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tues, does not hope become! (We are bad ourselves, because we despair of the goodness of others.ho Bus Tineri'
If then it be a truth, attested alike by common feeling and common sense, that the greater part of human misery depends directly on human vices, and the remainder indirectly, by what means can we act on men so as to remove or preclude these vices, and purify their principle of moral election? The question is not by what means each man is to alter his own characterin order to this, all the means prescribed and all the aidances given by religion, may be necessary for him. Vain, of themselves, may be
the sayings of the wise
Unless he feel within
And fainting spirits uphold.* This is not the question. Virtue would not be virtue, could it be given by one fellow-creature to another. To make use of all the means and appliances in our power to the actual attainment of rectitude, is the abstract of the duty which we owe to ourselves : to supply those means as far as we can, comprises our duty to others. The question then is, what are these means? Can they be any other than the communication of knowledge, and the removal of those evils and impediments which prevent its reception? It may not be in our power to combine both, but it is in the power of every man to contribute to the former, who is sufficiently informed to feel that it is his duty. If it be said, that we should endeavor not so much to remove ignorance, as to make the ignorant religious ;-religion herself, through her sacred oracles, answers for me, that all effective faith pre-supposes knowledge and individual conviction. If the mere acquiescence in truth, uncomprehended and unfathomed, were sufficient, few indeed would be the vicious and the miserable, in this country at least, where speculative infidelity is, God be praised ! confined to a small number. Like bodily deformity, there is one instance here and another there ; but three in one place are already an undue proportion. It is highly worthy of observation, that the
* Samson Agonistes.
inspired writings received by Christians are distinguishable from all other books pretending to inspiration, from the scriptures of the Brahmins, and even from the Koran, in their strong and frequent recommendations of truth. I do not here mean veracity, which can not but be enforced in every code which appeals to the religious principle of man; but knowiedge. This is not only extolled as the crown and honor of a man, but to seek after it is again and again commanded us as one of our most sacred duties. Yea, the very perfection and final bliss of the glorified spirit is represented by the Apostle as a plain aspect, or intuitive beholding, of truth in its eternal and immutable source. Not that knowledge can of itself do all! The light of religion is not that of the moon, light without heat; but neither is its warmth that of the stove, warmth without light. Religion is the sun, the warmth of which indeed swells, and stirs, and actuates the life of nature, but who at the same time beholds all the growth of life with a master-eye, makes all objects glorious on which he looks, and by that glory visible to all others.
But though knowledge be not the only, yet that it is an indispensable and most effectual agent in the direction of our actions, one consideration will convince us. It is an undoubted fact of human nature, that the sense of impossibility quenches all will. Sense of utter inaptitude does the same. The man shuns the beautiful flame, which is eagerly grasped at by the infant. The sense of a disproportion of certain after-harm to present gratification, produces effects almost equally uniform : though almost perishing with thirst, we should dash to the earth a goblet of wine in which we had seen a poison infused, though the poison were without taste or odor, or even added to the pleasures of both. Are not all our vices equally inapt to the universal end of human actions, the satisfaction of the agent? Are not their pleasures equally disproportionate to the after-harm ? Yet many a maiden, who will not grasp at the fire, will yet purchase a wreath of diamonds at the price of her health, her honor, nay, -and she herself knows it at the moment of her choice,—at the sacrifice of her peace and happiness. The sot would reject the poisoned cup, yet the trembling hand with which he raises his daily or hourly draught to his lips, has not left him ignorant that this too is altogether a poison. I know it will be objected, that the consequences foreseen are less immediate ; that they are dif
fused over a larger space of time; and that the slave of vice hopes where no hope is. This, however, only removes the question one step further : for why should the distance or diffusion of known consequences produce so great a difference? Why are men the dupes of the present moment ? Evidently because the conceptions are indistinct in the one case, and vivid in the other; because all confused conceptions render us restless ; and because restlessness can drive us to vices that promise no enjoyment, no not even the cessation of that restlessness. This is indeed the dread punishment attached by nature to habitual vice, that its impulses wax as its motives wane. No object, not even the light of a solitary taper in the far distance, tempts the benighted mind from before ; but its own restlessness dogs it from behind, as with the iron goad of destiny. What then is or can be the preventive, the remedy, the counteraction, but the habituation of the intellect to clear, distinct, and adequate conceptions concerning all things that are the possible object of clear conception, and thus to reserve the deep feelings which belong, as by a natural right, to those obscure ideas* that are necessary to the moral perfection of the human being, notwithstanding, yea, even in consequence, of their obscurity—to reserve these feelings, I repeat, for objects, which their very sublimity renders indefinite, no less than their indefiniteness renders them sublime,-namely, to the ideas of being, form, life, the reason, the law of conscience, freedom, immortality, God! To connect with the objects of our senses the obscure notions and consequent vivid feelings, which are due only to immaterial and permanent things, is profanation relatively to the heart, and superstition in the understanding. It is in this sense, that the philosophic Apostle calls covetousness idolatry. Could we emancipate ourselves from the bedimming influences of custom, and the transforming witchcraft of early
* I have not expressed myself as clearly as I could wish. But the truth of the assertion, that deep feeling has a tendency to combine with obscure ideas, in preference to distinct and clear notions, may be proved by the history of fanatics and fanaticism in all ages and countries. The odium theologicum is even proverbial: and it is the common complaint of philosophers and philosophic historians, that the passions of the disputants are commonly violent in proportion to the subtlety and obscurity of the questions in dispute. Nor is this fact confined to professional theologians ; for whole nations have displayed the same agitations, and have sacrificed national policy to the more powerful interest of a controverted obscurity.
associations, we should see as numerous tribes of fetisch-worshipers in the streets of London and Paris, as we hear of on the coasts of Africa.
ESSAY X V.
A palace when 'tis that which it should be
Our bodies had their morning, have their noon,
Provide you manlier diet !
I am fully aware, that what I am writing and have written (in these latter essays at least) will expose me to the censure of some, as bewildering myself and readers with metaphysics ; to the ridicule of others as a school-boy declaimer on old and wornout truisms or exploded fancies; and to the objection of most as obscure. The last real or supposed defect has already received an answer both in the preceding essays, and in the appendix to my first Lay-Sermon, entitled The Statesman's Manual. Of the former two, I shall take the present opportunity of declaring my sentiments; especially as I have already received a hint that my idol, Milton, has represented metaphysics as the subject which the bad spirits in hell delight in discussing. And truly, if I had exerted my subtlety and invention in persuading myself and others that we are but living machines, and that, as one of the late followers of Hobbes and Hartley has expressed the system, the assassin and his dagger are equally fit objects of moral esteem and abhorrence; or if with a writer of wider influence and higher authority, I had reduced all virtue to a selfish prudence eked out by superstition,*-for, assuredly, a creed which takes its central point in conscious selfishness, whatever be the forms or names that act on the selfish passion, a ghost or a constable, can have but a distant relationship to that religion, which places its essence in our loving our neighbor as ourselves, and God above all,—I know not, by what arguments I could repel the sarcasm. But what are my metaphysics ?–Merely the referring of the mind to its own consciousness for truths indispensable to its own happiness! To what purpose do I, or am I about to, employ them? To perplex our clearest notions and living moral instincts ? · To deaden the feelings of will and free power, to extinguish the light of love and of conscience, to make myself and others worthless, soulless, God-less ? No! to expose the folly and the legerdemain of those who have thus abused the blessed machine of language; to support all old and venerable truths; and by them to support, to kindle, to project the spirit; to make the reason spread light over our feelings, to make our feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our reason :—these are my objects, these are my subjects; and are these the metaphysics which the bad spirits in hell delight in ?
* Letter to Sir Henry Goodere. The words in italics are substituted for the original.-Ed.
But how shall I avert the scorn of those critics who laugh at the oldness of my topics, evil and good, necessity and arbitrament, immortality and the ultimate aim ? By what shall I regain their favor? My themes must be new, a French constitution; a balloon; a change of ministry ; a fresh batch of kings on the Continent, or
peers in our happier island; or who had the best of it of two parliamentary gladiators, and whose speech, on the subject of Europe bleeding at a thousand wounds, or our own country struggling for herself and all human nature, was cheered
* “ And from this account of obligation it follows, that we are obliged to nothing but what we ourselves are to gain or lose something by; for nothing else can be a violent motive to us. As we should not be obliged to obey the laws, or the magistrate, unless rewards or punishments, pleasure or pain, somehow or other, depended upon our obedience; so neither should we, without the same reason, be obliged to do what is right, to practise virtue, or to obey the commands of God.”—Paley, Moral and Political Philosophy, B. II. c. 2, et passim.-Ed.