Letter XIV

From Letter XIV:

[66] My apprehensions lest I should weary you, sometimes prompt me to throw aside my pen and to abandon my design; but the recollection how much I needed direction and assistance myself, in the early part of life, and the fond hope that some useful impression may be made, some feeble virtue strengthened, urges me to go on.

Perhaps there is no good we enjoy, which people are more mistaken, either about the nature or the use of, than property. The portion every one can obtain, he seems to think himself at liberty to employ just as custom or caprice directs. Nothing can be more erroneous. We come into the world with a thousand wants, which property is the means of supplying. Others, who have preceded us, have had its use; and those who come after are son to call it theirs. The loan of it, for a little time only, is ours; but, on its proper application, our character and our usefulness, in a good measure, depend.

As a family increases, a father’s demands for it increase also; but his right to self-appropriation diminishes. Each of his offspring have wants which demand a proportionate share It is long before a child can earn any thing; but he soon begins to expend: and as children naturally wish for the same finery and indulgence which they see others possess, they ought early to be made acquainted with a father’s circumstances, in order that they may learn to curb every wish, which it would be improper, in their situation, to have gratified.

The management of an allowance proportionate to the income, as early as young people are capable of applying it properly, is a great advantage; but they ought to keep exact accounts, and submit them, occasionally, to the inspection of a parent, or friend who is interested in their welfare. Who could bear to find, from the column of ornaments, sweetmeats, and amusements, that more had been expended in these superfluities, than in useful articles, or for benevolent purposes? It is certainly from want of knowing what the former amount to, and from not reflecting on the duty of a different application, and on the permanent satisfaction which might be procured with the same sum, that so much is lavished in frippery and folly.

The love of finery is a serious, and much-to-be- [68] lamented evil. Many persons, who are but ill supplied with those necessaries which would conduce much to comfort and cleanliness, and who fancy they have nothing to bestow on the indigent, can yet purchase the most frivolous ornaments, which in a few months, or it may be weeks, are to be thrown aside, as being out of fashion. But this unwarrantable expence is one of its least ill consequences: the encouraging vanity and levity, which it almost inevitably does, often produces effects the most fatal. Decorating the person, in order to excite attention and procure admiration, is degrading and sinful; and is often the means of strengthening tempers and passions, which it is one of the grand duties of life to endeavour to overcome. The directions of Scripture are very little attended to, which expressly command, “That women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shame-facedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or peals, or costly array; but, which becometh women professing godliness, with good works.” It is not merely the extravagant fantastic, and often ridiculous exhibitions of the ball-room and the theatre, which are reprehensible; but that vanity which is predominant in the general style of dress. The heterogeneous display of ribbons, feathers, flowers, and beads, exhibited in order to catch [69] attention, even in those sacred temples where we meet to confess ourselves “miserable sinners,” is an absurdity, which cannot be vindicated by the vainest, and which must fill every serious mind with the deepest regret. A plain, neat garb, can alone become dying creatures and fallen sinners; and many young persons, who in their last hours have been brought to a right knowledge of themselves, have deeply lamented the love of finery, as a cause of much sin. It is impossible that this propensity should be checked too early, or with too much firmness. The Society of Friends afford a noble example in this respect: and it is not uncommon for a circle of young females, of this description, to sit down, with as much cheerfulness and vivacity, to work for the poor, as others of their age would have done to make ornaments for themselves or their dolls.

The Gospel, which Christians profess to make the rule of their conduct, considers mankind merely as stewards, entrusted with various talents, for the use of which they are accountable. Property is an important one; and our own moral improvement, and the interests of society, are equally concerned in its well-directed application. Relatives, and those immediately connected with us, have the first claims on our assistance; which afterwards should be extended to [70] others, in proportion to our power. At all times, and in all places, there are persons suffering various distresses, which have not been occasioned by any species of vice:* these are entitled to whatever assistance we can afford them, consistently with our other duties: and to spend our money in amusements or finery, neglectful of such distress, is certainly a very culpable negligence. It will, perhaps, be said, “We do not know such.” Probably not; but if there exist any within reach, and more immediate duties do not prevent, we cannot remain ignorant of them without aggravating the offence.

The shillings and sixpences ostentatiously thrown away, in order to get rid of importunate suppliants, or to appear generous, is not charity. Studiously seeking how to benefit others, alone deserves that name. But it is not possible to do this when every whim must be gratified, every fashion complied with, and every amusement attended. Persons of this class are generally termed votaries of pleasure: this is a false appellation; they are unacquainted with true [71] pleasure; and the hours of wearisomeness and self-disgust which they spend in private, convince those who are acquainted with their real feelings, that “the way of peace they have not known.”

Not to love pleasure would be to contradict nature; but be sure that it is pleasure. Nothing but what produces some satisfaction in the silent hours of serious reflection, can, I think, deserve the name. All that has good for its object, is such; and the higher the good, the greater the pleasure.

Persons in the middle ranks cannot clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and administer medicine to the sick, if they lavish their money in complying with fashions, and frequenting places of amusement. It is impossible! What shall the lover of pleasure do? Let her deliberate, let her make the estimate, and choose that which is most satisfactory: a pretty compliment, spoken without meaning; or the grateful acknowledgments of relieved affliction: a fine concert of music; or the tears and thanks of a distressed family, soothed and assisted in the moment of need. To purchase thee refined, these lasting pleasures, we must often forego the alluring, but transient gratifications of sense and fancy. The price of a necklace or a pair of ear-rings, would cause the widow’s heart to [72] sing for joy, and diffuse the sun-shine of comfort on her desolate abode. That of a single ribbon would purchase her a warm garment; and, perhaps, banish the disease and cold which are endured for want of it. There are persons who lay out in mere ornament, in the course of a year, more than they distribute amongst the children of wretchedness! it is true, they appear much finer than their neighbours; but have they the heart-felt satisfaction, the glow of pleasure, which she enjoys, who, in a plain dress, and while her companions have been exulting at an assembly or a play-house, has stolen to the abodes of misery, and, in judicious ministrations, distributed that money which the amusement would have cost her? I think there is scarcely a heart so depraved, which would not, on reflection, prefer the pleasure of the latter; and that it is so seldom chosen, proves that people act without reflection.

To descend to all the minutiae wherein temporary sacrifice procures lasting enjoyment, would be endless: cultivate the disposition to make it, and opportunities will continually present themselves. I have done. Learn what is true pleasure, and pursue it with all your might.

* It is not intended to be inferred, that those persons who suffer from misconduct are not entitled to compassion and relief; but only, that our attention ought first to be bestowed on the virtuous, as they are most likely to be benefited by it.