« PreviousContinue »
we should not want a good, perhaps, to correspond to our pre-conceptions; for this, it is evident, would be correspondent to them all. Your doctrine, replied I, is so new and strange, that though you have been copious in explaining, I can hardly yet comprehend you.
It amounts all, said he, but to this ; Place your happiness, where your praise is. I asked, Where he supposed that? Not, replied he, in the pleasures which you feel, more than your disgrace lies in the pain ; not in the casual prosperity of fortune, more than your disgrace in the casual adversity; but in just complete action throughout every part of life, whatever be the face of things, whether favourable or the contrary.
But why then, said I, such accuracy about externals ? So much pains to be informed, what are pursuable, what avoidable? It behoves the Pilot, replied he, to know the seas and winds ; the nature of tempests, calms and tides, they are the subjects, about which his art is conversant. Without a just experience of them, he can never prove himself an artist. Yet we look not for his reputation either in fair gales, or in adverse ; but in the skillfulness of his conduct, be these events as they happen. In like manner fares it with the moral artist. He, for a subject, has the whole of human life; health and sickness ; pleasure and pain ; with every other possible incident, which can befal him during his existence. If his knowledge of all these be accurate and exact, so too must his conduct, in which we place his happiness. But if his knowledge be defective, must not his conduct be detective also ? I replied, so it should seem. And if his conduct, then his happiness ? It is true,
You see then, continued he, even though externals were as nothing'; though it was true, in their own nature, they were neither good nor evil ; yet an accurate knowledge of them, is, from our hypothesis, absolutely necessary. Indeed, said I, you have proved it.
He continued Inferior artists may be at a stand, be
cause they want materials. From their stubbornness and intractability, they may often be disappointed. But as long as life is passing, and nature continues to operate, the moral artist of life has at all times all he desires.He can never want a subject fit to exercise him in his proper calling ; and that with this happy motive to the constancy of his endeavours, that the crosser, the harsher, the more outward the events, the greater his praise, the more illustrious his reputation.
All this, said I, is true, and cannot be denied. But one circumstance there appears, where your smile seems to fail. The praise indeed of the Pilot we allow to be in his conduct ; but it is in the success of that conduct, where we look for his happiness. If a storm arise, and the ship. be lost, we call him not happy, how well soever he may have conducted it. It is then only we con gratulate him, when he has reached the desired håven Your distinction, said he, is just. And it is here lies the. noble prerogative of moral artists, above all others. But yet I know not how to explain myself, I fear my doctrine will appear so strange. You may proceed, said. l, safely, since you advance it but as an hypothesis..
Thus, then, continued he–The end in other arts is. ever distant and removed. It consists not, in the mere conduct, much less in a single energy : but in the just. result of many energies, each of wbich are essential to it. Hence, by obstacles unavoidable, it may often be retarded : nay more, may be so embarrassed, as never poser sibly, to be attained. But in the moral art of life, the very conduct is the End; the very conduct, I say, itself, throughout its every minutest energy; because each of these, however minute, partake as truly of rectitude, as the largest combinations of them, when considered collectively. Hence, of all arts this is the only one perpetually complete in every instant, because it needs not, like other arts, time to arrive at that perfection, at which in every instant it is arrived already. Hence by, dura
tion, it is not rendered either more or less perfect; completion, like truth, admitting of no degrees, and being in no sense capable of either intension or remission. And hence too by necessary connection (which is a greater paradox than all) even that Happiness or Sovereign Good, the end of this moral art, is itself too, in every instant, consummate and complete ; is neither heightened nor diminished by the quantity of its duration, but is the same to its enjoyers, for a moment or a century.
Upon this I smiled. He asked me the reason. It is only to observe, said I, the 'course of our enquiries. A new hypothesis has been advanced : appearing somewhat strange, it is desired to be explained. You comply with the request, and in pursuit of the explanation, make it ten times more obscure and unintelligible, than before. It is but too often the fate, said he, of us commentators. But you know in such cases what is usually done. Whec the comment will not explain the text, we try whether the text will not explain itself. This method, it is possible, may assist us here. The hypothesis, which we should have illustrated, was no more than this : That the Sovereign Good lay in rectitude of Conduct; and that this Good corresponded to all our pre-conceptions. Let us examine then, whether, upon trial, this correspondence will appear to hold ; and for all that we have advanced since, suffer it to pass, and not perplex us. Agreed, said I, willingly, for now I hope to comprehend you.
Recollect then, said he. Do you not remember that one pre-conception of the Sovereign Good, was to be accommodated to all times and places ? I remember it. And is there any time, or any place, whence Rectitude of Conduct may be excluded ? Is there not a right action in prosperity, a right action in adversity ? May there not be a decent, generous, and laudable behaviour, not only in peace, in power, and in health ; but in war, in oppression, in sickness, and in death? There may, .
And what shall we say to those other pre-conceptions ; to being durable, self-derived, and indeprivable ? Can there be any Good so durable, as the power of always doing right? Is there any Good coceivable, so entirely beyond the power of others ? Or, if you hesitate, and are doubtful, I would willingly be informed, into what circumstances may fortune throw a brave and honest man, where it shall not be in his power to act bravely and honestly: If there be no such, then Rectitude of Conduct, if a Good, is a Good indeprivable, I confess, said I, it appears so.
But farther, said he : Another pre-conception of the Sovereign Good was, to be agreeable to nature. And can any thing be more agreeable to a rational and social animal, than rational and social conduct ? Nothing. But rectitude of Conduct is with us Rational and Social Conduct. It is.
Once more, continued he; Another pre-conception of this Good was, to be conducire not to mere being, but to well-being. Admit it. And can any thing believe you, conduce so probably to the well-being of a rational, social animal, as the right exercise of that reason, and of those social affections ? Nothing. And what is this said exercise, but the highest Rectitude of Conduct ? Certainly.
AND how did Garrick sneak the soliloquy last night? Oh, against all rule, my lord, most ungrammatically! betwixt the substantive and the adjective, which should agree together in number, case and gender, he made a breach thus, stopping as if the point wanted settling ;-and betwixt the nominative case, which your lordship knows should govern the verb, he suspended his voice in the epilogue a dozen times, three seconds and three fifths by a stop-watch my lord, each time. Admirable grammarian!-But in suspending his voice-was the sense suspended likewise ? did no expression of attitude or countenance fill up the chasm? Was the eyes silent ? Did you narrowly look ?- I look'd only at the stop watch, my lord. Excellent observer !
And what of this new book the whole world makes such a rout about? Oh! 'tis out of all plumb, my lord,quite an irregular thing! not one of the angles at the four corners was a right angle.--I had my rule and compasses, &c. my lord, in my pocket. Excellent critic!
-And for the epic poem your lordship bid me look ; -upon taking the length, breadth, height, and depth of it, and trying them at home upon an exact scale of Bossu's— tis out, my lord, in every one of its dimensions.Admirable connoisseur !
-And did you step in, to take a look at the grand picture in your way back ? 'Tis a melancholy daub! my lord ; not one principle of the pyramid in any one group! and what a price for there is nothing of the colour
! ing of Titian—the expression of Rubens—the grace of Raphael - the purity of Domichino—the corregiescity of Corregio—the learning of Poussin-the airs of Guido- -the taste of the Carrachi's- or the grand contour of Angelo. Grant me patience, just Heaven Of all the cants
! which are canted in this canting world—though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst-the cant of criticism is the most tormenting!
I would go fifty miles on foot, to kiss the hand of that man whose generous heart will give up the reigns of his imagination into his author's hands-be pleased he knows not why, and care not wherefore,