Page images
PDF
EPUB

famines, and the outrages of the worst enemy of man, man himself. * The most splendid parts of it, the rise and fall of empires, the wars and triumphs of heroes deserve no better name. There is a glare thrown over these things, which deceives us: we admire the hero, we are embarked in his designs, actuated by his passions, and interested in his success. But did we give ourselves the coolness to consider these transactions on the good-natured side of humanity; did we examine the cruel circumstances and lamentable consequences of them, and imagine to ourselves the thousands that suffer in these contentions, the slaughtered multitudes,

•est Dicæarchi liber de interim hominum, says Cicero, qui, collectis cæteris causis, eluvionis, pastilentiæ, vastitatis, beluarum etiam repentinae multitudinis, quarum impetu docet quædam hominum genera esse consumpta; deinde comparat, quanto plures deleti sint homines hominum impetu, quam omni reliqua calamitate. Off. 2. 5. See Wollaston, 9. 8.

D 2 the the sacked cities, and desolated provinces; we should, instead of admiring them, rather weep over them as monuments of human madness, and human misery. But this makes the least part of the account. Multitudes have suffered, without the least rational motive, in the wantonness of tyrannic cruelty—dragged into captivity—condemned to toil like beasts, under the lasli — plunged into mines or dungeons—and put to death in the most excruciating torments.

If we live remote from public dangers, situated in peace and ease at home, yet there we are exposed to miseries. The evils of sickness overtake us: we are exposed to a thousand racking disorders almost insufferable to human nature: the remedies are almost as dreadful as the disorder. The least accident brings them on: they come on suddenly in the gayest season of enjoyment: they continue for our lives, and allow but the poor hope of a few short inter

vals of ease, till death comes to our relief. * — We have relations and friends, dear to us as ourselves: We must share too in their afflictions: their sufferings give us pain; their death often leaves us solitary and helpless, without comfort or even support*

There are many of the poor, who, for want of employment, through ill health, or unfavourable accidents, cannot raise themselves above want, and depend for their nourishment upon the poor precarious charity of a selfish world: the more industrious and happy part get their bread by incessant labour, by the sweat of their brow, and the marrow of their strength. Custom inr deed renders their labour familiar and agreeable to them: but a life of constant drudgery, admitting of no ease or

* See a beautiful description of human maladies, in Milton's Paradise Lost. B. Ii. 477.

D 3 respite,

respite, cannot surely be the ultimate happiness of rational creatures.

And if we look at the rich (where we might naturally expect more happiness ;) we have not a much better prospect. They are exposed to the common casualties of mortality: and when a flight accident affects their body or disturbs their mind, they lose the taste and relish of all their comforts. Their very pleasures tire them by their repetition; and, had they not the poor comfort of varying them by the inventive wantonness of luxury, they would loathe their lives as a burden, and their riches as an incumbrance.

Life, in general, vary it as we will, is but a mean thing: if we labour, weariness and fatigue ensues; if we follow diversions, these are but an artificial sort os labour; and if we rest, disease punishes pur indolence.

But let us view those three great pursuits, in which the dignity of nature

really really consists, public service, knowledge, and virtue; and what weariness do we not encounter here, to obstruct our labours, and embitter our satisfactions! Though there is nothing more pleasant to the mind than knowledge, yet, truth is so involved and encumbered with difficulties, that in most things we cannot rise beyond the doubts of probable conjecture. We pass through a tedious, and painful process of investigation: frequently we are disappointed of our conclusion; and, where we are not disappointed, we forget the chain; the conclusion vanishes with the evidence, and doubt, uncertainty and ignorance again return. The strength of our mind is affected by the fluctuating temper of our bodies. Accordingly under the attacks of disease or old-age, the memory loses its tone, ideas fade, knowledge decays, and we sink again into the idiotism of infant ignorance. If we take the track of public life, geD 4 nerous

« PreviousContinue »