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English comedy, copying the manners of the court, becane abominably licentious; and continues so (1763) with very little softening. It is there an established rule, to deck out the chief characters with every vice in fashion, however gross. But, as such characters viewed in a true light would be disgustful, care is taken to disguise their deformity under the embellishments of wit, sprightliness, and good humor, which in mixed company makes a capital figure. It requires not much thought to discover the poisonous influence of such plays. A young man of figure, emancipated at last from the severity and restraint of a college education, repairs to the capital disposed to every sort of excess. The playhouse becomes his favorite amusement; and he is enchanted with the gayety and splendor of the chief personages. The disgust which vice gives him at first, soon wears off, to make way for new notions, more liberal in his opinion; by which a sovereign contempt for religion, and a declared war upon the chastity of wives, maids, and widows, are converted from being infamous vices to be fashionable virtues. The infection spreads gradually through all ranks, and becomes universal. How gladly would I listen to any one who should undertake to prove, that what I have been describing is chimerical! But the dissoluteness of our young men of birth will not suffer me to doubt of its reality. Sir Harry Wildair has completed many a rake; and in the Suspicious Husband, Ranger, the humble imitator of Sir Harry, has had no slight influence in spreading that character. What woman, tinctured with the playhouse morals, would not be the sprightly, the witty, though dissolute Lady Townly, rather than the cold, the sober, though virtuous Lady Grace? How odious ought writers to be who thus employ the talents they have from their Maker most traitorously against himself, by endeavoring to corrupt and disfigure his creatures! If the comedies of Congreve did not rack him with remorse in his last moments, he must have been lost to all sense of virtue. Nor will it afford any excuse to such writers, that their comedies are entertaining: unless it could be maintained, that wit and sprightli ness are better suited to a vicious than a virtuous character. It would grieve me to think so; and the direct contrary is exemplified in the Merry Wives of Windsor, where we are highly entertained with the conduct of two ladies not more remarkable for mirth and spirit than for the strictes: purity of manners.
Causes of the Emotion of Joy and Sorrow.
95. THIS subject was purposely reserved for a separate section, because it could not, with perspicuity, be handled under the general
94 The corrupting influence of English comedy. How shown
head. An emotion accompanied with desire is termed a passion; and when the desire is fulfilled, the passion is said to be gratified. Now, the gratification of every passion must be pleasant; for nothing can be more natural, than that the accomplishment of any wish or desire should affect us with joy: I know of no exception but when a man stung with remorse desires to chastise and punish himself. The joy of gratification is properly called an emotion; because it makes us happy in our present situation, and is ultimate in its nature, not having a tendency to any thing beyond. On the other hand, sorrow must be the result of an event contrary to what we desire; for if the accomplishment of desire produce joy, it is equally natural that disappointment should produce sorrow.
An event, fortunate or unfortunate, that falls out by accident, without being foreseen or thought of, and which therefore could not be the object of desire, raiseth an emotion of the same kind with that now mentioned; but the cause must be different; for there can be no gratification where there is no desire. We have not, however, far to seek for a cause: it is involved in the nature of man, that he cannot be indifferent to an event that concerns him or any of his connections; if it be fortunate, it gives him joy; if unfortunate, it gives him sorrow.
96. In no situation doth joy rise to a greater height, than upon the removal of any violent distress of mind or body; and in no situation doth sorrow rise to a greater height, than upon the removal of what makes us happy. The sensibility of our nature serves in part to account for these effects. Other causes concur. One is, that violent distress always raises an anxious desire to be free from it; and therefore its removal is a high gratification: nor can we be possessed of any thing that makes us happy, without wishing its continuance; and therefore its removal, by crossing our wishes, must create sorrow. The principle of contrast is another cause: an emotion of joy arising upon the removal of pain, is increased by contrast when we reflect upon our former distress: an emotion of sorrow, upon being deprived of any good, is increased by contrast when we reflect upon our former happiness:
Jafier. There's not a wretch that lives on common charity,
Whose blossom 'scap'd, yet's wither'd in the ripening.
It hath always been reckoned difficult to account for the extreme pleasure that follows a cessation of bodily pain; as when one is re
95. When an emotion is called a passion.-Why gratified passion is pleasant. Exception. Why the joy of gratification is termed an emotion.-The emotion raised by an accidental ovent, whether fortunate or unfortunate.
lieved from the rack, or from a violent fit of the stone. What is said explains this difficulty, in the easiest and simplest manner: cessation of bodily pain is not of itself a pleasure, for a non-ens or a negative can neither give pleasure nor pain; but man is so framed by nature as to rejoice when he is eased of pain, as well as to be sorrowful when deprived of any enjoyment. This branch of our constitution is chiefly the cause of the pleasure. The gratification of desire comes in as an accessory cause; and contrast joins its force, by increasing the sense of our present happiness. In the case of an acute pain, a peculiar circumstance contributes its part: the brisk circulation of the animal spirits occasioned by acute pain continues after the pain is gone, and produceth a very pleasant emotion. Sickness hath not that effect, because it is always attended with a depression of spirits.
97. Hence it is, that the gradual diminution of acute pain, occasions a mixed emotion, partly pleasant, partly painful the partial diminution produceth joy in proportion; but the remaining pain balanceth the joy. This mixed emotion, however, hath no long endurance; for the joy that ariseth upon the diminution of pain soon vanisheth, and leaveth in the undisturbed possession that degree of pain which remains.
What is above observed about bodily pain, is equally applicable to the distresses of the mind; and accordingly it is a common artifice, to prepare us for the reception of good news by alarming our fears.
Sympathetic Emotion of Virtue, and its cause.
98. ONE feeling there is that merits a deliberate view, for its singularity as well as utility. Whether to call it an emotion or a passion, seems uncertain: the former it can scarce be, because it involves desire; the latter it can scarce be, because it has no object. But this feeling, and its nature, will be best understood from examples. A signal act of gratitude produceth in the spectator or reader, not only love or esteem for the author, but also a separate feeling, being a vague feeling of gratitude without an object; a feeling, however, that aisposes the spectator or reader to acts of gratitude, more than upon an ordinary occasion. This feeling is overlooked by writers upon ethics; but a man may be convinced of its reality, by attentively watching his own heart when he thinks
96. In what cases do joy and sorrow rise to the greatest height? The causes assigned. Quotation from Venice Preserved.-Account for the pleasure that follows a cessation of bodily pain.
97. Emotion produced by the gradual diminution of acute pain. Distresses of the
warmly of any signal act of gratitude: he will be conscious of the feeling, as distinct from the esteem or admiration he has for the grateful person. The feeling is singular in the following respect, that it is accompanied with a desire to perform acts of gratitude, without having any object; though in that state, the mind, wonderfully bent on an object, neglects no opportunity to vent itself: any act of kindness or good-will, that would pass unregarded upon another occasion, is greedily seized; and the vague feeling is converted into a real passion of gratitude: in such a state, favors are returned double.
99. In like manner, a courageous action produceth in a spectator the passion of admiration directed to the author: and besides this well-known passion, a separate feeling is raised in the spectator, which may be called an emotion of courage; because, while under its influence, he is conscious of a boldness and intrepidity beyond what is usual, and longs for proper objects upon which to exert this emotion:
Spumantemque dari, pecora inter inertia, votis
Non altramente ill tauro, ove l'irriti
So full of valor that they smote the air
Eneid, iv. 158.
Tasso, Canto vii. st. 55.
Tempest, Act IV. Sc. 4.
The emotions raised by music, independent of words, must be all of this nature: courage roused by martial music performed upon instruments without a voice, cannot be directed to any object; nor can grief or pity raised by melancholy music of the same kind have an object.
100. For another example, let us figure some grand and heroic action, highly agreeable to the spectator: besides veneration for the author, the spectator feels in himself an unusual dignity of character, which disposeth him to great and noble actions; and herein chiefly consists the extreme delight every one hath in the histories of conquerors and heroes.
This singular feeling, which may be termed the sympathetic emotion of virtue, resembles, in one respect, the well-known appetites that lead to the propagation and preservation of the species. The appetites of hunger, thirst, and animal love, arise in the mind before they are directed to any object; and in no case whatever is the
99. Feelings produced by contemplating a signal act of gratitude. In what does their singularity consist?
99. The effect of contemplating a courageous action.-The effect of martial and of inelancholy music.
mind more solicitous for a proper object, than when under the influence of any of these appetites.
The feeling I have endeavored to unfold, may well be termed the sympathetic emotion of virtue; for it is raised in the spectator, or in a reader, by virtuous actions of every kind, and by no other sort. When we contemplate a virtuous action, which fails not to prompt our love for the author, our propensity at the same time to such actions is so much enlivened, as to become for a time an actual emotion. But no man hath a propensity to vice as such on the contrary, a wicked deed disgusts him, and makes him abhor the author; and this abhorrence is a strong antidote against vice, as long as any impression remains of the wicked action.
101. In a rough road, a halt to view a fine country is refreshing; and here a delightful prospect opens upon us. It is indeed wonderful to observe what incitements there are to virtue in the human frame: justice is perceived to be our duty, and it is guarded by natural punishments, from which the guilty never escape; to perform noble and generous actions, a warm sense of their dignity and superior excellence is a most efficacious incitement. And to leave virtue in no quarter unsupported, here is unfolded an admirable contrivance, by which good example commands the heart, and adds to virtue the force of habit. We approve every virtuous action, and bestow our affection on the author; but if virtuous actions produced no other effect upon us, good example would not have great influence the sympathetic emotion under consideration bestows upon good example the utmost influence, by prompting us to imitate what we admire. This singular emotion will readily find an object to exert itself upon and at any rate, it never exists without producing some effect; because virtuous emotions of that sort, are in some degree an exercise of virtue: they are a mental exercise at least, if they appear not externally. And every exercise of virtue, internal and external, leads to habit; for a disposition or propensity of the mind, like a limb of the body, becomes stronger by exercise. Proper means, at the same time, being ever at hand to raise this sympathetic emotion, its frequent reiteration may, in a good measure, supply the want of a more complete exercise. Thus, by proper discipline, every person may acquire a settled habit of virtue: intercourse with men of worth, histories of generous and disinterested actions, and frequent meditation upon them, keep the sympathetic emotion in constant exercise, which by degrees introduceth a habit, and confirms the authority of virtue with respect to education in particular, what a spacious and commodious avenue to the heart of a young person is here opened!
100. Whence the delight taken in reading the history of heroes and conquerors-Remarks upon the sympathetic emotion of virtue-Has man a propensity to vice as such 101. Incitements to virtue in the human frame.-The effect of every exercise of virtue. -How habits of virtue may be acquired.