Imatges de pÓgina





HE terms dignity and meanness are applied to man in point of character, fentiment, and behaviour: we fay, for example, of one man, that he hath a natural dignity in his air and manner; of another, that he makes a mean figure; there is a dignity in every action and fentiment of fome perfons; the ac tions and fentiments of others are mean and vulgar. With respect to the fine arts, fome performances are faid to be manly, and fuitable to the dignity of human nature; others are termed low, mean, trivial. Such expreffions are common, though they have not always a precife meaning. With refpect to the art of criticism, it must be a real acquifition, to ascertain what these terms truly import; which poffibly may enable us to rank every performance in the fine arts according to its dignity.

Inquiring first to what fubjects the terms dignity and meannefs are appropriated, we foon difcover, that they are not applicable to any thing inanimate: the most magnificent palace that ever was built, may be lofty, may be grand, but it has no relation to dignity:

the most di


minutive fhrub may be little, but it is not mean. Thefe terms muft belong to fenfitive beings, probably to man only; which will be evident when we advance in the inquiry.

Human actions appear in many different lights: in themselves they appear grand or little; with respect to the author, they appear proper or improper; with respect to those affected by them, juft or unjust and I now add, that they are alfo diftinguished by dignity and meanness. It may poffibly be thought, that with refpect to human actions, dignity coincides with grandeur, and meannefs with littlenefs: but the difference will be evident upon reflecting, that we never attriC bute dignity to any action but what is virtuous, nor meannefs to any but what in fome degree is faulty; and accordingly an action may be grand without being virtuous; or little without being faulty. Every action of dignity creates respect and esteem for the author; and a mean action I draws upon him contempt. A man is always adI mired for a grand action, but frequently is neither loved nor esteemed for it: neither is a man always contemned for a low or little action. The action of Cæfar paffing the Rubicon was grand; but there was no dignity in it, confidering that his purpose was to enflave his country: Cæfar, in a march, taking the opportunity of a rivulet to quench his thirst, did a low action, but the action was not mean.


As it appears to me, dignity and meannefs are




founded on a natural principle not formerly mentioned. Man is endued with a SENSE of the worth and excellence of his nature: he deems it more perfect than that of the other beings around him; and he perceives, that the perfection of his nature confifts in virtue, particularly in virtue of the highest rank. To exprefs this fenfe, the term dignity is appropriated. Further, to behave with dignity, and to refrain from all mean actions, is felt to be, not a virtue only, but a duty: it is a duty every man owes to himself. By acting in this manner, he attracts love and efteem: by acting meanly, or below himself, he is difapproved and contemned.

According to the description here given of dignity and meannefs, they appear to be a fpecies of propriety and impropriety. Many actions may be proper or improper, to which dignity or meannefs cannot be applied: to eat when one is hungry is proper, but there is no dignity in this action: revenge fairly taken, if against law, is improper, but not mean. But every action of dignity is alfo proper, and every mean action is alfo improper.

This fenfe of the dignity of human nature, reaches even our pleafures and amusements: if they enlarge the mind by raifing grand or elevated emotions, or if they humanize the mind by exercifing our fympathy, they are approved as fuited to the dignity of our nature: if they contract the mind by fixing it on trivial objects, they

they are contemned as not fuited to the dignity! of our nature. Hence in general, every occupa-. tion, whether of ufe or amufement, that correfponds to the dignity of man, obtains the epithets of manly; and every occupation below his nature, obtains the epithet of childifp.


To those who ftudy human nature, there is a point which has always appeared intricate. How comes it that generófity and courage are more va-, lued, and bestow more dignity, than good-nature, or even juftice; though the latter contribute more than the former, to private as well as to public happiness? This question bluntly propofed, might puzzle a cunning philofopher; but, by means of the foregoing obfervations, will eafily be folved. Human virtues, like other objects, obtain a rank in our estimation, not from their utility, which is a fubject of reflection, but from the direct impreffion they make on us. Juftice and good-nature are a fort of negative virtues, that fcarce make any impreffion but when they are tranfgreffed: courage and generofity, on the contrary, producing elevated emotions, enliven greatly the fenfe of a man's dignity, both in himself and in others; and for that reafon, courage and generofity are in higher regard than the other virtues mentioned: we defcribe them as grand and elevated, as of greater dignity, and more praife-worthy.

This leads us more directly to examine emotions and paffions with refpect to the prefent

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fubject and it will not be difficult to form a fcale of them, beginning at the meaneft, and afcending gradually to thofe of the highest rank and dignity. Pleasure felt as at the organ of fenfe, named corporeal pleafure, is perceived to be low; and when indulged to excefs, is perceived alfo to be mean: for that reafon, perfons of any delicacy, diffemble the pleasure they have in eating and drinking. The pleasures of the eye and ear, which have no organic feeling *, being free from any fenfe of meannefs, are indulged without any fhame: they even arise to a certain degree of dignity, when their objects are grand or elevated. The fame is the cafe of the fympathetic paffions: a virtuous perfon behaving with fortitude and dignity under cruel misfortunes, makes a capital figure; and the sympathifing fpectator feels in himself the fame dignity. Sympathetic distress at the fame time never is mean: on the contrary, it is agreeable to the nature of a focial being, and has the general approbation. The rank that love poffeffes in this fcale, depends in a great measure on its object: it poffeffes a low place, when founded on external properties merely; and is mean, when bestowed upon a person of an inferior rank without any extraordinary qualification: but when founded on the more elevated internal properties, it affumes a confiderable degree of dignity. The fame is the

See the Introduction.


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