Page images




PHILOSOPHY can never be employed in an office more unsuitable to her proper character and functions, than in setting forth such representations of human life as tend to put mankind out of humour with their present being and yet into this unworthy service some eminent moralists both ancient and modern have not scrupled to compel her! The genuine effects of true wisdom and knowledge, are altogether of a different complexion; as those speculative writers, whose studies and talents have qualified them for taking the most accurate and comprehensive survey of the natural and moral world, have found the result of their inquiries terminate in the strongest motives for a grateful acquiescence in the beneficient administration of Providence.

To be able indeed to clear up all the difficul

[blocks in formation]

ties which occur in attempting to account for that degree of evil which the Creator has permitted to enter among his works, will in vain, perhaps, be expected, till the mental sight shall be purged with that heavenly "euphrasy" with which the angel in Milton removed the film from Adam's eyes when he shewed him in a vision the fate of his descendants. In the mean time however there is abundant evidence to justify the goodness of the Creator in his " ways to men," and dissipate every darker cloud, which in a gloomy state of mind is apt to overcast the prospect of human condition.

The truth is, the natural evils of life are but few and inconsiderable, when compared with those which are of man's own production. Pain and disease, which now make such a variety of dreadful articles in every estimate of human calamities, would be much diminished if the contributions of vice and luxury were fairly subtracted from the account. And when all deductions of this kind are justly made, if we examine the remaining evils to which mankind are necessarily exposed; it will appear that Providence has kindly interwoven certain secret consolations and unexpected softenings, which render them more tolerable when realised than they seem in apprehension.

Nothing indeed is more certain than what an incomparable moralist *, with his usual truth of sentiment, and elegance of imagination, has finely remarked, that "the evils of this life ap“pear like rocks and precipices, rugged and "barren at a distance; but at our nearer ap"proach we find little fruitful spots and refreshing springs mixed with the harshness and de"formity of nature."

[ocr errors]

To apply this general observation to a particular instance. Those who from the more commodious stations of human life, look down upon the lowest and most laborious classes of mankind, are apt to consider their condition as painful proofs of the miseries to which the majority of the sons of men are inevitably condemned. But in fact these supposed objects of commiseration, are so far from being in a state deservedly to be lamented, that perhaps they would be very considerable losers if they were to exchange it for a more exalted sphere of action.

That this is no ideal representation of this case, let an unexceptionable witness, who had occasion to observe it in some of its strongest exhibitions, attest. "In my travels," says the good bishop Pontoppedan, "over the highest "mountains of Norway, which are covered with * Addison.

"snow, and where horses are of no service, I "have seen peasants in great numbers do the "work of horses, and indeed they seem equal "to those animals in strength. They go on

[ocr errors]

singing all the while, and hold out for nine "hours together at the hardest labour imaginable, "with incredible cheerfulness and alacrity." He adds, "the peasants of both sexes assemble to"together by hundreds, I might say thousands, "about the middle of January to make their "winter harvest of the rich produce of the ocean. "They keep out at sea all the day, and a great part of the night by moonlight, in open boats, " and after that crowd together by scores, into "little huts, where they can scarcely have room "to lay themselves down, in their wet cloaths. "The next morning they return to the same la"borious employments, with as much pleasure "and cheerfulness as if they were going to a "merry-making."

[ocr errors]

In contemplating the moral state of mankind the horror of the view, in like manner, will be much alleviated by taking in every mitigating circumstance that attends the prospect. There is reason to think with the most judicious writers on this interesting question, that there are few individuals, who in the course of their lives have not been the authors of more good than evil.

Prejudice, resentment, or opposition of interest may, and often do, produce particular instances of the sad effects of the malevolent and selfish passions, in the very same man, who in the general tenour of his conduct and connections, regularly exercises the kind and social affections.

But in determining concerning the comparative prevalency of moral good and evil, a hasty or peevish remarker, while he examines the weight of the malignant action, is not equally careful to inquire into the state of the opposite scale. There are many latent circumstances also necessary to be known, before we are fully qualified to give any particular action its due, precise, and distinguishing denomination. The motive and intention of the agent, the point of view in which the action appeared to his own eye; the degree of surprise or premeditation, of knowledge or ignorance, with which it was committed; are nice discriminations which an uncandid observer always overlooks, and a charitable one cannot discern; yet these constitute the true nature and essential characteristic of moral conduct.

There is another circumstance which may very much contribute to lead the judgment into unfavourable conclusions upon this subject: vicious actions strike more forcibly upon the

« EelmineJätka »