Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]



NOTHING is more useful than for philosophers to encroach upon the province of grammarians; and to en gage in disputes of words, while they imagine that they are handling controversies of the deepest importance and concern. It was in order to avoid altercations, so fri: volous and endless, that I endeavoured to state, with the utmost caution, the object of our present inquiry ; and proposed simply to collect, on the one hand, a list of those mental qualities which are the object of love or esteem, and form a part of personal merit; and, on the other hand, a catalogue of those qualities which are the object of censure or reproach, and which detract from the character of the person possessed of them ; subjoining some reflections concerning the origin of these sentiments of praise or blame. On all occasions, where there might arise the least hesitation, I avoided the terms vir. tue and vice ; because some of those qualities which I classed among the objects of praise, receive, in the ENGLISH language, the appellation of talents, rather than of virtues ; as some of the blameable or censurable qualities are often called defects rather than vices. It may now, perhaps, be expected, that, before we conclude this moral inquiry, we should exactly separate the one from the other; should mark the precise boundaries of vir

tues and talents, vices and defects ; and should explain the reason and origin of that distinction. But in order to excuse myself from this undertaking, which would; at last, prove only a grammatical inquiry, I shall subjoin the four foHowing reflections, which shall contain all that I intend to say on the present subject. ?

First, I do not find; that in the ENGLISH, or any other modern tòngue, the boundaries are exactly fixed be. tween virtues and talents, vices and defects, or that a precise definition can be given of the one as contradistinguished from the other. Were we to say; for instance, that the esteemable qualities alone, which are volunta: Ty, are entitled to the appellation of virtues, we should soon recollect the qualities of courage, equanimity, paa tience, self-command ; with many others, which almost every language classes under this appellation, though they depend little or not at all on our choice. Should we affirm, that the qualities alone, which prompt us to act our part in society, are entitled to that honourable dis: tinction; it must immediately occur, that these are in deed the most valuable qualities, and are commonly dea hominated the social virtues; but that this very epithet Sappose's that there are also virtues of another species. Should we lay hold of the distinction between intellectuand and moral endowments, and affirm the last alone to be the real and genuine virtues, because they alone lead to action; we should find that many of those qualities, ssually called intellectual virtues, such as prudence, pePietration, discernment, discretion, had also a considerable influence on conduct. The distinction between the heart and the head may also be adopted : The qualities &f the first may be defined such as in their immediate exertion are accompanied with a feeling or sentiment; and these alone may be called the genuine virtues: But ina dustry, frugality, temperance, secrecy, perseverance, and many other laudable powers or habits, generally styled virtues, are exerted without any immediate sentiment in the person possessed of them; and are only known to him by their effects. It is fortunate; amidst all this seeming perplexity, that the question, being merely verbal, cannot possibly be of any importance. A moral, philosophical diseourse needs not eriter into all these caprices of language, which are so variable in different dialects; and in different ages of the same dialect. But on the whole, it seems to me, that, though it is always allowed that there are virtues of many different kinds, yet, when a man is called virtuous; or is denominated a man of virtue, we chiefly regard his social qualities, which are, indeed, the most valuable.. It is; at the same time; certain that any remarkable defect in courage, tempe rance, economy, industry; understanding, dignity of mind, would bereave even a very good-natured, honest man of this honourable appellation. Who did ever say, except by way of irony, that such a one was a man of great virtue, but an egregious blockhead ? other mental excellencies. Who, on the other hand, is hot deeply mortified with reflecting on his own folly and dissoluteness, and feals not a secret sting or compunction, whenever his memory presents any past occuri tence, where he behaved with stupidity or ill-inanners? No time can efface the cruel ideas of a man's own foolish conduct, or of affronts, which cowardice or impa. dence has brought upon him. They still haunt his so litary hours, damp his most aspiring thoughts, and show him, even to himself, in the most contemptible and most odious colours imaginable.

But, secondly, it is no wonder, that languages should not be very precise in marking the boundaries between virtues and talents, vices and defects ; since there is so little distinction made in our internal estimation of them. It seems indeed certain, that the sentiment of conscious worth, the self-satisfaction proceeding from a review of a man's own conduct and character ; it seems certain, I say, that this sentiment, which, though the most common of all others, has no proper name in our language *, arises from the endowments of courage and capacity, industry and ingenuity, as well as from any

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

What is there, too, we are more anxious to conceal from others than such blunders, infirmities, and meannesses, or more dread to have exposed by raillery and satire ? And is not the chief object of vanitý, our bravery or learning, our wit or breeding, our eloquence or address, our taste or abilities? These we display withi care, if not with ostentation ; and we commonly show more ambition of excelling in them, than even in the social virtues themselves, which are, in reality, of such superior excellence, Good-nature and honesty; especially the latter, are so indispensably required, that, though the greatest censure attends any violation of these duties, no eminent praise follows such common instances of them, as seem essential to the support of human society. And hence the reason, in my opinion, why, though men often extol so liberally the qualities of their heart, they are shy in commending the endowments of their head : Because the latter virtues, being supposed more rare and extraordinary, are observed to be the more usual objects of pride and self-conceit; and when boasted of, beget a strong suspicion of these sentiments.

It is hard to tell, whether you hurt a man's character most by calling him a kaave of a coward, and whether a

« ZurückWeiter »