Slike strani
PDF
ePub

By this

deviating from the common sense of their species, the common standard of man; they are instances of the abuse of natural passions, or are the anomalies of the race.

There are other anomalies; but from such we do not take the common nature of man. The appetite which leads to the propagation of the species is, perhaps, in its origin, a vague indeterminate impulse to gratification. The principal end of this appetite, doubtless, is the continuation of the species by a perpetual re-production, in which view it is the constant revivifying principle of society ; but the Author of our being, whose all comprehensive plan is adjusted, in the most perfect harmony, has made it farther subservient to social happiness. Nature, by making it the source of a specific passion, corrects the vagueness of the appetite ; and thus it becomes the fountain of domestic felicity and one of the strongest bonds of society.

Ambition, when in balance with the other passions and appetites, is not opposed to the general good of society.--Far from being detrimental, it is highly useful to man. passion, many aetions, the noblest and most beneficial in society, are produced. It is only in the extreme, that the passion becomes hurtful; when the acquisition of power or influence is no longer considered as a mean of doing good; when the passion aims solely or principally at its own gratification. But this is doing violence to the laws of nature, which result from the whole nature of man. The passions of hatred, revenge, and some other passions and emotions, not unfrequently very pernicious in society, are reserved for the next chapter. In the remainder of this, we will attend to some emotions purely of a social tendency. Sympathy is an ingredient in the social nature of man, deserving of very particular attention. The modus agendi, or how the emotion of sympathy is produced ; whether it be wholly mental, the reflection of a sentiment, or whether it be partly organical, partly mental, is perhaps, one of the secrets of nature; but the effect is evident and the final cause illustrious. It is one of those nice adjustments in the nature of man, which give us the most exalted idea of the wisdom and benevolence of its Author. In the smaller circles of life, its influence is more immediate, more direct, but its influence extends to whole nations and empires. Sympathy

that person.

is generally produced through the medium of an organic impression. We see something in the countenance, the movement, the whole figure of the person, which we take for the expression of a sentiment, or a particular state of mind in

We instantaneously, seemingly by a direct impression, without time for reflection, find excited in ourselves a corresponding tone of mind, corresponding sentiments, producing similar expressions. The emotion, though we may have a sense of pain and distress in the object, is not repulsive. 'On the contrary we feel a powerful attraction to objects of distress. Thus man is sweetly prepared to mourn with those who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice. The emotion of sympathy not only prevents a thousand discords, but produces in society a kind of instinctive harmony. There is one impression of sympathy, which seems to be mostly organic, or an effect on the nerves only. A yawn from one person in company, will produce a spontaneous yawn in all present, at least all who see the act. When we see a person suddenly hurt, or hear of one being wounded in a particular part, we feel a particular affection of the nerves in that part, which thence thrills through the whole frame, conveying at once to the heart a sense of the pain supposed to be felt by the patient. This may be one reason why, when we hear of a person being wounded, we are anxious to learn the manner and particular place of the wound. Where our information is general the effect on us is general ; we endure something like a state of suspense. This is a situation apparently of greater uneasiness, than when the sensation is reduced to a corresponding part. Lord Kaims has beautifully unfolded what he calls the sympathetic emotion of virtue* and which ought not to be omitted here. When we are witnesses, or hear of the performance of any great, noble, and benevolent action, we find excited in ourselves a strong desire to perform the same kind of action. The mind swells with an ardent desire to find a proper opportunity, or a proper object. Notwithstanding some opinions to the contrary, I am persuaded these emotions of sympathy are not the effect of reasoning from the object to our own situation; they rather resemble instinctive impulses. Sympathy, without the intervention of words, blends the thoughts, sentiments, and the virtuous disposition of individuals; it diffuses joys of the heart from countenance to countenance, commands relief in distress, and consolation in affliction. Montesquieu alludes to this principle in human nature when he says,"Parents are generally able to communicate their ideas to their children; but are still better able to transmit their passions." This disposition to sympathy helps to account for all that similarity of sentiments, character, and even of features, which is observable in families, societies and nations ; less perfect, indeed, the more extensive the connexion.

*Elements of Criticism. Vol. I. Chapter II. p. 1. Sec. 4.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER III.

Of hatred and revenge-Envy and some other dissocial passions.

Hatred and revenge are not, in their nature, opposed to society, although, from their abuse they become at times very pernicious. On a candid inquiry it will be found, that those passions do not arise from any malignity in the nature of '

man; but are given for good and wise purposes. They are necessary to a being capable of injuring as well as benefiting others, and liable to be himself the subject of injuries from those of his own species. Men are conscious of a freedom of action, of a choice in what they do we know at the same time, that man is not a perfect being, that he has many weaknesses, that there fall in his way motives to action infinitely various. Sometimes his choice is influenced by ignorance, by error, by the prevalence of particular passions or appetites, a present desire of gratification. Sometimes he is confounded by a combination of circumstances, the result of which, he wants the power, or the patience, to evolve. He is frequently tempted to a deviation from right, by an opposition of interests, originating, not in a direct intention of the parties, but the want of an early foresight in each, of the other's intended pursuits. To a

To a being thus circumstanced, powerful moral restraints are necessary. Such restraints are provided for man, and come in aid of his moral perceptions of right, and are made to arise from the consequence of his actions. It is evidently a general constitution of providence, that the general tendency of vice is to produce misery to the agent, of virtue, to produce happiness, connected in both by the relation of cause and effect. The passions of hatred and revenge will be found to accord with this constitution.

The more fully to investigate this subject, it will be necessary to take a nearer view of human nature. Man, in an unimproved state, is very little acquainted with the operations of his own mind, the extent of his powers and faculties and the result of their various combinations. For their development, he is furnished with internal perceptions and external senses, accompanied with the powers of reason and investigation. As in physics, no reliance can be had on reasonings a priori ; experience alone can decide. Man, therefore, fully to discover the extent of his powers and faculties, and the right tendency of his whole nature, must with sufficient attention and presence of mind to mark the result, pass through such a variety of situations as will bring all into exercise, and put all to the test, in every variety of combination. It is a matter of great difficulty for a man to make just and accurate observations on a subject so evanescent, as are the operation of his own mind, and always in transitu. They are past ere there is time for reflection : on the most important occasions, the whole mind is wrapped in attention to some external objects. Add to this, subjected as man is, though for wise purposes, to the influence of habit, his observations will be frequently partial, and his conclusions warped by some present prevailing bias.-It is evident, therefore, that the progress of moral and social combinations beyond those that are the most simple and obvious, will be slow; how slow a slight attention to the history of the human mind will evince.

a

a

We are taught by reason and experience, that the less a man is able to discern agreements and tendencies, the moral relations of things, the more liable he is to do wrong; the more liable from partial views, instead of seeking a compromise, to sacrifice to his own the interest of others; at the same time he is the less able to devise and enforce those social rules, which might remedy the evil. In the first rude stages of society, men have no notion of general laws or of public punishments, for the prevention of private injuries; they are unable to connect private injuries with the public concerns of the nation or tribe. The redress or prevention of these, are left to each individual. In such a situation hatred and revenge are the only practical checks. Hatred is a fixed aversion of one man to another, on account of a real or supposed intentional opposition to his interest or happiness.-Revenge is a desire in one person to inflict an evil on another for a real or supposed injury received. -Hatred alone dictates the avoidance of its object as disagreeable or noxious : revenge pursues its object, and is gratified only with retaliating the injury ; such conduct is dictated by the law of self preservation, and is necessary, in that state, as there is no other external restraint, no other means of escaping, or preventing future injuries. Thus limited and directed, they are necessary for the prevention of a licentiousness in injuries unrestrained by any fear of the consequences.

In the progress of improvement an extension of social intercourse, useful discoveries, the invention of arts, the separation of property, a gradual change of manners, the multiplication of desires and objects of gratification, forma scene too intricate, a combination of interests too complicated, for the former simple mode of society ; liability to injuries is increased in proportion. The passion of revenge, almost constantly called into exercise would, in this state of society, if laid under no restraint, become the most cruel scourge and render society a curse instead of a blessing. Nature is always equal to her occasions. Active enterprise and more extensive pursuits invigorate and enlarge the powers of the mind, and render men equal to the task of a more extensive legislation. They are led by degrees, in some measure, to comprehend their situation; to evolve the combinations of their various

« PrejšnjaNaprej »