Fashionable Amusements

D. R. Thomason, 1831


Humiliating as may be the concession, it cannot be withheld, that to convince and to persuade are essentially different, and by no means necessarily connected. The judgment may be led irresistibly to a conclusion, which the heart refuses to embrace, and the inclination perversely prescribe and pursue a course, which reason disapproves and conscience condemns. "To perceive the good and approve it—but to choose the evil," is the strange, though common inconsistency of the human mind, and it affectingly marks the sad derangement which the moral constitution has suffered.

However firm, therefore, may be the conviction of the correctness of the statements which in the foregoing pages have been advanced, a lamentable ignorance of human nature would be betrayed by indulging the expectation, that all to whom they are submitted, will be led to a practical recognition of the conclusions to which they conduct. The utmost that rational expectation would justify is the hope that, in some instances, the sincere inquirer may be seasonably directed, the wavering confirmed, the feeble fortified, and the careless and indifferent led to beneficial thought and timely reflection.

Under anxious solicitude for the manner in which the foregoing sentiments will be received, and for the practical effects of which they will be productive, the inducement is felt—and every candid reader will approve the attempt—to add exhortation to argument, and remonstrance to proof. The topics discussed are not those of barren speculation; they are not merely of secular interest or of temporary importance; they identify themselves with moral character and with moral prospects; their results are related to a spiritual existence, and to an eternal destiny. To treat them, therefore, either with levity or indifference, is pre-eminent folly. It is to be reckless of interests the most sacred, and of destiny the most dreadful; it is to trifle amid a career of probation, which not only the wise and virtuous of the human race—but the whole universe of intelligent existences, contemplate with intensity of interest; it is to be the careless inhabitant of a world, which has become a theater for the most stupendous exhibitions which both heaven and hell have afforded.

Here has the great infernal Spirit concentrated his deepest designs of malice, confederated the legions of his power, and wrought his deadliest mischief. To sever man from his Maker, to reverse deadliest mischief, to reverse his high and happy destiny, to detach him from the honors and joys of a blissful eternity—are objects of his supreme ambition, restless solicitude, and unwearied exertions! Here, too, a yet mightier Being has employed his wondrous and merciful agency. The Son of God—the Almighty Savior, prompted by wondrous love, has foregone the repose and felicity of a celestial world, laid aside the splendors of deified nature, assumed the humblest form of humanity, and, by a life of unexampled humiliation and suffering, toil and privation, terminated by a cruel and ignominious death—has repaired the ruins of hellish mischief, traversed its plans of universal ruin, overcome its mighty power, scattered in the track of its wide devastations—the seeds of sure-springing and imperishable bliss, and given to a dark and miserable world—the light of life and the joys of immortality! To pursue, therefore, a path which inclination prescribes, or to which momentary gratification invites, careless of the inquiry, what is its nature, or where it tends—is surely consummate infatuation as well as flagrant criminality.

With a view to the avowed object of the present remarks, the question is proposed to the votaries of fashionable amusements in general, whether no scruples as to the lawfulness of these pursuits are already experienced? Does the conviction remain entire that they are strictly innocent, and that they may, without danger—be indulged? Does judgment, in the moments of deliberate thought and candid inquiry, undoubtingly give them its permission? It ought not to be forgotten, that in the absence of an unhesitating opinion, that moral progress and ultimate welfare are in no way impeded or endangered by these pursuits, the obligation to avoid them is as powerful as the laws of duty can render it; and whatever may be the nature and destination of the path itself, a formidable danger is presented at its very entrance.

All attempt has not (infrequently been made, to avoid the imputation of sinfulness to these pleasures, by the plea, that they are not pursuits, which would be voluntarily selected—but, as the indispensable concomitants of fashionable life, they cannot be relinquished. The moral depravity of the human mind, is never more conspicuous than in its attempts to offer one sin as an apology for another. This is remarkably apparent in the present instance. The excuse presents both degrading weakness and flagrant wickedness. It involves a state of pitiable and contemptible moral debasement—the voluntary surrender of privileges, which constitute the grand dignity of man, namely, those of forming his own moral judgments, and of acting in conformity to the dictates of his conscience. It is the profane bartering of a spiritual birth-right. To transfer from our own control to that of others, opinions and practices which involve a moral interest, is slavery of the very worst description. The indolent and mean-spirited man, who, to avoid the exertion or danger of timely resistance, crouches beneath his oppressor's power, is alike unworthy of the liberty he loses, and the life which he saves. And is the miserable victim of this spiritual bondage less deserving of contempt?—He who can submit, not his limbs—but his conscience to fetters?—who brings a free-will offering of reason and conscience, of virtuous joys and heavenly sanctions, to the shrine of a capricious and degrading fashion?

We have contemplated, with alternate feelings of compassion and disgust, of grief and execration—that horrid traffic in human blood, which still disgraces and curses mankind. Our hearts have bled, as, in imagination, we have beheld some hapless victim of violence and rapine, whose nature claims kindred with ours, and whose bosom has been blessed with the same sympathies, even the warmest and fondest, which have glowed in our own, suddenly torn from all that is sacred and dear, forced from the land of his birth, and the home of his heart—to drag out a miserable existence in degradation and toil, in sorrow and pain. This spectacle of woe, however, is faint and unimposing—when compared with the miserable condition of thousands, even in this happy land of light and of freedom. The slave is but bodily a slave; his soul no fetters can bind, no tortures subdue. "Still in thought—as free as ever," he contemns the tyrant's power, which dooms his body to bondage and toil. A few sad days of degradation and suffering will drag through their weary way, and then that body will forego its labor and pain, repose quietly in death, and slumber peacefully in the grave; while the spirit shall assert its free-born rights, take its unmanacled flight to its native skies, and return to Him, who has indignantly marked its wrongs, and has vengeance in store for its guilty oppressor.

But the tyranny of fashion is not thus limited and temporary. It is tyranny of mind, of heart, and of soul. It urges on its votaries, with all the unrelenting cruelty of a task-master, in the round of wearying dissipation, cloying splendor, and sickening gaiety. It goads him forward, amid satiety and disgust, compunction and self reproach, terror and apprehension, along the gaudy path, which conducts to moral and eternal ruin! To such the voice of friendly and affectionate admonition is addressed. Let them learn to despise the spiritual oppressor, arouse themselves to timely exertion, and burst the bonds by which so ignobly they are bound. "Begin, be bold—and venture to be wise." Fear not "the world's dread laugh." Allow neither its example, nor its persuasion, nor its smiles, nor its frowns—to lead to practices which God and conscience condemn.

How tremendously fearful would be the final discovery, that, while enjoying the friendship of the world, and living beneath its smiles—the approbation of the Supreme Being has been totally withheld—that He has pronounced the whole series of our conduct to be a course of rebellion against Himself; that time and talents have been employed in forming and maturing a character—every feature of which presents a fearful contrast to the perfections of His own, and which has prepared us for the very reverse of His delight and regard!

The effort, be it remembered, is not more needful than honorable. It will secure the approval of conscience, the approbation and applauses of the wise and virtuous, and the admiration even of the very people whose ridicule and censure are apparently incurred. There is a dignity in independence, which commands the secret respect and silent applauses of the very tyrant who seeks to crush it. The coward is everywhere contemptible, and nowhere more so, than in the estimation of the wretch, before whose oppressive mandate he shrinks. However painful may be the sacrifices which the line of conduct recommended involves—the reward will be ample. The very consciousness of freedom is infinitely pleasurable.

Of all the exhibitions of human character, moreover, the displays of moral courage are the most splendid. If there be an object on earth, which the pure spirits above, and the Great Eternal himself, contemplates with delight and delight, it is surely that man, who, under the conviction that the sentiments which he embraces are true, adheres to them with a firmness, which no combination of circumstances can destroy, and no efforts of inferior motives relax—who rises superior to the most formidable opposition, and, while attacked on every side by sophistry and ridicule, remains alike in dignity and strength. He is like the majestic rock, which, amidst the foam and the roar of the ocean's storm, stands motionless and unheeding, and bears on its lofty summit, in spite of the warring elements by which it is assailed, a steady light, to guide the anxious mariner through the darkness and dangers of his way.

It is further questioned—whether these amusements constitute the source of pure satisfaction and genuine happiness? Whatever feelings may be entertained in reference to the former question, the present cannot be dismissed as unworthy of regard. Happiness is the primary object of human pursuit. The desire for happiness, urges our weary steps in the pilgrimage of life. To reject, therefore, the proposed consideration, involves the violation of nature's first law. Have all the scenes of gaiety and mirth, of beauty and splendor, by which the gaze has been fixed and fascinated, supplied enjoyment, either equal to the expectations, or worthy of the wishes of an intellectual and moral being? Amid the mazes of pleasure's enchantment, has not the sickening appetite often refused the enjoyment, and the fainting heart, like some fair tree, whose branches have been scathed by the lightning of that very summer's sky which has warmed it into bloom and luxury, pined in care and wretchedness, receiving around it the mild light of beauty in vain, putting forth no leaf of hope, and no blossom of joy?

Or if, under the immediate excitement, enjoyment is felt, has not the pleasure been followed by other and opposite feelings? If, at the magic touch of the master-spirit of the scene, the soul has thrilled with the ecstasies of delight, has it not been left to sink into deeper listlessness, to be corroded by multiplied cares, and pierced by more poignant regrets? The evanescent nature of such gratifications is fully adequate to produce this effect.

Observation and experience abundantly confirm the truth of the paradox, that pleasure is not happiness. Every votary of pleasure knows it. The varied forms of fascination by which he has been wooed, have successively, in their very embrace, surprised him by the concession, "happiness is not in me!" The thousand images which imagination creates have not satisfied him—but have left in his soul a painful vacuum, and a distressing sense of longing. The moral constitution of his mind precludes any other result of these worldly pursuits. He was designed for a higher destiny, and for nobler joys. He possesses a principle, whose origin is not of earth, and whose sympathies rest not on earth; whose kindred elements are not found in worldly objects, neither in honor nor splendor, refinement nor luxury, revelry nor mirth, beauty nor fine taste. It seeks, with restless desire—the unseen and spiritual existences of the eternal world, and aspires to happiness which immortality only can give, and will know neither rest nor joy, until it shall have heaven for its home, and sit forever beneath the smiles of that gracious God, who is at once the Author of its existence, and the source of its felicity.

As solid happiness, therefore, is valued; as escape from wearying toil, withering disappointment, painful afflictions, and disquieting apprehensions, are desired, we must "quit the mirthful delusive scene!" Its empty pageants have already disgusted; its giddy mazes have long perplexed, its sickly joys have nauseated and cloyed the heart, while the spiritual nature solicits release, and an introduction to holier and happier joys. What though the syren's song has long ravished its victim, and led him so widely astray—yet may he not pause, reflect, and return?

Yes, true religion will secure peace, and safety, and hope. Thousands have proved it. Many a hapless voyager on life's wide ocean, who had long pursued vain and perilous wanderings, borne onward by the fluctuating tide of fashion, or sported with by the fickle winds of worldliness; urging a mad and fearful career before the wild storm of passion, or floating, thoughtless and mirthful, with the current of pleasure, to the distant vortex of damnation--has by this heavenly guide, been rescued from misery and peril, taught to recover the track which his high destiny prescribed, and, under auspicious gales and celestial convoy, has pursued a prosperous course to the distant land of his eternal home, repose and felicity.

From the blandishments of ruinous dissipation, therefore—the votaries of pleasure are invited to the genuine enjoyments of piety. Here alone will be found repose, satisfaction, and enduring pleasure! Let the sublime doctrines and virtuous precepts, which the oracles of truth inculcate, engage their attentive study and practical regard. The sentiments here exhibited will present a striking contrast to the spirit, maxims, and pursuits of the mirthful world. To detach the mind from the associations of the latter, and to imbue it with the spirit of the former, is unquestionably a task of no inconsiderable difficulty. Contact with sacred truths must be close and constant, that the mind may receive their complexion, and frame its habits of thought and feeling on the sacred model. The Word of God must be believed; it must, moreover, be reverenced and loved. In the same proportion the influence of worldly maxims and examples will become weakened, a taste for mirthful pleasures destroyed, and the bias of the mind rendered serious and devout. Such a revolution of moral habits, on the score of present happiness even, will be found infinitely desirable.

The pleasures of a pious life are indescribably exquisite. The elevated duties of piety, its dignified motives and purifying influence; the beneficial restraint which it imposes on the passions, the tranquility which it imparts to the conscience, the bright and enduring prospects which it offers to hope, the sovereign antidote which it supplies to the afflictions of life—render the inspired declaration emphatically true: "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."

"I appeal to you," observes the pious and wise Henry Kirke White, in a letter to a correspondent, "whether the grace of God is not a source of the most exquisite enjoyment. There is indeed an indescribable pleasure in the service of God. His grace imparts such composure in the time of trouble, and such fortitude in the anticipation of it; at the same time it heightens our pleasures by making them innocent, that the Christian, regarded either as militant in this troublesome scene, or as a traveler, who is hastening by a difficult but short journey to a better country—will appear a most enviable and happy character."

To the task of forming a pious character, a painful incompetency is not unfrequently experienced. The views and sentiments which are necessary to supply the requisite motive to exertion, are so imperfect and transient, the better feelings of the heart are so evanescent, its laudable purposes are so feeble, and its virtuous resolutions so fragile, the recollection of frequent failures so dispirits and dissuades, that to lead a religious life, however desirable it may appear, seems altogether impossible. To such people the question is submitted, what agency has been employed in effecting the desired object? Have any other than native powers been engaged? If not, the cause of the failure is apparent. Superior aid must be sought. Relying no longer on your own fickle purposes and fruitless exertions--engage the merciful aid of Almighty Power! Only the Holy Spirit, whose mysterious agency is employed on the human mind--can re-create its moral powers, and remodel its virtuous affections; correct the bias of the mind, control its passions, fortify its weakness, refine its taste, and elevate its desires. It may be obtained; humble and fervent application at the footstool of the Deity will prove successful.

Live in the habitual performance of this sacred duty. It will soon become easy, and in time delightful. It will be found a timely resource in the moment of pressing temptation, of suspended purpose, of conscious weakness, or of unfortunate failure. Virtue will finally triumph, and principle become matured, consistent, and permanent.

But it is possible, that the reader of these pages may not have arrived at that period in his history, to which, in common with all the lovers of pleasure, he must eventually come; when he will be rendered intimately familiar with the sacred aphorism, "All is vanity and vexation of spirit." On the bright ocean of pleasure his newly-launched bark rides prosperous and mirthful, a stranger to the ills of its destiny, heeding no storm, and fearing no wreck. His heart, buoyant with hope, and vigorous with passion, beats true and unlanguishing to pleasure's wildest excesses, giddiest dissipations, and most exhausting raptures. Could the hope be entertained, that on the minds of such, a beneficial thought might be fastened, or even a transient impression produced, the cutting irony of the royal preacher would be suitably employed: "Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. And walk in the ways of your heart and in the sights of your eyes—but know that for all of these things God will bring you to judgment!" Your days of vanity are brief, your pleasures are "but for a season." Soon nothing will remain of all that now dazzles and delights; everything of earth will pass into the oblivion of the grave—but the responsibility of your probationary career. And will these pursuits of pleasure conduct to a happy outcome?

Is this the rugged path, the steep ascent,
That virtue points to? Can a life thus spent
Lead to the bliss she promises the wise,
Detach the soul from earth, and speed her to the skies?

What sentiments are entertained in reference to the state of future blessedness? What is the nature of that final felicity to which hope is directed? Is it a sensual paradise, where the elements of present gratification, are to be found? This is the paradise of the Mahommetan. The heaven to which the New Testament directs the believer—is a Spiritual paradise, removed as far from the gross conceptions of sensual minds—as from their aims and wishes. A passing reference merely to those descriptions of celestial happiness, which are contained in the pages of inspiration, is sufficient for the conviction, that heaven cannot be an appropriate abode for the votaries of worldly pleasure. Let the mind be abstracted for a moment, from the elements of its present enjoyments—sensual gratification, beauty, gaiety, fashion, revelry and mirth, worldly honor, riches, pageantry, and applause. Survey next the essences of moral and eternal felicity—the perfections of the Divine Being, the splendor and harmony of his attributes, the consciousness of possessing his moral likeness, and consequently fitness for his service and friendship, fuller discoveries of the wonders of his moral government, together with all the imaginable concomitants of that world of bliss and glory, to which the virtuous are destined.

With the inhabitants of this spiritual abode—has the man of pleasure any sympathies? For a joyous existence in it—is he not totally disqualified? Where then can he with consistency, fix his future hopes? Where, in the whole realms of endless space, will he find his heaven? When the immaterial substance (the soul), which now animates the body, dissolves its connection with materiality, and is far and forever removed from the sources of earthly felicity—when forms of beauty shall no longer captivate the eye, nor sounds of melody any more ravish the ear—when the sensitive frame shall no longer thrill with the soft sympathies of delight, nor the animal passions again renew their accustomed raptures—when the soul, a disembodied and spiritual substance, shall be susceptible of no other emotions than those which are purely intellectual and moral—where will it find an eternity of exalted and unmingled happiness?

What provision is made in the moral economy—for a spiritual process, either at the hour of death, or in the future state, for that mighty mental revolution, which a qualification for heavenly happiness involves? Will the immortal principle, which, through the whole of life, has been conversant only with objects of sense, and which, by a lengthened series of habits, has fixed and matured a sensual character, become at the moment of dissolving its base alliance, a fit candidate for a world of pure and virtuous intelligences, and be prepared with them to minister before the throne of that dreadful Being, "who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity."

These considerations, both rational and weighty—may escape the notice, and consequently fail to impress the mirthful and the thoughtless. In the ardent pursuit of immediate gratification, the unseen existences of another world may be unheeded or trifled with; but let it be remembered, that a period is approaching when these objects will press themselves on observation with importunity, and create an interest commensurate with their importance!

"This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed." 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10