Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

1

firft arise; and in all matters of taste and sentiment, It is a vulgar story at Paris, that, during the rage of the MISSISSIPPI, a hump-backed fellow went every day into the RUE DE QUINCEMPOIX, where the stock, jobbers met in great crowds, and was well paid for allowing them to make use of his hump as a desk, in order to sign their contracts upon it. Would the fortune, which he raised by this expedient, make him a handsome fellow; though it be confessed, that personal beauty arises very much from ideas of utility? The imagination is influenced by affociations of ideas; which, though they arise at firit from the judgment, are not easily altered by every particular exception that occurs to us, To which we may add, in the present case of chastity, that the example of the old would be pernicious to the young; and that women, continually foreseeing that a certain time would bring them the liberty of indulgence, would naturally advance that period, and think more lightly of this whole duty, fo requisite to society.

Those who live in the same family have such frequent opportunities of licence of this kind, that nothing could preserve purity of manners, were marriage allowed, among the nearest relations, or any intercourse of love between them ratified by law and custom. INCEST, therefore, being pernicious in a superior degree, has also a superior turpitude and moral deformity annexed to it.

What is the reason, why, by the ATHENIAN laws, one might marry a half-filter by the father, but not by the mother? Plainly this: the manners of the ATHENIANS were so reserved, that a man was never permitted to approach the womens apartment, even in the same family, unless where he vifited his own mother. His ftep-n•ther and her children were as much shut up from him as the women of any other family, and there was as little danger of any criminal correspondence between them. Uncles and nieces, for a like reason, might marry at ATHENS; but neither

thefe,

2

[ocr errors]

these, nor half-bothers and fifters, could contract that alliance at ROME, where the intercourse was more open between the sexes. Public utility is the cause of all these variations.

To repeat, to a man's prejudice, any thing that escaped him in private conversation, or to make any such use of his private letters, is highly blamed. The free and social intercourse of minds must be extremely checked, where no such rules of fidelity are eftablished.

Even in repeating stories, whence we can foresee no ill consequences to result, the giving of one's author is regarded as a piece of indiscretion, if not of immorality. These stories, in passing from hand to hand, and receiving all the usual variations, frequently conte about to the persons concerned, and, produce animosities and quarrels among people, whose intentions are the most innocent and inoffenfive.

To pry into fecrets, to open or even read the letters of others; to play the fpy upon their words and looks and actions; what habits more inconvenient in society? What habits, of consequence, more blameable ?

This principle is also the foundation of most of the laws of good manners; a kind of lesser morality, calculated for the ease of company and conversation. Too much or too little ceremony are both blamed; and every thing which promotes ease without an indecent familiarity, is useful and laudable.

Constancy in friendships, attachments, and familiarities, is commendable, and is requifite to support trust and good correspondence in society. But in places of general though casual concourse, where the pursuit of health and pleasure brings people promifcuously together, public conveniency has dispensed with this maxim; and custom there promotes an unreserved conversation for the time, by indulging the privilege of dropping afterwards every indifferent

3

acquaintance,

acquaintance, without breach of civility or good manners.

Even in societies which are established on principles the most immoral, and the most destructive to the interests of the general society, there are required certain rules, which a species of false honour, as well as private interest, engages the members to observe. Robbers and pirates, it has often been remarked, could not maintain their pernicious confederacy, did they not establish a new distributive justice among themselves, and recal those laws of equity which they have violated with the rest of mankind.

I hate a drinking companion, says the GREEK proverb, who never forgets. The follies of the last debauch should be buried in eternal oblivion, in or. der to give full scope to the follies of the next.

Among nations, where an immoral gallantry, if covered with a thin veil of mystery, is, in some degree, authorised by custom, there immediately arise a set of rules, calculated for the conveniency of that attachment. The famous court or parliament of love in PROVENCE formerly decided all difficult cases of this nature.

In focieties for play, there are laws required for the conduct of the game; and these laws are different in each game. The foundation, I own, of such societies is frivolous; and the laws are, in a great measure, though not altogether, capricious and arbitrary. So far is there a material difference between them end the rules of justice, fidelity, and loyalty. The general societies of men are absolutely requisite for the subsistence of the species; and the public conveniency which regulates morals, is inviolably established in the nature of man, and of the world, in which he lives. The comparison, therefore, in these respects, is very imperfect. We may only learn from it the necessity of rules, wherever men have any intercourse with each other.

They

[ocr errors]

They cannot even país each other on the road with, out rules.

Waggoners, coachmen, and poftilions have principles, by which they give the way; and these are chiefly founded on mutual ease and convenience. Sometiines also they are arbitrary, at least dependent on a kind of capricious analogy, like many of the reasonings of lawyers*,

To carry the matter farther, we may observe, that it is impossible for men so much as to murder each other without statutes, and maxims, and an idea of justice and honour. War has its laws as well as peace; and even that sportive kind of war, carried on among wrestlers, boxers, cudgel-players, gladiators, is regulated by fixed principles. Common interest and utility beget infallibly a standard of right and wrong among the parties concerned.

SECTION V.

WHY UTILITY PLEASES,

PART I.

I

T seems so natural a thought to ascribe to their

virtues, that one would expect to meet with this principle every where in moral writers, as the chief foundation of their reasoning and enquiry. In common life, we may observe, that the circumstance of utility is always appealed to; nor is it supposed, that a greater eulogy can be given to any man, than to

display

See NOTE [Y].

display his usefulness to the public, and enumerate the services which he has performed to mankind and society. What praise, even of an inanimate form, if the regularity and elegance of its parts destroy not its fitness for any useful purpose! And how satisfactory an apology for any disproportion or seeming deformity, if we can show the necessity of that particular construđion for the use intended ! A ship appears mor beautiful to an artist, or one moderately skilled in navigation, where its prow is wide and swelling beyond its poop, than if it were framed with a precise geometrical regularity, in contradiction to all the laws of mechanics. A building, whose doors and windows were exact squares, would hurt the eye by that very proportion; as ill adapted to the figure of a hunian creature, for whose service the fabric was intended. What wonder then that a man, whose habits and conduct are hurtiful to society, and dangerous or pernicious to every one who has an intercourse with him, should, on that account, be an object of disapprobation, and communicate to every spectator the strongest sentiment of disgust and hatred *.

But perhaps the difficulty of accounting for these effects of usefulness, or its contrary, has kept philofophers from admitting them into their systems of ethics, and has induced them rather to employ any other principle in explaining the origin of moral good and evil. But it is no just reason for rejecting any principle, confirmed by experience, that we cannot give a satisfactory account of its origin, nor are able to resolve it into other more general principles. And if we would employ a little thought on the present subject, we need be at no lofs to account for the influence of utility, and to deduce it from principles, the most known and avowed in human nature.

From the apparent usefulness of the focial virtues, VOL. II.

e

it See NOTE [Z].

« ZurückWeiter »