« PreviousContinue »
horribly offensive and grievous; viz. To have the reflection in his mind of any unjust action or behaviour, which he knows to be naturally odious and ill deserving; or, of any foolish action or behaviour, which he knows to be prejudicial to his own interest or happiness."
P. 121. There scarcely is, or can be any creature, whom consciousness of villainy, as such merely, does not at all offend; nor any thing opprobrious or heinously imputable, move, or affect. If there be such a one; it is evident he must be absolutely indifferent towards moral good or ill. If this indeed be his case; it will be allowed he can be no way capable of natural affection: If not of that; then neither of any social pleasure, or mental enjoyment, as shown above; but on the contrary, he must be subject to all manner of horrid, unnatural, and ill affection. So that to want conscience, or natural sense of the odiousness of crime and injustice, is to be most of all miserable in life; but where conscience, or sense of this sort remains, there, consequently, whatever is committed against it, must of necessity, by means of reflection, as we have shown, be continually shameful, grievous, and offensive.
A man who in a passion happens to kill his companion, relents immediately on the sight of what he has done. His revenge is changed into pity, and his hatred turned against himself. And this merely by the power of the object. On this account he suffers agonies; the subject of this continually occurs to him; and of this he has a constant ill remembrance and displeasing consciousness. If, on the other side, we suppose him not to relent or suffer any real concern or shame; then, either he has no sense of the deformity of crime and justice, no natural affection, and, consequently, no happiness or peace within: or if he has any sense of moral worth or goodness, it must be of a perplexed and contradictory kind. He must pursue an inconsistent notion, idolize some false species of virtue, and affect as noble, gallant, or worthy, that which is irrational and absurd.
And how tormenting this must be to him, is easy to conceive. For never can such a phantom as this, be reduced to any certain form. Never can this Proteus of honour be held steady to one shape. The pursuit of it can only be vexatious and distracting. There is nothing besides real virtue (as has been shown) which can possibly hold any proportion to esteem, approbation, or good conscience. And he who, being led by false religion or prevailing custom, has learnt to esteem or admire any thing as virtue which is not really such; must either through the inconsistency of such an esteem, and the perpetual immoralities occasioned by it, come at last to lose all conscience, and so be miserable in the worst way; or if he retains any conscience at all, it must be of a kind never satisfactory, or able to bestow content. For it is impossible that a cruel enthusiast, or bigot, a persecutor, a murderer, a bravo,
a pirate, or any villain of less degree, who is false to the society of mankind in general, and contradicts natural affection, should have any fixed principle at all, any real standard or measure by which he can regulate his esteem, or any solid reason by which to form his approbation of any one moral act. And thus the more he sets up honour, or advances zeal, the worse he renders his nature and the more detestable his character. The more he engages in the love or admiration of any action or practice, as great and glorious, which is in itself morally ill and vicious; the more contradiction and self-approbation he must incur. For there being nothing more certain than this, "That no natural affection can be contradicted, nor no unnatural one advanced, without a prejudice in some degree to all natural affection in general," it must follow," That inward deformity growing greater, by the encouragement of unnatural affection; there must be so much the more subject for dissatisfactory reflection, the more any false principle of honour, any false religion, or superstition prevails."
So that whatever notions of this kind are cherished, or whatever character affected, which is contrary to moral equity, and leads to inhumanity, through a false conscience, or wrong sense of honour, serves only to bring a man more under the lash of real and just conscience, shame, and self-reproach. Nor can any one, who by any pretended authority, commits one single immorality, be able to satisfy himself with any reason, why he should not at another time be carried further, into all manner of villainy; such perhaps as he even abhors to think of. And this is a reproach which a mind must of necessity make to itself upon the least violation of natural conscience, in doing what is morally deformed and ill deserving, though warranted by any example or precedent among men, or by any supposed injunction or command of higher powers.
From all this we may easily conclude, how much our happiness depends upon natural and good affection. For if the chief happiness be from the mental pleasures, and the chief mental pleasures are such as we have described, and are founded in natural affection, it follows, "That to have the natural affections, is to have the chief means and power of self-enjoyment, the highest possession and happiness of life."
Now as to the pleasures of the body, and the satisfactions belonging to mere senses; it is evident, they cannot possibly have their effect, or afford any valuable enjoyment, otherwise than by the means of social and natural affection.
To live well, has no other meaning with some people, than to eat and drink well. And methinks it is an unwary concession we make in favour of these pretended good livers, when we join with them, in honouring their way of life with the title of living fast. As if they lived the faster who took the greatest pains to enjoy least of life; for if our account of happiness be right, the greatest
enjoyments in life are such as these men pass over in their baste, and have scarce ever allowed themselves the liberty of tasting.
The very notion of a debauchee (which is a sally into whatever can be imagined of pleasure and voluptuousness) carries with it a plain reference to society, or fellowship. It may be called a surfeit, or excess of eating and drinking, but hardly a debauch of that kind, when the excess is committed separately, out of all society, or fellowship. And one who abuses himself in this way, is often called a sot, but never a debauchee. The courtezans, and even the commonest of women, who live by prostitution, know very well how necessary it is, that every one whom they entertain with their beauty, should believe there are satisfactions reciprocal; and that pleasures are no less given than received. And were this imagination to be wholly taken away, there would be hardly any of the grosser sort of mankind, who would not perceive their remaining pleasure to be of a slender estimation.
Who is there can well or long enjoy any thing, when alone, and abstracted perfectly, even in his very mind and thought, from every thing belonging to society? Who would not on such terms as these, be presently cloyed by any sensual indulgence? Who would not soon grow uneasy with his pleasure, however exquisite, till he had found means to impart it and make it truly pleasant to him, by communicating, and sharing it at least with some one single person? Let men imagine what they please; let them suppose themselves ever so selfish; or desire ever so much to follow the dictates of that narrow principle, by which they would bring nature under restraint: nature will break out; and in agonies, disquiets, and a distempered state, demonstrate evidently the ill consequence of such violence, the absurdity of such a device, and the punishment which belongs to such a monstrous and horrid endeavour.
Thus, therefore, not only the pleasures of the mind, but even those of the body depend on natural affection: insomuch, that where this is wanting, they not only lose their force, but are in a manner converted into uneasiness and disgust. The sensations which should naturally afford contentment and delight, produce rather discontent and sourness, and breed a wearisomeness and restlessness in the disposition. This we may perceive by the perpetual inconstancy and love of change, so remarkable in those who have nothing communicative or friendly in their pleasures. Good fellowship, in its abstract sense, seems indeed to have some thing more constant and determining. The company supports the humour. It is the same in love. A certain tenderness and generosity of affection supports the passion, which otherwise would instantly be changed. The perfect beauty cannot, of itself, retain or fix it. And that love which has no other foundation, but relies on this exterior kind, is soon turned into aversion. Satiety, perpetual disgust, and feverishness of desire, attend those
who passionately study pleasure. They best enjoy it, who study to regulate their passions. And by this they will come to know how absolute an incapacity there is in any thing sensual to please, or give contentment, where it depends not on something friendly or social, something conjoined, and in affinity with kind or natural affection.
It happens with mankind, that whilst some are by necessity confined to labour, others are provided with abundance of all things, by the pains and labour of inferiors. Now, if among the superior and easy sort, there be not something of fit and proper employment raised in the room of what is wanting in common labour and toil; if instead of an application to any sort of work, such as has a good and honest end in society (as letters, sciences, arts, husbandry, public affairs, economy, or the like) there be a thorough neglect of all duty or employment, a settled idleness, supineness, and inactivity; this of necessity must occasion a most relaxed and dissolute state; it must produce a total disorder of the passions, and break out in the strangest irregularities imaginable. We see the enormous growth of luxury in capital cities, such as have been long the seat of empire. We see what improvements are made in vice of every kind, where numbers of men are maintained in lazy opulence, and wanton plenty. It is otherwise with those who are taken up in honest and due employment, and have been well inured to it from their youth. This we may ob serve in the hardy remote provincials, the inhabitants of smaller towns, and the industrious sort of common people; where it is rare to meet with any instances of those irregularities which are known in courts and palaces; and in the rich foundations of easy pampered priests.
P. 141. There is nothing more certain, or more universally agreed than this; "That life may sometimes be even a misfortune and misery." To enforce the continuance of it in creatures reduced to such extremity, is esteemed the greatest cruelty. And though religion forbids that any one should be his own reliever'; yet, if by some fortunate accident, death offers of itself, it is embraced as highly welcome. And on this account the nearest friends and relations often rejoice at the release of one entirely beloved, even though he himself may have been so weak as earnestly to decline death, and endeavour the utmost prolongment of his own uneligible state.
Since life, therefore, may frequently prove a misfortune and misery; and since it naturally becomes so, by being only prolonged to the infirmities of old age; since there is nothing, withal more common than to see life overvalued, and purchased at such a cost as it can never justly be thought worth; it follows evidently, that the passion itself (viz., the love of life, and abhorrence or dread of death) if beyond a certain degree, and overbalancing in the temper of any creature, must lead him directly against his
own interest; make him, upon occasion, become the greatest enemy to himself; and necessitate him to act as such.
But though it were allowed the interest and good of a creature, by all courses and means whatsoever, in any circumstances, or at any rate, to preserve life; yet would it be against his interest still to have this passion in a high degree. For it would by this means prove ineffectual, and no way conducing to its end. Various instances need not be given. For what is there, better known, than that at all times an excessive fear betrays to danger, instead of saving from it? It is impossible for any one to act sensibly, and with presence of mind, even in his own preservation and defence, when he is strongly pressed by such a passion. On all extraordinary emergencies, its courage, and resolution saves; whilst cowardice robs us of the means of safety, and not only deprives us of our defensive faculties, but even runs us to the brink of ruin, and makes us meet that evil which of itself would never have invaded us.
But were the consequences of this passion less injurious than we have represented; it must be allowed still that in itself it can be no other than miserable; if it be misery to feel cowardice, and be haunted by those spectres and horrors which are proper to the character of one who has a thorough dread of death. For it is not only when dangers happen, and hazards are incurred, that this sort of fear oppresses and distracts. If it in the least prevails, it gives no quarter, so much as at the safest, stillest hour of retreat and quiet. Every object suggests thought enough to employ it. It operates when it is least observed by others; and enters at all times into the pleasantest parts of life, so as to corrupt and poison all enjoyment and content. One may safely aver, that by reason of this passion alone, many a life, if inwardly and closely viewed, would be found to be thoroughly miserable, though attended with all other circumstances which in appearance render it happy. But when we add to this, the meannesses, and base condescensions, occasioned by such a passionate concern for living; when we consider how by means of it we are driven to actions we can never view without dislike, and forced by degrees from our natural conduct, into still greater crookednesses and perplexity; there is no one, surely, so disengenuous as not to allow, that life in this case becomes a sorry purchase, and is passed with little freedom or satisfaction.
For how can this be otherwise, whilst every thing which is generous and worthy, even the chief relish, happiness, and good of life, is for life's sake abandoned and renounced?
A man of courage may be cautious without real fear. And a man of temper may resist or punish without anger. But in ordinary characters there must necessarily be some mixture of the real passions themselves, which, however, in the main, are able to allay and temper one another. And thus anger in a manner becomes necessary. It is by this passion that one creature offer