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THERE is one word, at least, on the title page of this volume, which, with certain classes of people, will give to it no interest, and conciliate for it no friends. 66. Solitude and a book !” —some one of them will exclaim—" and such a book as this too, which talks of nothing but solemn self-inquiry, and the duty and privilege of walking with God, and frequent spiritual converse with him, and breathings of Christian devotion !—This is a combination which will never do with me, and the person is not my friend, or else he knows me not, who would tender to me any such proposal. I, at least, am not made for solitude. The very thought of it, seriously urged upon me, has never failed to sicken my spirit, extinguish the vivacity of my nature, and involve me in sulkiness or sorrow. And to add to the solitude, the dull and dismal companionship of such a volume as this, which treats of a subject which I disown, and inculcates activities which I despise, and eulogizes pleasures which I dislike, is to deepen the gloom of my situation, and render my unhappiness complete.”
Another may bring against the word a charge which is yet more weighty than this. “I,” he may say, “ am a man of the world, with all
habits and inclinations formed to its gains or gratifications; but my youthful education was Christian, and my conscience, influenced by that education, is ever ready to reproach me with a base and perverse abandonment of my earliest and best impressions. I know more of Christianity already, than is compatible with peace of mind; and were I shut up in solitude with this volume in my hand, and no eye upon me but that of the great God, I could not fail to be utterly miserable. The reminiscences of education, which even in society I can scarcely evade, would freshen before me, and ply me with accusations which my heart cannot endure; the respondings of conscience within me would substantiate these accusations as righteous in themselves, and fearful in their indications; and resolved as I am, at all hazards, to hold on in my present career, what could solitude do for me, in circumstances so very critical, but fill me with horror and remorse? No, ye pleaders for Christianity, speak not of solitude to me. It is the staunchest and mightiest ally of my great and formidable enemy—the deputy of God within me; and I must avoid it, since I dare not meet it, as a man meets his adversary in direct and confronted combat.”
There are others, however, by whom the announcement of a “ Companion in Solitude" will be received with very different emotions. Society has used them ill, or at least they think so. They are the children of disappointment and chagrin. Their spirits are formed by natural infirmity, or have become by the attrition of life, so sore, and shrinking, and
sensitive, that they can no longer endure the justlings of social intercourse; and although they are still inclined to look at man through the transparencies of their apartments, or the duller medium of books, yet they are jealous of all exposure to the collision of his opinions. “ Man was made for solitude,” is the verdict which they give forth. “ His tempers are too acrimonious to promote the comminglings of placid and pleasurable intercourse.
There is so much of the selfish and artful, or malign and detractive, or rude and repulsive, in his nature, that there is no way of avoiding his enmity, nor any hope of continuous comfort, except in the abode of seclusion and loneliness.” It is to be expected that such persons will hail the offer of a “ Companion in Solitude," and that too with so much the greater cordiality, that the proffered companion is not a man but a book, which will talk, or be silent, give out suggestions, or retain them, just as they choose to open and read it, or shut it, and turn away—unless peradventure the word “ Christian's” should prove a prefixture, which checks their fondness, or disappoints their expectations.
But there is little difficulty in perceiving, that all this talking, from first to last, is distempered talking -the crude and acrid cogitations of a mind which is chaffed by moral disease. That man was made for society is not true, if the meaning be that he should be always in society; and that he was made for solitude is equally untrue, if the meaning be that he should be always alone. There is truth in both statements, but the truths are correlative, reciprocally modifying and defining each other, and the man who would hold by either, to the entire negation of the other, might, with nearly as little impropriety, affirm of the bodies of men that they were made to be awake but never asleep, or made to be asleep but never awake.
The truth is, that every man, by the law of his creation, is at once a part of an associated whole and a separate individual existence; and to view him exclusively in either of these aspects, and treat him according to its indications, is essentially to come short in the knowledge of his nature, and mar the culture of his powers.
He must have society to stimulate his faculties, and rectify his juvenile errors, and form him to the business of social life, and furnish him with scenes of suitable development for the fellow-feeling of his heart: and he must have solitude, to consolidate the interests, and foster the growth, of his individual being, by securing the calm and considerate discipline of the multitude of thoughts which work within him. If you deny him the former altogether, you cripple his energies, and sophisticate his character, by entailing on him all the disabilities of an unnaturally protracted childhood; and if you deny him the latter altogether, you inure him to habits of restlessness and volatility, which are in no degree suited to his destiny, as a traveller to the world of spirits. It is by neither the one nor the other, but a wise attempering of both, according to diversities of constitution, and varied moral circumstances, that he can hope to attain the proper use of the situation in which God has placed him.
The man who declaims against solitude, then, because it involves him in ennui, or sours his humours
into disgust, is just taking his own way of giving the
He is, in fact, a moral coward, who first does violence to heaven's eternal law, and then absconds, like the worst of miscreants, from the righteous reaction of that law.
It is not solitude in itself, which is the object of his aversion, but that reckoning with God in the absence of man, to which solitude constrains him; and it were just as equitable to take his estimate of the matter, as to convert the traitor into a judge on the demerit of his own offences.
Nor is the verdict of those on the opposite extreme, who, as they think, have been justled out of