Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, No. 276 by Various


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Page 2

I blush to confess, that I have often thought the _habit of debt_
to be our national inheritance--from that bugbear of out-of-place men,
the Sinking Fund, to the parish-clerk, who mortgages his fees at the
chandler's; and that my countrymen seem to have resolved to increase
their own enjoyments at the expense of posterity, with whose provision,
even Swift thinks we have no concern. Again; I have thought that we are
apt to over-rate our national advancement, by supposing the present race
to be wiser than the previous one, without once looking into our
individual contributions to this state of enlightenment. Proud as we are
of this distinction in the social scale, we can record few instances of
contemporary genius, and we are bound to confess that men are not a whit
the better in the present than in the previous generation. Thus we
hoodwink each other till social outrages become every-day occurrences,
and every thing but sheer violence is protected by its frequency; and in
this manner we consent to compromise our happiness, and then affect to
be astonished at its scarcity. In the later ages of the world, men have
learned to temporize with principles, and to sacrifice, at the shrine
of passing interest, as much real virtue as would bear them harmless
throughout life. Hence, of what more avail is the virtue of the Roman
fathers, or are the amiable friendships of Scipio and Lelius, than
as so many amusing fictions to exercise the imaginations of schoolmen
in drawing outlines of character, which experience does not finish.
Friends, like certain flowers, bloom around us in the sunshine of
success; but at night-fall or at the approach of storms, they shut up
their hearts; and thus, poor victims being rifled of their mind's
content, with their little string of enjoyments broken up for ever,
are abandoned to the pity or scorn of bystanders. It is impossible to
reflect for a moment on such a crisis, without dropping a tear for the
self-created infirmities of man: but there are considerations at which
he shudders, and which he would rather varnish over with the sophistry
of his refinement, and the fallacies of self-conceit.

I fear that I am breaking my rule in not confining myself to a few
shades of debt and conscience, with a view of determining how far they
are usually reconciled among us. The task may not prove altogether
fruitless; notwithstanding, to find honest men, would require the
lantern of Diogenes, and perhaps turn out like Gratiano's wheat.

In our youthful days, we all remember to have read a pithy string of
Maxims by Dr. Franklin; and we are accustomed to admire the pertinence
of their wit,--but here their influence too often terminates. Since
Franklin's time, the practice of getting into debt has become more and
more easy, notwithstanding men have become more wary. Goldsmith, too,
gives us a true picture of this habit in his scene with Mr. Padusoy, the
mercer, a mode which has been found to succeed so well since his time,
that, with the exception of a few short-cuts by sharpers and other
proscribed gentry, little amendment has been made. Profuseness on the
part of the debtor will generally be found to beget confidence on that
of the creditor; and, in like manner, diffidence will create mistrust,
and mistrust an entire overthrow of the scheme. An unblushing front, and
the gift of _non chalance_, are therefore the best qualifications
for a debtor to obtain credit, while poor modesty will be starved in her
own littleness. In vain has Juvenal protested--"_Fronti nulla
fides;_" and have the world been amused with anecdotes of paupers
dying with money sewed up in their clothes: appearance and assumed
habits are still the handmaids to confidence; and so long as this system
exists, the warfare of debtor and creditor will be continued.
Procrastination will be found to be another furtherance of the system,
inasmuch as it is too evident throughout life that men are more apt to
take pleasure "by the forelock," than to calculate its consequence. In
this manner, men of irregular habits anticipate and forestal every hour
of their lives, and pleasure and pain alternate, till pain, like debt,
accumulates, and sinks its patient below the level of the world. Economy
and forecast do not enter into the composition of such men, nor are such
lessons often felt or acknowledged, till custom has rendered the heart
unfit for the reception of their counsels. It is too frequently that the
neglect of these principles strikes at the root of social happiness, and
produces those lamentable wrecks of men--those shadows of sovereignty,
which people our prisons, poor-houses, and asylums. Genius, with all her
book-knowledge, is not exempt from this failing; but, on the contrary, a
sort of fatality seems to attend her sons and daughters, which tarnishes
their fame, and often exposes them to the brutish attacks of the
ignorant and vulgar. Wits, and even philosophers, are among this number;
and we are bound to acknowledge, that, beyond the raciness of their
writings, there is but little to admire or imitate in the lives of such
men as Steele, Foote, or Sheridan. It is, however, fit that principle
should be thus recognised and upheld, and that any dereliction from its
rules should be placed against the account of such as enjoy other
degrees of superiority, and allowed to form an item in the scale of
their merits.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:34