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Then, knowing how I had failed in my plain duty to my fellow-men—how,

2023-11-30 11:53:06source:rnaClassification:year

/Paul./--The rich then are always very happy! They meet with no obstacles to the fulfilment of their wishes, and they can lavish happiness on those whom they love.

Then, knowing how I had failed in my plain duty to my fellow-men—how,

/The Old Man./--Far from it, my son! They are, for the most part satiated with pleasure, for this very reason,--that it costs them no trouble. Have you never yourself experienced how much the pleasure of repose is increased by fatigue; that of eating, by hunger; or that of drinking, by thirst? The pleasure also of loving and being loved is only to be acquired by innumerable privations and sacrifices. Wealth, by anticipating all their necessities, deprives its possessors of all these pleasures. To this ennui, consequent upon satiety, may also be added the pride which springs from their opulence, and which is wounded by the most trifling privation, when the greatest enjoyments have ceased to charm. The perfume of a thousand roses gives pleasure but for a moment; but the pain occasioned by a single thorn endures long after the infliction of the wound. A single evil in the midst of their pleasures is to the rich like a thorn among flowers; to the poor, on the contrary, one pleasure amidst all their troubles is a flower among a wilderness of thorns; they have a most lively enjoyment of it. The effect of every thing is increased by contrast; nature has balanced all things. Which condition, after all, do you consider preferable,--to have scarcely any thing to hope, and every thing to fear, or to have every thing to hope and nothing to fear? The former condition is that of the rich, the latter, that of the poor. But either of these extremes is with difficulty supported by man, whose happiness consists in a middle station of life, in union with virtue.

Then, knowing how I had failed in my plain duty to my fellow-men—how,

/Paul./--What do you understand by virtue?

Then, knowing how I had failed in my plain duty to my fellow-men—how,

/The Old Man./--To you, my son, who support your family by your labour, it need hardly be defined. Virtue consists in endeavouring to do all the good we can to others, with an ultimate intention of pleasing God alone.

/Paul./--Oh! how virtuous, then, is Virginia! Virtue led her to seek for riches, that she might practise benevolence. Virtue induced her to quit this island, and virtue will bring her back to it.

The idea of her speedy return firing the imagination of this young man, all his anxieties suddenly vanished. Virginia, he was persuaded, had not written, because she would soon arrive. It took so little time to come from Europe with a fair wind! Then he enumerated the vessels which had made this passage of four thousand five hundred leagues in less than three months; and perhaps the vessel in which Virginia had embarked might not be more than two. Ship-builders were now so ingenious, and sailors were so expert! He then talked to me of the arrangements he intended to make for her reception, of the new house he would build for her, and of the pleasures and surprises which he would contrive for her every day, when she was his wife. His wife! The idea filled him with ecstasy. "At least, my dear father," said he, "you shall then do no more work than you please. As Virginia will be rich, we shall have plenty of negroes, and they shall work for you. You shall always live with us, and have no other care than to amuse yourself and be happy;"--and, his heart throbbing with joy, he flew to communicate these exquisite anticipations to his family.

In a short time, however, these enchanting hopes were succeeded by the most cruel apprehensions. It is always the effect of violent passions to throw the soul into opposite extremes. Paul returned the next day to my dwelling, overwhelmed with melancholy, and said to me,--"I hear nothing from Virginia. Had she left Europe she would have written me word of her departure. Ah! the reports which I have heard concerning her are but too well founded. Her aunt has married her to some great lord. She, like others, has been undone by the love of riches. In those books which paint women so well, virtue is treated but as a subject of romance. If Virginia had been virtuous, she would never have forsaken her mother and me. I do nothing but think of her, and she has forgotten me. I am wretched, and she is diverting herself. The thought distracts me; I cannot bear myself! Would to Heaven that war were declared in India! I would go there and die."

"My son," I answered, "that courage which prompts us to court death is but the courage of a moment, and is often excited by the vain applause of men, or by the hopes of posthumous renown. There is another description of courage, rarer and more necessary, which enables us to support, without witness and without applause, the vexations of life; this virtue is patience. Relying for support, not upon the opinions of others, or the impulse of the passions, but upon the will of God, patience is the courage of virtue."

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