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ARTS AND SCIENCES.
A DISPUTE has for some time divided the philosophers; it is debated, whether arts and sciences are more serviceable or prejudicial to mankind. They who maintain the cause of literature, endeavour to prove their usefulness from the impossibility of a large number of men subsisting in a small tract of country without them; from the pleasure which attends the acquisition, and from the influence of knowledge in promoting practical morality.
Those who maintain the opposite opinion, display the happiness and innocence of the uncultivated nations who live without learning; they urge the numerous vices which are to be found only in polished society, enlarge on the oppression, the cruelty, and the blood, which must necessarily be shed to cement civil society, and insist upon the happy equality of conditions in a barbarous
state, preferable to the unnatural subordination of a more refined condition.
This dispute, which has already given so much employment to speculative indolence, has been managed with much ardour, and (not to suppress our sentiments) with but little capacity. They who insist that the sciences are useful in refined society are certainly right; and they who maintain that barbarous nations are more happy without them are right also. But when one side for this reason attempts to prove them as universally useful to the solitary barbarian as to the native of a crowded commonwealth; or when the other endeavours to banish them as prejudicial to all society, even from populous states as well as from the inhabitants of the wilderness, they are both wrong; since that knowledge which makes the happiness of a refined European, would be a torment to the precarious tenant of an Asiatic wild.
Let me, to prove this, transport the imagination for a moment to the midst of a forest in Siberia. There we behold the inhabitant, poor indeed, but equally fond of happiness with the most refined philosopher of Europe. The earth lies uncultivated and uninhabited for miles around him; his little family and he, the sole and undisputed possessors. In such circumstances na
ture and reason will induce him to prefer a hunter's life to that of cultivating the earth. He will certainly adhere to that manner of living, which is carried on at the smallest expence of labour, and to that food which is most agreeable to the appetite; he will prefer indolent though precarious luxury, to a laborious though permanent competence; and a knowledge of his own happiness will determine him to persevere in native barbarity.
In like manner his happiness will incline him to bind himself by no law. Laws are made in order to secure permanent property; but he is possessed of no property which he is afraid to lose, and desires no more than will be sufficient to sustain him; to enter into compacts with others, would be undergoing a voluntary obligation, without the expectance of any reward. He and his countrymen are tenants, not rivals, in the same unexhaustible forest; the increased possessions of one by no means diminishes the expectations arising from equal assiduity in another. There is no need of laws therefore to repress ambition, where there can be no mischief attending its most boundless gratifications.
Our solitary Siberian will, in like manner, find the sciences not only entirely useless, in directing his practice, but disgusting even in specula
tion. In every contemplation our curiosity must be first excited by the appearances of things, before our reason undergoes the fatigue of investigating the causes. Some of those appearances are produced by experiment, others by minute inquiry; some arise from a knowledge of foreign climates, and others from an intimate study of our own. But there are few objects in comparison which present themselves to the inhabitant of a barbarous country; the game he hunts or the transient cottage he builds, make up the chief objects of his concern; his curiosity, therefore, must be proportionably less; and if that is diminished, the reasoning faculty will be diminished in proportion.
Besides, sensual enjoyment adds wings to curiosity. We consider few objects with ardent attention, but those which have some connection with our wishes, our pleasures, or our necessities. A desire of enjoyment first interests our passions in the pursuit, points out the subject of investigation, and reason then comments when sense has led the way. An increase in the number of our enjoyments, therefore, necessarily produces an increase of scientific research; but in countries where almost every enjoyment is wanting, reason there seems destitute of its great inspirer,
and speculation is the business of fools when it becomes its own reward.
The barbarous Siberian is too wise, therefore, to exhaust his time in quest of knowledge, which neither curiosity prompts nor pleasure impels him to pursue. When told of the exact measurement of a degree upon the meridian at Quito, he feels no pleasure in the account; when informed that such a discovery tends to promote navigation and commerce, he finds himself no way interested in either. A discovery which some have pursued at the hazard of their lives, affects him with neither astonishment nor pleasure. He is satisfied with thoroughly understanding the few objects which contribute to his own felicity; he knows the properest places where to lay the snare for the sable, and discerns the value of firs with more than European sagacity. More extended knowledge would only serve to render him unhappy; it might lend a ray to shew him the misery of his situation, but could not guide him in his efforts to avoid it. Ignorance is the happiness of the poor.
The misery of a being endowed with sentiments above its capacity of fruition, is most admirably described in one of the fables of Locman the Indian moralist:
"An elephant, that had been peculiarly ser