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Will you raise me a thirst, and be so cruel not to allay it? It is not, replied he, of my raising, but your own. Besides, I am not certain, should I attempt to proceed, whether you will admit such authorities, as it is possible I may vouch. That, said I, must be determined by their weight and character. Suppose, said he, it should be mankind; the whole human race. Would you not think it something strange, to seek of those concerning Good, who pursue it a thousand ways, and many of them contradictory? I confess, said I, it seems so. And yet, continued he, were there a point in which such dissentients ever agreed, this agreement would be no mean argument in favour of it's truth and justness. But where, replied I, is this agreement to be found ?
He answered me by asking, what if it should appear, that there were certain original characteristics and preconceptions of good, which were natural, uniform, and common to all men; which all recognized in their various pursuits; and that the difference lay only in the applying them to particulars? This requires, said I, to be illustrated. As if, continued he, a company of travellers, in some wide forest, were all intending for one city, but each by a rout peculiar to himself. The roads indeed would be various, and many perhaps false; but all who travelled, would have one end in view. It is evident, said I, they would. So fares it then, added he, with mankind in the pursuit of good. The ways indeed are many, but what they seek is one.
For instance: Did you ever hear of any, who in pursuit of their good were for living the life of a bird, an insect, or a fish? None. And why not? It would be inconsistent, answered I, with their nature. You see, then, said he, they all agree in this, that what they pursue ought to be consistent and agreeable to their proper nature. So ought it, said I, undoubtedly. If so, continued he, one preconception is discovered, which is common to good in general. It is, that all good is supposed something agreeable to nature. This indeed, replied I, seems to be agreed on all hands.
But again, said he, Is there a man scarcely to be found of a temper so truly mortified, as to acquiesce in the lowest and shortest necessaries of life? Who aims not, if he be able, at something farther, something better? I replied, scarcely
Do not multitudes pursue, said he, infinite objects of desire, acknowledged, every one of them, to be in no respect necessaries? Exquisite viands, delicious wines, splendid apparel, curious gardens, magnificent apartments adorned with pictures and sculptures; music and poetry, and the whole tribe of elegant arts? It is evident, said I. If it be, continued he, it should seem, that they all considered the Chief or Sovereign Good not to be that which conduces to bare existence or mere being; for to this the necessaries alone are adequate. I replied, they were. But if not this, it must be somewhat conducive to that, which is superior to mere being. It must. And what, continued he, can this be, but wellbeing, under the various shapes in which different opinions paint it? Or can you suggest any thing else? I replied, I could not. Mark here, then, continued he, another preconception, in which they all agree; the Sovereign Good is somewhat conducive, not to mere being, but to wellbeing. I replied, it had so appeared.
Again, continued he. What labour, what expense, to procure those rarities, which our own poor country is unable to afford us ! How is the world ransacked to it's utmost verges, and luxury and arts imported from every quarter! Nay more: How do we baffle Nature herself; invert her order; seek the vegetables of spring in the rigours of winter, and winter's ice during the heats of summer! I replied, we did. And what disappointment, what remorse, when endeavours fail! It is true. If this then be evident, said he, it would seem, that whatever we desire as our Chief and Sovereign Good is something, which, as far as possible, we would accommodate to all places and times. I answered, so it appeared. See then, said he, another of it's characteristics, another preconception.
But, farther still; What contests for wealth! What scrambling for property! What perils in the pursuit! What solicitude in the maintenance! And why all this? To what purpose, what end? Or is not the reason plain? Is it not, that wealth may continually procure us whatever we fancy good; and make that perpetual, which would otherwise be transient? I replied, it seemed so. Is it not farther desired, as supplying us from ourselves; when, without it, we must be beholden to the benevolence of others, and depend on their
caprice for all that we enjoy? It is true, said I, this seems
Again; Is not power of every degree as much contested for as wealth? Are not magistracies, honours, principalities, and empire, the subjects of strife and everlasting contention? I replied, they were. And why, said he, this? To obtain what end? Is it not to help us, like wealth, to the possession of what we desire? Is it not farther to ascertain, to secure our enjoyments; that when others would deprive us, we may be strong enough to resist them? I replied, it was.
Or, to invert the whole; Why are there, who seek recesses the most distant and retired; flee courts and power, and submit to parsimony and obscurity? Why all this, but from the same intention? From an opinion, that small possessions, used moderately, are permanent; that larger possessions raise envy, and are more frequently invaded; that the safety of power and dignity is more precarious than that of retreat; and that therefore they have chosen what is most eligible upon the whole? It is not, said I, improbable, that they act by some such motive.
Do you not see, then, continued he, two or three more preconceptions of the Sovereign Good, which are sought for by all, as essential to constitute it? And what, said I, are these? That it should not be transient, nor derived from the will of others, nor in their power to take away; but be durable, self-derived, and (if I may use the expression,) indeprivable. I confess, said I, it appears so. But we have already found it to be considered, as something agreeable to our nature; conducive, not to mere being, but to wellbeing; and what we aim to have accommodated to all places and times. We have.
There may be other characteristics, said he, but these I think sufficient. See then it's idea, behold it as collected from the original, natural, and universal preconceptions of all mankind. The Sovereign Good, they have taught us, ought to be something agreeable to our nature; conducive to wellbeing; accommodated to all places and times; durable, self-derived, and indeprivable. Your account, said I, appears just.
THE SAME SUBJECT.
BRUTUS perished untimely, and Cæsar did no more.These words I was repeating the next day to myself, when my friend appeared, and cheerfully bade me good morrow. I could not return his compliment with an equal gayety, being intent, somewhat more than usual, on what had passed the day before. Seeing this, he proposed a walk into the fields. The face of Nature, said he, will perhaps dispel these glooms. No assistance, on my part, shall be wanting, you may be assured. I accepted his proposal; the walk began; and our former conversation insensibly renewed.
Brutus, said he, perished untimely, and Cæsar did no more. It was thus, as I remember, not long since, you were expressing yourself. And yet suppose their fortunes to have been exactly parallel-Which would you have preferred? Would you have been Cæsar, or Brutus? Brutus, replied I, beyond all controversy. He asked me, Why? Where was the difference, when their fortunes, as we now supposed them, were considered as the same? There seems, said I, abstract from their fortunes, something, I know not what, intrinsically preferable in the life and character of Brutus. If that, said he, be true, then must we derive it, not from the success of his endeavours, but from their truth and rectitude. He had the comfort to be conscious, that his cause was a just one. It was impossible the other should have any such feeling. I believe, said I, you have explained it.
Suppose then, continued he, (it is but merely an hypothesis,) suppose, I say, we were to place the Sovereign Good in such a rectitude of conduct, in the Conduct merely, and not in the Event. Suppose we were to fix our Happiness, not in the actual attainment of that health, that perfection of a social state, that fortunate concurrence of externals, which is congruous to our nature, and which all have a right to pursue; but solely fix it in the mere doing whatever is correspondent to such an end, even though we never attain, or are near attaining it. In fewer words; What if we make our natural state the standard only to determine our con
duct, and place our happiness in the rectitude of this conduct alone? On such an hypothesis (and we consider it as nothing farther) we should not want a good, perhaps, to correspond to our preconceptions; for this, it is evident, would be correspondent to them all. Your doctrine, replied I, is so new and strange, that though you have been copious in explaining, I can hardly yet comprehend you.
It amounts all, said he, but to this: Place your happiness where your praise is. I asked, where he supposed that? Not, replied he, in the pleasures which you feel, more than your disgrace lies in the pain; not in the casual prosperity of fortune, more than your disgrace in the casual adversity; but in just complete action throughout every part of life, whatever be the face of things, whether favourable or the contrary.
But why then, said I, such accuracy about externals? so much pains to be informed, what are pursuable, what avoidable? It behoves the pilot, replied he, to know the seas and the winds; the nature of tempests, calms, and tides. They are the subjects about which his heart is conversant. Without a just experience of them he can never prove himself an artist. Yet we look not for his reputation either in fair gales, or in adverse; but in the skilfulness of his conduct, be these events as they happen. In like manner fares it with the moral artist. He for a subject has the whole of human life health and sickness; pleasure and pain; with every other possible incident, which can befal him during his existence. If his knowledge of all these be accurate and exact, so too must his conduct, in which we place his happiness. But if his knowledge be defective, must not his conduct be defective also? I replied, so it should seem. And if his conduct, then his happiness? It is true.
You see then, continued he, even though externals were as nothing; though it was true, in their own nature, they were neither good nor evil; yet an accurate knowledge of them is, from our hypothesis, absolutely necessary. Indeed, said I, you have proved it.
He continued-Inferior artists may be at a stand, because they want materials. From their stubbornness and intractability they may often be disappointed. But as long as life is passing, and Nature continues to operate, the moral artist