Imágenes de páginas

son who has no object foreign to himself, which constantly and necessarily engages his attention, cannot have his faculties fully exerted ; and therefore his mind cannot possibly be in that state of vigorous sensation in which happiness consists. The mind of such a person, having nothing without him sufficient to engage its attention, turns upon itself. He feels he is not happy, but he sees not the reason of it. This again excites his wonder, vexation, and perplexity. He tries new expedients: but as these are only temporary, and generally whimsical choices, none of them have sufficient power to fix and confine his attention. He is still perpetually thinking about himself, and wondering and uneasy that he is not happy. This anxious, perplexed state of mind, affecting the nervous system, necessarily occasions a more irritable state of the nerves and of the brain, which makes the unhappy person subject to more frequent alarms, to greater anxiety and distress, than before; till, these mental and bodily disorders mutually increasing one another, his condition is at length the most wretched and distressing that can be conceived. No bodily pain, no rack, no torture, can equal the misery and distress of a human being whose mind is thus a prey to itself. No wonder that, in this situation, many persons wish the utter extinction of their being, and often put a period to their lives. This is certainly the most deplorable situation to which a human being can be reduced in this world, and is doubly the object of our compassion, when the disorder has its seat originally in the body, in such a manner as that no endeavours to engage a man's thoughts upon other objects can force his attention from himself. It is no wonder that we see more of this kind of unhappiness in the higher ranks of life, and among persons who are in what is called easy circumstances, than in any other. Indeed, the case is hardly possible in any other than in easy circumstances; for, did a man's circumstances really find constant employment for his thoughts, were his business so urgent as to leave him no leisure for suspense and uncer

tainty what to do, it is plain, from the preceding principles, that such anxiety and distress could not take place. It is well known that the mind suffers more in a state of uncertainty and suspense, for want of some motive to determine a man’s choice, than he can suffer in the vigorous prosecution of the most arduous undertaking. I appeal to men of leisure, and particularly to persons who are naturally of an active and enterprising disposition, for the truth of this fact. These principles likewise, as is evident without entering into a detail of particulars, furnish us with a good reason why we generally see fathers and mothers of large families infinitely more easy, cheerful, and happy than those persons who have no family connexions. The greater affluence, ease, and variety of pleasures which these can command, (subject to the inconveniences I have mentioned, and which are commonly visible enough in the case I refer to,) are a poor equivalent for the necessary, constant, and vigorous exertion of their faculties, and, consequently, the strong sensations and lively enjoyments which a variety of family cares, conjugal and parental tenderness, supply for the others. This would be the case universally, where large families could subsist, if the parents had sufficient employment, and if an early-acquired taste for superfluities had not taken too deep root in their minds. Happy is it for the world, and a great mark of the wisdom and goodness of Divine Providence, that men's minds are so constituted, that though they be in easy circumstances, they are never completely satisfied. The passions of most men are still engaging them in a variety of pursuits, in which they are as eager, and which they prosecute with as much alacrity and earnestness, as if necessity compelled them to it; otherwise, every person who could live easy would be inevitably miserable. Infinitely happier would it be for themselves, and for the world, if all their pursuits were such as would give them satisfaction upon the reflection as well as in the pursuit, and

[ocr errors]

be of real advantage to the rest of mankind; which two circumstances never fail to coincide. However, with regard to a person's self in this life, any end is unspeakably better than no end at all ; and such is the wise appointment of Providence, that bad ends tend in a variety of ways to check and defeat themselves, and to throw the minds of men into better, nobler, and more satisfactory pursuits; a consideration which cannot fail to suggest, to a benevolent and pious mind, a prospect of a future happy and glorious state of things.

It may be said, that if happiness consist in or depend upon the exertion of our faculties upon some object foreign to ourselves, it is a matter of indifference what the object be. I answer, that during the pursuit it is nearly so, and universal experience, I imagine, will justify the observation. This is the reason why we see men equally eager, and equally happy in the pursuit of a variety of things which appear trifling to one another. Thus the florist, the medalist, the critic, the antiquary, and every adept in the minuter branches of science, all enjoy equal happiness in the pursuit of their several objects; and as much as the historian, the astronomer, the moralist, or the divine, who refers his nobler studies to no higher end, and to whom they only serve as an exercise of his faculties.

But though an eager pursuit tends to keep the mind in a state of vigorous and lively sensation, that pursuit only can give us the maximum, the highest possible degree of happiness, which has the following characters: It must be attended with the probability of success, consequently it must be generally successful; and it must also terminate in such gratifications as are least inconsistent with themselves, or with the other gratifications of which our nature makes us capable. And it may be demonstrated (though I shall not undertake to do it particularly in this place) that no pursuits answer to this description but those in which the love of mankind, the love of God, or the dictates of conscience, engage us.

For in all other pursuits, such as those of sensual pleasure, the pleasures of imagination and ambition, we are liable to frequent disappointments; the gratifications in which they terminate are inconsistent with themselves, and with each other; and they almost entirely deaden and disqualify the mind for the nobler pleasures of our nature. It is the love of God, the love of mankind, and a sense of duty, which engage the minds of men in the noblest of all pursuits. By these we are carried on with increasing alacrity and satisfaction. Even the pains and distresses in which we involve ourselves by these courses are preferable to the pleasures attending the gratification of our lower appetites. Besides, these noble pursuits, generally at least, allow us even more of the lower gratifications of our nature than can be obtained by a direct pursuit of them; for a little experience will inform us, that we receive the most pleasure from these lower appetites of our nature, as well as from the highest sources of pleasure we are capable of, when we have their gratification least of all in view. There can be no doubt, for instance, but that the laborer who eats and drinks merely to satisfy the calls of hunger and thirst, has vastly more pleasure in eating and drinking, than the epicure who studies the pleasing of his palate. They are the pleasures of benevolence and piety which most effectually carry us out of ourselves; whereas every other inferior pursuit suggests to us, in a thousand respects, the idea of self, the unseasonable intervention of which may be called the worm which lies at the root of all human bliss. And never can we be completely happy till we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and our neighbour as ourselves.” This is the Christian self-annihilation, and a state of the most complete happiness to which our natures can attain: when, without having the least idea of being in the pursuit of our own happiness, our faculties are wholly absorbed in those noble and exalted pursuits in which we are sure not to be finally disappointed, and in the course of which we enjoy all the consistent pleasures of our whole nature. When rejoicing with all that rejoice, weeping with all that weep, and intimately associating the idea of God, the Maker of all things, our father and our friend, with all the works of his hands, and all the dispensations of his providence, we constantly triumph in the comfortable sense of the Divine presence and approbation, and in the transporting prospect of advancing every day nearer to the accomplishment of his glorious purposes for the happiness of his creatures. If this be the proper and supreme happiness of man, it may be asked of what use is the principle of self-interest? I answer, that though an attention to it be inconsistent with pure, unmixed happiness, yet a moderate attention to it is of excellent use in our progress towards it. It serves as a scaf. fold to a noble and glorious edifice, though it be unworthy of standing as any part of it. It is of more particular use to check and restrain the indulgence of our lower appetites and passions, before other objects and motives have acquired a sufficient power over us. But though we ought, therefore, to exhort those persons who are immersed in sensuality and gross vices, to abandon those indulgencies out of a regard to their true interest, it is advisable to withdraw this motive by degrees. However, as we shall never arrive at absolute perfection, we necessarily must, and indeed ought to be influenced by it, more or less, through the whole course of our existence, only less and less perpetually. The principle of self-interest may be regarded as a medium between the lower and the higher principles of our nature, and, therefore, of principal use in our transition, as we may call it, from an imperfect to a more perfect state. Perhaps the following view of this subject may be the easiest to us: A regard to our greatest happiness must necessarily govern our conduct with respect to all those virtues which are termed private virtues, as temperance, chastity, and every branch of self-government; but it always does

« AnteriorContinuar »