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social duties. In fact, the sanctions visibly contrived to compel a man to be just to himself, are equally serviceable to compel him to be just to others; which will be evident from a single reflection, that an action, by being unjust, ceases not to be improper: an action never appears more eminently improper, than when it is unjust : it is obviously becoming, and suitable to human nature, that each man do his duty to others; and, accordingly, every transgression of duty to others, is at the same time a transgression of duty to one's self
. This is a plain truth without exaggeration ; and it opens a new and enchanting view in the moral landscape, the prospect being greatly enriched by the multiplication of agreeable objects. It appears now, that nothing is overlooked, nothing left undone, that can possibly contribute to the enforcing of social duty; for to all the sanctions that belong to it singly, are superadded the sanctions of self-duty. A familiar example shall suffice for illustration. An act of ingratitude, considered in itself, is to the author disagreeable, as well as to every spectator; considered by the author with relation to himself, it raises self-contempt: considered by him with relation to the world, it makes him ashamed : considered by others, it raises their contempt and indignation against the author. These feelings are all of them occasioned by the impropriety of the action. When the action is considered as unjust, it occasions another set of feelings: in the author it produces remorse, and a dread of merited punishment; and in others, the benefactor chiefly, indignation and hatred directed to the ungrateful person, Thus shame and remorse united in the ungrateful person, and indignation united with hatred in the hearts of others, are the punishments provided by nature for injustice. Stupid and insensible must he be, who, in a contrivance so exquisite, perceives not the benevolent hand of our Creator.
DIGNITY AND GRACE.
The terms dignity and meanness, applied to man, in point of character, sentiment,
and behavior-Dignity and meanness belong to sensible beings only-Actions appear in themselves grand or little ; with respect to the authors, proper or improper; with respect to those affected by them, just or unjust-Dignity and meanness, founded on man's natural sense of the excellence of his nature-Actions corresponding to the dignity of man, manly; the contrary, childish--Courage held in higher estimation than justice-Of pleasures, organic are the lowest, those of the eye and the ear are higher, and those of the understanding the highestFinal cause of corporeal pleasures—The pleasures of the eye and the ear are of utility-The social pleasures qualify a man for society—The high rank of the pleasures of the understanding with respect to time and eternity-Grace, as displayed externally, is an object of one only of the five senses-It belongs exclusively to man- The definition of grace-A graceful person, of all external objects, the most agreeable-Dancing affords great opportunity for displaying grace; and haranguing still greater-A person deficient in amiable qualities, cannot be graceful.
The terms dignity and meanness are applied to man in point of character, sentiment, and behavior: we say, for example, of one man,
that he has natural dignity in his air and manner; of another, that he makes a mean figure: we perceive dignity in every action and sentiment of some persons; meanness and vulgarity in the actions and sentiments of others. With respect to the fine arts, some performances are said to be manly, and suitable to the dignity of human nature; others are termed low, mean, trivial. Such expressions are common, though they have not always a precise meaning. With respect to the art of criticism, it must be a real acquisition to ascertain what these terms truly import; which possibly may enable us to rank every performance in the fine arts according to its dignity.
Inquiring first to what subjects the terms dignity and meanness are appropriated, we soon discover, that they are not applicable to any thing inanimate: the most magnificent palace that ever was built, may be lofty, may be grand, but it has no relation to dignity: the most diminutive shrub may be little, but it is not mean.
These terms must belong to sensitive beings, probably to man only; which will be evident when we advance in the inquiry.
Human actions appear in many different lights: in themselves they appear grand or little; with respect to the author, they appear proper or improper; with respect to those affected by them, just or unjust: and I now add; that they are also distinguished by dignity and meanness. If any one incline to think, that, with respect to human actions, dignity coincides with grandeur, and meanness with littleness, the difference will be evident upon reflecting, that an action may be grand without being virtuous, and little without being faulty; but that we never attribute dignity to any action but what is virtuous, nor meanness to any but what is faulty. Every action of dignity creates respect and esteem for the author; and a mean action draws upon him contempt. A man is admired for a grand action, but frequently is neither loved nor esteemed for it: neither is a man always contemned for a low or little action. The action of Cæsar passing the Rubicon was grand; but there was no dignity in it, considering that his purpose was to enslave his country. Čæsar, in a march, taking opportunity of a rivulet to quench his thirst, did a low action, but the action was not mean.
As it appears to me, dignity and meanness are founded on a natural principle not hitherto mentioned. Man is endowed with a SENSE of the worth and excellence of his nature: he deems it more perfect than that of the other beings around him; and he perceives, that the perfection of his nature consists in virtue, particularly in virtues of the highest rank. To express that sense, the term dignity is appropriated. Farther, to behave with dignity, and to refrain from all mean actions, is felt to be, not a virtue only, but a duty: it is a duty every man owes to himself. By acting in that manner, he attracts love and esteem: by acting meanly, or below himself, he is disapproved and contemned.
According to the description here given of dignity and meanness, they appear to be a species of propriety and impropriety. Many actions may
be proper or improper, to which dignity or meanness cannot be applied : to eat when one is hungry, is proper, but there is
no dignity in that action: revenge fairly taken, if against law, is improper, but not mean. But
action of dignity is also proper, and every mean action is also improper.
This sense of the dignity of human nature, reaches even our pleasures and amusements: if they enlarge the mind by raising grand or elevated emotions, or if they humanize the mind by exercising our sympathy, they are approved as suited to the dignity of our nature: if they contract the mind by fixing it on trivial objects, they are contemned as not suited to the dignity of our nature. Hence, in general, every occupation, whether of use or amusement, that corresponds to the dignity of man, is termed manly; and every occupation below his nature, is termed childish.
To those who study human nature, there is a point which has always appeared intricate: how comes it that generosity and courage are more esteemed, and bestow more dignity, than good nature, or even justice; though the latter contributes more than the former to private as well as to public happiness? This question, bluntly proposed, might puzzle a cunning philosopher; but, by means of the foregoing observations, will easily be solved. Human virtues, like other objects, obtain a rank in our estimation, not from their utility, which is a subject of reflection, but from the direct impression they make on us. Justice and good nature are a sort of negative virtues, that scarcely make any impression but when they are transgressed: courage and generosity, on the contrary, producing elevated emotions, enliven greatly the sense of a man's dignity, both in himself and in others; and for that reason, courage and generosity are in higher regard than the other virtues mentioned: we describe them as grand and elevated, as of greater dignity, and more praiseworthy.
This leads us to examine more direcily emotions and passions with respect to the present subject; and it will not be difficult to form a scale of them, beginning with the meanest, and ascending gradually 10 those of the highest rank and dignity. Pleasure felt as the organ of sense, named corporeal pleasure, is perceived to be low; and when indulged to excess, is perceived also to be mean: for that reason, persons of any delicacy dissemble the pleasure they take in eating and drinking. The pleasures of the eye and ear, having no organic feeling,* and being free from any sense of meanness, are indulged without any shame: they even rise to a certain degree of dignity when their objects are grand or elevated. The same is the case of the sympathetic passions: a virtuous person behaving with fortitude and dignity under cruel misfortunes, makes a capital figure; and the sympathizing spectator feels in himself the same dignity. Sympathetic distress at the same time never is mean: on the contrary, it is agreeable to the nature of a social being, and has general approbation. The rank that love possesses in the scale, depends in a great measure on its object : it possesses a low place when founded on external properties merely; and is mean when bestowed on a person of inferior rank without any extraordinary qualification : but when founded on the more elevated internal properties, it assumes a con
* See the Introduction.
siderable degree of dignity. The same is the case of friendship. When gratitude is warm, it animates the mind; but it scarcely rises to dignity. Joy bestows dignity when it proceeds from an elevated cause.
If I can depend upon induction, dignity is not a property of any disagreeable passion: one is slight, another severe; one depresses the mind, another animates it; but there is no elevation, far less dignity, in any of them. Revenge, in particular, though it in flame and swell the mind, is not accompanied with dignity, not even with elevation: it is not, however, felt as mean or groveling, unless when it takes indirect measures for gratification. Shame and remorse, though they sink the spirits, are not mean. Pride, a disagreeable passion, bestows no dignity in the eye of a spectator. Vanity always appears mean; and extremely so where founded, as commonly happens, on trivial qualifications.
I proceed to the pleasures of the understanding, which possess a high rank in point of dignity. Of this every one will be sensible, when he considers the important truths that have been laid open by science, such as general theorems, and the general laws that govern the material and moral worlds. The pleasures of the understanding are suited to man as a rational and contemplative being; and they tend not a little to ennoble his nature; even to the Deity he stretches his contemplations, which, in the discovery of infinite power, wisdom, and benevolence, afford delight of the most exalted kind. Hence it appears, that the fine arts studied as a rational science, afford entertainment of great dignity; superior far to what they afford as a subject of taste merely.
But contemplation, however in itself valuable, is chiefly respected as subservient to action; for man is intended to be more an active than a contemplative being. He accordingly shows more dignity in action than in contemplation : generosity, magnanimity, heroism, raise his character to the highest pitch: these best express the dig. nity of his nature, and advance him nearer to divinity than any other of his attributes.
By every production that shows art and contrivance, our curiosity is excited upon iwo points; first, how it was made; and, next, to what end. Of the two, the latter is the more important inquiry, because the means are ever subordinate to the end; and, in fact, our curiosity is always more inflamed by the final than by the efficient cause. This preference is no where more visible, than in contemplating the works of nature: if in the efficient cause wisdom and power be displayed, wisdom is no less conspicuous in the final cause; and from it only can we infer benevolence, which of all the divine attributes is to man the most important.
Having endeavored to assign the efficient cause of dignity and meanness, by unfolding the principle on which they are founded, we proceed to explain the final cause of the dignity or meanness bestowed upon the several particulars above mentioned, beginning with corporeal pleasures. These, as far as usual, are, like justice, fenced with sufficient sanctions to prevent their being neglected: hunger and thirst are painful sensations; and we are incited to ani
mal love by a vigorous propensity: were corporeal pleasures dignified over and above with a place in a high class, they would infallibly disturb the balance of the mind, by outweighing the social affections. This is a satisfactory final cause for refusing to these pleasures any degree of dignity: and the final cause is no less evident of their meanness, when they are indulged to excess. The more refined pleasures of external sense, conveyed by the eye and the ear from natural objects and from the fine arts, deserve a high place in our esteem, because of their singular and extensive utility : in some cases they rise to a considerable dignity; and the very lowest pleasures of the kind are never esteemed mean or grovelling. The pleasure arising from wit, humor, ridicule, or from what is simply ludicrous, is useful, by relaxing the mind after the fatigue of more manly occupation: but the mind, when it surrenders itself to pleasure of that kind, loses its vigor, and sinks gradually into sloth.* The place this pleasure occupies in point of dignity, is adjusted to these views: to make it useful as a relaxation, it is not branded with meanness; to prevent its usurpation, it is removed from that place but a single degree: no man values himself for that pleasure, even during gratification; and if it have engrossed more of his time than is requisite for relaxation, he looks back with some degree of shame.
In point of dignity, the social emotions rise above the selfish, and much above those of the eye and ear: man is by his nature a social being; and to qualify him for society, it is wisely contrived, that he should value himself more for being social than selfish. †
The excellency of man is chiefly discernible in the great improvements of which he is susceptible in society: these, by perseverance, may be carried on progressively above any assignable limits; and, even abstracting from revelation, there is great probability, that the progress begun here will be completed in some future state. Now, as all valuable improvements proceed from the exercise of our rational faculties, the author of our nature, in order to excite us to a due use of these faculties, has assigned a high rank to the pleasures of the understanding: their utility, with respect to this life as well as a future, entitles them to that rank.
But as action is the aim of all our improvements, virtuous actions justly possess the bighest of all the ranks. These, we find, are by nature distributed into different classes, and the first in point of dignity assigned to actions that appear not the first in point of use: generosity, for example, in the sense of mankind is more respected than justice, though the latter is undoubtedly more essential to soci
* Neque enim ita generata à natura sumus, ut ad ludum et jocum facti esse videamur, sed ad severitatem potius et ad quædam studia graviora atque majora. Ludo autem et joco, uti illis quidem licet, sed sicut somno et quietibus cæteris, tum oum gravibus seriisque rebus satisfecerimus.
Cicero de offic. lib. I. Nor are we so constituted by nature as to seem made for sport and jest; but rather for severity, and the graver and higher studies. It is only proper for us to use sport and jest as we do sleep and other repose, after the satiety of grave and serious things.
+ For the same reason, the selfish emotions that are founded upon a social principle, rise higher in our esteem than those that are founded upon a selfish principle. As to which see above, p. 47. note.