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REFLECTIONs on v IRTUE.
SECTION I. In which it is considered how far Retirement is favourable to Virtue, from its Tendency to weaken the Impression of the World.
It is a law which obtains through every rank of existence, from the meanest plant up to man the head of this sublunary system, for like to produce its like. This, so : far as it relates to the vegetable and animal kingdoms, is obvious and known to all ; and how much the same law prevails in our intellectual and moral system, may appear from a few reflections on the contagious nature of human opinions and passions; from whose combined influence arises that impression which is meant in the
title of this section, and to which those who are thrown amidst the bustle and pleasures of the world are more particularly exposed.
There are few men who are able entirely to repel an opinion, or to admit it only according to its proper evidence, when it appears strongly impressed on the belief of others. It is in this general weakness of our nature that many dogmatical writers find their advantage, being aware that they have need only to express themselves with an undoubted confidence, in order to carry along with them the majority of their readers. But it is in a living intercourse with the world, that this mental imbecility is most discovered. Men of the strongest reason have frequent cause to lament this feebleness. When they call themselves to account, after conversing upon an interesting topic, especially if with a friend or a patron, or some person of a rank or character superior to their own, they too often find that their judgment has been either surprised by the partiality of affection, or awed by an undue reverence of authority, or disabled by the servility of dependence. And if such is the effect from a single mind, what must be that from many in conjunction, when their united influence is exerted in some popular assembly, or in a nation at large
It is not easy to account for the spread of many speculative notions and philosophical theories, upon any other ground than that which is here stated. Some bold innovator advances a doctrine, or a system, with very little reason to support it; by a kind of sympathetic influence he communicates his persuasion to others, these to many more, till by degrees the stream swells into a torrent which no ordinary mind is able to withstand. Hence the prevailing philosophy of one age has been different from that of another; at one period, for instance, it has been usual to explain all the phenomena of nature by occult qualities; while at another they have been considered as nothing more than mechanical effects, or the mere results of matter and motion. There is a fashion in what is called learning, as in other things, and which often displays itself in a manner no less exclusive and tyrannical.
By a like sympathetic power it is that opinions of a moral and practical nature are commonly propagated. The ideas which are usually formed of the amusements and pleasures of the world, are sure to find an easy entrance into the minds of unexperienced youth, and to induce a violent persuasion, that without balls, and assemblies, and theatres, and other nocturnal revels and fashionable dissipations, they must be deprived of all that is joyous and comfortable in life, and left to drag out a dull and wearisome existence. In like manner, the sentiments which are generally entertained of rank, of breeding, of family, of riches, and whatever else may confer distinction and consequence, are no less impressive upon vul