« AnteriorContinuar »
Bayle has represented them, without being struck with the deepest horror. According to him, the Devil is making consinual depredations upon the dominions of the Almighty, and notwithstanding all the pains and care of the universal Parent, to deliver his rational workmanship from the power of their grand adversary, he is scarce able to save one out of a million. Deplorable, beyon i expression deplorable! must be the lot of man, were this his real situation. But stronger is he who is for us, than he who is against us; and the reins of government, delightful thought! are in the hands of one, whose power is absolute, and whose providence is universal, and kind, and gracious, as his nature.
I would observe further, that if we analyse the frame and structure of the human mind, with the most minute accuracy and exactness, we shall be forced to acknowlege that man is admirably formed for making attainments in virtue, and rising to very considerable heights of real excellence. But it will be faid, I know, that all arguments drawn from the constitution of human nature, as far as the present question is concerned, are deceitful and unsatisfactory, and that it is experience, and matter of fact alone, that can determine the debate. Be it fo: let the question be determined by an appeal to experience, and matter of fact ; every one's experience, if I am not greatly mistaken, will be sufficient to furnish him with examples that do honour to human nature; with amiable characters,
honourably supported through the various relations of human life. Nay, let any one fix, for example, upon the person whom he thinks most hardened in vice, and it will be seldom found, I presume, if he judges with any degree of candor and impartiality, that he can pronounce upon him, that his bad actions are more numerous than his good ones. Now if this be the case with the most abandoned among men, and let every man's conscience determine whether it is or not, what must be faid of the bulk of mankind ? A very different character, surely, must be bestowed upon them, from that which Bayle has given them. Indeed, if their vices were in such proportion to their virtues, as he says they are, it is impossible that societies could ever have been held together. But I must not enlarge: and your Readers, I hope, will excuse this attempt in vindication of the honour of our common nature, and of the allwise and gracious Author of it.
Bayle's second head of enquiry is, whether physical good surpasses physical evil in the world ?
.. Some persons' says he, persuade themselves, that the sweets of life are fuperior
to its bitters. Those who are of this opinion, build chiefly on the comparison between fickness and health. Very few persons, of what age foever we suppose them, but can reckon infinitely more days of health than of indifpofition; and there are many people who, during twenty years, have not had a fortnight's sickness, all the times of their indisposition being put together. This comparison, however, is fallacious; for health, considered in itself, is rather a simple exemption from pain, than a sensation of pleasure: whereas fickness is something much stronger than the privation of pleasure ; it is a positive state, which plunges the soul into a sensation of suffering, and oppresses it with grief. Let us borrow a comparifon from the schoolmen; these fay, that porous bodies contain Jittle matter under a large extent; and that dense bodies contain a great deal of matter in a little extent.
We must infer, according to this principle, that there is more matter in three feet of water, than in two thousand five hundred feet of air. Such is the emblem of sickness and health. Sickness resembles denfe bodies, and health porous bodies. Health is diffused over a great number of years, and yet it contains but litile good; sickness is spread only over a few days, and yet includes a great deal of evil. Had we scales to weigh a sickness of a fortnight's continuance, against a series of health for fifteen years,
the same would be found, as when we weigh a bag of feathers against a pig of lead.
• It may be objected, that health is valuable, not only because it exempts us from a very great evil, but also because of the liberty it gives us to taste a thousand sprightly and very sensible plealures. I grant all this, but we must likewise consider, that as there are two kinds of evil to which we are obnoxious, it secures us only from the one, and leaves us quite exposed to the other. We are exposed to pain and sorrow, two scourges of so dreadful a nature, that we cannot determine which is the worst. The most vigorous health cannot secure us from grief. Now grief is a paffion which pours in upon us through a th usand channels, and is of the nature of dense bodies; it includes a great deal of matter in a narrow compass: the evil is there heaped up, crowded and pressed down in it. One hour's uneasiness contains more evil than there is good in the space of fix or seven pleasant days. I was lately told of a man, who had killed himielf, after three or four weeks uneasiness. He had laid his sword every night under his pillow, in hopes of having the courage to dispatch himself, when the darkness should increase his forrow; but his heart failed him for several nights together : at laf, however, being unable to bear up any longer under his grief, he cut the veins of his arm. I allert, that all the pleasures which this man had enjoyed for thirty years, would not equal the evils which tormented him during the last month of his life, were they weighed in scales that were true. I would have my Reader consider my comparison between porous and dense bodies, and call to mind, that the good things of this life are less good than the evils are evil. Evils are commonly more unmixed than good things; the lively sensation of a pleasure is not lasting, it is foon palled, and is followed by distaste. That which appeared to us as a great blessing, when we did not enjoy it, makes a faint impression upon us when we are possessed of it. Thus we acquire, with a thousand pains and uneasinesses, a thing which, when once possessed, gives us but an inconsiderable joy; commonly the fear of losing what we possess, surpasses all the sweets of enjoyment.
“We must confels with Seneca, when we consider the multiplicity of good things which nature bestows upon us, and the inexhaustible industry with which mankind diversify their pleafures, and discover the sources of them; that God, not satisfied with providing for our wants, has provided for us wherewith to live deliciously. All that Seneca says on this head is very true; but does not Pliny observe, on the other hand, that nature makes us purchase her presents at the expence of so many sufferings, that it is doubtful whether the deserves more properly to be called a mother, or a step-dame. To reconcile these differences, we must consult what divinity teaches us, with respect to the æconomy of God, as the father, and as the judge of mankind. These two relations require, that man should feel both good and evil; but the question is, whether the evil surpasses the good? and I believe, that nothing can be done in this matter, but to form opinions and conjectures about it. Many fay, that most people who are a little advanced in years, are like La Mothe Le Vayer, who would not willingly begin life again, or pass a second time through the fame good, and the same evil be had met with. If this be so, we must suppose, that every one finds that, upon the whole, the pleasures he has enjoyed, do not equal the uneasinelles and sorrows he has met with. I do not asiert, that no man iş contented with his condition; for this is not a proof, that every person considers himself as less happy than unhappy. Four inconveniences intermixed with twenty conveniences, would be apt to make a man with for another condition; I mean, such a state as had no inconveniency; or where he firould find but one or two with forty conveniences. On the other hand,
no one must object, as Lactantius does, that mankind are fo delicate, that they complain of the least evil, as though it fwallowed up all the good things they had enjoyed : for it is nothing to the purpose to consider here, what the absolute quantity of good and evil sent to man may be in itself; we mus consider only the relative quality; or, to exprefs myself more clearly, we must confider only the sensation of the soul. A very great good in itself, which should excite but a very mo. derate pleasure, ought to be considered only as a moderate, or indifferent pleasure ; but a little evil in itself, which should excite an insupportable uneasiness, grief, or pain, ought to be considered as a very great evil. The government of a province is, in itself, a greater good than a ribband; and nevertheless, if a man should feel more joy in receiving a ribband from his mistress, than in obtaining the government of a province from his King, I say, that a ribland, with respect to him, would be a greater good than a government. By a parity of reasoning, it would be a greater evil for him to be deprived of this ribband, than to be removed from his government. For which reason, no man can judge properly of the happiness or infelicity of his neighbour.' We only know the external causes of good and evil, which causes are not always proportionable to their effects; those which seem to us (mall, often produce a strong fenfation; and those which appear to us great, often produce only a faint sensation.
It is certain, that those who would seek for persons who had felt more pleasure than pain, would find such rather among peasants, or mean artificers, than among Kings and Princes. Read the following words of a great man: "You imagine, " then, that dissatisfactions, and the most killing uneasinesses,
are not concealed beneath purple; or that a kingdom is an «s universal remedy to all evils ; a balm that softens them, " and a charm that enchants them. Whereas, by the course “ of Divine Providence, which can counterpoise the moft ex“ alted conditions, their grandeur, which we admire at a dis« tance, as something above man, affects those less who are “ born in it, or confounds itfelf in its plenty : on the con
trary, great persons are more strongly sensible of afflictions, « and are the more affected with them, as they are the less “ prepared to withstand them.” Bossuet’s Funeral Oration on Maria Theresa of Austria.
« These are the two sources of the unhappiness of the Great; the habitual felicity of their condition makes them very infenfible to bleffings, and extremely affected with evils. "If they receive one piece of bad news, and three of good, they will
be very nightly affected with the happiness of the latter, but strongly with the infelicity of the former. Can it then be posa fible for them to be free from uneasiness? Are
of their prosperous events unmixed with misfortunes? If we read the several actions performed by Gustavus, in Germany, we shalt find such a fuperiority of fortune, as has very few examples; and yet we see so great an intermixture of disadvantageous incidents, that it will appear very plain he met with many uneasinesses. We cannot have a better proof than in Augustus, that we are not to look upon thrones, in order to find happy perfons; for if any monarch was ever favoured by For: tune, it was Auguftus; and nevertheless, the catalogue of his griefs is so long, that every person must conclude from thence, that he at least met with as many evils as blessings.
• But it is time to put an end to these common places, which I shall accordingly do, with the four following short remarks. 1. That if we consider mankind in general, it seems as if they had more uneasinesses and pain, than pleasure. 2. That there are some individuals, whole lives, we may suppose, are che. quered with a much greater proportion of good than evil. 3. That there are others, who, we may suppose, meet with much more evil than good. 4. That my second proposition is, especially, probable, with regard to such as die before old age; and that my fourth appears chiefly certain, with regard to those who live to a decrepid age. When Racan affirmed, that the gods made glory only for themselves, and pleasures for us, he doubtless had a view oniy to the youthful season of life. It is then that pleasures predominate; that good weighs heaviest in the scale. The Nemesis of the Heathens is extremely courteous, and gives credit; she is willing to have the accounts settled without
any deduction; but then the repays herself with our
What Bayle has advanced under this his second head of eriquiry, it is obvious, upon the smallest reflection, is extremely exceptionable, as well as what he has said under his first, and confirms the observation before made, that an ingenious man may take what side of almost any question he pleases, and say plausible things upon it. But least I should extend this letter to too great a length, I must hasten to a conclusion.
The fourth volume of this Analysis then contains, first, the sequel of the lyítenis and opinions of the antient philosophers, viz. those of Chryfippus, Carneades, Cratippus, Plotinus, Hierocles, &c. After this there follows an account of the different religious systems, of the founders of sects, the Sadducees, Adamites, Cainites, Arians, Manicheans, and Mahomedans,