Imatges de pÓgina







HAVING proposed to write some pieces on human life and manners, such as (to use my lord BaCON's expression) come home to men's business and bosoms, I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering Man in the abstract, his Nature and his State: since, to prove any moral duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection or imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its Being.

The Science of Human Nature is, like all other sciences, reduced to a few clear points: There are not many certain truths in this world. It is therefore in the anatomy of the mind, as in that of the body; more good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open, and perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels as will for ever escape our observation. The disputes are all upon these last, and I will venture to say, they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other, and have diminished the practice, more than advanced the theory of morality. If I could flatter myself that this essay has any merit, it is in steering betwixt doctrines seemingly opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming, out of all, a temperate, yet not inconsistent, and a short, yet not imperfect system of ethics.

This I might have done in prose; but I chose verse, and even rhyme, for two reasons. The one will appear obvious; that principles, maxims, or precepts so written, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and are more easily retained by him afterwards. The other may seem odd, but it is true; I found I could express them more shortly this way than in prose itself; and nothing is truer than that much of the force, as well as grace of arguments or instructions, depends on their conciseness. I was unable to treat this part of my subject more in detail, without becoming dry and tedious; or more poetically, without sacrificing perspicuity to ornament, without wandering from the precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning. If any man can unite all these without diminution of any of them, I freely confess he will compass a thing above my capacity.


What is now published, is only to be considered a general map of man, marking out no more than the greater parts, their extents, their limits, and their connexion, but leaving that particular to be more fully delineated in their charts which are to follow. Consequently these epistles, in their progress (if I have health and leisure to make any progress) will become less dry, and more susceptible of ornament. I am here only opening the fountains, and clearing the passage. To deduce the rivers, to follow them in their course, and to observe their effects, would be a task more agreeable.

render him miserable, 181 to 198. That throughout the whole visible world, one universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties is observed, which causes a subordination of creature to creature, and of all creatures to man. The gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, reason; that reason alone countervails all the other faculties, 199 to 224. How much farther this order and subordination of living creatures may extend above and below us; were any part of which broken, not that part only, but the whole connected creation must be destroyed. The extravagance, madness, and pride of such a desire, 225 to 260. The consequence of all, the absolute submission due to providence, both as to our present and future state, 273, &c.




THE business of man not to pry into God, but to study himself. His middle nature: his powers and frailties, the limits of his capacity, ver. 43. The two principles of man, self-love and reason both necessary; self-love the stronger, and why; their end the same, 83. The passions and their use, 83 to 120. The predominant passion and its force, 122 to 150. Its necessity in directing men to different purposes, 153, &c. Its providential use, in fixing our principle and ascertaining our virtue, 167. Virtue and vice joined in our mixed nature; the limits near, yet the things separate and evident. What is the office of

« AnteriorContinua »