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virtue, which can be compared to the benevolence and justice of the Deity? If aught can diminish the pleasure of this contemplation, it must be either the narrowness of our faculties, which conceals from us the greatest part of these beauties and perfections; or the shortness of our lives, which allows not time sufficient to instruct us in them. But it is our comfort, that, if we employ worthily the faculties here assigned us, they will be enlarged in another state of existence, so as to render us more suitable worshippers of our maker: And that the task, which can never be finished in time, will be the business of an eternity,
E S S A Y XVII.
HAVE long entertained a suspicion, with regard
to the decisions of philosophers upon all subjects, and found in myself a greater inclination to dispute, than assent to their conclusions. There is one mistake, to which they seem liable, almost without exception; they confine too much their principles, and make no account of that vast variety, which nature has so much affected in all her operations. When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favourite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phænomenon, though by the most violent and absurd reasoning. Our own mind being narrow and contracted, we cannot extend our conception to the variety and extent of nature ; but imagine, that she is as much bounded in her operations, as we are in our speculation.
But if ever this infirmity of philosophers is to be sufpected on any occasion, it is in their reasonings concerning human life, and the methods of attaining happiness. In that case, they are led astray, not only by the narrowness of their understandings, but by that also of their paffions. Almost every one has a predominant inclina
tion, to which his other desires and affections submit, and
But would these prejudiced reasoners reflect a moment,
But fhall this business be allowed to go altogether at dventures! And muft a man consult only his humour
and inclination, in order to determine his course of life, without employing his reason to inform him what road is preferable, and leads most surely to happiness? Is there no difference then between one man's conduct and another?
I answer, there is a great difference. One man, fola lowing his inclination, in chusing his course of life, may employ much furer means for succeeding than another, who is led by his inclination into the same course of life, and pursues the same object. Are riches the chief object of your desires ? Acquire skill in your profession; be diligent in the exercise of it; enlarge the circle of your
friends and acquaintance; avoid pleasure and expence; and never be generous, but with a view of gaining more than you could save by frugality. Would you acquire the public esteem? Guard equally against the extremes of arrogance and fawning. Let it appear that you set a value upon yourself, but without despising others. If you fall into either of the extremes, you either provoke men's pride by your infolence, or teach them to despise you by your timorous submission, and by the mean opinion which you seem to entertain of yourself.
These, you say, are the maxims of common prudence, and discretion; what every parent inculcates on his child, and what every man of sense pursues in the course bf life, which he has chosen.- What is it then you defire more? Do you come to a philosopher as to a cunning man, to learn something by magic or witchcraft, beyond what can be known by common prudence and discretion? Yes; we come to a philosopher to be inftructed, how we shall chuse our ends, more than the means for attaining these ends : We want to know what deluxe we fhall gratify, what passion we shall comply M 4