Imatges de pÓgina
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tion, where discoveries are recommended by novelty, by variety, by utility, or by all of them.

In this intricate inquiry, I have endeavoured, but without success, to discover by what particular means it is that custom hath influence upon us : and now nothing seems left, but to hold our nature to be so framed, as to be susceptible of such influence. And supposing it purposely so framed, it will not be difficult to find out several important final causes. That the power of custom is a happy contrivance for our good, cannot have escaped any one who reflects, that business is our province, and pleasure our relaxation only. Now satiety is necessary to check exquisite pleasure, which otherwise would engross the mind, and unqualify us for business. On the other hand, as business is sometimes painful, and is never pleasant beyond moderation, the habitual increase of moderate pleasure and the conversation of pain into pleasure, are admirably contrived for disappointing the malice of Fortune, and for reconciling us to whatever course of life may be our lot:

How use doth breed a habit in a man!
This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
I better brook than flourishing peopled towns.
Here I can sit alone, unseen of any,
And to the nightingale's complaining notes
Tune my distresses, and record my woes.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act V. Sc. 4.

As the foregoing distinction between intense and moderate holds in pleasure only, every degree of pain being softened by time, custom is a catholicon for pain and distress of every sort; and of that regulation the final cause requires no illustration.

Another final cause of custom will be highly relished by every person of humanity, and yet has in a great measure been overlooked; which is, that custom hath a greater influence than any other known cause, to put the rich and the poor upon a level : weak pleasures, the share of the latter, become fortunately stronger by custom; while voluptuous pleasures, the share of the former, are continually losing ground by satiety. Men of fortune, who possess palaces, sumptuous gardens, rich fields, enjoy them less than passengers do. The goods of Fortune are not unequally distributed: the opulent possess what others enjoy.

And indeed, if it be the effect of habit to produce the pain of want in a high degree, while there is little pleasure in enjoyment, a voluptuous life is of all the least to be envied. Those who are habituated to high feeling, easy vehicles, rich furniture, a crowd of valets, much deference and flattery, enjoy but a small share of happiness, while they are exposed to manifold distresses. To such a man, enslaved by ease and luxury, even the petty inconvenience in travelling, of a rough road, bad weather, or homely fare, are serious evils: he loses his tone of mind, turns peevish, and would wreak his resentment even upon the common accidents of life. Better far to use the goods of Fortune with moderation : a man who by temperance and activity hath acquired a hardy constitution, is, on the one hand, guarded against external accidents; and, on the other, is provided with great variety of enjoyment eyer at command.

I shall close this chapter with an article more delicate than abstruse, namely, what authority custom ought to have over our taste in the fine arts. One particular is certain, that we cheerfully abandon to the authority of custom, things that nature hath left indifferent. It is custom, not nature, that hath established a difference between the right hand and the left, so as to make it awkward and disagreeable to use the left, where the right is commonly

used. The various colours, though they affect us differently, are all of them agreeable in their purity: but custom has regulated that matter in another manner; a black skin upon a human being, is to us disagreeable; and a white skin probably no less so to a Negro. Thus things, originally indifferent, become agreeable or disagreeable, by the force of custom. Nor will this be surprising after the discovery made above, that the original agreeableness or disagreeableness of an object, is, by the influence of custom, often converted into the opposite quality.

Proceeding to matters of taste, where there is naturally a preference of one thing before another; it is certain, in the first place, that our faint and more delicate feelings are readily susceptible of a bias from custom ; and therefore that it is no proof of a defective taste to find these in some measure influenced by custom : dress and the modes of external behaviour are regulated by custom in every country : the deep red or vermilion with which the ladies in France cover their cheeks, appears to them beautiful in spite of nature; and strangers cannot altogether be justified in condemning that practice, considering the lawful authority of custom, or of the fashion, as it is called : It is told of the people who inhabit the skirts of the Alps facing the north, that the swelling they have universally in the neck is to them agreeable. So far has custom power to change the nature of things, and to make an object originally disagreeable take on an opposite appearance.

But, as to every particular that can be denominated proper or improper, right or wrong, custom has little authority, and ought to have none. The principle of duty takes naturally place of every other; and it argues a shameful weakness or degeneracy of mind, to find it in any case so far subdued as to submit to custom.

These few hints may enable us to judge in some measure of foreign manners, whether exhibited by foreign writers or our own. A comparison between the ancients and the moderns was some time ago a favourite subject: those who declared for ancient manners thought it sufficient that these manners were supported by custom : their antagonists, on the other hand, refusing submission to custom as a standard of taste, condemned ancient manners as in several instances irrational. In that controversy, an appeal being made to different principles, without the slightest attempt to establish a common standard, the dispute could have no end. The hints above given tend to establish a standard for judging how far the authority of custom ought to be held lawful; and, for the sake of illustration, we shall apply that standard in a few instances.

Human sacrifices, the most dismal effect of blind and groveling superstition, wore gradually out of use by the prevalence of reason and humanity. In the days of Sophocles and Euripides, traces of that practice were still recent; and the Athenians, through the prevalence of custom, could without disgust suffer human sacrifices to be represented in their theatre, of which the Iphigenia of Euripides is a proof. But a human sacrifice, being altogether inconsistent with modern manners as producing horror instead of pity, cannot with any propriety be introduced upon a modern stage. I must therefore condemn the Iphigenia of Racine, which, instead of the tender and sympathetic passions, substitutes disgust and horror. Another objection occurs against every fable that deviates so remarkably from improved notions and sentiments; which is, that if it should even command our belief by the authority of history, it appears too fictitious and unnatural to produce a perception of reality :* a human sacrifice is so unnatural, and to us so improbable, that few will be affected with the representation of it more than with a fairy tale. The objection first mentioned strikes

* See Chapter ii. Part i, scct. 7.

also against the Phedra of that author : the Queen's passion for her step-son, transgressing the bounds of nature, creates aversion and horror rather than compassion. The author in his preface observes, that the Queen's passion, however unnatural, was the effect of destiny and the wrath of the gods; and he puts the same excuse in her own mouth. But what is the wrath of a heathen god to us Christians ? we acknowledge no destiny in passion; and if love be unnatural, it never can be relished. A supposition like what our author lays hold of, may possibly cover slight improprieties; but it will never engage our sympathy for what appears to us frantic or extravagant.

Neither can I relish the catastrophe of that tragedy. A man of taste may peruse, without disgust, a Grecian performance describing a sea-monster sent by Neptune to destroy Hyppolytus : he considers, that such a story might agree with the religious creed of Greece, and may be pleased with the story, as what probably had a strong effect upon a Grecian audience. But he cannot have the same indulgence for such a representation upon a modern stage; because no story that carries a violent air of fiction can ever move us in any considerable degree.

In the Coephores of Eschylus,* Orestes is made to say, that he was commanded by Apollo to avenge his father's murder; and yet if he obeyed, that he was to be delivered to the furies, or be struck with some horrid malady: the tragedy accordingly concludes with a chorus, deploring the fate of Orestes, obliged to take vengeance against a mother, and involved thereby in a crime against his will. It is impossible for any modern to bend his mind to opinions so irrational and absurd, which must disgust him in perusing even a Grecian story. Again, among the Greeks, grossly superstitious, it was a common opinion,

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