deficient in the qualities requifite to actual excellence, the negative virtues at least were always in his power, and though he perhaps could not speak well if he was to try, it was till eafy for him not to speak.
In this opinion of the eafinefs of fecrecy, they feem to have confidered it as opposed, not to treachery, but loquacity, and to have conceived the man, whom they thus cenfured, not frighted by menaces to reveal, or bribed by promises to betray, but incited by the mere pleasure of talking, or fome other motive equally trivial, to lay open his heart without reflection, and to let whatever he knew flip from him, only for want of power to retain it. Whether, by their fettled and avowed fcorn of thoughtlefs talkers, the Perfians were able to diffuse to any great extent the virtue of taciturnity, we are hindered by the distance of thofe times from being able to discover, there being very few memoirs remaining of the court of, Perfepolis, nor any diftinct accounts handed down to us of their office clerks, their ladies of the bed-chamber, their attorneys, their chamber-maids, or their footmen."
In thefe latter ages, though the old animofity againft a prattler is ftill retained, it appears wholly to have loft its effects upon the conduct of mankind; for secrets are fo feldom kept, that it may with fome reason 'be doubted, whether the antients were not mistaken in their firft poftulate, whether the quality of retention be fo generally bestowed, and whether a fecret has not fome fubtle volatility, by which it efcapes almost imperceptibly at the fmalleft vent; or fome power of fermentation, by which it expands itself so as to burst the heart that will not give it way.
Those that study either the body or the mind of man, very often find the moft fpecious and pleafing theory
falling under the weight of contrary experience; and
The vanity of being known to be trufted with a fecret
There are many ways of telling a fecret, by which a man exempts himself from the reproaches of his confcience, and gratifies his pride without fuffering himself to believe that he impairs his virtue. He tells the private affairs of his patron, or his friend, only to those from whom he would not conceal his own; he tells them to thofe, who have no temptation to betray their trust, or with a denunciation of a certain forfeiture of his friendship, if he difcovers that they become public.
Secrets are very frequently told in the firft ardour of kindness, or of love, for the fake of proving, by fo important a facrifice, the fincerity of profeffions, or the warmth of tenderness; but with this motive, though it be fometimes ftrong in itself, vanity generally concurs, fince every man naturally defires to be moft efteemed by thofe whom he loves, or with whom he converses, with whom he paffes his hours of pleasure, and to whom he retires from bufinefs and from care.
When the discovery of fecrets is under confideration, there is always a diftinction carefully to be made between
our own and those of another, thofe of which we are fully mafters as they affect only our own intereft, and thofe which are repofited with us in truft, and involve the happiness or convenience of fuch as we have no right to expofe to hazard by experiments upon their lives, without their confent. To tell our own fecrets is generally folly, but that folly is without guilt; to communicate thofe with which we are intrufted is always treachery, and treachery for the most part combined with folly.
There have, indeed, been fome enthufiaftick and irrational zealots for friendship, who have maintained, and perhaps believed, that one friend has a right to all that is in poffeflion of another; and that therefore it is a violation of kindness to exempt any fecret from this boundless confidence: Accordingly a late female minifter of ftate has been fhameless enough to inform the world, that fhe ufed, when fhe wanted to extract any thing from her fovereign, to remind her of Montaigne's reafoning, who has determined, that to tell a fecret to a friend is no breach of fidelity, because the number of perfons trufted is not multiplied, a man and his friend being virtually the fame.
That fuch a fallacy could be impofed upon any human understanding, or that an author could have been imagined to advance a pofition fo remote from truth and reason, any otherwife than as a declaimer, to fhew to what extent he could ftretch his imagination, and with what ftrength he could prefs his principle, would fcarcely have been credible, had not this lady kindly fhewn us how far weakness may be deluded, or indolence amufed. But fince it appears, that even this fophiftry has been able, with the help of a strong defire to repose in quiet upon the understanding of another, to mislead honeft intentions, and an underflanding not contemptible, it may not be fuperfluous to remark, that those things which are common among friends are only fuch as either poffeffes in his own right, and can alienate or deftro without injury to any other perfon. Without this limitation, confidence must run on without end, fecond perfon may tell the fecret to the third upon
the fame principle as he received it from the firft, and the third may hand it forward to a fourth, till at last it is told in the round of friendship to them from whom it was the first intention chiefly to conceal it.
The confidence which Caius has of the faithfulness of Titius is nothing more than an opinion which himfelf cannot know to be true, and which Claudius, who firft tells his fecret to Caius, may know, at leaft may fufpect to be falfe; and therefore the truft is transferred by Caius, if he reveal what has been told him, to one from whom the perfon originally concerned would probably have withheld it; and, whatever may be the event, Caius has hazarded the happiness of his friend, without neceffity and without permiffion, and has put that trust in the hand of fortune which was given only to virtue.
All the arguments upon which a man who is telling the private affairs of another may ground his confidence of fecurity, he must upon reflection know to be uncertain, because he finds them without effect upon himself. When he is imagining that Titius will be cautious from a regard to his intereft, his reputation, or his duty, he ought to reflect that he is himself at that inftant acting in oppofition to all these reasons, and revealing what intereft, reputation and duty direct him to conceal.
Every one feels that he should confider the man incapable of trust, who believed himself at liberty to tell whatever he knew to the first whom he should conclude deferving of his confidence; therefore Caius, in admitting Titius to the affairs imparted only to himfelf, violates his faith, fince he acts contrary to the intention of Claudius, to whom that faith was given. For promises of friendship are, like all others, ufelefs and vain, unless they are made in fome known fenfe, adjusted and acknowledged by both parties.
I am not ignorant that many queftions may be started relating to the duty of fecrecy, where the affairs are of public concern; where fubfequent reafons may arife to alter the appearance and nature of the truft; that the manner in which the fecret was told may change the degree of obligation; and that the principles upon which a man is chofen for a confident may not always H 2