ePub 版

pears the importance of attending t$ usual forms of civility among beings so ready to give and to take offence. Of this the Chinese are so sensible, that at Pekin there is a court established for regulating the ceremonial of the empire, both among natives and strangers. This punctilious regard to manners is strongly marked in one of their volumes, which contains, as we are told, no less than three thousand rules for the behaviour of persons of every rank, and upon every occasion.

Now, though all these regulations could in every instance be reduced exactly to practice, which is evidently impossible, there would yet remain, as will easily be conceived, numberless ways of conveying insult, which the formality of respect would only render still more provoking. Human nature is a Proteus that cannot be held by any merely outward constraint: nothing short of a moral revolution, in which pride gives place to humility, and selfishness to benevolence, can produce a genuine and uniform civility of manners.

Let there be light, and there was light*. Ir* respect to all other beings, their volitions are only efficient within a certain sphere marked out by their Creator.

As man apparently holds the lowest place in the scale of rational existence, it is probable his liberty corresponds to his situation, and is consequently of less extent than what naturally belongs to the other orders of intelligences; of whom the least, for any thing we know to the contrary, may be able to wield these elements at his pleasure, over which the most powerful combination of human strength and skill has so little command.

Whatever then is naturally beyond the sphere of human power, is no object of human liberty; no one, lor instance, is free to walk across the ocean, or fly to the moon; to control the bourse of the winds, or the tides of the ocean -f-; and in innu

* Ps. xxxiii. 9. Gen. i. 3.

f "Canute was the greatest and most powerful prince i of his time. Some of his flatterers breaking out one day in admiration of his grandeur, exclaimed that every

merable cases, within the natural limits, liberty may be wanting: how often is a man unable, and therefore not at liberty to gratify his ambition, his appetites, or his interest, however willing he may be to do it, merely for want of occasions and opportunities!

Thus we see the narrow boundaries of the liberty of man. The cases are comparatively few in which he is able to act as he will, and this inability is one of the happiest circumstances of his condition; since, in his present state of depravity, power generally serves him to no other end than to do mischief to himself, to disturb the regular course of nature, or the order of political and social life.

Indeed an unrestrained liberty would be

it is said, ordered his chair to be set on the sea-shore; and as the waters approached, he commanded them to retire. But when the sea still advanced, and began to wash him with its billows, he turned to his courtiers, and remarked to them, that every creature in the universe was feeble and impotent, and that power resided only with that Being who could say to the ocean, Thus far shalt thou go and no further." See Hume's Hist, of England.

of our country with insolence or scurrility, or even as subjects of mere disputation, is manifestly an offence to public decency; although such grave discussion as may serve to their correction or improvement, is not only consistent with the regard we owe them, but may proceed from it. How to suppress the former without discouraging the latter, is a difficulty to which no policy is equal. There have been periods when prescription was reason, and when time gave a sanction to the grossest usurpations upon the persons and property, the understandings and consciences of men; there have been periods too in which a wild and lawless spirit has gone forth, and boldly called in question every opinion consecrated by the veneration, and every institution confirmed by the practice, of former ages. If men could have been taught wisdom by past example, by this time they would have learned, first, in respect to truth, to have sought it, though without a superstitious attachment, yet not without a becoming deference to ancient opinions;

rulers would have learned to act for the people, and the people to submit cheerfully to lawful and moderate government. The fact is, that, till some great revolution take place in human nature, the world will go on at its old rate, will continue to be swayed by its interests and passions, and perpetually be vibrating between truth and error, tyranny and licence, in spite of all the efforts of patriots and philosophers.

Fifthly, by incivility. It has been often justly observed, that the miseries of the present life arise not so much from great calamities, which but seldom happen, as from a succession of small vexations, which fret a man's spirit, exhaust his patience, and so bring him into a state of perpetual irritation. Whatever therefore tends to obviate these petty evils, highly deserves the attention of every one who either values his own quiet or that of others. On this account civility is an object of important consideration, as it serves to prevent those minute offences which are so apt to disturb our friendly intercourse, and frequently to

« 上一頁繼續 »