Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

with the sentiment of aversion. 'The eye is pleased with the prospect of corn-fields and loaded vineyards ; horses grazing, and flocks pasturing: But flies the view of briars and brambles, affording shelter to wolves and serpents. ,

A machine, a piece of furniture, a vestment, a house, well contrived for use and conveniency, is so far beautiful, and is contemplated with pleasure and approbation. An experienced eye is here sensible to many excellencies, which escape persons ignorant and uninstructed.

Can any thing stronger be said in praise of a profession, such as merchandize or manufacture, than to observe the advantages which it procures to fociety? And is not a monk and inquisitor enraged, when we treat his order as useless.or perni-cious to mankind ?

The historian exults in displaying the benefit arising from his labours. The writer of romances alleviates or denies the bad consequences ascribed to his manner of composition.

In general, what praise is implied in the simple epithet, ufeeful! What reproach in the contrary!

Your Gods, says Cicero*, in opposition to the EPICURE... ANS, cannot justly claim any worship or adoration, with whatever imaginary perfections you may suppose them endowed. They are totally useless and inactive. Even the Egyptians, whom you so much ridicule, never consecrated any animal but on account of its utility.

Om

eve

The sceptics affert t, though absurdly, that the origin of all religious worship was derived from the utility of inanimate

* De Nat. Deor. lib. 1.

t Sext. Emp. adversus Math. lib. 8. I

objects, .

objects, as the fun and moon to the support and well-being of mankind. This is also the common reason assigned by historians, for the deification of eminent heroes and legislators *.

To plant a tree, to cultivate a field, to beget children ; meritorious acts, according to the religion of ZOROASTER.

In all determinations of morality, this circumstance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind. If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail ; as soon as farther experience and founder reasoning have given us juster notions of human affairs; we retract our first sentiments, and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and evil,

Giving alms to common beggars is naturally praised; be.cause it seems to carry relief to the distressed and indigent: But when we observe the encouragement thence arising to idleness and debauchery, we regard that species of charity rather as a weakness than a virtue,

Tyrannicide, or the affassination of ufurpers and oppressive princes, was highly extolled in ancient times; because it both freed mankind from many of these monsters, and seemed to keep the others in awe, whom the sword or poinard could not reach. But history and experience having since convinced us, that this practice increases the jealousy and cruelty of princes, a Timoleon and a Brutus, though treated wich indulgence

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

on account of the prejudices of their times, are now considered as very improper models for imitation. · Liberality in princes is regarded as a mark of beneficence: But when it occurs that the homely bread of the honest and industrious is often thereby converted into delicious cates for the idle and the prodigal, we soon retract our heedless prailes. The regrets of a prince, for having loft a day, were noble and generous : But had he intended to have spent it in acts of generosity to his greedy courtiers, it was better loft than misemployed after that manner.

Luxury, or a refinement on the pleasures and conveniencies of life, had long been supposed the source of every corruption in government, and the immediate cause of faction, sedition, civil wars, and the total loss of liberty. It was, therefore, universally regarded as a vice, and was an object of declamation to all satyrists, and severe moralists. Those, who prove, or attempt to prove, that such refinements rather tend to the increase of industry, civility, and arts, regulate anew our moral as well as political sentiments, and represent, as laudable and innocent, what had formerly been regarded as pernicious and blameable.

Upon the whole, then, it seems undeniable, that there is such a sentiment in human nature as benevolence; that nothing can bestow more merit on any human creature than the posseffion of it in an eminent degree: and that a part, at least, of its merit arises from its tendency to promote the interests of our species, and bestow happiness on human society. We carry our view into the salutary consequences of such a character and disposition; and whatever has to benign an influence, and forVOL. II. LI

wards * Se&. 3d and 4th.

[ocr errors]

wards fo desirable an end, is beheld with complacency and pleasure. The social virtues are never regarded without their beneficial tendencies, nor viewed as barren and unfruitful. The happiness of mankind, the order of society, the harmony of families, the mutual support of friends, are always considered as the result of their gentle dominion over the breasts of men."

How considerable a part of their merit we ought to ascribe to their utility, will better appear from future disquisitions *; as well as the reason, why this circumstance has such a command over our esteem and approbation t.

+ Sect 5th.

[blocks in formation]

T HAT Justice is useful to fociety, and consequently

1 that part of its merit, at least, must arise from that consideration, it would be a superfluous undertaking to prove. That public utility is the sole origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial consequences of this virtue are the fole foundation of its merit; this proposition, being more curious and important, will better deserve our examination and enquiry.

[ocr errors]

Let us suppose, that nature has bestowed on the human race such profuse abundance of all external conveniencies, that, without any uncertainty in the event, without any care or industry on our part, every individual finds himself fully provided of whatever his most voracious appetites can want, or luxurious imagination wish or desire. His natural beauty, we shall suppose, surpasses all acquired ornament: The perpetual clemency of the seasons renders useless all cloaths or covering: The raw herbage affords him the most delicious fare; the clear fountain, the richest beverage. No laborious occupation

Ll 2

required:

« ZurückWeiter »