An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Eighth Edition
Adam Ferguson, L.L.D.

Part 1 out of 6

Produced by Stan Goodman, William Craig, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

This is an authorized facsimile of the original book, and was produced in
1971 by microfilm-xerography by University Microfilms, A Xerox Company, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.


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SECTION I. Of the question relating to the State of Nature

SECTION II. Of the principles of Self Preservation

SECTION III. Of the principles of Union among Mankind

SECTION IV. Of the principles of War and Dissention

SECTION V. Of Intellectual Powers

SECTION VI. Of Moral Sentiment

SECTION VII. Of Happiness

SECTION VIII. The same subject continued

SECTION IX. Of National Felicity

SECTION X. The same subject continued


SECTION I. Of the informations on this subject, which are derived from

SECTION II. Of Rude Nations prior to the Establishment of Property

SECTION III. Of rude Nations, under the impressions of Property and

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SECTION I. Of the Influences of Climate and Situation

SECTION II. The History of Political Establishments

SECTION III. Of National Objects in general, and of Establishments and
Manners relating to them

SECTION IV. Of Population and Wealth

SECTION V. Of National Defence and Conquest

SECTION VI. Of Civil Liberty

SECTION VII. Of the History of Arts

SECTION VIII. Of the History of Literature


SECTION I. Of the Separation of Arts and Professions

SECTION II. Of the Subordination consequent to the Separation of Arts and

SECTION III. Of the Manners of Polished and Commercial Nations

SECTION IV. The same subject continued

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SECTION I. Of supposed National Eminence, and of the Vicissitudes of Human

SECTION II. Of the Temporary Efforts and Relaxations of the National Spirit

SECTION III. Of Relaxations in the National Spirit incident to Polished

SECTION IV. The same subject continued

SECTION V. Of National Waste


SECTION I. Of corruption in general


SECTION III. Of the Corruption incident to Polished Nations

SECTION IV. The same subject continued

SECTION V. Of Corruption, as it tends to Political Slavery

SECTION VI. Of the Progress and Termination of Despotism




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Natural productions are generally formed by degrees. Vegetables are raised
from a tender shoot, and animals from an infant state. The latter, being
active, extend together their operations and their powers, and have a
progress in what they perform, as well as in the faculties they acquire.
This progress in the case of man is continued to a greater extent than in
that of any other animal. Not only the individual advances from infancy to
manhood, but the species itself from rudeness to civilization. Hence the
supposed departure of mankind from the state of their nature; hence our
conjectures and different opinions of what man must have been in the first
age of his being. The poet, the historian, and the moralist frequently
allude to this ancient time; and under the emblems of gold, or of iron,
represent a condition, and a manner of life, from which mankind have either
degenerated, or on which they have greatly improved. On either supposition,
the first state of our nature must have borne no resemblance to what men
have exhibited in any subsequent period; historical monuments, even of the
earliest date, are to be considered as novelties; and the most common
establishments of human society are to be classed among the encroachments
which fraud, oppression, or a busy invention, have made upon the reign of
nature, by which the chief of our grievances or blessings were equally

Among the writers who have attempted to distinguish, in the human
character, its original qualities, and to point out the limits between
nature and art, some have represented mankind in their first condition, as
possessed of mere animal sensibility, without any exercise of the faculties
that render them superior to the brutes, without any political union,
without any means of explaining their sentiments, and even without
possessing any of the apprehensions and passions which the voice and the
gesture are so well fitted to express. Others have made the state of nature
to consist in perpetual wars kindled by competition for dominion and
interest, where every individual had a separate quarrel with his kind, and
where the presence of a fellow creature was the signal of battle.

The desire of laying the foundation of a favourite system, or a fond
expectation, perhaps, that we may be able to penetrate the secrets of
nature, to the very source of existence, have, on this subject, led to many
fruitless inquiries, and given rise to many wild suppositions. Among the
various qualities which mankind possess, we select one or a few particulars
on which to establish a theory, and in framing our account of what man was
in some imaginary state of nature, we overlook what he has always appeared
within the reach of our own observation, and in the records of history.

In every other instance, however, the natural historian thinks himself
obliged to collect facts, not to offer conjectures. When he treats of any
particular species of animals, he supposes that their present dispositions
and instincts are the same which they originally had, and that their
present manner of life is a continuance of their first destination. He
admits, that his knowledge of the material system of the world consists in
a collection of facts, or at most, in general tenets derived from
particular observations and experiments. It is only in what relates to
himself, and in matters the most important and the most easily known, that
he substitutes hypothesis instead of reality, and confounds the provinces
of imagination and reason, of poetry and science.

But without entering any further on questions either in moral or physical
subjects, relating to the manner or to the origin of our knowledge; without
any disparagement to that subtilty which would analyze every sentiment, and
trace every mode of being to its source; it may be safely affirmed, that
the character of man, as he now exists, that the laws of his animal and
intellectual system, on which his happiness now depends, deserve our
principal study; and that general principles relating to this or any other
subject, are useful only so far as they are founded on just observation,
and lead to the knowledge of important consequences, or so far as they
enable us to act with success when we would apply either the intellectual
or the physical powers of nature, to the purposes of human life.

If both the earliest and the latest accounts collected from every quarter
of the earth, represent mankind as assembled in troops and companies; and
the individual always joined by affection to one party, while he is
possibly opposed to another; employed in the exercise of recollection and
foresight; inclined to communicate his own sentiments, and to be made
acquainted with those of others; these facts must be admitted as the
foundation of all our reasoning relative to man. His mixed disposition to
friendship or enmity, his reason, his use of language and articulate
sounds, like the shape and the erect position of his body, are to be
considered as so many attributes of his nature: they are to be retained in
his description, as the wing and the paw are in that of the eagle and the
lion, and as different degrees of fierceness, vigilance, timidity, or
speed, have a place in the natural history of different animals.

If the question be put, What the mind of man could perform, when left to
itself, and without the aid of any foreign direction? we are to look for
our answer in the history of mankind. Particular experiments which have
been found so useful in establishing the principles of other sciences,
could probably, on this subject, teach us nothing important, or new: we are
to take the history of every active being from his conduct in the situation
to which he is formed, not from his appearance in any forced or uncommon
condition; a wild man therefore, caught in the woods, where he had always
lived apart from his species, is a singular instance, not a specimen of any
general character. As the anatomy of an eye which had never received the
impressions of light, or that of an ear which had never felt the impulse of
sounds, would probably exhibit defects in the very structure of the organs
themselves, arising from their not being applied to their proper functions;
so any particular case of this sort would only show in what degree the
powers of apprehension and sentiment could exist where they had not been
employed, and what would be the defects and imbecilities of a heart in
which the emotions that arise in society had never been felt.

Mankind are to be taken in groupes, as they, have always subsisted. The
history of the individual is but a detail of the sentiments and the
thoughts he has entertained in the view of his species: and every
experiment relative to this subject should be made with entire societies,
not with single men. We have every reason, however, to believe, that in the
case of such an experiment made, we shall suppose, with a colony of
children transplanted from the nursery, and left to form a society apart,
untaught, and undisciplined, we should only have the same things repeated,
which, in so many different parts of the earth, have been transacted
already. The members of our little society would feed and sleep, would herd
together and play, would have a language of their own, would quarrel and
divide, would be to one another the most important objects of the scene,
and, in the ardour of their friendships and competitions, would overlook
their personal danger, and suspend the care of their self-preservation. Has
not the human race been planted like the colony in question? Who has
directed their course? whose instruction have they heard? or whose example
have they followed?

Nature, therefore, we shall presume, having given to every animal its mode
of existence, its dispositions and manner of life, has dealt equally with
the human race; and the natural historian who would collect the properties
of this species, may fill up every article now as well as he could have
done in any former age. The attainments of the parent do not descend in the
blood of his children, nor is the progress of man to be considered as a
physical mutation of the species. The individual, in every age, has the
same race to run from infancy to manhood, and every infant, or ignorant
person, now, is a model of what man was in his original state. He enters on
his career with advantages peculiar to his age; but his natural talent is
probably the same. The use and application of this talent is changing, and
men continue their works in progression through many ages together: they
build on foundations laid by their ancestors; and in a succession of years,
tend to a perfection in the application of their faculties, to which the
aid of long experience is required, and to which many generations must have
combined their endeavours. We observe the progress they have made; we
distinctly enumerate many of its steps; we can trace them back to a distant
antiquity, of which no record remains, nor any monument is preserved, to
inform us what were the openings of this wonderful scene. The consequence
is, that instead of attending to the character of our species, were the
particulars are vouched by the surest authority, we endeavour to trace it
through ages and scenes unknown; and, instead of supposing that the
beginning of our story was nearly of a piece with the sequel, we think
ourselves warranted to reject every circumstance of our present condition
and frame, as adventitious, and foreign to our nature. The progress of
mankind, from a supposed state of animal sensibility, to the attainment of
reason, to the use of language, and to the habit of society, has been
accordingly painted with a force of imagination, and its steps have been
marked with a boldness of invention, that would tempt us to admit, among
the materials of history, the suggestions of fancy, and to receive,
perhaps, as the model of our nature in its original state, some of the
animals whose shape has the greatest resemblance to ours. [Footnote:
_Rousseau_ sur l'origine de l'inegalite parmi les hommes.]

It would be ridiculous to affirm, as a discovery, that the species of the
horse was probably never the same with that of the lion; yet, in opposition
to what has dropped from the pens of eminent writers, we are obliged to
observe, that men have always appeared among animals a distinct and a
superior race; that neither the possession of similar organs, nor the
approximation of shape, nor the use of the hand, [Footnote: Traite de
l'esprit.] nor the continued intercourse with this sovereign artist, has
enabled any other species to blend their nature or their inventions with
his; that, in his rudest state, he is found to be above them; and in his
greatest degeneracy, never descends to their level. He is, in short, a man
in every condition; and we can learn nothing of his nature from the analogy
of other animals. If we would know him, we must attend to himself, to the
course of his life, and the tenor of his conduct. With him the society
appears to be as old as the individual, and the use of the tongue as
universal as that of the hand or the foot. If there was a time in which he
had his acquaintance with his own species to make, and his faculties to
acquire, it is a time of which we have no record, and in relation to which
our opinions can serve no purpose, and are supported by no evidence.

We are often tempted into these boundless regions of ignorance or
conjecture, by a fancy which delights in creating rather than in merely
retaining the forms which are presented before it: we are the dupes of a
subtilty, which promises to supply every defect of our knowledge, and, by
filling up a few blanks in the story of nature, pretends to conduct our
apprehension nearer to the source of existence. On the credit of a few
observations, we are apt to presume, that the secret may soon be laid open,
and that what is termed _wisdom_ in nature, may be referred to the
operation of physical powers. We forget that physical powers employed in
succession or together, and combined to a salutary purpose, constitute
those very proofs of design from which we infer the existence of God; and
that this truth being once admitted, we are no longer to search for the
source of existence; we can only collect the laws which the Author of
nature has established; and in our latest as well as our earliest
discoveries, only perceive a mode of creation or providence before unknown.

We speak of art as distinguished from nature; but art itself is natural to
man. He is in some measure the artificer of his own frame, as well as of
his fortune, and is destined, from the first age of his being, to invent
and contrive. He applies the same talents to a variety of purposes, and
acts nearly the same part in very different scenes. He would be always
improving on his subject, and he carries this intention wherever he moves,
through the streets of the populous city, or the wilds of the forest. While
he appears equally fitted to every condition, he is upon this account
unable to settle in any. At once obstinate and fickle, he complains of
innovations, and is never sated with novelty. He is perpetually busied in
reformations, and is continually wedded to his errors. If he dwells in a
cave, he would improve it into a cottage; if he has already built, he would
still build to a greater extent. But he does, not propose to make rapid and
hasty transitions; his steps are progressive and slow; and his force, like
the power of a spring, silently presses on every resistance; an effect is
sometimes produced before the cause is perceived; and with all his talent
for projects, his work is often accomplished before the plan is devised. It
appears, perhaps, equally difficult to retard or to quicken his pace; if
the projector complain he is tardy, the moralist thinks him unstable; and
whether his motions be rapid or slow, the scenes of human affairs
perpetually change in his management: his emblem is a passing stream, not a
stagnating pool. We may desire to direct his love of improvement to its
proper object, we may wish for stability of conduct; but we mistake human
nature, if we wish for a termination of labour, or a scene of repose.

The occupations of men, in every condition, bespeak their freedom of
choice, their various opinions, and the multiplicity of wants by which they
are urged: but they enjoy, or endure, with a sensibility, or a phlegm,
which are nearly the same in every situation. They possess the shores of
the Caspian, or the Atlantic, by a different tenure, but with equal ease.
On the one they are fixed to the soil, and seem to be formed for,
settlement, and the accommodation of cities: the names they bestow on a
nation, and on its territory, are the same. On the other they are mere
animals of passage, prepared to roam on the face of the earth, and with
their herds, in search of new pasture and favourable seasons, to fallow the
sun in his annual course.

Man finds his lodgment alike in the cave, the cottage, and the palace; and
his subsistence equally in the woods, in the dairy, or the farm. He assumes
the distinction of titles, equipage, and dress; he devises regular systems
of government, and a complicated body of laws; or naked in the woods has no
badge of superiority but the strength of his limbs and the sagacity of his
mind; no rule of conduct but choice; no tie with his fellow creatures but
affection, the love of company, and the desire of safety. Capable of a
great variety of arts, yet dependent on none in particular for the
preservation of his being; to whatever length he has carried his artifice,
there he seems to enjoy the conveniences that suit his nature, and to have
found the condition to which he is destined. The tree which an American, on
the banks of the Oroonoko [Footnote: Lafitau, moeurs des sauvages.], has
chosen to climb for the retreat, and the lodgment of his family, is to him
a convenient dwelling. The sopha, the vaulted dome, and the colonade, do
not more effectually content their native inhabitant.

If we are asked therefore, where the state of nature is to be found? we may
answer, it is here; and it matters not whether we are understood to speak
in the island of Great Britain, at the Cape of Good Hope, or the Straits of
Magellan. While this active being is in the train of employing his talents,
and of operating on the subjects around him, all situations are equally
natural. If we are told, that vice, at least, is contrary to nature; we may
answer, it is worse; it is folly and wretchedness. But if nature is only
opposed to art, in what situation of the human race are the footsteps of
art unknown? In the condition of the savage, as well as in that of the
citizen, are many proofs of human invention; and in either is not any
permanent station, but a mere stage through which this' travelling being is
destined to pass. If the palace be unnatural, the cottage is so no less;
and the highest refinements of political and moral apprehension, are not
more artificial in their kind, than the first operations of sentiment and

If we admit that man is susceptible of improvement, and has in himself a
principle of progression, and a desire of perfection, it appears improper
to say, that he has quitted the state of his nature, when he has begun to
proceed; or that he finds a station for which he was not intended, while,
like other animals, he only follows the disposition, and employs the powers
that nature has given.

The latest efforts of human invention are but a continuation of certain
devices which were practised in the earliest ages of the world, and in the
rudest state of mankind. What the savage projects, or observes, in the
forest, are the steps which led nations, more advanced, from the
architecture of the cottage to that of the palace, and conducted the human
mind from the perceptions of sense, to the general conclusions of science.

Acknowledged defects are to man in every condition matter of dislike.
Ignorance and imbecility are objects of contempt: penetration and conduct
give eminence and procure esteem. Whither should his feelings and
apprehensions on these subjects lead him? To a progress, no doubt, in which
the savage, as well as the philosopher, is engaged; in which they have made
different advances, but in which their ends are the same. The admiration
which Cicero entertained for literature, eloquence, and civil
accomplishments, was not more real than that of a Scythian for such a
measure of similar endowments as his own apprehension could reach. "Were I
to boast," says a Tartar prince, [Footnote: Abulgaze Bahadur Chan; History
of the Tartars.] "it would be of that wisdom I have received from God.
For as, on the one hand, I yield to none in the conduct of war, in the
disposition of armies, whether of horse or of foot, and in directing the
movements of great or small bodies; so, on the other, I have my talent in
writing, inferior perhaps only to those who inhabit the great cities of
Persia or India. Of other nations, unknown to me, I do not speak."

Man may mistake the objects of his pursuit; he may misapply his industry,
and misplace his improvements: If, under a sense of such possible errors,
he would find a standard by which to judge of his own proceedings, and
arrive at the best state of his nature, he cannot find it perhaps in the
practice of any individual; or of any nation whatever; not even in the
sense of the majority, or the prevailing opinion of his kind. He must look
for it in the best conceptions of his understanding, in the best movements
of his heart; he must thence discover what is the perfection and the
happiness of which he is capable. He will find, on the scrutiny, that the
proper state of his nature, taken in this sense, is not a condition from
which mankind are for ever removed, but one to which they may now attain;
not prior to the exercise of their faculties, but procured by their just

Of all the terms that we employ in treating of human affairs, those of
_natural_ and _unnatural_ are the least determinate in their
meaning. Opposed to affectation, frowardness, or any other defect of the
temper or character, the natural is an epithet of praise; but employed to
specify a conduct which proceeds from the nature of man, can serve to
distinguish nothing; for all the actions of men are equally the result of
their nature. At most, this language can only refer to the general and
prevailing sense or practice of mankind; and the purpose of every important
enquiry on this subject may be served by the use of a language equally
familiar and more precise. What is just, or unjust? What is happy or
wretched, in the manners of men? What, in their various situations, is
favourable or adverse to their amiable qualities? are questions to which we
may expect a satisfactory answer; and whatever may have been the original
state of our species, it is of more importance to know the condition to
which we ourselves should aspire, than that which our ancestors may be
supposed to have left.



If in human nature there are qualities by which it is distinguished from
every other part of the animal creation, this nature itself is in different
climates and in different ages greatly diversified. The varieties merit our
attention, and the course of every stream into which this mighty current
divides, deserves to be followed to its source. It appears necessary,
however, that we attend to the universal qualities of our nature, before we
regard its varieties, or attempt to explain differences consisting in the
unequal possession or application of dispositions and powers that are in
some measure common to all mankind.

Man, like the other animals, has certain instinctive propensities, which;
prior to the perception of pleasure or pain, and prior to the experience of
what is pernicious or useful, lead him to perform many functions which
terminate in himself, or have a relation to his fellow creatures. He has
one set of dispositions which tend to his animal preservation, and to the
continuance of his race; another which lead to society, and by inlisting
him on the side of one tribe or community, frequently engage him in war and
contention with the rest of mankind. His powers of discernment, or his
intellectual faculties, which, under the appellation of _reason_, are
distinguished from the analogous endowments of other animals, refer to the
objects around him, either as they are subjects of mere knowledge, or as
they are subjects of approbation or censure. He is formed not only to know,
but likewise to admire and to contemn; and these proceedings of his mind
have a principal reference to his own character, and to that of his fellow
creatures, as being the subjects on which he is chiefly concerned to
distinguish what is right from what is wrong. He enjoys his felicity
likewise on certain fixed and determinate conditions; and either as an
individual apart, or as a member of civil society, must take a particular
course, in order to reap the advantages of his nature. He is, withal, in a
very high degree susceptible of habits; and can, by forbearance or
exercise, so far weaken, confirm, or even diversify his talents, and his
dispositions, as to appear, in a great measure, the arbiter of his own rank
in nature, and the author of all the varieties which are exhibited in the
actual history of his species. The universal characteristics, in the mean
time, to which we have now referred, must, when we would treat of any part
of this history, constitute the first subject of our attention; and they
require not only to be enumerated, but to be distinctly considered.

The dispositions which tend to the preservation of the individual, while
they continue to operate in the manner of instinctive desires; are nearly
the same in man that they are in the other animals; but in him they are
sooner or later combined with reflection and foresight; they give rise to
his apprehensions on the subject of property, and make him acquainted with
that object of care which he calls his interest. Without the instincts
which teach the beaver and the squirrel, the ant and the bee, to make up
their little hoards for winter, at first improvident, and where no
immediate object of passion is near, addicted to sloth, he becomes, in
process of time, the great storemaster among animals. He finds in a
provision of wealth, which he is probably never to employ, an object of his
greatest solicitude, and the principal idol of his mind. He apprehends a
relation between his person and his property, which renders what he calls
his own in a manner a part of himself, a constituent of his rank, his
condition, and his character; in which, independent of any real enjoyment,
he may be fortunate or unhappy; and, independent of any personal merit, he
may be an object of consideration or neglect; and in which he may be
wounded and injured, while his person is safe, and every want of his nature
is completely supplied.

In these apprehensions, while other passions only operate occasionally, the
interested find the object of their ordinary cares; their motive to the
practice of mechanic and commercial arts; their temptation to trespass on
the laws of justice; and, when extremely corrupted, the price of their
prostitutions, and the standard of their opinions on the subject of good
and of evil. Under this influence, they would enter, if not restrained by
the laws of civil society, on a scene of violence or meanness, which would
exhibit our species, by turns, under an aspect more terrible and odious, or
more vile and contemptible, than that of any animal which inherits the

Although the consideration of interest is founded on the experience of
animal wants and desires, its object is not to gratify any particular
appetite, but to secure the means of gratifying all; and it imposes
frequently a restraint on the very desires from which it arose, more
powerful and more severe than those of religion or duty. It arises from the
principles of self preservation in the human frame; but is a corruption, or
at least a partial result, of those principles, and is upon many accounts
very improperly termed _self-love_.

Love is an affection which carries the attention of the mind beyond itself,
and is the sense of a relation to some fellow creature as to its object.
Being a complacency and a continued satisfaction in this object, it has,
independent of any external event, and in the midst of disappointment and
sorrow, pleasures and triumphs unknown to those who are guided by mere
considerations of interest; in every change of condition, it continues
entirely distinct from the sentiments which we feel on the subject of
personal success or adversity. But as the care a man entertains for his own
interest, and the attention his affection makes him pay to that of another,
may have similar effects, the one on his own fortune, the other on that of
his friend, we confound the principles from which he acts; we suppose that
they are the same in kind, only referred to different objects; and we not
only misapply the name of love, in conjunction with self, but, in a manner
tending to degrade our nature, we limit the aim of this supposed selfish
affection to the securing or accumulating the constituents of interest, of
the means of mere animal life.

It is somewhat remarkable, that notwithstanding men value themselves so
much on qualities of the mind, on parts, learning, and wit, on courage,
generosity, and honour, those men are still supposed to be in the highest
degree selfish or attentive to themselves, who are most careful of animal
life, and who are least mindful of rendering that life an object worthy of
care. It will be difficult, however, to tell why a good understanding, a
resolute and generous mind, should not, by every man in his senses, be
reckoned as much parts of himself, as either his stomach or his palate, and
much more than his estate or his dress. The epicure, who consults his
physician, how he may restore his relish for food, and, by creating an
appetite, renew his enjoyment, might at least with an equal regard to
himself, consult how he might strengthen his affection to a parent or a
child, to his country or to mankind; and it is probable that an appetite of
this sort would prove a source of enjoyment not less than the former.

By our supposed selfish maxims, notwithstanding, we generally exclude from
among the objects of our personal cares, many of the happier and more
respectable qualities of human nature. We consider affection and courage as
mere follies, that lead us to neglect, or expose ourselves; we make wisdom
consist in a regard to our interest; and without explaining what interest
means, we would have it understood as the only reasonable motive of action
with mankind. There is even a system of philosophy founded upon tenets of
this sort, and such is our opinion of what men are likely to do upon
selfish principles, that we think it must have a tendency very dangerous to
virtue. But the errors of this system do not consist so much in general
principles, as in their particular applications; not so much in teaching
men to regard themselves, as in leading them to forget, that their happiest
affections, their candour, and their independence of mind, are in reality
parts of themselves. And the adversaries of this supposed selfish
philosophy, where it makes self-love the ruling passion with mankind, have
had reason to find fault, not so much with its general representations of
human nature, as with the obtrusion of a mere innovation in language for a
discovery in science.

When the vulgar speak of their different motives, they are satisfied with
ordinary names, which refer to known and obvious distinctions. Of this kind
are the terms _benevolence_ and _selfishness_, by the first of
which they express their friendly affections, and by the second their
interest. The speculative are not always satisfied with this proceeding;
they would analyze, as well as enumerate the principles of nature; and the
chance is, that, merely to gain the appearance of something new, without
any prospect of real advantage, they will attempt to change the application
of words. In the case before us, they have actually found, that benevolence
is no more than a species of self-love; and would oblige us, if possible,
to look out for a new set of names, by which we may distinguish the
selfishness of the parent when he takes care of his child, from his
selfishness when he only takes care of himself. For, according to this
philosophy, as in both cases he only means to gratify a desire of his own,
he is in both cases equally selfish. The term _benevolent_, in the
mean time, is not employed to characterize persons who have no desires of
their own, but persons whose own desires prompt them to procure the welfare
of others. The fact is, that we should need only a fresh supply of
language, instead of that which by this seeming discovery we should have
lost, in order to make our reasonings proceed as they formerly did. But it
is certainly impossible to live and to act with men, without employing
different names to distinguish the humane from the cruel, and the
benevolent from the selfish.

These terms have their equivalents in every tongue; they were invented by
men of no refinement, who only meant to express what they distinctly
perceived, or strongly felt. And if a man of speculation should prove, that
we are selfish in a sense of his own, it does not follow that we are so in
the sense of the vulgar; or, as ordinary men would understand his
conclusion, that we are condemned in every instance to act on motives of
interest, covetousness, pusillanimity, and cowardice; for such is conceived
to be the ordinary import of selfishness in the character of man.

An affection or passion of any kind is sometimes said to give us an
interest in its object; and humanity itself gives an interest in the
welfare of mankind. This term _interest_, which commonly implies
little more than our property, is sometimes put for utility in general, and
this for happiness; insomuch, that, under these ambiguities, it is not
surprising we are still unable to determine, whether interest is the only
motive of human action, and the standard by which to distinguish our good
from our ill.

So much is said in this place, not from a desire to partake in any such
controversy, but merely to confine the meaning of the term _interest_
to its most common acceptation, and to intimate a design to employ it in
expressing those objects of care which refer to our external condition, and
the preservation of our animal nature. When taken in this sense, it will
not surely be thought to comprehend at once all the motives of human
conduct. If men be not allowed to have disinterested benevolence, they will
not be denied to have disinterested passions of another kind. Hatred,
indignation, and rage, frequently urge them to act in opposition to their
known interest, and even to hazard their lives, without any hopes of
compensation in any future returns of preferment or profit.



Mankind have always wandered or settled, agreed or quarrelled, in troops
and companies. The cause of their assembling, whatever it be, is the
principle of their alliance or union.

In collecting the materials of history, we are seldom willing to put up
with our subject merely as we find it. We are loth to be embarrassed with a
multiplicity of particulars, and apparent inconsistencies. In theory we
profess the investigation of general principles; and in order to bring the
matter of our inquiries within the reach of our comprehension, are disposed
to adopt any system. Thus, in treating of human affairs, we would draw
every consequence from a principle of union, or a principle of dissention.
The state of nature is a state of war, or of amity, and men are made to
unite from a principle of affection, or from a principle of fear, as is
most suitable to the system of different writers. The history of our
species indeed abundantly shows, that they are to one another mutual
objects both of fear and of love; and they who would prove them to have
been originally either in a state of alliance, or of war, have arguments in
store to maintain their assertions. Our attachment to one division, or to
one sect, seems often to derive much of its force from an animosity
conceived to an opposite one: and this animosity in its turn, as often
arises from a zeal in behalf of the side we espouse, and from a desire to
vindicate the rights of our party.

"Man is born in society," says Montesquieu, "and there he remains." The
charms that detain him are known to be manifold. Together with the parental
affection, which, instead of deserting the adult, as among the brutes,
embraces more close, as it becomes mixed with esteem, and the memory of its
early effects; we may reckon a propensity common to man and other animals,
to mix with the herd, and, without reflection, to follow the crowd of his
species. What this propensity was in the first moment of its operation, we
know not; but with men accustomed to company, its enjoyments and
disappointments are reckoned among the principal pleasures or pains of
human life. Sadness and melancholy are connected with solitude; gladness
and pleasure with the concourse of men. The track of a Laplander on the
snowy shore, gives joy to the lonely mariner; and the mute signs of
cordiality and kindness which are made to him, awaken the memory of
pleasures which he felt in society. In fine, says the writer of a voyage to
the North, after describing a mute scene of this sort, "We were extremely
pleased to converse with men, since in thirteen months we had seen no human
creature." [Footnote: Collection of Dutch voyages.]

But we need no remote observation to confirm this position: the wailings of
the infant, and the languors of the adult, when alone; the lively joys of
the one, and the cheerfulness of the other, upon the return of company, are
a sufficient proof of its solid foundations in the frame of our nature.

In accounting for actions we often forget that we ourselves have acted; and
instead of the sentiments which stimulate the mind in the presence of its
object, we assign as the motives of conduct with men, those considerations
which occur in the hours of retirement and cold reflection. In this mood
frequently we can find nothing important, besides the deliberate prospects
of interest; and a great work, like that of forming society, must in our
apprehension arise from deep reflections, and be carried on with a view to
the advantages which mankind derive from commerce and mutual support. But
neither a propensity to mix with the herd, nor the sense of advantages
enjoyed in that condition, comprehend all the principles by which men are
united together. Those bands are even of a feeble texture, when compared to
the resolute ardour with which a man adheres to his friend, or to his
tribe, after they have for some time run the career of fortune together.
Mutual discoveries of generosity, joint trials of fortitude redouble the
ardours of friendship, and kindle a flame in the human breast, which the
considerations of personal interest or safety cannot suppress. The most
lively transports of joy are seen, and the loudest shrieks of despair are
heard, when the objects of a tender affection are beheld in a state of
triumph or of suffering. An Indian recovered his friend unexpectedly on the
island of Juan Fernandes: he prostrated himself on the ground, at his feet.
"We stood gazing in silence," says Dampier, "at this tender scene." If we
would know what is the religion of a wild American, what it is in his heart
that most resembles devotion; it is not his fear of the sorcerer, nor his
hope of protection from the spirits of the air or the wood: it is the
ardent affection with which he selects and embraces his friend; with which
he clings to his side in every season of peril; and with which he invokes
his spirit from a distance, when dangers surprise him alone. [Footnote:
Charlevoix, Hist. of Canada.]

Whatever proofs we may have of the social disposition of man in familiar
and contiguous scenes, it is possibly of importance, to draw our
observations from the examples of men who live in the simplest condition,
and who have not learned to affect what they do not actually feel.

Mere acquaintance and habitude nourish affection, and the experience of
society brings every passion of the human mind upon its side. Its triumphs
and prosperities, its calamities and distresses, bring a variety and a
force of emotion, which can only have place in the company of our fellow
creatures. It is here that a man is made to forget his weakness, his cares
of safety, and his subsistence; and to act from those passions which make
him discover his force. It is here he finds that his arrows fly swifter
than the eagle, and his weapons wound deeper than the paw of the lion, or
the tooth of the boar. It is not alone his sense of a support which is
near, nor the love of distinction in the opinion of his tribe, that inspire
his courage, or swell his heart with a confidence that exceeds what his
natural force should bestow. Vehement passions of animosity or attachment
are the first exertions of vigour in his breast; under their influence
every consideration, but that of his object, is forgotten; dangers and
difficulties only excite him the more.

That condition is surely favourable to the nature of any being, in which
his force is increased; and if courage be the gift of society to man, we
have reason to consider his union with his species as the noblest part of
his fortune. From this source are derived, not only the force, but the very
existence of his happiest emotions; not only the better part, but almost
the whole of his rational character. Send him to the desert alone, he is a
plant torn from his roots: the form indeed may remain, but every faculty
droops and withers; the human personage and the human character cease to

Men are so far from valuing society on account of its mere external
conveniencies, that they are commonly most attached where those
conveniencies are least frequent; and are there most faithful, where the
tribute of their allegiance is paid in blood. Affection operates with the
greatest force, where it meets with the greatest difficulties: in the
breast of the parent, it is most solicitous amidst the dangers and
distresses of the child; in the breast of a man, its flame redoubles where
the wrongs or sufferings of his friend, or his country, require his aid. It
is, in short, from this principle alone that we can account for the
obstinate attachment of a savage to his unsettled and defenceless tribe,
when temptations on the side of ease and of safety might induce him to fly
from famine and danger, to a station more affluent, and more secure. Hence
the sanguine affection which every Greek bore to his country, and hence the
devoted patriotism of an early Roman. Let those examples be compared with
the spirit which reigns in a commercial state, where men may be supposed to
have experienced, in its full extent, the interest which individuals have
in the preservation of their country. It is here indeed, if ever, that man
is sometimes found a detached and a solitary being: he has found an object
which sets him in competition with his fellow creatures, and he deals with
them as he does with his cattle and his soil, for the sake of the profits
they bring. The mighty engine which we suppose to have formed society, only
tends to set its members at variance, or to continue their intercourse
after the bands of affection are broken.



"There are some circumstances in the lot of mankind," says Socrates, "that
show them to be destined to friendship and amity: Those are, their mutual
need of each other; their mutual compassion; their sense of mutual benefit;
and the pleasures arising in company. There are other circumstances which
prompt them to war and dissention; the admiration and the desire which they
entertain for the same subjects; their opposite pretensions; and the
provocations which they mutually offer in the course of their

When we endeavour to apply the maxims of natural justice to the solution of
difficult questions, we find that some cases may be supposed, and actually
happen, where oppositions take place, and are lawful, prior to any
provocation, or act of injustice; that where the safety and preservation of
numbers are mutually inconsistent, one party may employ his right of
defence, before the other has begun an attack. And when we join with such
examples, the instances of mistake, and misunderstanding, to which mankind
are exposed, we may be satisfied that war does not always proceed from an
intention to injure; and that even the best qualities of men, their
candour, as well as their resolution, may operate in the midst of their

There is still more to be observed on this subject. Mankind not only find
in their condition the sources of variance and dissention; they appear to
have in their minds the seeds of animosity, and to embrace the occasions of
mutual opposition, with alacrity and pleasure. In the most pacific
situation, there are few who have not their enemies, as well as their
friends; and who are not pleased with opposing the proceedings of one, as
much as with favouring the designs of another. Small and simple tribes, who
in their domestic society have the firmest union, are in their state of
opposition as separate nations, frequently animated with the most
implacable hatred. Among the citizens of Rome, in the early ages of that
republic, the name of a foreigner, and that of an enemy, were the same.
Among the Greeks, the name of Barbarian, under which that people
comprehended every nation that was of a race, and spoke a language,
different from their own, became a term of indiscriminate contempt and
aversion. Even where no particular claim to superiority is formed, the
repugnance to union, the frequent wars, or rather the perpetual hostilities
which take place among rude nations and separate clans, discover how much
our species is disposed to opposition, as well as to concert.

Late discoveries have brought to our knowledge almost every situation in
which mankind are placed. We have found them spread over large and
extensive continents, where communications are open, and where national
confederacy might be easily formed. We have found them in narrower
districts, circumscribed by mountains, great rivers, and arms of the sea.
They have been found in small islands, where the inhabitants might be
easily assembled, and derive an advantage from their union. But in all
those situations, alike, they were broke into cantons, and affected a
distinction of name and community. The titles of _fellow citizen_ and
_countrymen_, unopposed to those of _alien_ and _foreigner_, to which
they refer, would fall into disuse, and lose their meaning. We love
individuals on account of personal qualities; but we love our country,
as it is a party in the divisions of mankind; and our zeal for its
interest, is a predilection in behalf of the side we maintain.

In the promiscuous concourse of men, it is sufficient that we have an
opportunity of selecting our company. We turn away from those who do not
engage us, and we fix our resort where the society is more to our mind. We
are fond of distinctions; we place ourselves in opposition, and quarrel
under the denominations of faction and party, without any material subject
of controversy. Aversion, like affection, is fostered by a continued
direction to its particular object. Separation and estrangement, as well as
opposition, widen a breach which did not owe its beginnings to any offence.
And it would seem, that till we have reduced mankind to the state of a
family, or found some external consideration to maintain their connection
in greater numbers, they will be for ever separated into bands, and form a
plurality of nations.

The sense of a common danger, and the assaults of an enemy, have been
frequently useful to nations, by uniting their members more firmly
together, and by preventing the secessions and actual separations in which
their civil discord might otherwise terminate. And this motive to union
which is offered from abroad, may be necessary, not only in the case of
large and extensive nations, where coalitions are weakened by distance, and
the distinction of provincial names; but even in the narrow society of the
smallest states. Rome itself was founded by a small party which took its
flight from Alba; her citizens were often in danger of separating; and if
the villages and cantons of the Volsci had been further removed from the
scene of their dissentions, the Mons Sacer might have received a new colony
before the mother country was ripe for such a discharge. She continued long
to feel the quarrels of her nobles and her people; and kept open the gates
of Janus, to remind those parties of the duties they owed to their country.

Societies, as well as individuals, being charged with the care of their own
preservation, and having separate interests, which give rise to jealousies
and competitions, we cannot be surprised to find hostilities arise from
this source. But were there no angry passions of a different sort, the
animosities which attend an opposition of interest, should bear a
proportion to the supposed value of the subject. "The Hottentot nations,"
says Kolben, "trespass on each other by thefts of cattle and of women; but
such injuries are seldom committed, except with a view to exasperate their
neighbours, and bring them to a war." Such depredations then, are not the
foundation of a war, but the effects of a hostile intention already
conceived. The nations of North America, who have no herds to preserve, nor
settlements to defend, are yet engaged in almost perpetual wars, for which
they can assign no reason, but the point of honour, and a desire to
continue the struggle their fathers maintained. They do not regard the
spoils of an enemy; and the warrior who has seized any booty, easily parts
with it to the first person who comes in his way. [Footnote: See
Charlevoix's History of Canada.]

But we need not cross the Atlantic to find proofs of animosity, and to
observe, in the collision of separate societies, the influence of angry
passions, that do not arise from an opposition of interest. Human nature
has no part of its character of which more flagrant examples are given on
this side of the globe. What is it that stirs in the breasts of ordinary
men when the enemies of their country are named? Whence are the prejudices
that subsist between different provinces, cantons, and villages, of the
same empire and territory? What is it that excites one half of the nations
of Europe against the other? The statesman may explain his conduct on
motives of national jealousy and caution, but the people have dislikes and
antipathies, for which they cannot account. Their mutual reproaches of
perfidy and injustice, like the Hottentot depredations, are but symptoms of
an animosity, and the language of a hostile disposition, already conceived.
The charge of cowardice and pusillanimity, qualities which the interested
and cautious enemy should, of all others, like best to find in his rival,
is urged with aversion, and made the ground of dislike. Hear the peasants
on different sides of the Alps, and the Pyrenees, the Rhine, or the British
channel, give vent to their prejudices, and national passions; it is among
them that we find the materials of war and dissention laid without the
direction of government, and sparks ready to kindle into a flame, which the
statesman is frequently disposed to extinguish. The fire will not always
catch where his reasons of state would direct, nor stop where the
concurrence of interest has produced an alliance. "My father," said a
Spanish peasant, "would rise from his grave, if he could foresee a war with
France." What interest had he, or the bones of his father, in the quarrels
of princes?

These observations seem to arraign our species, and to give an unfavourable
picture of mankind; and yet the particulars we have mentioned are
consistent with the most amiable qualities of our nature, and often furnish
a scene North America, who have no herds to preserve, nor settlements to
defend, are yet engaged in almost perpetual wars, for which they can assign
no reason, but the point of honour, and a desire to continue the struggle
their fathers maintained. They do not regard the spoils of an enemy; and
the warrior who has seized any booty, easily parts with it to the first
person who comes in his way. [Footnote: See Charlevoix's History of

But we need not cross the Atlantic to find proofs of animosity, and to
observe, in the collision of separate societies, the influence of angry
passions, that do not arise from an opposition of interest. Human nature
has no part of its character of which more flagrant examples are given on
this side of the globe. What is it that stirs in the breasts of ordinary
men when the enemies of their country are named? Whence are the prejudices
that subsist between different provinces, cantons, and villages, of the
same empire and territory? What is it that excites one half of the nations
of Europe against the other? The statesman may explain his conduct on
motives of national jealousy and caution, but the people have dislikes and
antipathies, for which they cannot account. Their mutual reproaches of
perfidy and injustice, like the Hottentot depredations, are but symptoms of
an animosity, and the language of a hostile disposition, already conceived.
The charge of cowardice and pusillanimity, qualities which the interested
and cautious enemy should, of all others, like best to find in his rival,
is urged with aversion, and made the ground of dislike. Hear the peasants
on different sides of the Alps, and the Pyrenees, the Rhine, or the British
channel, give vent to their prejudices and national passions; it is among
them that we find the materials of war and dissention laid without the
direction of government, and sparks ready to kindle into a flame, which the
statesman is frequently disposed to extinguish. The fire will not always
catch where his reasons of state would direct, nor stop where the
concurrence of interest has produced an alliance. "My father," said a
Spanish peasant, "would rise from his grave, if he could foresee a war with
France." What interest had he, or the bones of his father, in the quarrels
of princes?

These observations seem to arraign our species, and to give an unfavourable
picture of mankind; and yet the particulars we have mentioned are
consistent with the most amiable qualities of our nature, and often furnish
a scene for the exercise of our greatest abilities. They are sentiments of
generosity and self denial that animate the warrior in defence of his
country; and they are dispositions most favourable to mankind, that become
the principles of apparent hostility to men. Every animal is made to
delight in the exercise of his natural talents and forces. The lion and the
tyger sport with the paw; the horse delights to commit his mane to the
wind, and forgets his pasture to try his speed in the field; the bull even
before his brow is armed, and the lamb while yet an emblem of innocence,
have a disposition to strike with the forehead, and anticipate, in play,
the conflicts they are doomed to sustain. Man too is disposed to
opposition, and to employ the forces of his nature against an equal
antagonist; he loves to bring his reason, his eloquence, his courage, even
his bodily strength to the proof. His sports are frequently an image of
war; sweat and blood are freely expended in play; and fractures or death
are often made to terminate the pastime of idleness and festivity. He was
not made to live for ever, and even his love of amusement has opened a way
to the grave.

Without the rivalship of nations, and the practice of war, civil society
itself could scarcely have found an object, or a form. Mankind might have
traded without any formal convention, but they cannot be safe without a
national concert. The necessity of a public defence, has given rise to many
departments of state, and the intellectual talents of men have found their
busiest scene in wielding their national forces. To overawe, or intimidate,
or, when we cannot persuade with reason, to resist with fortitude, are the
occupations which give its most animating exercise, and its greatest
triumphs, to a vigorous mind; and he who has never struggled with his
fellow creatures, is a stranger to half the sentiments of mankind.

The quarrels of individuals, indeed, are frequently the operations of
unhappy and detestable passions, malice, hatred, and rage. If such passions
alone possess the breast, the scene of dissention becomes an object of
horror; but a common opposition maintained by numbers, is always allayed by
passions of another sort. Sentiments of affection and friendship mix with
animosity; the active and strenuous become the guardians of their society;
and violence itself is, in their case, an exertion of generosity, as well
as of courage. We applaud, as proceeding from a national or party spirit,
what we could not endure as the effect of a private dislike; and, amidst
the competitions of rival states, think we have found, for the patriot and
the warrior, in the practice of violence and stratagem, the most
illustrious career of human virtue. Even personal opposition here does not
divide our judgment on the merits of men. The rival names of Agesilaus and
Epaminondas, of Scipio and Hannibal, are repeated with equal praise; and
war itself, which in one view appears so fatal, in another is the exercise
of a liberal spirit; and in the very effects which we regret, is but one
distemper more, by which the Author of nature has appointed our exit from
human life.

These reflections may open, our view into the state of mankind; but they
tend to reconcile us to the conduct of Providence, rather than to make us
change our own; where, from a regard to the welfare of our fellow
creatures, we endeavour to pacify their animosities, and unite them by the
ties of affection. In the pursuit of this amiable intention, we may hope,
in some instances, to disarm the angry passions of jealousy and envy; we
may hope to instil into the breasts of private men sentiments of candour
towards their fellow creatures, and a disposition to humanity and justice.
But it is vain to expect that we can give to the multitude of a people a
sense of union among themselves, without admitting hostility to those who
oppose them. Could we at once, in the case of any nation, extinguish the
emulation which is excited from abroad, we should probably break or weaken
the bands of society at home, and close the busiest scenes of national
occupations and virtues.



Many attempts have been made to analyze the dispositions which we have now
enumerated; but one purpose of science, perhaps the most important, is
served, when the existence of a disposition is established. We are more
concerned in its reality, and in its consequences, than we are in its
origin, or manner of formation.

The same observation may be applied to the other powers and faculties of
our nature. Their existence and use are the principal objects of our study.
Thinking and reasoning, we say, are the operations of some faculty; but in
what manner the faculties of thought or reason remain, when they are not
exerted, or by what difference in the frame they are unequal in different
persons, are questions which we cannot resolve. Their operations alone
discover them; when unapplied, they lie hid even from the person to whom
they pertain; and their action is so much a part of their nature, that the
faculty itself, in many cases, is scarcely to be distinguished from a habit
acquired in its frequent exertion.

Persons who are occupied with different subjects, who act in different
scenes, generally appear to have different talents, or at least to have the
same faculties variously formed, and suited to different purposes. The
peculiar genius of nations, as well as of individuals, may in this manner
arise from the state of their fortunes. And it is proper that we endeavour
to find some rule, by which to judge of what is admirable in the capacities
of men, or fortunate in the application of their faculties, before we
venture to pass a judgment on this branch of their merits, or pretend to
measure the degree of respect they may claim by their different

To receive the informations of sense, is perhaps the earliest function of
an animal combined with an intellectual nature; and one great
accomplishment of the living agent consists in the force and sensibility of
his animal organs. The pleasures or pains to which he is exposed from this
quarter, constitute to him an important difference between the objects
which are thus brought to his knowledge; and it concerns him to distinguish
well, before he commits himself to the direction of appetite. He must
scrutinize the objects of one sense, by the perceptions of another; examine
with the eye, before he ventures to touch; and employ every means of
observation, before he gratifies the appetites of thirst and of hunger. A
discernment acquired by experience, becomes a faculty of his mind; and the
inferences of thought are sometimes not to be distinguished from the
perceptions of sense.

The objects around us, beside their separate appearances, have their
relations to each other. They suggest, when compared, what would not occur
when they are considered apart; they have their effects, and mutual
influences; they exhibit, in like circumstances, similar operations, and
uniform consequences. When we have found and expressed the points in which
the uniformity of their operations consists, we have ascertained a physical
law. Many such laws, and even the most important, are known to the vulgar,
and occur upon the smallest degrees of reflection; but others are hid under
a seeming confusion, which ordinary talents cannot remove; and are
therefore the objects of study, long observation, and superior capacity.
The faculties of penetration and judgment, are, by men of business, as well
as of science, employed to unravel intricacies of this sort; and the degree
of sagacity with which either is endowed, is to be measured by the success
with which they are able to find general rules, applicable to a variety of
cases that seemed to have nothing in common, and to discover important
distinctions between subjects which the vulgar are apt to confound.

To collect a multiplicity of particulars under general heads, and to refer
a variety of operations to their common principle, is the object of
science. To do the same thing, at least within the range of his active
engagements, is requisite to the man of pleasure, or business; and it would
seem, that the studious and the active are so far employed in the same
task, from observation and experience, to find the general views under
which their objects may be considered, and the rules which may be usefully
applied in the detail of their conduct. They do not always apply their
talents to different subjects; and they seem to be distinguished chiefly by
the unequal reach and variety of their remarks, or by the intentions which
they severally have in collecting them.

Whilst men continue to act from appetites and passions, leading to the
attainment of external ends, they seldom quit the view of their objects in
detail, to go far in the road of general inquiries. They measure the extent
of their own abilities, by the promptitude with which they apprehend what
is important in every subject, and the facility with which they extricate
themselves on every trying occasion. And these, it must be confessed, to a
being who is destined to act in the midst of difficulties, are the proper
test of capacity and force. The parade of words and general reasonings,
which sometimes carry an appearance of so much learning and knowledge, are
of little avail in the conduct of life. The talents from which they
proceed, terminate in mere ostentation, and are seldom connected with that
superior discernment which the active apply in times of perplexity; much
less with that intrepidity and force of mind which are required in passing
through difficult scenes.

The abilities of active men, however, have a variety corresponding to that
of the subjects on which they are occupied. A sagacity applied to external
and inanimate nature, forms one species of capacity; that which is turned
to society and human affairs, another. Reputation for parts in any scene is
equivocal, till we know by what kind of exertion that reputation is gained.
No more can be said, in commending men of the greatest abilities, than that
they understand well the subjects to which they have applied; and every
department, every profession, would have its great men, if there were not a
choice of objects for the understanding, and of talents for the mind, as
well as of sentiments for the heart, and of habits for the active

The meanest professions, indeed, so far sometimes forget themselves, or the
rest of mankind, as to arrogate, in commending what is distinguished in
their own way, every epithet the most respectable claim as the right of
superior abilities. Every mechanic is a great man with the learner, and the
humble admirer, in his particular calling: and we can, perhaps with more
assurance pronounce what it is that should make a man happy and amiable,
than what should make his abilities respected, and his genius admired.
This, upon a view of the talents themselves, may perhaps be impossible. The
effect, however, will point out the rule and the standard of our judgment.
To be admired and respected, is to have an ascendant among men. The talents
which most directly procure that ascendant, are those which operate on
mankind, penetrate their views, prevent their wishes, or frustrate their
designs. The superior capacity leads with a superior energy, where every
individual would go, and shews the hesitating and irresolute a clear
passage to the attainment of their ends.

This description does not pertain to any particular craft or profession; or
perhaps it implies a kind of ability, which the separate application of men
to particular callings, only tends to suppress or to weaken. Where shall we
find the talents which are fit to act with men in a collective body, if we
break that body into parts, and confine the observation of each to a
separate track?

To act in the view of his fellow creatures, to produce his mind in public,
to give it all the exercise of sentiment and thought, which pertain to man
as a member of society, as a friend, or an enemy, seems to be the principal
calling and occupation of his nature. If he must labour, that he may
subsist, he can subsist for no better purpose than the good of mankind; nor
can he have better talents than those which qualify him to act with men.
Here, indeed, the understanding appears to borrow very much from the
passions; and there is a felicity of conduct in human affairs, in which it
is difficult to distinguish the promptitude of the head from the ardour and
sensibility of the heart. Where both are united, they constitute that
superiority of mind, the frequency of which among men, in particular ages
and nations, much more than the progress they have made in speculation, or
in the practice of mechanic and liberal arts, should determine the rate of
their genius, and assign the palm of distinction and honour.

When nations succeed one another in the career of discoveries and
inquiries, the last is always the most knowing. Systems of science are
gradually formed. The globe itself is traversed by degrees, and the history
of every age, when past, is an accession of knowledge to those who succeed.
The Romans were more knowing than the Greeks; and every scholar of modern
Europe is, in this sense, more learned than the most accomplished person
that ever bore either of those celebrated names. But is he on that account
their superior?

Men are to be estimated, not from what they know, but from what they are
able to perform; from their skill in adapting materials to the several
purposes of life; from their vigour and conduct in pursuing the objects of
policy, and in finding the expedients of war and national defence. Even in
literature, they are to be estimated from the works of their genius, not
from the extent of their knowledge. The scene of mere observation was
extremely limited in a Grecian republic; and the bustle of an active life
appeared inconsistent with study: but there the human mind,
notwithstanding, collected its greatest abilities, and received its best
informations, in the midst of sweat and of dust.

It is peculiar to modern Europe, to rest so much of the human character on
what may be learned in retirement, and from the information of books. A
just admiration of ancient literature, an opinion that human sentiment, and
human reason, without this aid, were to have vanished from the societies of
men, have led us into the shade, where we endeavour to derive from
imagination and study what is in reality matter of experience and
sentiment; and we endeavour, through the grammar of dead languages, and the
channel of commentators, to arrive at the beauties of thought and
elocution, which sprang from the animated spirit of society, and were taken
from the living impressions of an active life. Our attainments are
frequently limited to the elements of every science, and seldom reach to
that enlargement of ability and power, which useful knowledge should give.
Like mathematicians, who study the Elements of Euclid, but, never think of
mensuration; we read of societies, but do not propose to act with men; we
repeat the language of politics, but feel not the spirit of nations; we
attend to the formalities of a military discipline, but know not how to
employ numbers of men to obtain any purpose by stratagem or force.

But for what end, it may be said, point out an evil that cannot be
remedied? If national affairs called for exertion, the genius of men would
awake; but in the recess of better employment, the time which is bestowed
on study, if even attended with no other advantage, serves to occupy with
innocence the hours of leisure, and set bounds to the pursuit of ruinous
and frivolous amusements. From no better reason than this, we employ so
many of our early years, under the rod, to acquire, what it is not expected
we should retain beyond the threshold of the school; and whilst we carry
the same frivolous character in our studies that we do in our amusements,
the human mind could not suffer more from a contempt of letters, than it
does from the false importance which is given to literature, as a business
for life, not as a help to our conduct, and the means of forming a
character that may be happy in itself, and useful to mankind.

If that time which is passed in relaxing the powers of the mind, and in
withholding every object but what tends to weaken and to corrupt, were
employed in fortifying those powers, and in teaching the mind to recognize
its objects, and its strength, we should not, at the years of maturity, be
so much at a loss for occupation; nor, in attending the chances of a gaming
table, misemploy our talents, or waste the fire which remains in the
breast. They, at least, who by their stations have a share in the
government of their country, might believe themselves capable of business;
and, while the state had its armies and councils, might find objects enough
to amuse, without throwing a personal fortune into hazard, merely to cure
the yawnings of a listless and insignificant life. It is impossible for
ever to maintain the tone of speculation; it is impossible not sometimes to
feel that we live among men.



Upon a slight observation of what passes in human life, we should be apt to
conclude, that the care of subsistence is the principal spring of human
actions. This consideration leads to the invention and practice of
mechanical arts; it serves to distinguish amusement from business; and,
with many, scarcely admits into competition any other subject of pursuit or
attention. The mighty advantages of property and fortune, when stript of
the recommendations they derive from vanity, or the more serious regards to
independence and power, only mean a provision that is made for animal
enjoyment; and if our solicitude on this subject were removed, not only the
toils of the mechanic, but the studies of the learned, would cease; every
department of public business would become unnecessary; every senate house
would be shut up, and every palace deserted.

Is man therefore, in respect to his object, to be classed with the mere
brutes, and only to be distinguished by faculties that qualify him to
multiply contrivances for the support and convenience of animal life, and
by the extent of a fancy that renders the care of animal preservation to
him more burthensome than it is to the herd with which he shares in the
bounty of nature? If this were his case, the joy which attends on success,
or the griefs which arise from disappointment, would make the sum of his
passions. The torrent that wasted, or the inundation that enriched, his
possessions, would give him all the emotion with which he is seized, on the
occasion of a wrong by which his fortunes are impaired, or of a benefit by
which they are preserved and enlarged. His fellow creatures would be
considered merely as they affected his interest. Profit or loss would serve
to mark the event of every transaction; and the epithets _useful_ or
_detrimental_ would serve to distinguish his mates in society, as they
do the tree which bears plenty of fruit, from that which only cumbers the
ground, or intercepts his view.

This, however, is not the history of our species. What comes from a fellow
creature is received with peculiar emotion; and every language abounds with
terms that express somewhat in the transactions of men, different from
success and disappointment. The bosom kindles in company, while the point
of interest in view has nothing to inflame; and a matter frivolous in
itself, becomes important, when it serves to bring to light the intentions
and characters of men. The foreigner, who believed that Othello, on the
stage, was enraged for the loss of his handkerchief, was not more mistaken,
than the reasoner who imputes any of the more vehement passions of men to
the impressions of mere profit or loss.

Men assemble to deliberate on business; they separate from jealousies of
interest; but in their several collisions, whether as friends or as
enemies, a fire is struck out which the regards to interest or safety
cannot confine. The value of a favour is not measured when sentiments of
kindness are perceived; and the term _misfortune_ has but a feeble
meaning, when compared to that of _insult_ and _wrong_.

As actors or spectators, we are perpetually made to feel the difference of
human conduct, and from a bare recital of transactions, which have passed
in ages and countries remote from our own, are moved with admiration and
pity, or transported with indignation and rage. Our sensibility on this
subject gives their charm in retirement, to the relations of history and to
the fictions of poetry; sends forth the tear of compassion, gives to the
blood its briskest movement, and to the eye its liveliest glances of
displeasure or joy. It turns human life into an interesting spectacle, and
perpetually solicits even the indolent to mix, as opponents or friends, in
the scenes which are acted before them. Joined to the powers of
deliberation and reason, it constitutes the basis of a moral nature; and,
whilst it dictates the terms of praise and of blame, serves to class our
fellow creatures, by the most admirable and engaging, or the most odious
and contemptible denominations.

It is pleasant to find men, who in their speculations deny the reality of
moral distinctions, forget in detail the general positions they maintain,
and give loose to ridicule, indignation, and scorn, as if any of these
sentiments could have place, were the actions of men indifferent; or with
acrimony pretend to detect the fraud by which moral restraints have been
imposed, as if to censure a fraud were not already to take a part on the
side of morality. [Footnote: Mandeville.]

Can we explain the principles upon which mankind adjudge the preference of
characters, and upon which they indulge such vehement emotions of
admiration or contempt? If it be admitted that we cannot, are the facts
less true? Or must we suspend the movements of the heart, until they who
are employed in framing systems of science have discovered the principle
from which those movements proceed? If a finger burn, we care not for
information on the properties of fire: if the heart be torn, or the mind
overjoyed, we have not leisure for speculations on the subjects of moral

It is fortunate in this, as in other articles to which speculation and
theory are applied, that nature proceeds in her course, whilst the curious
are busied in the search of her principles. The peasant, or the child, can
reason, and judge, and speak his language with a discernment, a
consistency, and a regard to analogy, which perplex the logician, the
moralist, and the grammarian, when they would find the principle upon which
the proceeding is founded, or when they would bring to general rule, what
is so familiar, and so well sustained in particular cases. The felicity of
our conduct is more owing to the talent we possess for detail, and to the
suggestion of particular occasions, than it is to any direction we can find
in theory and general speculations.

We must, in the result of every inquiry, encounter with facts which we
cannot explain; and to bear with this mortification would save us
frequently a great deal of fruitless trouble. Together with the sense of
our existence, we must admit many circumstances which come to our knowledge
at the same time, and in the same manner; and which do, in reality,
constitute the mode of our being. Every peasant will tell us, that a man
hath his rights; and that to trespass on those rights is injustice. If we
ask him farther, what he means by the term _right?_ we probably force
him to substitute a less significant, or less proper term, in the place of
this; or require him to account for what is an original mode of his mind,
and a sentiment to which he ultimately refers, when he would explain
himself upon any particular application of his language.

The rights of individuals may relate to a variety of subjects, and be
comprehended under different heads. Prior to the establishment of property,
and the distinction of ranks, men have a right to defend their persons, and
to act with freedom; they have a right to maintain the apprehensions of
reason, and the feelings of the heart; and they cannot for a moment
associate together, without feeling that the treatment they give or receive
may be just or unjust. It is not, however, our business here to carry the
notion of a right into its several applications, but to reason on the
sentiment of favour with which that notion is entertained in the mind. If
it be true, that men are united by instinct, that they act in society from
affections of kindness and friendship; if it be true, that even prior to
acquaintance and habitude, men, as such, are commonly to each other objects
of attention, and some degree of regard; that while their, prosperity is
beheld with indifference, their afflictions are considered with
commiseration; if calamities be measured by the numbers and the qualities
of men they involve; and if every suffering of a fellow creature draws a
crowd of attentive spectators; if, even in the case of those to whom we do
not habitually wish any positive good, we are still averse to be the
instruments of harm; it should seem, that in these various appearances of
an amicable disposition, the foundations of a moral apprehension are
sufficiently laid, and the sense of a right which we maintain for
ourselves, is by a movement of humanity and candour extended to our fellow

What is it that prompts the tongue when we censure an act of cruelty or
oppression? What is it that constitutes our restraint from offences that
tend to distress our fellow creatures? It is probably, in both cases, a
particular application of that principle, which, in presence of the
sorrowful, sends forth the tear of compassion; and a combination of all
those sentiments, which constitute a benevolent disposition; and if not a
resolution to do good, at least an aversion to be the instrument of harm.
[Footnote: Mankind, we are told, are devoted to interest; and this, in all
commercial nations, is undoubtedly true. But it does not follow, that they
are, by their natural dispositions, averse to society and mutual affection:
proofs of the contrary remain, even where interest triumphs most. What must
we think of the force of that disposition to compassion, to candour, and
good will, which, notwithstanding the prevailing opinion that the happiness
of a man consists in possessing the greatest possible share of riches,
preferments, and honours, still keeps the parties who are in competition
for those objects, on a tolerable footing of amity, and leads them to
abstain even from their own supposed good, when their seizing it appears in
the light of a detriment to others? What might we not expect from the human
heart in circumstances which prevented this apprehension on the subject of
fortune, or under the influence of an opinion as steady and general as the
former, that human felicity does not consist in the indulgences of animal
appetite, but in those of a benevolent heart; not in fortune or interest,
but in the contempt of this very object, in the courage and freedom which
arise from this contempt, joined to a resolute choice of conduct, directed
to the good of mankind, or to the good of that particular society to which
the party belongs?]

It may be difficult, however, to enumerate the motives of all the censures
and commendations which are applied to the actions of men. Even while we
moralize, every disposition of the human mind may have its share in forming
the judgment, and in prompting the tongue. As jealousy is often the most
watchful guardian of chastity, so malice is often the quickest to spy the
failings of our neighbour. Envy, affectation, and vanity, may dictate the
verdicts we give, and the worst principles of our nature may be at the
bottom of our pretended zeal for morality; but if we only mean to inquire,
why they who are well disposed to mankind apprehend, in every instance,
certain rights pertaining to their fellow creatures, and why they applaud
the consideration that is paid to those rights, we cannot assign a better
reason, than that the person who applauds, is well disposed to the welfare
of the parties to whom his applauses refer. Applause, however, is the
expression of a peculiar sentiment; an expression of esteem the reverse of
contempt. Its object is perfection, the reverse of defect. This sentiment
is not the love of mankind; it is that by which we estimate the qualities
of men, and the objects of our pursuit; that which doubles the force of
every desire or aversion, when we consider its object as tending to raise
or to sink our nature.

When we consider, that the reality of any amicable propensity in the human
mind has been frequently contested; when we recollect the prevalence of
interested competitions, with their attendant passions of jealousy, envy,
and malice; it may seem strange to allege, that love and compassion are,
next to the desire of elevation, the most powerful motives in the human
breast: That they urge, on many occasions, with the most irresistible
vehemence; and if the desire of self preservation be more constant, and
more uniform, these are a more plentiful source of enthusiasm,
satisfaction, and joy. With a power not inferior to that of resentment and
rage, they hurry the mind into every sacrifice of interest, and bear it
undismayed through every hardship and danger.

The disposition on which friendship is grafted, glows with satisfaction in
the hours of tranquillity, and is pleasant, not only in its triumphs, but
even in its sorrows. It throws a grace on the external air, and, by its
expression on the countenance, compensates for the want of beauty, or gives
a charm which no complexion or features can equal. From this source the
scenes of human life derive their principal felicity; and their imitations
in poetry, their principal ornament. Descriptions of nature, even
representations of a vigorous conduct, and a manly courage, do not engage
the heart, if they be not mixed with the exhibition of generous sentiments,
and the pathetic, which is found to arise in the struggles, the triumphs,
or the misfortunes of a tender affection. The death of Polites, in the
Aeneid, is not more affecting than that of many others who perished in the
ruins of Troy; but the aged Priam was present when this last of his sons
was slain; and the agonies of grief and sorrow force the parent from his
retreat, to fall by the hand that shed the blood of his child. The pathetic
of Homer consists in exhibiting the force of affections, not in exciting
mere terror and pity; passions he has never perhaps, in any instance,
attempted to raise.

With this tendency to kindle into enthusiasm, with this command over the
heart, with the pleasure that attends its emotions, and with all its
effects in meriting confidence and procuring esteem, it is not surprising,
that a principle of humanity should give the tone to our commendations and
our censures, and even where it is hindered from directing our conduct,
should still give to the mind, on reflection, its knowledge of what is
desirable in the human character. _What hast thou done with thy brother
Abel?_ was the first expostulation in behalf of morality; and if the
first answer has been often repeated, mankind have notwithstanding, in one
sense, sufficiently acknowledged the charge of their nature. They have
felt, they have talked, and even acted, as the keepers of their fellow
creatures: they have made the indications of candour and mutual affection
the test of what is meritorious and amiable in the characters of men: they
have made cruelty and oppression the principal objects of their indignation
and rage: even while the head is occupied with projects of interest, the
heart is often seduced into friendship; and while business proceeds on the
maxims of self preservation, the careless hour is employed in generosity
and kindness.

Hence the rule by which men commonly judge of external actions, is taken
from the supposed influence of such actions on the general good. To abstain
from harm, is the great law f natural justice; to diffuse happiness, is the
law of morality; and when we censure the conferring a favour on one or a
few at the expense of many, we refer to public utility, as the great object
at which the actions of men should be aimed.

After all, it must be confessed, that if a principle of affection to
mankind be the basis of our moral approbation and dislike, we sometimes
proceed in distributing applause or censure, without precisely attending to
the degree in which our fellow creatures are hurt or obliged; and that,
besides the virtues of candour, friendship, generosity, and public spirit,
which bear an immediate reference to this principle, there are others which
may seem to derive their commendation from a different source. Temperance,
prudence, fortitude, are those qualities likewise admired from a principle
of regard to our fellow creatures? Why not, since they render men happy in
themselves, and useful to others? He who is qualified to promote the
welfare of mankind, is neither a sot, a fool, nor a coward. Can it be more
clearly expressed, that temperance, prudence, and fortitude, are necessary
to the character we love and admire? I know well why I should wish for them
in myself; and why likewise I should wish for them in my friend, and in
every person who is an object of my affection. But to what purpose seek for
reasons of approbation, where qualities are so necessary to our happiness,
and so great a part in the perfection of our nature? We must cease to
esteem ourselves, and to distinguish what is excellent, when such
qualifications incur our neglect.

A person of an affectionate mind, possessed of a maxim, that he himself, as
an individual, is no more than a part of the whole that demands his regard,
has found, in that principle, a sufficient foundation for all the virtues;
for a contempt of animal pleasures, that would supplant his principal
enjoyment; for an equal contempt of danger or pain, that come to stop his
pursuits of public good. "A vehement and steady affection magnifies its
object, and lessens every difficulty or danger that stands in the way."
"Ask those who have been in love," says Epictetus, "they will know that I
speak the truth."

"I have before me," says another eminent moralist, [Footnote: Persian
Letters.] "an idea of justice, which if I could follow in every instance, I
should think myself the most happy of men." And it is of consequence to
their happiness, as well as to their conduct, if those can be disjoined,
that men should have this idea properly formed. It is perhaps but another
name for that good of mankind, which the virtuous are engaged to promote.
If virtue be the supreme good, its best and most signal effect is, to
communicate and diffuse itself.

To distinguish men by the difference of their moral qualities, to espouse
one party from a sense of justice, to oppose another even with indignation
when excited by iniquity, are the common indications of probity, and the
operations of an animated, upright, and generous spirit. To guard against
unjust partialities, and ill grounded antipathies; to maintain that
composure of mind, which, without impairing its sensibility or ardour,
proceeds in every instance with discernment and penetration, are the marks
of a vigorous and cultivated spirit. To be able to follow the dictates of
such a spirit through all the varieties of human life, and with a mind
always master of itself, in prosperity or adversity, and possessed of all
its abilities, when the subjects in hazard are life, or freedom, as much as
in treating simple questions of interest, are the triumphs of magnanimity,
and true elevation of mind. "The event of the day is decided. Draw this
javelin from my body now," said Epaminondas, "and let me bleed."

In what situation, or by what instruction, is this wonderful character to
be formed? Is it found in the nurseries of affectation, pertness, and
vanity, from which fashion is propagated, and the genteel is announced? In
great and opulent cities, where men vie with each other in equipage, dress,
and the reputation of fortune? Is it within the admired precincts of a
court, where we may learn to smile without being pleased, to caress without
affection, to wound with the secret weapons of envy and jealousy, and to
rest our personal importance on circumstances which we cannot always with
honour command? No: but in a situation where the great sentiments of the
heart are awakened; where the characters of men, not their situations and
fortunes, are the principal distinction; where the anxieties of interest,
or vanity, perish in the blaze of more vigorous emotions; and where the
human soul, having felt and recognised its objects, like an animal who has
tasted the blood of his prey, cannot descend to pursuits that leave its
talents and its force unemployed.

Proper occasions alone operating on a raised and a happy disposition, may
produce this admirable effect, whilst mere instruction may, always find
mankind at a loss to comprehend its meaning, or insensible to its dictates.
The case, however, is not desperate, till we have formed our system of
politics, as well as manners; till we have sold our freedom for titles,
equipage, and distinctions; till we see no merit but prosperity and power,
no disgrace but poverty and neglect. What charm of instruction can cure the
mind that is stained with this disorder? What syren voice can awaken a
desire of freedom, that is held to be meanness and a want of ambition? Or
what persuasion can turn the grimace of politeness into real sentiments of
humanity and candour?



Having had under our consideration the active powers and the moral
qualities which distinguish the nature of man, is it still necessary that
we should treat of his happiness apart? This significant term, the most
frequent, and the most familiar, in our conversation, is, perhaps, on
reflection, the least understood. It serves to express our satisfaction,
when any desire is gratified; it is pronounced with a sigh, when our object
is distant: it means what we wish to obtain, and what we seldom stay to
examine. We estimate the value of every subject by its utility, and its
influence on happiness; but we think that utility itself, and happiness,
require no explanation.

Those men are commonly esteemed the happiest, whose desires are most
frequently ratified. But if, in reality, the possession of what they
desire, and a continued fruition, were requisite to happiness, mankind for
the most part would have reason to complain of their lot. What they call
their enjoyments, are generally momentary; and the object of sanguine
expectation, when obtained, no longer continues to occupy the mind: a new
passion succeeds, and the imagination, as before, is intent on a distant

How many reflections of this sort are suggested by melancholy, or by the
effects of that very languor and inoccupation into which we would willingly
sink, under the notion of freedom from care and trouble?

When we enter on a formal computation of the enjoyments or sufferings which
are prepared for mankind, it is a chance but we find that pain, by its
intenseness, its duration, or frequency, is greatly predominant. The
activity and eagerness with which we press from one stage of life to
another, our unwillingness to return on the paths we have trod, our
aversion in age to renew the frolics of youth, or to repeat in manhood the
amusements of children, have been accordingly stated as proofs, that our
memory of the past, and our feeling of the present, are equal subjects of
dislike and displeasure. [Footnote: Maupertuis; Essai de Morale.]

This conclusion, however, like many others, drawn from our supposed
knowledge of causes, does not correspond with experience in every street,
in every village, in every field, the greater number of persons we meet,
carry an aspect that is cheerful or thoughtless, indifferent, composed,
busy or animated. The labourer whistles to his team, and the mechanic is at
ease in his calling; the frolicksome and gay feel a series of pleasures, of
which we know not the source; even they who demonstrate the miseries of
human life, when intent on their argument, escape from their sorrows, and
find a tolerable pastime in proving that men are unhappy.

The very terms _pleasure_ and _pain,_ perhaps, are equivocal; but
if they are confined, as they appear to be in many of our reasonings, to
the mere sensations which have a reference to external objects, either in
the memory of the past, the feeling of the present, or the apprehension of
the future, it is a great error to suppose, that they comprehend all the
constituents of happiness or misery; or that the good humour of an ordinary
life is maintained by the prevalence of those pleasures, which have their
separate names, and are, on reflection, distinctly remembered.

The mind, during the greater part of its existence, is employed in active
exertions, not in merely attending to its own feelings of pleasure or pain;
and the list of its faculties, understanding, memory, foresight, sentiment,
will, and intention, only contains the names of its different operations.

If, in the absence of every sensation to which we commonly give the names
either of _enjoyment_ or _suffering,_ our very existence may have
its opposite qualities of _happiness_ or _misery;_ and if what we
call _pleasure_ or _pain,_ occupies but a small part of human
life, compared to what passes in contrivance and execution, in pursuits and
expectations, in conduct, reflection, and social engagements; it must
appear, that our active pursuits, at least on account of their duration,
deserve the greater part of our attention. When their occasions have
failed, the demand is not for pleasure, but for something to do; and the
very complaints of a sufferer are not so sure a mark of distress, as the
stare of the languid.

We seldom, however, reckon any task, which we are bound to perform, among
the blessings of life. We always aim at a period of pure enjoyment, or a
termination of trouble; and overlook the source from which most of our
present satisfactions are really drawn. Ask the busy, where is the
happiness to which they aspire? they will answer, perhaps, that it is to be
found in the object of some present pursuit. If we ask, why they are not
miserable in the absence of that happiness? they will say, that they hope
to attain it. But is it hope alone that supports the mind is the midst of
precarious and uncertain prospects? And would assurance of success fill the
intervals of expectation with more pleasing emotions? Give the huntsman his
prey, give the gamester the gold which is staked on the game, that the one
may not need to fatigue his person, nor the other to perplex his mind, and
both will probably laugh at our folly: the one will stake his money anew,
that he may be perplexed; the other will turn his stag to the field, that
he may hear the cry of the dogs, and follow through danger and hardship.
Withdraw the occupations of men, terminate their desires, existence is a
burden, and the iteration of memory is a torment.

The men of this country, says one lady, should learn to sew and to knit; it
would hinder their time from being a burden to themselves, and to other
people. That is true, says another; for my part, though I never look
abroad, I tremble at the prospect of bad weather; for then the gentlemen
come moping to us for entertainment; and the sight of a husband in
distress, is but a melancholy spectacle.

The difficulties and hardships of human life are supposed to detract from
the goodness of God; yet many of the pastimes men devise for themselves are
fraught with difficulty and danger The great inventor of the game of human
life, knew well how to accommodate the players. The chances are matter of
complaint; but if these were removed, the game itself would no longer amuse
the parties. In devising, or in executing a plan, in being carried on the
tide of emotion and sentiment, the mind seems to unfold its being, and to
enjoy itself. Even where the end and the object are known to be of little
avail, the talents and the fancy are often intensely applied, and business
or play may amuse them alike. We only desire repose to recruit our limited
and our wasting force: when business fatigues, amusement is often but a
change of occupation. We are not always unhappy, even when we complain.
There is a kind of affliction which makes an agreeable state of the mind;
and lamentation itself is sometimes an expression of pleasure. The painter
and the poet have laid hold of this handle, and find, among the means of
entertainment, a favourable reception for works that are composed to awaken
our sorrows.

To a being of this description, therefore, it is a blessing to meet with
incentives to action, whether in the desire of pleasure, or the aversion to
pain. His activity is of more importance than the very pleasure he seeks,
and languor a greater evil than the suffering he shuns.

The gratifications of animal appetite are of short duration; and sensuality
is but a distemper of the mind, which ought to be cured by remembrance, if
it were not perpetually inflamed by hope. The chase is not more surely
terminated by the death of the game, than the joys of the voluptuary by the
means of completing his debauch. As a band of society, as a matter of
distant pursuit, the objects of sense make an important part in the system
of human life. They lead us to fulfil the purposes of nature, in preserving
the individual, and in perpetuating the species; but to rely on their use
as a principal constituent of happiness, were an error in speculation, and
would be still more an error in practice. Even the master of the seraglio,
for whom all the treasures of empire are extorted from the hoards of its
frighted inhabitants, for whom alone the choicest emerald and the diamond
are drawn from the mine, for whom every breeze is enriched with perfumes,
for whom beauty is assembled from every quarter, and, animated by passions
that ripen under the vertical sun, is confined to the grate for his use, is
still, perhaps, more wretched than the very herd of the people, whose
labours and properties are devoted to relieve him of trouble, and to
procure him enjoyment.

Sensuality is easily overcome by any of the habits of pursuit which usually
engage an active mind. When curiosity is awake, or when passion is excited,
even in the midst of the feast when conversation grows warm, grows jovial,
or serious, the pleasures of the table we know are forgotten. The boy
contemns them for play, and the man of age declines them for business.

When we reckon the circumstances that correspond to the nature of any
animal, or to that of man in particular, such as safety, shelter, food, and
the other means of enjoyment, or preservation, we sometimes think that we
have found a sensible and a solid foundation on which to rest his felicity.
But those who are least disposed to moralize, observe, that happiness is
not connected with fortune, although fortune includes at once all the means
of subsistence, and the means of sensual indulgence. The circumstances that
require abstinence, courage, and conduct, expose us to hazard, and are in
description of the painful kind; yet the able, the brave, and the ardent,
seem most to enjoy themselves when placed in the midst of difficulties, and
obliged to employ the powers they possess.

Spinola being told, that Sir Francis Vere died of having nothing to do,
said, "That was enough, to kill a general." [Footnote: Life of Lord
Herbert.] How many are there to whom war itself is a pastime, who choose
the life of a soldier, exposed to dangers and continued fatigues; of a
mariner, in conflict with every hardship, and bereft of every conveniency;
of a politician, whose sport is the conduct of parties and factions; and
who, rather than be idle, will do the business of men and of nations for
whom he has not the smallest regard? Such men do not choose pain as
preferable to pleasure, but they are incited by a restless disposition to
make continued exertions of capacity and resolution; they triumph in the
midst of their struggles; they droop, and they languish, when the occasion
of their labour has ceased.

What was enjoyment, in the sense of that youth, who, according to Tacitus,
loved danger itself, not the rewards of courage? What is the prospect of
pleasure, when the sound of the horn or the trumpet, the cry of the dogs,
'or the shout of war, awaken the ardour of the sportsman and the soldier?
The most animating occasions of human life, are calls to danger and
hardship, not invitations to safety and case: and man himself, in his
excellence, is not an animal of pleasure, nor destined merely to enjoy what
the elements bring to his use; but like his associates the dog and the
horse, to follow the exercises of his nature, in preference to what are
called its enjoyments; to pine in the lap of case, and of affluence, and to
exult in the midst of alarms that seem to threaten his being, in all which,
his disposition to action only keeps pace with the variety of powers with
which he is furnished; and the most respectable attributes of his nature,
magnanimity, fortitude, and wisdom, carry a manifest reference to the
difficulties with which he is destined to struggle.

If animal pleasure becomes insipid when the spirit is roused by a different
object, it is well known, likewise, that the sense of pain is prevented by
any vehement affection of the soul. Wounds received in a heat of passion,
in the hurry, the ardour, or consternation of battle, are never felt till
the ferment of the mind subsides. Even torments, deliberately applied, and
industriously prolonged, are borne with firmness, and with an appearance of
ease, when the mind is possessed with some vigorous sentiment, whether of
religion, enthusiasm, or love to mankind. The continued mortifications of
superstitious devotees in several ages of the Christian church; the wild
penances, still voluntarily borne, during many years, by the religionists
of the east; the contempt in which famine and torture are held by most
savage nations; the cheerful or obstinate patience of the soldier in the
field; the hardships endured by the sportsman in his pastime, show how much
we may err in computing the miseries of men, from the measures of trouble
and of suffering they seem to incur. And if there be a refinement in
affirming that their happiness is not to be measured by the contrary
enjoyments, it is a refinement which was made by Regulus and Cincinnatus
before the date of philosophy. Fabricius knew it while he had heard
arguments only on the opposite side. [Footnote: Plutarch in Vit. Pyrrh.] It
is a refinement, which every boy knows at his play, and every savage
confirms, when he looks from his forest on the pacific city, and scorns the
plantation, whose master he cares not to imitate.

Man, it must be confessed, notwithstanding all this activity of his mind,
is an animal in the full extent of that designation. When the body sickens,
the mind droops; and when the blood ceases to flow, the soul takes its
departure. Charged with the care of his preservation, admonished by a sense
of pleasure or pain, and guarded by an instinctive fear of death, nature
has not intrusted his safety to the mere vigilance of his understanding,
nor to the government of his uncertain reflections.

The distinction betwixt mind and body is followed by consequences of the
greatest importance; but the facts to which we now refer, are not founded
on any tenets whatever. They are equally true, whether we admit or reject,
the distinction in question, or whether we suppose, that this living agent
is formed of one, or is an assemblage of separate natures. And the
materialist, by treating of man as of an engine, cannot make any change in
the state of his history. He is a being, who, by a multiplicity of visible
organs, performs a variety of functions. He bends his joints, contracts or
relaxes his muscles in our sight. He continues the beating of the heart in
his breast, and the flowing of the blood to every part of his frame. He
performs other operations which we cannot refer to any corporeal organ. He
perceives, he recollects, and forecasts; he desires, and he shuns; he
admires, and contemns. He enjoys his pleasures, or he endures his pain. All
these different functions, in some measure, go well or ill together. When
the motion of the blood is languid, the muscles relax, the understanding is
tardy, and the fancy is dull: when distemper assails him, the physician
must attend no less to what he thinks, than, to what he eats, and examine
the returns of his passion, together with the strokes of his pulse.

With all his sagacity, his precautions, and his instincts, which are given
to preserve his being, he partakes in the fate of other animals, and seems
to be formed only that he may die. Myriads perish before they reach the
perfection of their kind; and the individual, with an option to owe the
prolongation of his temporary course to resolution and conduct, or to
abject fear, frequently chooses the latter, and, by a habit of timidity,
embitters the life he is so intent to preserve.

Man, however, at times, exempted from this mortifying lot, seems to act
without any regard to the length of his period. When he thinks intensely,
or desires with ardour, pleasures and pains from any other quarter assail
him in vain. Even in his dying hour, the muscles acquire a tone from his
spirit, and the mind seems to depart in its vigour, and in the midst of a
struggle to obtain the recent aim of its toil. Muley Moluck, borne on his
litter, and spent with disease, still fought the battle, in the midst of
which he expired; and the last effort he made, with a finger on his lips,
was a signal to conceal his death; [Footnote: Verlot's Revolutions of
Portugal] the precaution, perhaps, of all which he had hitherto taken, the
most necessary to prevent a defeat.

Can no reflections aid us in acquiring this habit of the soul, so useful in
carrying us through many of the ordinary scenes of life? If we say, that
they cannot, the reality of its happiness is not the less evident. The
Greeks and the Romans considered contempt of pleasure, endurance of pain,
and neglect of life, as eminent qualities of a man, and a principal subject
of discipline. They trusted, that the vigorous spirit would find worthy
objects on which to employ its force; and that the first step towards a
resolute choice of such objects, was to shake off the meanness of a
solicitous and timorous mind.

Mankind, in general, have courted occasions to display their courage, and
frequently, in search of admiration, have presented a spectacle, which to
those who have ceased to regard fortitude on its own account, becomes a
subject of horror. Scevola held his arm in the fire, to shake the soul of
Porsenna. The savage inures his body to the torture, that in the hour of
trial he may exult over his enemy. Even the Mussulman tears his flesh to
win the heart of his mistress, and comes in gaiety streaming with blood, to
shew that he deserves her esteem. [Footnote: Letters of the Right
Honourable Lady M----y W------ M-------e.]

Some nations carry the practice of inflicting, or of sporting with pain, to
a degree that is either cruel or absurd; others regard every prospect of
bodily suffering as the greatest of evils; and in the midst of their
troubles, embitter every real affliction, with the terrors of a feeble and
dejected imagination. We are not bound to answer for the follies of either,
nor, in treating a question which relates to the nature of man, make an
estimate of its strength or its weakness, from the habits or apprehensions
peculiar to any nation or age.



Whoever has compared together the different conditions and manners of men,
under varieties of education or fortune, will be satisfied, that mere
situation does not constitute their happiness or misery; nor a diversity of
external observances imply any opposition of sentiments on the subject of
morality. They express their kindness and their enmity, in different
actions; but kindness or enmity is still the principal article of
consideration in human life. They engage in different pursuits, or
acquiesce in different conditions; but act from passions nearly the same.
There is no precise measure of accommodation required to suit their
conveniency, nor any degree of danger or safety under which they are
peculiarly fitted to act. Courage and generosity, fear and envy, are not
peculiar to any station or order of men; nor is there any condition in
which some of the human race have not shown, that it is possible to employ,
with propriety, the talents and virtues of their species.

What, then, is that mysterious thing called _Happiness_ which may have
place in such a variety of stations, and to which circumstances, in one age
or nation thought necessary, are in another held to be destructive or of no
effect? It is not the succession of mere animal pleasures, which, apart
from the occupation or the company in which they engage us, can fill up but
a few moments in human life. On too frequent a repetition, those pleasures
turn to satiety and disgust; they tear the constitution to which they are
applied in excess, and, like the lightning of night, only serve to darken
the gloom through which they occasionally break. Happiness is not that
state of repose, or that imaginary freedom from care, which at a distance
is so frequent an object of desire, but with its approach brings a tedium,
or a languor, more unsupportable than pain itself. If the preceding
observations on this subject be just, it arises more from the pursuit, than
from the attainment of any end whatever; and in every new situation to
which we arrive, even in the course of a prosperous life, it depends more
on the degree in which our minds are properly employed, than it does on the
circumstances in which we are destined to act, on the materials which are
placed in our hands, or the tools with which we are furnished.

If this be confessed in respect to that class of pursuits which are
distinguished by the name of _amusement_, and which, in the case of
men who are commonly deemed the most happy, occupy the greater part of
human life, we may apprehend, that it holds, much more than is commonly
suspected, in many cases of business, where the end to be gained, and not
the occupation, is supposed to have the principal value.

The miser himself, we are told, can sometimes consider the care of his
wealth as a pastime, and has challenged his heir, to have more pleasure in
spending, than he in amassing his fortune. With this degree of indifference
to what may be the conduct of others; with this confinement of his care to
what he has chosen as his own province, more especially if he has conquered
in himself the passions of jealousy and envy, which tear the covetous mind;
why may not the man whose object is money, be understood to lead a life of
amusement and pleasure, not only more entire than that of the spendthrift,
but even as much as the virtuoso, the scholar, the man of taste, or any of
that class of persons who have found out a method of passing their leisure
without offence, and to whom the acquisitions made, or the works produced,
in their several ways, perhaps, are as useless as the bag to the miser, or
the counter to those who play from mere dissipation at any game of skill or
of chance?

We are soon tired of diversions that do not approach to the nature of
business; that is, that do not engage some passion, or give an exercise
proportioned to our talents, and our faculties. The chace and the gaming
table have each their dangers and difficulties, to excite and employ the
mind. All games of contention animate our emulation, and give a species of
party zeal. The mathematician is only to be amused with intricate problems,
the lawyer and the casuist with cases that try their subtilty, and occupy
their judgment.

The desire of active engagements, like every other natural appetite, may be
carried to excess; and men may debauch in amusements, as well as in the use
of wine, or other intoxicating liquors. At first, a trifling stake, and the
occupation of a moderate passion, may have served to amuse the gamester;
but when the drug becomes familiar, it fails to produce its effect: The
play is made deep, and the interest increased, to awaken his attention; he
is carried on by degrees, and in the end comes to seek for amusement, and
to find it only in those passions of anxiety, hope, and despair, which are
roused by the hazard into which he has thrown the whole of his fortunes.

If men can thus turn their amusements into a scene more serious and
interesting than that of business itself, it will be difficult to assign a
reason why business, and many of the occupations of human life, independent
of any distant consequences of future events, may not be chosen as an
amusement, and adopted on account of the pastime they bring. This is,
perhaps, the foundation, on which, without the aid of reflection, the
contented and the cheerful have rested the gaiety of their tempers. It is,
perhaps, the most solid basis of fortitude which any reflection can lay;
and happiness itself is secured by making a certain species of conduct our
amusements; and, by considering life in the general estimate of its value,
as well on every particular occasion, as a mere scene for the exercise of
the mind, and the engagements of the heart. "I will try and attempt every
thing," says Brutus; "I will never cease to recal my country from this
state of servility. If the event be favourable, it will prove matter of joy
to us all; if not, yet I, notwithstanding, shall rejoice." Why rejoice in a
disappointment? Why not be dejected, when his country was overwhelmed?
Because sorrow, perhaps, and dejection, can do no good. Nay, but they must
be endured when they come. And whence should they come to me? might the
Roman say: I have followed my mind, and can follow it still. Events may
have changed the situation in which I am destined to act; but can they
hinder my acting the part of a man? Shew me a situation in which a man can
neither act nor die, and I will own he is wretched.

Whoever has the force of mind steadily to view human life under this
aspect, has only to choose well his occupations, in order to command that
state of enjoyment, and freedom of soul, which probably constitute the
peculiar felicity to which his active nature is destined.

The dispositions of men, and consequently their occupations, are commonly
divided into two principal classes; the selfish, and the social. The first
are indulged in solitude; and if they carry a reference to mankind, it is
that of emulation, competition, and enmity. The second incline us to live
with our fellow creatures, and to do them good; they tend to unite the
members of society together; they terminate in a mutual participation of
their cares and enjoyments, and render the presence of men an occasion of
joy. Under this class may be enumerated the passions of the sexes, the
affections of parents and children, general humanity, or singular
attachments; above all, that habit of the soul by which we consider
ourselves as but a part of some beloved community, and as but individual
members of some society, whose general welfare is to us the supreme object
of zeal, and the great rule of our conduct. This affection is a principle
of candour, which knows no partial distinctions, and is confined to no
bounds; it may extend its effects beyond our personal acquaintance; it may,
in the mind, and in thought, at least, make us feel a relation to the
universe, and to the whole creation of God. "Shall any one," says
Antoninus, "love the city of Cecrops, and you not love the city of God?"

No emotion of the heart is indifferent. It is either an act of vivacity and
joy, or a feeling of sadness; a transport of pleasure, or a convulsion of
anguish; and the exercises of our different dispositions, as well as their
gratifications, are likely to prove matter of the greatest importance to
our happiness or misery.

The individual is charged with the care of his animal preservation. He may
exist in solitude, and, far removed from society, perform many functions of


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