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would singly be sufficient to account for the pleasure of ridicule, without borrowing any aid from contempt. Hence appears the reason of a noted observation, That we are the most disposed to ridi. cule the blunders and absurdities of others when we are in high spirits; for in high spirits, self-conceit displays itself with more than ordinary vigour.
Having with wary steps traced an intricate road, not without danger of wandering; what remains to complete our journey, is to account for the final cause of congruity and propriety, which makes so great a figure in the human constitution. One final cause, regarding congruity, is pretty obvious, that the sense of congruity as one principle of the fine arts, contributes in a remarkable degree to our entertainment: which is the final cause assigned above for our sense of proportion,* and need not be enlarged upon here. Congruity, Indeed, with respect to quantity, coincides with proportion; when the parts of a building are nicely adjusted to each other, it may be said indifferently, that it is agreeable by the congruity of its parts, or by the proportion of its parts. But propriety, which regards voluntary agents only, can never be the same with proportion; a very long nose is disproportioned but cannot be termed improper. In some instances, it is true, impropriety coincides with disproportion in the same subject, but never in the same respect. I give for an example a very little man buckled to a long toledo; considering the man and the sword with respect to size, we perceive a disproportion; considering the sword as the choice of the man, we perceive an impropriety.
The sense of impropriety, with respect to mistakes, blunders, and absurdities, is evidently calculated for the good of mankind. In the spectators it is productive of mirth and laughter, excellent recreation in an interval from business. But this is a trifle compared to what follows. It is painful to be the subject of ridicule; and to punish with ridicule the man who is guilty of an absurdity, tends to put him more on his guard in time coming. It is well ordered, that even the most innocent blunder is not committed with impunity; because, were errors licensed where they do no hurt, inattention would grow into habit, and be the occasion of much hurt.
The final cause of propriety, as to moral duties, is of all the most illustrious. To have a just notion of it, the moral duties that respect others must be distinguished from those that respect ourselves. Fidelity, gratitude, and abstinence from injury, are examples of the first sort; temperance, modesty, firmess of mind, are examples of the other; the former are made duties by the sense of justice; the latter, by the sense of propriety. Here is a final cause of the sense of propriety that will rouse our attention. It is undoubtedly the interest of every man to suit his behaviour to the dignity of his nature, and to the station allotted him by Providence; for such rational conduct contributes in every respect to happiness, by preserving health, by procuring plenty, by gaining the esteem of others, and, which of all is the greatest blessing, by gaining a justly founded self-esteem. But in a matter so essential to our well-being,
*See chap. 3.
even self-interest is not relied on: the powerful authority of duty is superadded to the motive of interest. The God of nature, in all things essential to our happiness, hath observed one uniform method; to keep us steady in our conduct, he hath fortified us with natural laws and principles, preventive of many aberrations, which would daily happen were we totally surrendered to so fallible a guide as is human reason. Propriety cannot rightly be considered in another light, than as the natural law that regulates our conduct with respect to ourselves; as justice is the natural law that regulates our conduct with respect to others. I call propriety a law, no less than justice; because both are equally rules of conduct that ought to be obeyed propriety includes that obligation; for, to say an action is proper, is in other words to say, that it ought to be performed; and to say it is improper, is in other words to say, that it ought to be forborne. It is that very character of ought and should which makes justice a law to us; and the same character is applicable to propriety, though perhaps more faintly than to justice; but the difference is in degree only, not in kind; and we ought, without hesitation or reluctance, to submit equally to the government of both.
But I have more to urge upon that head. To the sense of propriety as well as of justice, are annexed the sanctions of rewards and punishments, which evidently prove the one to be a law as well as the other. The satisfaction a man hath in doing his duty, joined to the esteem and good-will of others, is the reward that belongs to both equally. The punishments also, though not the same, are nearly allied, and differ in degree more than in quality. Disobedience to the law of justice is punished with remorse; disobedience to the law of propriety, with shame, which is remorse in a lower degree. Every transgression of the law of justice raises indignation in the beholder; and so doth every flagrant transgression of the law of propriety. Slighter improprieties receive a milder punishment; they are always rebuked with some degree of contempt, and frequently with derision. In general, it is true, that the rewards and punishments annexed to the sense of propriety are slighter in degree than those annexed to the sense of justice, which is wisely ordered, because duty to others is still more essential to society than duty to ourselves. Society, indeed, could not subsist a moment, were individuals not protected from the headstrong and turbulent passions of their neighbours.
The final cause now unfolded of the sense of propriety, must, to every discerning eye, appear delightful; and yet this is but a partial view; for that sense reaches another illustrious end, which is in conjunction with the sense of justice, to enforce the performance of social duties. In fact, the sanctions visibly contrived to compel a man to be just to himself, are equally serviceable to compel him to be just to others; which will be evident from a single reflection, That an action, by being unjust, ceases not to be improper. An action never appears more evidently improper than when it is unjust. It is obviously becoming and suitable to human nature, that each man do his duty to others; and, accordingly, every transgres
sion of duty to others, is at the same time a transgression of duty to one's self. This is a plain truth without exaggeration; and it opens a new and enchanting view in the moral landscape, the prospect being greatly enriched by the multiplication of agreeable objects. It appears now that nothing is overlooked, nothing left undone, that can possibly contribute to the enforcing social duty; for to all the sanctions that belong to it singly, are superadded the sanctions of self-duty. A familiar example shall suffice for illustration. An act of ingratitude, considered in itself, is to the author disagreeable, as well as to every spectator; considered by the author with relation to himself, it raises self-contempt; considered by him with relation to the world, it makes him ashamed; considered by others, it raises their contempt and indignation against the author. These feelings are all of them occasioned by the impropriety of the action. When the action is considered as unjust, it occasions another set of feelings; in the author it produces remorse, and a dread of merited punishment; and in others, the benefactor chiefly, indignation and hatred directed to the ungrateful person. Thus shame and remorse united in the ungrateful person, and indignation united with hatred in the hearts of others, are the punishments provided by nature for injustice. Stupid and insensible must he be, who, in a contrivance so exquisite, perceives not the benevolent hand of our Creator.
DIGNITY AND GRACE.
THE terms dignity and meanness are applied to man in point of character, sentiment, and behaviour. We say, for example, of one man, that he hath natural dignity in his air and manner; of another, that he makes a mean figure. We perceive dignity in every action and sentiment of some persons; meanness and vulgarity in the actions and sentiments of others. With respect to the fine arts, some performances are said to be manly, and suitable to the dignity of human nature; others are termed low, mean, trivial. Such expressions are common, though they have not always a precise meaning. With respect to the art of criticism, it must be a real acquisition to ascertain what these terms truly import; which possibly may enable us to rank every performance in the fine arts according to its dignity.
Inquiring first to what subjects the terms dignity and meanness are appropriated, we soon discover that they are not applicable to any thing inanimate. The most magnificent palace that ever was built may be lofty, may be grand, but it has no relation to dignity; the most diminutive shrub may be little, but it is not mean. These terms must belong to sensitive beings, probably to man only, which will be evident when we advance in the inquiry.
Human actions appear in many different lights: in themselves they appear grand or little; with respect to the author, they appear proper
or improper; with respect to those affected by them, just or unjust and I now add, that they are also distinguished by dignity and meanness. If any one incline to think, that, with respect to human actions, dignity coincides with grandeur, and meanness with littleness, the difference will be evident, upon reflecting, that an action may be grand without being virtuous, and little without being faulty; but that we never attribute dignity to any action but what is virtuous, or meanness to any but what is faulty. Every action of dignity creates respect and esteem for the author; and a mean action draws upon him contempt. A man is admired for a grand action, but frequently is neither loved nor esteemed for it; neither is a man always contemned for a low or little action. The action of Cæsar passing the Rubicon was grand; but there was no dignity in it, considering that his purpose was to enslave his country. Cæsar, in a march, taking opportunity of a rivulet to quench his thirst, did a low action, but the action was not mean.
As it appears to me, dignity and meanness are founded on a natural principle not hitherto mentioned. Man is endowed with a SENSE of the worth and excellence of his nature; he deems it more perfect than that of the other beings around him; and he perceives that the perfection of his nature consists in virtue, particularly in virtues of the highest rank. To express that sense, the term dignity is appropriated. Further, to behave with dignity, and to refrain from all mean actions, is felt to be, not a virtue only, but a duty: it is a duty every man owes to himself. By acting in that manner, he attracts love and esteem; by acting meanly, or below himself, he is disapproved and contemned.
According to the description here given of dignity and meanness, they appear to be a species of propriety and impropriety. Many actions may be proper or improper, to which dignity or meanness cannot be applied to eat when one is hungry, is proper, but there is no dignity in that action; revenge fairly taken, if against law, is improper, but not mean. But every action of dignity is also proper, and every mean action is also improper.
This sense of the dignity of human nature, reaches even our pleasures and amusements; if they enlarge the mind by raising grand or elevated emotions, or of they humanize the mind by exercising our sympathy, they are approved as suited to the dignity of our nature; if they contract the mind by fixing it on trivial objects, they are contemned as not suited to the dignity of our nature. Hence, in general, every occupation, whether of use or amusement, that corresponds to the dignity of man, is termed manly; and every occupation below his nature is termed childish.
To those who study human nature, there is a point which has always appeared intricate: how comes it that generosity and courage are more esteemed, and bestow more dignity, than good-nature, or even justice, though the latter contribute more than the former to private as well as to public happiness? This question, bluntly propos. ed, might puzzle a cunning philosopher; but, by means of the foregoing observations, will easily be solved. Human virtues, like other objects, obtain a rank in our estimation, not from their utility, which
is a subject of reflection, but from the direct impression they make Justice and good-nature are a sort of negative virtues, that scarce make any impression but when they are transgressed: courage and generosity, on the contrary, producing elevated emotions, enliven greatly the sense of a man's dignity, both in himself and in others; and for that reason, courage and generosity are in higher regard than the other virtues mentioned; we describe them as grand and elevated, as of greater dignity, and more praiseworthy.
This leads us to examine more directly emotions and passions with respect to the present subject; and it will not be difficult to form a scale of them, beginning with the meanest, and ascending gradually to those of the highest rank and dignity. Pleasure felt as the organ of sense, named corporeal pleasure, is perceived to be low; and when indulged to excess, is perceived also to be mean: for that reason, persons of any delicacy dissemble the pleasure they take in eating and drinking. The pleasures of the eye and ear, having no organic feeling,* and being free from any sense of meanness, are indulged without any shame; they even rise to a certain degree of dignity when their objects are grand or elevated. The same is the case of the sympathetic passions: a virtuous person be. having with fortitude and dignity under cruel misfortunes, makes a capital figure; and the sympathizing spectator feels in himself the same dignity. Sympathetic distress at the same time never is mean; on the contrary, it is agreeable to the nature of a social being, and has general approbation. The rank that love possesses in the scale, depends in a great measure on its object: it possesses a low place when founded on external properties merely; and is mean when bestowed on a person of inferior rank, without any extraordinary qualification; but when founded on the more elevated internal properties, it assumes a considerable degree of dignity. The same is the case of friendship. When gratitude is warm, it animates the mind; but it scarce rises to dignity. Joy bestows dignity when it proceeds from an elevated cause.
If I can depend upon induction, dignity is not a property of any disagreeable passion: one is slight, another severe; one depresses the mind, another animates it; but there is no elevation, far less dignity, in any of them. Revenge in particular, though it inflame and swell the mind, is not accompanied with dignity, nor even with elevation; it is not, however, felt as mean or grovelling, unless when it takes indirect measures for gratification. Shame and remorse, though they sink the spirits, are not mean. Pride, a disagreeable passion, bestows no dignity in the eye of a spectator. Vanity always appears mean; and extremely so, where founded, as commonly happens, on trivial qualifications.
I proceed to the pleasures of the understanding, which possess a high rank in point of dignity. Of this every one will be sensible, when he considers the important truths that have been laid open by science: such as general theorems, and the general laws that govern the material and moral worlds. The pleasures of the understanding are suited to man as a rational and contemplative being; and they tend not a little to ennoble his nature; even to the Deity * See the Introduction.