« PreviousContinue »
narrow and confined experience, not the dictate of those liberal views which fix upon general principles, and have the human constitution for their basis. To those who observe the close analogy that exists betwixt all the different occupations in which the mind of man can be engaged, it will appear that the study of literature, when it produces its proper effect, is not only no barrier, but, on the contrary, a powerful assistant to the attainment of what every man desires, -authority and influence, and an honourable station in society. It must be admitted, that nothing improves the human mind so much as exercise. Even when its habitual exertions are confined one direction, the beneficial influence of labour extends to all its powers, and its general capacity is found to be increased. But, in fact, the operations of the mind in the pursuit of scientific truth, and in the conduct of actual affairs, are pretty nearly the same. The same powers of memory, judgment, and imagination, are employed in the one case as in the other; and the methodical arrangement of ideas, the habits of analyzing complex objects, and of tracing various effects to their respective causes, which the man of cultivated mind is accustomed to exert in his literary studies, would be equally useful and properly applied to the pursuits of active life. In affirming, however, that literature might be rendered conducive to the usefulness and respectability of its votaries in society, it is understood that they consider it as of subordinate value, and not as the most important business of life, and that, with superior faculties, they bestow on their affairs the same degree of industry and attention as other men. can bring themselves to this resolution, men of letters will never attain their due weight and influence in society. In fact, ill success in the world is not confined to literary men, but is common to them with all who, from the love of pleasure, or any other species of dissi
pation, neglect solid happiness for transient amusement. The objection which would probably have the greatest weight with many against reducing these ideas into practice, is the abridgment which a more active life would necessarily occasion of those intellectual enjoyments, which all who know them prefer to
other kind of pleasure. In this respect, however, as well as in point of literary progress, the difference, on trial, would be found much less considerable than might at first be imagined. We never take up a book with so keen an appetite, or taste its beauties with such an exquisite relish, as after a day passed in useful and moderate industry. It is well known also, to all who are accustomed to mental labour, that the faculties of the mind are at no time so vigorous and alert as when the attention is concentrated by our being somewhat straitened in point of time. Unlimited leisure, especially in men of letters, is apt to induce a listless indolence, and a spirit of procrastination, which not only destroy enjoyment, but dissolve the elastic vigour of the mind, and incapacitate it for any thing honourable and useful, by rendering it incapable of labour and perseverance. But though the peculiar enjoyments of literary men would be to a certain extent diminished, those sources of satisfaction, which they have in common with the rest of mankind, would be increased in a much higher proportion. After all the eloquent encomiums that have been written on the pleasures of philosophical retirement, and the exquisite sensations of a refined taste, it must be confessed that the great materials of happiness are the same to all human beings, and are equally within the reach of all who know how to estimate their value, and build the superstructure. Successful industry, domestic neatness and comfort, the affection of a few, the esteem and respect of the these sources is derived the mass of human enjoyments. To these sources literature forms a most valuable supplement; but I am convinced, that the experience of the majority of its votaries will declare, that when it is pursued as the chief business of life, the sum of its enjoyments is below the ordinary standard of human happiness.
Of moral disquisitions, the most useful probably are those which, leaving out of view the considerations common to the species, exclusively address themselves to particular classes of readers. In this way of writing, what is lost by the limitation of the subject is abundantly compensated by the additional interest excited in those whom it concerns ; for, in proportion as we recede from abstraction and approach to individuality, we touch the feelings of self more nearly, and hence awaken a more animated attention. The circumstances which afford a basis for the classifications of the moralist are infinitely diversified, and admit of all gradations of descent, from the broadest generality to the most subtle minuteness. Among such as hold an important rank may be reckoned those defects of conformation which destroy the symmetry of the person, and render it an object of surprise and disgust to the beholder. Deformity, as a circumstance of considerable importance in the state of the individual, must exert a specific influence over his mind, and will, therefore, in the majority of instances, produce a certain distinctive character, which is very perceptible to an accurate observer. It was evidently the opinion of Lord Verulam, though he has expressed himself with reserve and tenderness, that this character is by no means that of benevolence; and certainly, on a general view, the charge seems not entirely destitute of foundation. By making the case our own for a moment, we may form a tolerably correct idea of the feelings which must pass through the mind of a de. formed person, on comparing himself with those of the same age and rank around him.
He will necessarily feel indignant at being thus disgraced by the hand of nature; and, for want of a direct object on which to vent his resentment, he will be apt to transfer a part of it to mankind in general, who, he thinks, can never look upon him but with aversion. If he be of an aspiring disposition, his ambition will prompt him rather to make himself feared than beloved, as the chief pleasure which he proposes to himself in the exercise of
power, is to punish mankind for their imagined contempt, by enjoying their homage and mortifying their pride.Obscure feelings of this kind will occasionally enter even the best-regulated minds, however carefully they may be repressed and discouraged; but in tempers of a bold and unprincipled cast, they will be explicitly stated and avowedly acted upon. Shakspeare has admirably exemplified this effect of deformity in his character of Richard the Third ; and, contrary to his usual manner of leaving the character to develop itself by degrees, has expressly stated it in the soliloquy with which the play opens:
“ I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
With the sentiments here expressed, every man of a form like Richard's cannot help feeling a momentary sympathy; nor is it possible for him to possess the same complete detestation of the tyrant as an indifferent spectator of the drama.
This tendency to malignity, every reflecting person will consider as by much the most serious evil attending deformity; and he will exert himself to overcome it, with an energy of resolution proportioned to the comprehension of his views and the strength of his moral feelings. Besides the common motives, he has an interest peculiar to himself in avoiding the displeasure of mankind, because on him it would fall with an accumulated weight. It may be remarked, that, owing to the salutary restraints imposed by civilized manners, the natural sentiments of mankind, with respect to deformity, are seldom displayed in their full extent. We sometimes observe them very strongly expressed by the vulgar, who are less accustomed than their superiors to disguise their emotions, or to repress them by considerations of propriety. Sensible of the injustice of treating an involuntary misfortune as a crime, mankind endeavour as much as possible to rectify their sentiments. But when malice and deformity are united in the same individual, they think themselves at liberty to indulge their feelings to the utmost. Fear and hatred then combine with disgust to produce a fervour of abhorrence, in many cases to be compared only to that sensation with which the sight of a venomous reptile inspires us.
A regard to safety, therefore, as well as to tranquil. lity of mind, should prompt the deformed by every honest method to cultivate the good graces of mankind; and this is only to be done effectually by cherishing real benevolence, which alone has the power of exciting