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prevent his finishing his song, which concluded with these words :
“Since life is no more than a passage at best,
Let us strew the way over with flowers." When Will had concluded his song, he turned to Mr. Stock, and said, “ I thank you, master, for first putting it into my head how wicked it is to sing profane and indecent songs. I never sing any now which have any wicked words in them.”
Stock. I am glad to hear it. So far you do well. But there are other things as bad as wicked words, nay, worse perhaps, though they do not so much shock the ear of decency.
Will. What is that, master? What can be so bad as wicked words?
Stock. Wicked thoughts, Will. Which thoughts, when they are covered over with smooth words, and dressed out in pleasing rhymes, so as not to shock modest young people by the sound, do more harm to their principles than those songs of which the words are so gross and disgusting, that no person of common decency can for a moment listen to them.
Will. Well, master, I am sure that was a very pretty song I was singing when you came in, and a song which very sober good people sing.
Stock. Do they? Then I will be bold to say, that singing such songs is no part of their goodness. I heard indeed but two lines of it, but they were so heathenish that I desire to hear no more.
Will. Now you are really too hard. What harm could there be in it? there was not one indecent word.
Stock. I own, indeed, that indecent words are particularly offensive. But, as I said before, though immodest expressions offend the ear more, they do not corrupt the heart, perhaps, much more than songs of which the words are decent, and the principles vicious. In the latter case, because there is nothing that shocks his ear, a man listens till the sentiment has so corrupted his heart, that his ear grows hardened to, and by long custom he loses all sense of, the danger of profane diversions; and I must say I have often heard young women of character sing songs in company, which I should be ashamed to read by myself. But come, as we work, let us talk over this business a little ; and first let us stick to this sober song of yours that you boast so much about. (repeats.)
“Since life is no more than a passage at best,
Let us strew the way over with flowers."
Now, what do you learn by this?
Will. Why, master, I don't pretend to learn much by it. But 'tis a pretty tune and pretty words.
Stock. But what do those pretty words mean?
Will. That we must make ourselves merry because life is short.
Stock. Will! Of what religion are you?
Will. You are always asking one such odd questions, master : why, a Christian to be sure.
Stock. If I often ask you, or others, this question, it is only because I like to know what grounds I am to go upon when I am talking with you or them. I conceive that there are in this country two sorts of people-Christians, and no Christians. Now, if people profess to be of this first description, I expect one kind of notions, opinions, and behaviour from them; if they say they are of the latter, then I look for another set of notions and actions from them. I compel no man to think with me. I take every man at his word. I only expect him to think and believe according to the character he takes upon himself, and to act on the principles of that character which he professes to maintain.
Will. That's fair enough-I can't say but it isto take a man at his own word, and on his own grounds.
Stock. Well then. Of whom does the scripture speak when it says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die ?"
Will. Why, of heathens to be sure, not of Christians.
Stock. And of whom, when it says, “Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they are withered ?"
Will. Oh, that is Solomon's worldly fool.
Will. To be sure I do. I should not be a Christian if I did not.
Stock. And yet, though a Christian, you are admiring the very same thought in the song you were singing. How do you reconcile this?
Will. Oh, there is no comparison between them. These several texts are designed to describe loose wicked heathens. Now, I learn texts as part of my religion. But religion, you know, has nothing to do with a song. I sing a song for my pleasure.
Stock. In our last night's talk, Will, I endeavoured to prove to you that religion was to be brought into our business. I wish now to let you see that it is to be brought into our pleasure also. And that he who is really a Christian, must be a Christian in his very diversions.
Will. Now you are too strict again, master; as you last night declared, that in our business you would not have us always praying ; so I hope that in our pleasure you would not have us always psalm-singing. I hope you would not have all one's singing to be about good things?
Stock. Not so, Will; but I would not have any part either of our business or our pleasure to be about evil things. It is one thing to be singing about religion, it is another thing to be singing against it. Saint Peter, I fancy, would not much have approved your favourite song. He, at least, seemed to have another view of the matter, when he said, “The end of all things is at hand.” Now, this text teaches much the same awful truth with the first line of your song. But let us see to what different purposes the apostle and the poet turn the very same thought. Your song says, because life is so short, let us make it merry, Let us divert ourselves so much on the road, that we may forget the end. Now, what says the apostle, “ Because the end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”
Will. Why, master, I like to be sober too, and have left off drinking. But still I never thought that we were obliged to carry texts out of the Bible to try the soundness of a song, and to enable us to judge if we might be both merry and wise in singing it.
Stock. Providence has not so stinted our enjoyments, Will, but he has left us many subjects of harmless merriment: but, for my own part, I am never certain that any one is quite harmless till I have tried it by this rule that you seem to think so strict. There is another favourite catch which I heard you and some of the workmen humming yesterday.
Will. I will prove to you that there is not a word of harm in that ; pray listen now. (sings.) “ Which is the best day to drink-Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday?"
Stock. Now, Will, do you really find your unwillingness to drink is so great, that you stand in need of all these incentives to provoke you to it? do you not find temptation strong enough without exciting your inclinations, and whetting your appetites in this manner? can any thing be more unchristian than to persuade youth by pleasant words, set to the most alluring music, that the pleasures of drinking are so great, that every day in the week, naming them all successively, by way of fixing and enlarging the idea, is equally fit, equally proper, and equally delightful; for what?—for the low and sensual purpose of getting drunk. Tell me, Will, are you so very averse to pleasure ? Are you naturally so cold and dead to all passion and temptation, that you really find it necessary to inflame your imagination, and disorder your senses, in order to excite a quicker relish for the pleasures of sin ?
Will. All this is true enough, indeed; but I never saw it in this light before.
Stock. As I passed by the Greyhound last night, in the way to my evening's walk in the fields, I caught this one verse of a song which the club were singing:
“ Bring the flask, the music bring,
Joy shall quickly find us ;
And cast dull care behind us.” When I got into the fields, I could not forbear comparing this song with the second lesson last Sunday evening at church; these were the words : “ Take heed, lest at any time your heart be overcharged with. drunkenness, and so that day come upon you unawares, for as a snare shall it come upon all them that are on the face of the earth.”
Will. Why, to be sure if the second lesson was right, the song must be wrong.
Stock. I ran over in my mind also a comparison between such songs as that which begins with
“Drink, and drive care away,” with those injunctions of holy writ, “ Watch and pray, therefore, that you enter not into temptation ;” and