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she declined them all. I own I never found myself so strongly prejudiced in favour of apparent merit before ; and could willingly have prolonged our conversation, but the company after some time withdrew. Just, however, before the little beau took his leave, he called me aside, and requested I would change him a twenty pound bill, which as I was incapable of doing, he was contented with borrowing half a crown.
From Lien Chi Altangi to Hingho, by the way of
FEW virtues have been more praised by moralists than generosity ; every practical treatise of Ethics tends to increase our sensibility of the distresses of others, and to relax the grasp of frugality. Philosophers that are poor praise it because they are gainers by its effects; and the opulent Seneca himself has written a treatise on benefits, though he was known to give nothing away.
But among the many who have enforced the duty of giving, I am surprised there are none to inculcate the ignominy of receiving, to show that by every favour we accept, we in some measure forfeit our native freedom, and that a state of continual dependence on the generosity of others is a life of gradual debasement.
Were inen taught to despise the receiving obligations with the same force of reasoning and declamation that they are instructed to confer them, we might then see every person in society filling up the requisite duties of his station with cheerful industry, neither relaxed by hope, nor sullen from disappointtry; some to govern, and others to obey. Every people, how free soever, must be contented to give up part of their liberty and judgment to those who govern, in exchange for their hopes of security; and the motives which first influenced their choice in the election of their governors should ever be weighed against the succeeding apparent inconsistencies of their conduct. All cannot be rulers, and men are generally best governed by a few. In making way through the intricacies of business, the smallest obstacles are apt to retard the execution of what is to be planned by a multiplicity of counsels; the judgment of one alone being always fittest for winding through the labyrinths of intrigue, and the obstructions of disappointment. A serpent, which, as the fable observes, is furnished with one head and many tails, is much more capable of subsistence and expedition, than another, which is furnished with but one tail and many heads.
Every favour a man receives in some measure sinks him below his dignity, and in proportion to the value of the benefit, or the frequency of its acceptance, he gives up so much of his natural independence. He therefore who thrives upon the unmerited bounty of another, if he has any sensibility, suffers the worst of servitude ; the shackled slave may murmur without reproach, but the humble dependant is taxed with ingratitude upon every symptom of discontent; the one may rave round the walls of his cell, but the other lingers in all the silence of mental confinement. To increase his distress, every new obligation but adds to the former load which kept the vigorous mind from rising ; till at last, elastic no longer, it shapes itself to constraint, and puts on habitual servility.
It is thus with the feeling mind; but there are some who, born without any share of sensibility, receive favour after favour, and still cringe for more, who accept the offer of generosity with as little reluctance as the wages of merit, and even make thanks for past benefits, an indirect petition for new; such I grant can suffer no debasement from dependence, since they were originally as vile as was possible to be ; dependence degrades only the ingenuous, but leaves the sordid mind in pristine meanness. In this manner, therefore, long continued generosity is misplaced, or it is injurious; it either finds a man worthless, or it makes him so ; and true it is, that the person who is contented to be often obliged, ought not to have been obliged at all.
Yet while I describe the meanness of a life of continued dependence, I would not be thought to include those natural or political subordinations which subsist in every society ; for in such, though dependence is exacted from the inferior, yet the obligation on either side is mutual. The son must rely upon his parent for support, but the parent lies under the same obligations to give, that the other has to expect ; the subor, dinate officer must receive the commands of his superior, but for this obedience the former has a right to demand an intercourse of favour; such is not the de. pendence I would depreciate, but that where every expected favour must be the result of mere benevolence in the giver, where the benefit can be kept without remorse, or transferred without injustice. The character of a legacy-hunter, for instance, is detestable in some countries, and despicable in all; this universal contempt of a man who infringes upon none of the laws of society, some moralists have arraigned as a popular and unjust prejudice ; never considering the necessary degradations a wretch must undergo, who previously expects to grow rich by benefits without having either natural or social claims to enforce his petitions.
But this intercourse of benefaction and acknowledgment, is often injurious even to the giver as well as the receiver ; a man can gain but little knowledge of himself, or of the world, amidst a circle of those whom hope or gratitude has gathered round him ; their unceasing humiliations must necessarily increase his comparative magnitude, for all men measure their own abilities by those of their company; thus being taught to over-rate his merit, he in reality lessens it ; increasing in confidence, but not in power, his professions end in empty boast, his undertakings in shameful disappointment.
117 It is perhaps one of the severest misfortunes of the great, that they are, in general, obliged to live among men whose real virtue is lessened by dependence, and whose minds are enslaved by obligation. The humble companion may have at first accepted patronage with generous views, but soon he feels the mortifying influence of conscious inferiority, by degrees sinks into a flatterer, and from flattery at last degenerates into stupid veneration. To remedy this the great often dismiss their old dependents, and take new. Such changes are falsely imputed to levity, falsehood, or caprice in the patron, since they may be more justly ascribed to the client's gradual deterioration.
No, my son, a life of independence is generally a life of virtue.
It is that which fits the soul for every generous flight of humanity, freedom and friendship. To give should be our pleasure, but to receive our shame ; serenity, health, and affluence attend the desire of rising by labour; misery, repentance, and disrespect that of succeeding by extorted benevolence ; the man who can thank himself alone for the happiness he enjoys is truly blest ; and lovely, far more lovely the sturdy gloom of laborious indigence, than the fawning simper of thriving adulation.
Obvious as these truths are, the people of this couniry seem insensible of their force. Not satisfied with the advantages of internal peace and opulence, they still murmur at their governors, and interfere in the execution of their designs; as if they wanted to be something more than happy. But as the Europeans instruct by argument, and the Asiatics mostly by narration, were I to address them, I should convey my sentiments in the following story.
Takupi had long been Prime Minister of Tipartala, a fertile country that stretches along the Western confines of China. During his administration, whatever advantages could be derived from arts, learning and commerce, were seen to bless the people ; nor were the necessary precautions of providing for the security of the state forgotten. It often happens, however, that when men are possessed of all they want,