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It may justly appear surprising, that any man, in so late an age, should find it requisite to prove, by elabo. rate reasoning, that PERSONAL MERIT consists altogether in the possession of mental qualities, useful or agreeable to the person himself, or to others. It might be expected that this principle would have occurred eyen to the first rude unpractised inquirers concerning morals, and been received from its own evidence, with out any argument or disputation. Whatever is valuable in any kind, so naturally classes itself under the division of useful or agreeable, the utile or the dulce, that it is not easy to imagine why we should ever seek farther, or consider the question as a matter of nice research or inquiry. And as every thing useful or agreeable must possess thésé qualities with regard either to the person himself, or to others, the complete delineation or description of merit seems to be performed as naturally as a shadow is cast by the sun, or an image is reflected upon water. If the ground on which the shadow is cast be . not broken and uneven ; nor the surface from which the image is reflected disturbed and confused; a just figure is immediately presented without any art or attention. And it seems a reasonable presumption, that systems
· and hypotheses have perverted our natural understand.
ing; when a theory, so simple and obvious, could so long have escaped the most elaborate examination.
But however the case may have fared with philosophy, in common life these principles are still implicitly maintained ; nor is any other topic of praise or blame ever recurred to, when we employ any panegyric or satire, any applause or censure of human action and behaviour. If we observe men, in every intercourse of business or pleasure, in every discourse and conversation ; we shall find them no where, except in the schools, at any loss upon this subject. What so natural, for instance, as the following dialogue ? You are very happy, we shall suppose one to say, addressing himself to another, that you have given your daughter to CLEANTHES. He is a man of honour and humanity. Every one who has any intercourse with him is sure of fair and kind treatment *. I congratulate you, too, says another on the promising expectations of this son-in-law ; whose assiduous applica. tion to the study of the laws, whose quick penetration and early knowledge, both of men and business, prognosticate the greatest honours and advancement t. You surprise me, replies a third, when you talk of CLEANTHES as a man of business and application. I met him lately in a circle of the gayest company, and he was the very life and soul of our conversation : So much wit with good manners ; so much gallantry without affectation ; so much ingenious knowledge so genteelly delivered, I have never before observed in any one I. You would admire him still more, says a fourth, if you knew him
more familiarly. i. That cheerfulness which you might remark in him, is not a sudden flash struck out by com . pany : It runs through the whole tenor of his life, and preserves a perpetual serenity on his countenance, and tranquillity in his soul. He has met with severe trials.r. misfortunes, as well as dangers; and by his greatness of: mind, was still superior to all of them. The images, gentlemen, which you have here delineated of CLEAN-> THES, cried I, is that of accomplished merit. Each of you has given a stroke of the pencil to his figure ; and you have unawares exceeded all the pictures drawn by GRATIAN or CASTIGLIONE. A philosopher might select this character as a model of perfect virtue.
And as every quality, which is useful or agreeable to ourselves or others, is, in common life, allowed to be a part of personal merit; so no other will ever be recei. ved, where men judge of things by their natural, unprejudiced reason, without the delusive glosses of superstis tion and false religion. Celibacy, fasting, penance, more i tification, self-denial, humility, silence, solitude, and the whole train of monkish virtues; for 'what reason are... they everywhere rejected by men of sense, but because they serve to no manner of purpose ; neither advance a man's fortune in the world, nor render him a more .va-, luable member of society ; neither qualify him for the .. entertainment of company, nor increase his power of i self-enjoyment? We observe, on the contrary, that they cross all these desirable ends ; stupify the under » standing and harden the heart, obscure the fancy and... sour the temper. We justly, therefore, transfer them. to the opposite column, and place them in the catalogue of vices; nor has any superstition force sufficient among
* Qualities immediatelt,agissable to the perion himselle.com VOL. II.
men of the world, to pervert entirely these natural sentiments. A gloomy, hair-brained enthusiast, after his death, may have a place in the calendar; but will scarcely ever be admitted, when alive, into intimacy and society, except by those who are asdelirious and dismal as himself.
It seems a happiness in the present theory, that it enters not into that vulgar dispute concerning the degrees of benevolence or self-love, which prevail in human nature ; a dispute which is never likely to have any issue ; both Because men, who have taken part, are not easily coñvinced, and because the phenomena, which can be produced on either side, are so dispersed, so uncertain, and subject to so many interpretations, that it is scarcely possible accurately to compare them, or draw from them any determinate inference or conclusion. It is sufficient for our present purpose, if it be allowed, what surely, without the greatest absurdity, cannot be disputed, that there is some benevolence, however small, infused into our bosom ; some spark of friendship for human kind; some particle of the dove, kneaded into our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and serpent. Let these generous sentiments be supposed ever so weak ; let them be insufficient to move even a hand or finger of our body; they must still direct the determinations of our mind, and where every thing else is equal, produce a cool preference of what is useful and serviceable to mankind above what is pernicious and dangerous. A moral distinction, therefore, immediately arises; a general sentiment of blame and approbation ; a tendency, however faint, to the objects of the one, and a proportionable aversion to those of the other. Nor will those reasoners, who so. earnestly maintain the predominant selfishness of human kind, be anywise scandalized at hearing of the weak sentiments of virtue implanted in our nature. On the contrary, they are found as ready to maintain the one tenet as the other ; and their spirit of satire (for such it appears, rather than of corruption) naturally gives rise to both opinions; which have, indeed; a great and almost indissoluble connection together.
Avarice, ambition; vanity, and all passions vulgarly, though imiproperly; comprised under the denomination of self-love; are here excluded from our theory concerning the origin of morals, not because they are too weaky but because they have not a proper direction for that purpose. The notion of morals implies some sentiment common to all mankind; which recommends the same object to general approbation, and makes every man, of most men; agree in the same opinion or decision concerning it. It also implies some sentiment; so universal and comprehensive, as to extend to all mankind; and renă der the actions and conduct; even of the persons the most remote, an object of applause or censure; accordo ing as they agree or disagree with that rule of right which is established. These two requisité circumstances belong alone to the sentiment of humanity here insisted on. The other passions produce; in every breast; many strong sentiments of desire and aversion, affection and hatred ; but these neither are felt so much in common; nor arë so comprehensive; as to be the foundation of any general system and established theory of blame or approbation.
When a man denominates another his enemy; his rival, his antagonist; his adversary, he is understood to speak the language of self-love, and to express sentiments péculiar to himself; and arising fróin his particular circumštances and situation. But when he bestows on any man the epithets of vicious or odious or depraved; he then speaks another language, and expresses sentiments, in which he expects all his audience are to concur with him. He must here, therefore, depart from his private and pat.