Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

discover

needless for us, at present, to employ farther care in our researches concerning it. For if we can be fo happy, in the course of this enquiry, as to. the true origin of morals, it will then easily appear how far either sentiment or reason enters into all determinations of this nature*. In order to attain this purpose, we shall endeavour to follow a very simple method: We shall analyze that complication of mental qualities, which form what, in common life, we call PersonAL MERIT: We shall consider every attribute of the mind, which renders a man an object either of esteem and affection, or of hatred and contempt; every habit or sentiment or faculty, which, if ascribed to any person, implies either praise or blame, and may enter into any panygyric or satire of his character and manners. The quick sensibility, which, on this head, is so universal among mankind, gives a philofopher fufficient assurance, that he can never be considerably mistaken in framing the catalogue, or incur any danger of misplacing the objects of his contemplation: He needs only enter into his breast for a moment, and consider whether or not he should desire to have this or that quality ascribed to him, and whether such or such an imputation would proceed from a friend or an enemy. The very nature of language guides us almost infallibly in forming a judgment of this nature; and as every tongue poffefses one set of words which are taken in a good sense, and another in the opposite, the least acquaintance with the idiom suffices, without any reasoning, to direct us in collecting and arranging the estimable or blameable qualities of men. The only object of reasoning is to discover the circumstances on both sides, which are common to these qualities; to observe that particular in which the estimable qualities agree on the one hand, and the blameable on the other; and thence to reach the foundation of ethics, and find those universal principles, from which all

censure See Appendix

censure or approbation is ultimately derived. As this is a question of fact, not of abstract science, we can only expect success, by following the experimental method, and deducing general maxims from a comparison of particular instances. The other scientifical method, where a general abstract principle is first established, and is afterwards branched out into a variety of inferences and conclusions, may be more perfect in itself, but suits less the imperfection of human nature, and is a common source of illusion and mistake in this as well as in other subjects. Men are now cured of their passion for hypothesis and systems in natural philosophy, and will hearken to no arguments but those which are derived from experience. It is full time they should attempt a like reformation in all moral disquisitions; and reject every system of ethics, however subtile or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation.

We shall begin our enquiry on this head by the confideration of the social virtues, benevolence and justice. The explication of them will probably give us an opening by which the others may be accounted for.

1

SEC

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

IT

T may be esteemed, perhaps, a superfluous task

to prove, that the benevolent or softer affections are ESTIMABLE; and wherever they appear, engage the approbation and good-will of mankind. The epithets fociable, good-natured, humane, merciful, grateful, friendly, generous, beneficent, or their equivalents, are known in all languages, and universally express the highest merit which human nature is capable of attaining. Where these amiable qualities are attended with birth and power and eminent abilities, and display themselves in the good government or useful instruction of mankind, they seem even to raise the possessors of them above the rank of human nature, and make them approach in fome measure to the divine. Exalted capacity, undaunted courage, prosperous success; these may only expose a hero or politician to the envy and ill-will of the public: But as soon as the praises are added of humane and beneficent; when instances are displayed of lenity, tenderness, or friendship; envy itself is filent, or joins the general voice of approbation and applause.

When PERICLES, the great ATHENIAN statesman and general, was on his death-bed, his surrounding Vol. II. 0

friends,

friends, deeming him now insensible, began to in. dulge their forrow for their expiring patron, by enumerating his great qualities and successes, his conquests and victories, the unusual length of his adminiftration, and his nine trophies erected over the enemies of the republic. You forget, cries the dying hero, who had heard all, you forget the most eminent of my praises, while you dwell so much on those vulgar advantages, in which fortune had a principal pare. You have not observed, that no citizen has ever yet worne mourning on my account *.

In men of more ordinary talents and capacity, the focial virtues become, if possible, still more essentially requisite; there being nothing eminent, in that caso, to compensate for the want of them, or preserve the person from our severest hatred, as well as contempt. A high ambition, an elevated courage, is apt, says CICERO, in less perfect characters, to degenerate into a turbulent ferocity. The more social and softer virtues are there chiefly to be regarded. These are always good and amiablet.

The principal advantage which JUVENAL discovers in the extensive capacity of the human species is, that it renders our benevolence also more extensive, and gives us larger opportunities of spreading our kindly influence than what are indulged to the inferior creation t. It must, indeed, be confessen, that by doing good only, can a man truly enjoy the advantages of being eminent. His exalted station, of itself, but the more exposes him to danger and tempeft. His sole prerogative is to afford shelter to inferiors, who repose themselves under his cover and protection.

But I forget, that it is not my present business to recommend generosity and benevolence, or to paint, in their true colours, all the genuine charms of the social virtues. These, indeed, fufficiently engage

every PLUT. in PericlE.

* Cic. de Officiis, lib. 2, Sat. xv. 139. & seq.

every heart; on the first apprehension of them; and it is difficult to abstain from some fally of panegyric, as often as they occur in discourse or reasoning. But our object here being more the speculative than the practical part of morals, it will suffice to remark (what will readily, I believe, be allowed), that no qualities are more intitled to the general good-will and approbation of mankind than beneficence and humanity; friendship and gratitude, natural affection and pub. lic spirit, or whatever proceeds from a tender Iympathy with others, and a generous concern for our kind and species. These, wherever they appear, seem to transfuse themselves, in a manner, into each beholder, and call forth, in their own behalf, the fame favourable and affectionate sentiments which they exert on all arround.

PART II.

We may observe, that, in displaying the praises of any humane, beneficent man, there is one circumstance which never fails to be amply insisted on, namely, the happiness and satisfaction derived to fociety from his intercourse and good offices. To his parents, we are apt to say, he endears himself by hin pious attachment and duteous care, still more than býthe connections of nature. His children never feel his authority, but when employed for their advantage.

With him, the ties of love are consolidated by beneficence and friendship. The ties of friendship approach, in a fond observance of each obliging office, to thofe of love and inclination. His domeftics and dependents have in him a fure resource; and no longer dread the power of fortune, but so far as she exercises it over him. From him the hungry receive food, the naked cloathing, the ignorant and flothful skill in industry. Like the fun,

an

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »