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grows upon us with our years? whence comes it, that we thus make greater efforts to preserve our existence, at a period when it becomes scarce worth the keeping? Is it that Nature, attentive to the preservation of mankind, increases our wishes to live, while she lessens our enjoyments; and, as she robs the senses of every pleasure, equips Imagination in the spoils? Life would be insupportable to an old man, who, loaded with infirmities, feared death no more than when in the vigour of manhood; the numberless calamities of decaying nature, and the consciousness of surviving every pleasure, would at once induce him, with his own hand, to terminate the scene of misery; but happily the contempt of death forsakes him at a time when it could only be prejudicial; and life acquires an imaginary value, in proportion as its real value is no more.
Our attachment to every object around us increases, in general, from the length of our acquaintance with it. "I would not chuse," says a French philosopher, "to see an old post pulled up, with which I had been long acquainted. A mind long habituated to a certain set of objects, insensibly becomes fond of seeing them; visits them from habit, and parts from them with reluctance : from hence proceeds the avarice of the old in every kind of possession; they love the world and all that it produces; they love life and all its advantages; not because it gives them pleasure, but because they have known it long. Goldsmith.
39.—On the Dignity of Human Nature.
IN forming our notions of human nature, we are very apt to make a comparison betwixt men and animals, which are the only creatures endowed with thought, that fall under our senses. Certainly this comparison is very favourable to mankind; on the one hand, we see a creature, whose thoughts are not limited by any narrow bounds either of place or time, who carries his researches into the most distant regions of this globe, and beyond this globe, to the planets and heavenly bodies; looks backward to consider the first origin of the human race;
casts his eyes forward to see the influence of his actions upon posterity, and the judgments which will be formed of his character a thousand years hence: a creature, who traces causes and effects to great lengths and intricacy; extracts general principles from particular appearances; improves upon his discoveries, corrects his mistakes, and makes his very errors profitable. On the other hand, we are presented with a creature the very reverse of this; limited in its observations and reasonings to a few sensible objects which surround it; without curiosity, without foresight, blindly conducted by instinct, and arriving in a very short time at its utmost perfection, beyond which it is never able to advance a single step. What a difference is there betwixt these creatures! and how exalted a notion must we entertain of the former, in comparison of the latter! Hume's Essays.
40.-Fame, a commendable Passion.
I CAN by no means agree' with you in thinking, that the love of fame is a passion, which either reason' or religion' condemns. I confess, indeed, there are some' who have represented it as inconsistent with both'; and I remember, in particular, the excellent author of The Religion of Nature Delineated', has treated it as highly irrational' and absurd'. But surely "'twere to consider too curiously'," as Horatio says to Hamlet, "to consider thus'." For though fame with posterity should be, in the strict' analysis of it, no other than a mere uninteresting proposition', amounting to nothing more than that somebody acted meritoriously'; yet it would not necessarily follow', that true philosophy would banish' the desire of it from the human breast. For this passion may be (as most certainly' it is) wisely' implanted in our species, notwithstanding the corresponding object should in reality' be very different from what it appears in imagination'. Do not many of our most refined' and even contemplative' pleasures owe their existence to our mistakes'? It is but extending (I will not say, improving') some of our senses to a higher degree of acuteness than we now' possess them, to make the fairest views of
nature', or the noblest productions of art', appear horrid' and deformed'. To see things as they truly' and in themselves are, would not always, perhaps, be of advantage to us in the intellectual' world, any more than in the natural. But, after all, who shall certainly assure us, that the pleasure of virtuous fame dies' with its possessor, and reaches not to a farther' scene of existence? There is nothing, it should seem, either absurd or unphilosophical in supposing it possible' at least, that the praises of the good' and the judicious', that sweetest music to an honest ear in this' world, may be echoed back to the mansions of the next'; that the poet's description of fancy' may be literally true', and though she walks upon earth', she may yet lift her head into heaven'.
But can it be reasonable to extinguish a passion which nature has universally lighted up' in the human breast, and which we constantly find to burn with most strength and brightness in the noblest and best' formed bosoms? Accordingly revelation is so far from endeavouring (as you suppose) to eradicate the seed which nature has deeply planted, that she rather seems, on the contrary', to cherish and forward' its growth. To be exalted with honour', and to be had in everlasting remembrance', are in the number of those encouragements which the Jewish' dispensation offered to the virtuous'; as the person from whom the sacred Author of the Christian system received his birth', is herself represented as rejoicing that all generations' should call her blessed'.
To be convinced' of the great advantage of cherishing this high regard to posterity, this noble desire of an after life in the breath of others', one need only look back upon the history of the ancient Greeks' and RoWhat other principle was it, which produced that exalted strain of virtue in those' days, that may well serve as a model to these. Was it not the concurrent approbation of the good`, the uncorrupted applause of the wise', (as Tully calls it) that animated their most generous pursuits?
To confess the truth, I have been ever inclined to
think it a very dangerous' attempt, to endeavour to lessen' the motives of right conduct, or to raise any suspicion' concerning their solidity. The tempers and dispositions of mankind are so extremely different', that it seems necessary they should be called into action by a variety of incitements. Thus, while some are willing to wed Virtue for her personal' charms, others' are engaged to take her for the sake of her expected dowry` : and since her followers and admirers have so little hopes from her at present', it were pity, methinks, to reason them out of any imagined' advantage in reversion'.
41.-The present Life to be considered only as it may conduce to the Happiness of a future one.
SHOULD a spirit of superior rank, who is a stranger to human nature, accidentally alight upon the earth, and 'take a survey of its inhabitants, what would his notions of us be? Would not he think, that we are a species of beings made for quite different ends and purposes than what we really are? Must not he imagine that we were placed in this world to get riches and honours? Would not he think that it was our duty to toil after wealth, and station, and title? Nay, would not he believe we were forbidden poverty by threats of eternal punishment, and enjoined to pursue our pleasures under pain of damnation? He would certainly imagine that we were influenced by a scheme of duties quite opposite to those which are indeed prescribed to us. And truly, according to such an imagination, he must conclude that we are a species of the most obedient creatures in the universe; that we are constant to our duty; and that we keep a steady eye on the end for which we were sent hither.
But how great would be his astonishment, when he learnt that we were beings not destined to exist in this world above threescore and ten years; and that the greatest part of this busy species fall short even of that age! How would he be lost in horror and admiration, when he should know that this set of creatures, who lay
out all their endeavours for this life, which scarce deserves the name of existence; when, I say, he should know that this set of creatures are to exist to all eternity in another life, for which they make no preparations? Nothing can be a greater disgrace to reason, than that men, who are persuaded of these two different states of being, should be perpetually employed in providing for a life of threescore and ten years, and neglecting to make provision for that, which, after many myriads of years, will be still new, and still beginning; especially when we consider that our endeavours for making ourselves great, or rich, or honourable, or whatever else we place our happiness in, may, after all, prove unsuccessful; whereas, if we constantly and sincerely endeavour to make ourselves happy in the other life, we are sure that our endeavours will succeed, and that we shall not be disappointed of our hope.
The following question is started by one of the schoolmen, Supposing the whole body of the earth were a great ball or mass of the finest sand, and that a single grain or particle of this sand should be annihilated every thousand years: Supposing, then, that you had it in your choice to be happy all the while this prodigious mass of sand was consuming by this slow method till there was not a grain of it left, on condition you were to be miserable for ever after; or supposing that you might be happy for ever after, on condition you would be miserable till the whole mass of sand were thus annihilated at the rate of one sand in a thousand years: which of these two cases would you make choice? your
It must be confessed in this case, so many thousands of years are to the imagination as a kind of eternity, though in reality they do not bear so great a proportion to that duration which is to follow them, as an unit does to the greatest number which you can put together in figures, or as one of those sands to the supposed heap. Reason therefore tells us, without any manner of hesitation, which would be the better part in this choice. However, as I have before intimated, our reason might in such a case be so overset by the imagination, as to dispose some persons to sink under the consideration of