Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

the fair, and at once to gratify my vanity and amorous inclination.

I value myself upon my spirit and courage, and skill in the use of weapons, and if honour calls me to the field, and my antagonist should happen to fall, the pleasures of revenge, it must be owned, are exquisite.” I should be glad to know what reply it would be possible to make to a man who should think, talk, and act in this manner; it would evidently be wholly fruitless, and even ridiculous, to attempt to make any impression upon him by expatiating upon the native beauty and excellence of Virtue ; upon its utility in promoting the general interests of mankind; and upon the conscious satisfaction which would result from the love and practice of it. This would be to use a language which he could not comprehend. The idea of Virtue, abstractedly considered, for such a man, has no charms. The advancement of general Happiness is to him a matter of perfect indifference, and instead of a conscious satisfaction in the practice of Virtue, he is conscious only of a fixed and unconquerable reluctance to conform to its dictates. Such a man has no relish for the refined pleasures of the moral fense, and it cannot be denied that he adds to his: Happiness by indulging, to a certain degree at least, all his vicious propensities. How is this then consistent with the hypothesis, that the allotment of Happiness is never disproportioned to the moral characters of men ? But perhaps it may be said, that this is not a fair statement of the case, and

that

K 4

that all which is meant by recommending Virtue as the true source of Happiness is, that it will certainly be found so by those in whom the moral sense has been early and diligently cultivated, whose modes of thinking and habits of acting have been pre-disposed from infancy in favour of Virtue, and in whom the benevolent affections flourish in full life and vigour; and I certainly do not take upon me to affirm, that the world affords not

any

such examples. I am sensible, that the faculty of association is of a nature at once so powerful and so flexible, that by an early and skilful direction of it, it is very possible such an ardent and disinterested love of Virtue, such a noble and animating principle of benevolence, may be generated in the soul, that, leaving the very idea of a future state out of the question, all the allurements of vice united would, to a man actuated by such exalted sentiments, appear contemptible in comparison of the pleasures to be derived from Virtue; but then it is evident, from the nature of the case, that this must be a very rare and singular instance, almost amounting to a prodigy; and that a few such examples are by no means fufficient to establish the truth of the general maxim, that the virtuous are happy in proportion to the degree of Virtue they possess, nor indeed is it necessarily to be inferred that a man such as we have in contemplation, who has arrived to the highest degree of perfection of which humanity is capable, must be therefore eminently happy, but only that he would, in consequence of

the

the exquisite delicacy of his moral feelings, incur a greater degree of misery by any occasional deviation into vice, than by a resolute adherence to Virtue, whatever personal inconveniences might result from the practice of it. Indeed, from the very nature of Virtue, it is easy to demonstrate that it cannot, in all situations and circumstances, be the interest of individuals invariably to adhere to it; for the essence of Virtue consists in regulating our conduct by such principles as are best calculated to advance the general Happiness. Now as it frequently happens that the Happiness of the individual stands in direct opposition to that of the public, it is the perfection of Virtue in individuals, in such cases, to facrifice their own Happiness to that of others; but if we do not advert to that recompence of reward of which a future state of retribution affords us a prospect, how can such a sacrifice be rationally expected, or indeed how can it be rationally made? Here then is the grand, the remediless defect of that system of morality which extends not its views beyond the present life. Self-love and social are not the same, i. e. are

are not necessarily connected; and this defect becomes only the more apparent, from every attempt to palliate or disguise it, or to substitute any other principle in the place of that just, folid, and permanent foundation of human conduct, a regard to our own true interest.

The most celebrated fect of heathen philofo. phers, I mean the Stoics, it is well known, pre

posterously posterously endeavoured to establish a system of perfect Virtue upon the basis of pride. By an inflexible adherence to her most rigorous dictates, they boasted, that they not only acquired an elevation of mind far fuperior to the base and ignoble vulgar, for whom they did not pretend that this system was calculated; but that they were raised to an equality with the Gods them. selves. They even asserted, that Virtue was not only the chief good, which their rivals, the Peripatetics, were content to maintain ; but that it was the sole good; and that the truly virtuous man must necessarily be supremely happy in the enjoyment of that good in all possible situations and circumstances, even whilst actually burning in the brazen bull of Phalaris. But philosophers of modern times, to do them justice, are not chargeable with any such excess of virtuous extravagance. Mr. Hume, who throughout his Treatise on Morals argues upon the suppofition, that the present life includes the whole of our existence, is extremely embarrassed with this difficulty: he cannot indeed avoid touching upon it, but he takes care to do it as gently and cautiously as possible. It is remarkable, that, like the fashionable preachers of the present day, he paints Virtue in the most charming colours.

Nothing appears,” to use his own language, “ but gentleness, humanity, benefi

cence, affability. She talks not of useless auste

rity and rigours, suffering and self-denial: the “ declares that her sole purpose is to make her

votaries,

“ votaries, and all mankind, during every instant 66 of their existence, if possible, cheerful and « happy; nor does she ever willingly part with any

pleasure, but in hopes of ample compensation " in some other period of their lives. The fole “ trouble which she demands is, that of just cal56 culation, and a steady preference of the greater “ happiness.” This is a most pleasing picture of Virtue, and who, without reluctance, can dispute the justness of the resemblance ;-it is however, like most other portraits of great artists, a flattering likeness. Truth and falsehood are indeed so artfully blended in this description, that some degree of attention is necessary in order to separate them. • The fole trouble which Virtue demands is, that of just calculation ;” but upon what data is this calculation to be founded? Upon the supposition of a future state? Then Virtue ceases to be that smiling, gay and enchanting goddess described by Mr. H. She assumes another countenance, not indeed destitute of beauty, but of a severe and awful kind; her deportment is martial, and her air majestic; not a Venus, but a Minerva, armed with helmet, spear, and shield. In plain language, we cannot become really and truly virtuous at fo cheap ą rate as such flattering representations would seem to indicate. It requires great faith, great fortitude, great resolution, and, however unpleasant the words may found in our ears, great fuffering and self-denial, to attain to any very superior degrees of Virtue, The grand maxim which

we

« ПредишнаНапред »