"Or is it rather to be attributed to the seeds of original evil, which grow with our years, and overspread the whole soul?"

— Mulso [later Chapone], Hester (1727-1801)

November 10, 1750
"Or is it rather to be attributed to the seeds of original evil, which grow with our years, and overspread the whole soul?"
Metaphor in Context
Don't think me insolently pert upon old people. Believe me, a virtuous and wise old age is the object of my sincerest reverence and highest esteem. I confess the great advantage which experience gives to a good understanding, and the happy opportunities which that calm season of life allows for the greater progress of virtue, and for a more uninterrupted attention to the duties of religion. I think it is reasonable to suppose, that as it is the grand business of our lives to endeavour to rise by degrees to that stale of excellence and happiness which is the ultimate end of our being, he who has made this his vocation, and has spent his life in pressing forward to the prize of his high calling, will be nearer the attainment of perfection in an advanced age, than he who has but begun his race can be, with whatever ardour and diligence he sets out. But yet, my dear Sir, you who have by an amazing strength of thought and penetration, and unwearied observation, gained so much more knowledge of the world, and of the human heart, than the longest life gives to others; whose zeal for doing good, whose benevolence and friendship have all the warmth of youth, though guided by maturest judgment; who have too much real dignity to need to usurp upon our respect, or to exact that deference to your years which is due to your wisdom and virtue; you, I say, may speak impartially on this subject, and I may tell to you, without fear of offending, my observations on those who claim our acquiescence in all their opinions, from their superiority of years and experience. And you will shew me where my observations are false, and teach me how to make the best use of those which are true. What shall I think of human nature, and how shall I avoid dreading the continuance of my life, lest, instead of improving, I should be more and more corrupted by the world; more selfish, more ungenerous, more contracted in my views, more earthly in my affections, when I see those who in their youth had hearts capable of delicate sentiments, who were open, generous, sincere, and benevolent, gentle, cheerful, and agreeable in their tempers, innocent in their manners, and unaffected in their piety; when I see these very people, in an advanced age, grown cold to all tender and good affections; close and designing; covetous and mean; insensible to the pains of others, and slow, if not unwilling, to relieve them; rigid in their precepts, yet self-indulgent, full of reverence for themselves, and of contempt for youth, peevish, imperious, tyrannical, and self-conceited, yet manifestly weak in judgment, and dull of apprehension? I am sure you must have known instances of such who, in the early part of their lives, obtained, and perhaps deserved, the former character, sunk into the sad, the pitiable state I have described, in their last stage. Is it that a long commerce with the world does indeed corrupt the heart; and extinguish by degrees those sparks of light, those inclinations to good, which were implanted in our minds? Or is it rather to be attributed to the seeds of original evil, which grow with our years, and overspread the whole soul? But though there are some instances of this melancholy change for the worse, there are doubtless many of improvement and reformation; therefore perhaps this observation may be to no purpose here, unless it shews that a superiority of years does not always give real superiority; and that parents are sometimes the less qualified to judge of the real good and happiness of their children for being so much older than they, for having lost the tenderness and sensibility of their hearts, without adding much to the strength and capacity of their heads.
(p. 62-5)
Hester Mulso Chapone, The Works of Mrs. Chapone: Now First Collected, Vol. iv, Life and Correspondence (London: John Murray, 1807). <Link to Google Books>
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.