Page images
PDF

To endently of their injurious effects upon the mind, which however are very great); for instance, lascivious conversation, whether expressed in obscene, or disguised under modest, phrases; also, wanton -songs, pictures, and books; the ". publishing, and circulating of which, whether out of frolic, or for some pitiful profit, is productive of so extensive a mischief, from so mean a temptation, that few crimes within the reach of private wickedness have more to answer for, or less to plead in their own excuse. 33. Though the sexual desires are very strong, yet there is abundant reason to believe that they are not originally much disproportionate to their end; and that if due care were taken, they would not arise in youth much before the proper time for this end. But the violence and unseasonableness of these passions are so manifest in the generality of young persons, that one cannot but conclude the general education of youth to be grossly erroneous and perverted : and this will appear very evident, in fact, upon examination. The diet of children and young persons is not sufficiently plain and sparing ; a proper regulation of which would lay a better foundation for health, and freedom from diseases, and put some check upon these passions. . They are brought up in effeminacy, and neglect of bodily exertion, which would materially assist to prepare both body and mind for the discipline of life, and would restrain the sexual passion. The due culture of the mind, especially in respect of religion, is very generally neglected; so that the young are usually left without employi.ent for their thoughts, and destitute of the chief armour, that of religious motives, whereby to oppose temptation.— Lastly, the conversation which they hear, and the books which they are allowed to read, are so corrupt, in this respect, that it is a matter of astonishment how a parent, who has any serious concern for his child, can avoid seeing the immediate destructive. consequences, or think that any considerations relating to this world can be a balance to them.

II. ESTIMATE OF THE PLEASURES OF IMAGINATION.

(PHILosophy, mental, § 73, 74.)

34. It does not appear from actual experience, that those who devote themselves to the study of the polite arts, or of science, or to any other pleasure of VOL. IX.

mere imagination, as their chief end and aim, do attain any greater degree of happiness than the rest of the world. The frequent repetition of these pleasures cloys, as in other cases; and though the whole circle is so extensive, yet no one can grasp the whole, and as a matter of fact few apply themselves to more than one or two considerable branches. From the manner in which the feelings of imagination are usually generated and transferred upon their several objects, it might be expected that deformity would often be mixed with beauty, so as to produce an unpleasing discordancy of opinion, even in the same individual: and, as a matter of fact, it is not uncommon for men, after a long and immoderate pursuit of one class of beauty, natural or artificial, to deviate into such by-paths and singularities, that the objects excite rather pain than pleasure; their limits for excellence being narrow, and their rules absurd, and all that falls short of these being condemned by them as deformed and monstrous. Eminent votaries of this kind are generally remarkable for ignorance and imprudence in the common affairs of life, thus subjecting themselves to ridicule and contempt, and to real, great, and lasting inconveniencies. Vanity, moroseness, and envy, are too generally the concomitants of an overweening attention to the pursuit of these pleasures. And scepticism in religious matters is too frequent an attendant here, which, if it could be supposed free from danger as to futurity, is at least very uncomfortable as to the present. The almost necessary consequence of such confined attention is, that too high a degree of importance is given to the object, and the superiority which is supposed to be possessed in it is supposed also to extend to other cases, in which the individual is perhaps uncommonly ignorant; and thus he either becomes dogmatical or sceptical ; qualities which, though apparently different from each other, are, in reality to be considered as antecedent and consequent, dogmatism being frequently followed by scepticism. And as religious knowledge, to be properly cultivated, requires that the soil should be prepared by the benevolent and pious affections, and no kind of learning being of itself sufficient to give this preparation, if attention to the pursuit of literature or of science be so inordinate as to suppress the growth of these affections, religion itself will be treated as incomprehensible, absurd, uncertain, or incredible. However, it is difficult to represent, justly, what is P p

the genuine consequence of the pursuit of the mere pleasures of imagination, their

votaries being also generally actuated by .

motives of ambition; but, as will be seen hereafter, this does not invalidate any of the foregoing remarks. It is justly observed by Dr. Percival, that the endless progression of knowledge is apt to give the love of it an inordinate ascendancy over every other principle; and as this passion does not, like the love of virtue, temper its particular exertions, by preserving a due subordination of the powers which it calls into action, the wildest extravagancies of emotion and of conduct have been displayed by those, who have submitted to its uncontrolled dominion. * 35. Further, we have reason to suppose that the pleasures of imagination ought not to be made our chief end and aim, because, in general, they are the first of the intellectual pleasures, come to their height early in life, and decline in old age. There are some few indeed, who continue devoted to them through life; so there are some to the pleasures of sensation; but both are irregularities, which cannot be considered as indications of the designs of Providence respecting these pleasures. Hence the argument, (§ 24) is applicable to these pleasures also. Like every other part of the great machine, they have their use, but it is a subordinate one ; they tend to the improvement and perfection of our nature, but eminence in them is not that perfection. They teach a love of regularity, exactness, truth, simplicity : they lead to a knowledge of many important truths respecting themselves, the world in general, and its author; they habituate to invent and to reason; and when the social, moral, and religious affections begin to be generated in us, we may make a much quicker progress towards the perfection of our matures, by having a due stock, and no more than a due stock, of knowledge in natural and artificial things, of a relish for natural and artificial beauty.

Regulation of the Pleasures of Imagimation.

36. As the pleasures of imagination are manifestly intended to generate and augment the higher orders of benevolence, piety, and the moral sense, so these last may be made to improve and perfect the former.—Those parts of the arts and scicnces which inspire us with devout affections, and enable us to be most useful to others, abound with the most and greatest

beauties. Thus, the study of the Scriptures, of natural history, and natural philosophy, of the frame of the human mind, &c. when undertaken with pious and benevolent intentions, lead to more interesting and surprising truths, than any study intended for mere private amusement. 37. Further, since the world is a systern of benevolence, and consequently the author of it is the object of unbounded love and adoration, benevolence and piety are the only true guides in our inquiries into it, the only clues which will lead through the labyrinths of nature. In the pursuit of every branch of valuable knowledge, let the inquirer take for granted, that every thing is right on the whole, that is, let him with a pious confidence seek for benevolent purposes, and he will find the right road, and, by a due continuance in it, attain to some new and valuable truth; whereas every other principle and motive for examination, being foreignto the great plan upon which the universe is constructed, must lead to endless mazes, errors, and perplexities.—Again,it is to their tendency to the increase of happiness that almost all truths owe their lustre. Hence those whose minds are under the influence of benevolence, will have the highest gratification which the perception of those truths can produce. 38. Lastly, the pleasures of the imagination point to devotion in a particular manner, from their unlimited nature. All

the feelings derived from beauty, both

natural and artificial, begin to fade and languish, after a short acquaintance with it; novelty is a never failing requisite; we look down with indifference upon what we comprehend easily, and feel the wish to aim at such things as are but just within the compass of our present faculties. To what inference does this tendency to press forwards, this endless grasping after infinity, necessarily lead us Is it not that the infinite Author of all things has so formed our faculties, that nothing less than himself can be an adequate object for them : that nothing finite, however great and glorious, can afford full and lasting satisfaction: that as nothing can give us more than a transitory delight, if its relation with God is excluded, so every thing, when considered as the production of his infinite wisdom and goodness, will gratify our utmost expectations, since in this view we may rest satisfied that every thing has numerous uses and excellencies, and that in the course of nature, the least and vilest, according to common apprehension, bear a proper part, as well as

those whose superiority over them is very great—In fine, then and then only is science a worthy object of pursuit, as a primary object, when it is pursued with just views; when it is valued for its tendenc to form valuable mental habits, and to cultivate moral ones; when we appreciate its value by its enlarging our capacity of usefulness to our fellow-men, and by its enabling us to raise our minds from sense to intellect; when we make it the path to religious and moral worth. As a means, it is highly conducive to the purification and perfection of our nature; pursued as an end, it will engross the affections, and the more noble and fascinating, than the sordid or sensible pleasures, will by degrees become a more dangerous and obstinate evil than those. III. ESTIMATE or The PLEASURES OF AMBITION.

(PHILosophy, mental, § 75–78)

39. That the pleasures of honour ought not to be made a primary object of pursuit, appears from the following considerations. An eager desire of the pleasures of honour, and an earnest endeavour to obtain them, has a manifest tendency to disappoint itself. The merit of actions, that is, that property for which they are extolled, and the agent loved or esteemed, is, that they proceed from benevolence, or some other moral or religious consideration: whereas, if the desire of praise form any considerable part of the motive, we censure rather than commend. But if praise be supposed the greatest good, the desire of it will prevail over other desires, and vanity, self-conceit and pride, qualities which all regard as contemptible, will be the necessary consequents.-Again, if praise be considered as the supreme good of the species, what is there which shall be selected as the greatest subject of encomium. What is there which shall be the universal object of praise, as well as within the reach of every one. External advantages, riches, beauty, strength, &c. These are neither in the power of all, nor universally commended. Great talents, wit, sagacity, invention; these, though more the subjects of encomium, fall to the lot of very few only. In short, virtue alone is both universally esteemed, and in the power of all who are sufficiently desirous to attain it. But virtue cannot consist with the pursuit of praise, much less with its being made a primary object. Hence it ought not to be

made such.-Even those who possess the advantages which are made the subject of praise can seldom pursue praise with success. Praise cannot be the lot of many, because it supposes something extraordinary in the thing praised; so that he who pursues it must either have a very good opinion of himself, which is a dangerous quality in the seeker of praise, or allow that there are many chances against him. —The same conclusion is drawn, if we consider the progress of the pleasures of honour. Children are pleased with encomiums upon any advantageous circumstances which relate to them, but this wears off by degrees; and as we advance in life, we learn more and more to confine our pleasures of this kind to things within our own power and to virtue. In like manner, the judicious part of mankind, that is, those whose praise is most valued, give it only to virtue, and those feelings and habits of which virtue is the basis. Here again is a manifest subserviency of these pleasures to virtue : they not only tell us, that they are not our ultimate end, but show us what is. 40. There is something extremely absurd and ridiculous in supposing a person to be perpetually feasting his mind with the praises that already are, or which he hopes will be hereafter given to him. And yet, unless a man does this, which besides would incapacitate him for deserving or obtaining praise, how can he fill up a thousandth part of his time with the pleasures of ambition.—Further, men who are much commended are apt to think themselves above the level of the rest of the world, and it is evident, that praise from inferiors wants much of the high relish those expect who make praise an object: it is even uneasy and painful to a man to hear himself commended, though he may think it his due, by a person whom he does not think qualified to judge. And in this view of things, a mind which has acquired truly philosophical and religious notions sees immediately that all the praises of mankind are comparatively of no value, because no man can be a thoroughly competent judge of the actions and motives of others-Lastly, the desire of praise carries us from less to greater circles of applauders, at greater distances of time and place; hence it necessarily inspires us with an eager hope of a future life. Now, all reflections upon a future life, the new scenes which will be unfolded there, the discoveries which will then be made of the secrets of all hearts, must cast a damp upon every ambition, except a virtuous one, and produce diffidence even in those who have the best testimony of their conscience.

Regulations of the Pleasures of Honour.

41. We have already seen sufficient ground for the position, that it is a law of our natures, that the inferior sources of happiness are most productive of hapiness, when not made the primary objects of pursuit, but submitted to the direction of the higher means. This is eminently the case with respect to the pleasures of honour. They may undoubtedly be obtained in their highest degree, and in their greatest perfection, by paying a strict regard to the precepts of benevolence, piety, and the moral senses. These precepts lead to the attainment of those qualities, and the performance of those actions, whose value is universally felt, and universally admitted; and at the same time preserve from that ostentatious display of them, or of other supposed grounds of honour, which would render their possessor ridiculous or contemptible. Honour is certainly affixed by the bulk of mankind to actions of benevolence, such as acts of generosity, compassion. public spirit, &c., and the encomiums bestowed upon such actions are one principal source of the feelings of the moral sense. The maximum of honour, therefore, must coincide with benevolence and the moral sense, and consequently with piety also, which is closely connected with them. It must, however, be admitted, that direct acts of piety are by no means calculated to gain the honour of the world in general, but, on the contrary, they expose to the reproach of enthusiasm, superstition, &c.; on the other hand, however, it must also be admitted, that humility, which is the principal of all the qualifications which recommend men to the world, cannot be obtained in any high degree without piety. Hence piety directly leads to the honour of men, and at the same time, in proportion as piety increases in its efficacy on the mind, the fear of this censure gradually diminishes. 42. The grand source of honour, directly or indirectly, is the tendency of an action or disposition to happiness of some kind or other, occurring to a man’s self, or to the world, by his means. He, therefore, who is most happy in himself, and contributes most to the happiness of others, must in the end, from the very

law of our natures, have the greatest quantity of honourable associations conferred upon him. But it has already appeared, in part, that benevolence, piety, and the moral sense, are the only true lasting sources of private happiness; and that the greatest public happiness arises from them cannot be doubted by any one ; hence he, in whom these qualities are prevalent, will, as far as his character is known and understood, obtain the applause of all, both good and bad. The esteem of the good he will first obtain, because they can most easily estimate his worth ; and it is this alone which is valuable and useful in exciting to honourable attainments. 43. In proportion as the views extend, and the comprehension of the mind increases, the desire of honour, esteem, and approbation, will require higher sources of gratification than that of men, even of the wise and good : it rises even to the throne of the Most High, and from Him to whom all hearts are open humbly hopes for approbation. This greatest of all honours can undeniably be obtained only by a regard to piety, benevolence, and the moral sense. If the desire of it be not the desire of our minds, it must arise from such inattention to the most important relations in which we stand, as is totally inconsistent with our true happiness; and if it become a ruling princi. ple of our minds, all encomiums will derive their value from their consistency with the highest standard of honour.

On the Effects of Pride and Vanity.

44. Before we offer any remarks on this point, it may be requisite that we explain in what manner we use our terms, since they are employed with great latitude, so as to throw discredit upon ethical representations respecting pride and vanity: and since by the transference of the association connected with what is called laudable pride, to a quality of the mind which in every shape of it is a vice, that abhorrence of it is diminished, which its obvious ill consequences should always produce. By pride, we understand an unjust feeling of superiority over others, or of elevation in the scale by which the individual estimates honour; by vanity, an excessive desire of the raise or good opinion of others. The ormer indicates an unfounded opinion as to the title to honour: the latter is generally accompanied with some opinion of

that kind, but does not necessarily imply more than an eager desire of it. 45. Pride and vanity may exist almost singly in the mind: there may be those to whom their own good opinion, independently of the approbation of God, shall be every thing; and who find the sympathy of others totally unnecessary for the nurture of their own pride. In the present state of society this is not cornmon ; the good opinion of others is productive of too many important consequences ever to permit pride to be thus fostered, except where it is the effort of a strong, but ill-directed mind, to counterbalance the disappointments of vanity. He who has made the good opinion of Sthers the primary object of pursuit, having met with its sure consequence, disappointment in his wishes, if he have not lost all his strength of mind by the weakening effects of vanity, will endeavour to rise above it; and if he have no religious principles, or but little religious culture, will dwell with gratification upon all the fancied excellencies of his own character, till they have acquired in his mind an importance to which they are little entitled: then moroseness must be the predominant feature in his temper, for he cannot bear that others should treat him with less respect than he thinks he has a right to claim; till at last an almost total unconcern for the opinion of others is forced upon his mind, and having no higher principle of action, he becomes a misanthrope. It is probably doing no injustice to the character of Swift, when we mention him as having gone this round.—But this is an extreme case : pride leads a man to set too high a value upon himself; but it is only that strength of mind, which, when well directed would have led to the highest attainments in moral worth, that will permit him to rest satisfied without the sympathy from others which he supposes is his due. Hence his pride must meet with constant mortification ; for where will be found those who are willing to restrain their conduct continually by the rules to which he would bind them 2 where even are those who can enter into his views and feelings pride then, even in a less extreme state, cannot be productive of happiness. But its ill effects are not thus limited. Blind to his own deficiencies, keen-sighted to observe the marks of merit in his own mind, the proud man throws continual impediments in his own progress towards worth of character. He sees not his deficiencies; how then can he supply them :

Heimagines his excellencies have mount. ed high in the scale of worth ; how shall he purify them, when that which prevents their eminence is fostered by every comparison which he draws 2 46. It has been said by one who appears to have possessed some knowledge of the world, that pride has at least this valuable effect, it tends to exclude all other failings: for the proud man places his standard so high, that he never feels his regard to his own dignity satisfied, till all inferior feelings are extirpated. This, we apprehend, is erroneous. It is supposing a mixture of pride and humility, which will never appear in that mind in which pride is the ruling feature. The man who is proud of his own excellencies seldom sees that they are defective: besides, a desire of self-approbation is not pride, though too strong and unchastened a desire may tend to produce pride, because self-approbation is easily gained when made independent of higher sources. There may be anomalies here, as in every other case of the operation of moral causes; but they are not sufficient to lead to the conclusion that pride has the tendency to raise the mind above all other failings. Pride will operate differently in different minds, and the desire of self-approbation is, and ought to be, a primary motive in all the earlier stages of the moral progress; but if the mind rests satisfied with this approbation, that progress will soon be impeded ; the standard will be lowered, rather than the conduct exalted; comparison with others will suggest numerous sources of self-gratification ; and the mind, unable to rise to the heights which once appeared in view, now rather looks down upon the advances she has made, than upon the cliffs, which still tower very far above her. Here then is a stop to improvement; the desire which stimulated to improvement is gratified : and he, who, had he looked beyond himself, might have risen to the summit of excellence, now rests contented on the little pinnacle which his imagination has raised, looks with contempt on the crowds below, but, wrapt in the veil of conscious superiority, sees not that numbers whom he once saw below him have risen, and are rising, while he is lost to all improvement. 47. In minds possessed of some strength, pride may exist with little or no tendency to vanity. Firmly convinced of their own worth, they need not the sympathy of others; and if that respect which they deem their due is not given, it is the last

« PreviousContinue »