Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

must bear the new load; and thus the matter stands worse than before.

The heathen story of Prometheus was, I told you, much the same with this Indian one; only, the heathen mythologists were so wise, as not to go beyond the first remove. A single Prometheus was enough to take the weight from Jove. They fairly made Jove a stander-by. He resolved it seems to be neuter, and see what would come of this notable experiment, how the dangerous man-moulder would proceed, and what would be the event of this tampering.-Excellent account, to satisfy the heathen vulgar! But how, think you, woulda philosopher digest this? "For the gods (he would say presently) either could have hindered Prometheus's creation, or they could not. If they could, they were answerable for the consequences; if they could not, they were no longer gods, being thus limited and controlled. And whether Prometheus were a name for chance, destiny, a plastic nature, or an evil demon, whatever was designed by it, it was still the same breach of omnipotence."

That such a hazardous affair as this of creation, should have been undertaken by those who had not perfect foresight as well as command, you owned was neither wise nor just. But you stood to foresight. You allowed the consequences to have been understood by the creating powers, when they undertook their work, and you denied that it would have been better for them to have omitted it, though they knew what would be the event. "It was better still that the project should be executed, whatever might become of mankind, or how hard soever such a creation was like to fall on the generality of this miserable race. For it was impossible, you thought, that heaven should have acted otherwise than for the best. So that even from this misery and ill of man, there was undoubtedly some good arising; something which over-balanced all, and made full amends.”

This was a confession, I wonder indeed how I came to draw from you, and soon afterwards, I found you somewhat uneasy under it. For here I took up your own part against you, and setting all those villainies and corruptions of human kind in the same light you had done just before, I put it upon you to tell, where possibly could be the advantage or good arising hence; or what excellence or beauty could redound from those tragical pictures you, yourself, had drawn so well after the life. Whether it must not be a very strong philosophical faith, which should persuade one, that those dismal parts you set to view, were only the necessary shades of a fine piece, to be reckoned among the beauties of the creation, or whether, possibly, you might look upon that maxim as very fit for heaven, which I was sure you did not approve at all in mankind; "To do evil, that good might follow."

This, I said, made me think of the manner of our modern Pro

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

metheuses, the mountebanks, (quacks) who performed such. wonders of many kinds, here, on our earthly stages. They could create diseases, and make mischief, in order to heal, and to restore. But should we assign such a practice as this to heaven? Should we dare to make such empirics of the gods, and such a patient of poor Nature? "Was this a reason for Nature's sickliness? Or how else came she, (poor innocent!) to fall sick, or run astray? Had she been originally healthy, or created sound at first, she had still continued so. It was no credit to the gods to leave her destitute, or with a flaw which would cost dear the mending, and make them sufferers for their own work."

I was going to bring Homer to witness for the many troubles of Jove, the death of Sarpedon, and the frequent crosses heaven met with, from the fatal sisters. But this discourse, I saw displeased you. I had by this time plainly discovered my inclination to scepticism.

P. 218. I must confess (said I) he had nothing of that savage air of the vulgar enthusiastic kind. All was serene, soft, and harmonious. The manner of it was more after the pleasing transports of those ancient poets you are often charmed with, than after the fierce unsociable way of modern zealots, those starched, gruff gentlemen, who guard religion as bullies do a mistress, and give us the while a very indifferent opinion of their lady's merit, and their own wit, by adoring what they neither allow to be inspected by others, nor care themselves to examine in a fair light. But here I will answer for it, there was nothing of disguise or paint. All was fair, open, and genuine, as nature herself. It was nature he was in love with; it was nature he sung; and if any one might be said to have a natural mistress, my friend certainly might, whose heart was thus engaged. But love, I found, was every where the same. And though the object here was very fine, and the passion it created very noble, yet liberty, I thought, was finer than all; and I who never cared to engage in other loves of the least continuance, was the more afraid, I told you, of this which had such a power with my poor friend, as to make him appear the greatest enthusiast in the world, ill humour only excepted. For this was singular in him, "That though he had all of the enthusiast, he had nothing of the bigot. He heard every thing with mildness and delight; and bore with me when I treated all of his thoughts as visionary; and when, sceptic-like, I unraveled all his systems."

P. 223. And do you think, said he, that without being contemplative, one can truly relish these diviner poets? Indeed (said I) I never thought there was any need of growing contemplative, or retiring from the world, to read Virgil or Horace.

[ocr errors]

You have named two, said he, who can hardly be thought so very like, though they were friends and equally good poets. Yet

joining them as you are pleased to do, I would willingly learn from you, whether, in your opinion there be any disposition so fitted for reading them, as that in which they wrote themselves. In this, I am sure, they both joined heartily, to love retirement; when for the sake of such a life and habit as you call contemplative, they were willing to sacrifice the highest advantages, pleasures, and favour of a court. But I will venture to say more in favour of retirement, "That not only the best authors, but the best company, require this seasoning."

Society itself cannot be rightly enjoyed without some abstinence and separate thought. All grows insipid, dull, and tiresome, without the help of some intervals of retirement. Say Philocles, whether you, yourself, have not often found it so? Do you think those lovers understand the interests of their loves, who by their good will, would never be parted for a moment? Or would they be discreet friends, think you, who would choose to live together on such terms? What relish then must the world have (that common world of mixed and undistinguished company) without a little solitude, without stepping now and then aside, out of the road and beaten track of life, that tedious circle of noise and show, which forces wearied mankind to seek relief from every poor diversion?

I own, said I, that all I know of worldly satisfaction is inconstant. The things which give it are never at a stay, and the good itself, whatever it be, depends no less on humour than on fortune. For that which chance may often spare, time will not. Age, change of temper, other thoughts, a different passion, new engagements, a new turn of life, or conversation, the least of these are fatal, and alone sufficient to destroy enjoyment. Though the object be the same, the relish changes, and the short lived good expires. But I should wonder much if you could tell me any thing in life which was not of as changeable a nature, and subject to the same common fate of satiety and disgust.

When will and pleasure are synonymous, when every thing which pleases us is called pleasure, and we never choose or prefer but as we please, it is trifling to say, "Pleasure is our good." For this has as little meaning as to say, "We choose what we think eligible ;" and, "We are pleased with what delights or pleases us." The question is, whether we are rightly pleased, and choose as we should do? For as highly pleased as children are with baubles, or with whatever affects their tender senses, we cannot in our hearts sincerely admire their enjoyments, or imagine them possessors of any extraordinary good. Yet are their senses, we know, as keen and susceptible of pleasure as our own. The same reflection is of force as to mere animals, who in respect of the liveliness and delicacy of sensation, have many of them the advantage of us. And as for some low and sordid pleasures of human kind, should they be ever so lastingly enjoyed,

[ocr errors]

and in the highest credit with their enjoyers, I should never afford them the name of happiness or good.

P. 228. Is there that sordid creature on earth, who does not prize his own enjoyment? Does not the forwardest, the most rancorous distempered creature do as much? Is not malice and cruelty of the highest relish with some natures? Is not a hoggish life the height of some men's wishes? You would not ask me surely to enumerate the several species of sensations, which men of certain tastes have adopted, and owned for their chief pleasure and delight. For with some men even diseases have been thought valuable and worth the cherishing, merely for the pleasure found in allaying the ardour of an irritating sensation. And to these absurd epicures, those other are near a-kin, who by studying provocatives raise unnatural thirst and appetite, and to make way for fresh repletion, prepare emetics, as the last dessert, the sooner to renew the feast. It is said, I know, proverbially, "That tastes are different, and must not be disputed."

And I remember some such motto as this placed once on a device, which was found suitable to the notion. A fly was represented feeding on a certain lump. The food, however vile, was natural to the animal. There was no absurdity in the case. But should you show me a brutish or a barbarous man thus taken up, and solaced in his pleasure; should you show me a sot in his solitary debauch, or a tyrant in the exercise of his cruelty, with this motto over him, to forbid my appeal; I should hardly be brought to think the better of his enjoyment, nor can I possibly suppose that a mere sordid wretch, with a base abject soul, and the best fortune in the world, was ever capable of any real enjoyment.

That there is something nearer to good, and more like it than another, I am free, said I, to own. But what real good is, I am still to seek, and must therefore wait till you can better inform me. This I only know, "That either all pleasure is good, or only some." If all, then every kind of sensuality must be precious and desirable; if some only, then we are to seek what kind; and discover, if we can, what it is which distinguishes between one pleasure and another, and makes one indifferent, sorry, mean, another valuable, and worthy. And by this stamp, this character, if there be any such, we must define good, and not by pleasure itself, which may be very great, and yet very contemptible. Nor can any one truly judge the value of any immediate sensation, otherwise than by judging first of the situation of his own mind. For that which we esteem a happiness in one situation of mind, is otherwise thought of in another. Which situation therefore is the justest, must be considered; "How to gain that point of sight, whence probably we may best discern, and how to place ourselves in that unbiassed state, in which we are fitted to pronounce."

They who pretend to such a scrutiny of other evidences, are the readiest to take the evidence of the greatest deceivers in the world, their own passions. Having gained, as they think, a liberty from some seeming constraints of religion, they suppose they employ this liberty to perfection, by following the first motion of their will, and assenting to the first dictate or report of any prepossessing fancy, any foremost opinion or conceit of good. So that their privilege is only that of being perpetually amused; and their liberty, that of being imposed on in their most important choice. I think one may say with assurance, "That the greatest of fools is he who imposes on himself, and in his greatest concern thinks certainly he knows that which he has least studied, and of which he is most profoundly ignorant." He who is ignorant, but knows his ignorance, is far wiser.

P. 243. Whatever is grievous, replied he, can be no other than ill. But that which is grievous to one, is not so much as troublesome to another; let sportsmen, soldiers, and others of the hardy kind be witness. Nay, that which is pain to one, is pleasure to another, and so alternately, we very well know, since men vary in their apprehension of these sensations, and on many occasions confound one with the other. Has not even nature herself, in some respects, as it were blended them together, and (as a wise man said once) " Joined the extremity of one so nicely to the other, that it absolutely runs into it, and is undistinguishable?"

In fine then, said I, if pleasure and pain be thus convertible and mixed, if, according to your account, "That which is now pleasure, by being strained a little too far, runs into pain, and pain, when carried far, creates again the highest pleasure, by mere cessation, and a kind of natural succession, if some pleasures to some are pains, and some pains to others are pleasures." All this if I mistake not, makes still for my opinion, and shows that there is nothing you can assign which can really stand as good. For if pleasure be not good, nothing is. And if pain be ill (as I must necessarily take for granted) we have a shrewd chance on the ill side indeed, but none at all on the better. So that we may fairly doubt," Whether life itself be not mere misery," since gainers by it we can never be, loosers we may sufficiently, and are like to be, every hour of our lives. Accordingly, what our English poetess says of good, should be just and proper, "It is good not to be born." And thus for any thing of good which can be expected in life, we may even beg pardon of nature, and return her present on her hands, without waiting for her call. For what should hinder us? Or what are we the better for living?

The query, said he, is pertinent. But why such dispatch, if the case be doubtful? This, surely (my good Philocles!) is a plain transgression of your sceptical bounds. We must be sufficiently dogmatical, to come to this determination. It is a deci

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »