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ART. VI.-Essai sur l'Art d'Etre Heureux, par JOSEPH DROZ, de l'Académie Française. 4me Edition. 12mo. pp. 335. Paris.
THE author of the little work before us has not attempted any regular definition of happiness; but assuming that we all know pretty well what it is, has employed himself principally on inquiring how we may attain it. We are not sure that a more thorough investigation of the nature of the end would not have modified in some degree the notions of Mr Droz, in regard to the means. However this may be, it appears that he has made, as he conceives, some important discoveries, or at least greatly simplified and improved upon received notions. He has methodized his principles into a series of rules, which he entitles The Art of Being Happy; and he believes that by a steady and judicious application of them, a man may realize the summum bonum with a good degree of certainty. The subject is of so much importance, that all theories respecting it are worth examining, should they even turn out to be somewhat less original and valuable than they are considered by their authors.
Mr Droz commences by expressing his surprise at the apparent indifference of most persons to their own good.
'Our object, in life,' he remarks, is happiness. One would think this a sufficiently familiar truth; but how often is it overlooked or despised! To see the restlessness and agitation of many persons, one would suppose that the great affair was not to be happy, but to be rich, or to obtain some office.'
'Make happiness the principal object of your life. When one of your neighbors says to you, "My speculations are successful; I shall certainly become immensely rich;" and another, “I shall doubtless carry my election, and am on the high road of political advancement;" reply with equal self-satisfaction, "As for me, I hope to enjoy many happy days."
Although the mass of mankind, in aiming at various unsubstantial objects of pursuit, overlook, in the opinion of our author, the search after happiness, he admits that there are some illustrious exceptions; and reckons among them our countryman Dr Franklin, of whom he speaks in the following high terms.
'We see, from time to time, appearing among us, some of those rare individuals whom nature intended as models of moral beauty.
Such was Benjamin Franklin, the pride of the new world. I have often perused the pages in which he describes his plan for aiming at moral perfection, and which he concludes as follows. "Although I have not attained the perfection at which I aimed, and have even fallen very far short of it, my endeavors have nevertheless rendered me better and happier than I should have been if I had not made the attempt, as a person who tries to improve in penmanship by imitating a copperplate model, although he should not equal the correctness and elegance of the engraving, may yet acquire a more easy and legible hand than he had before. It may be interesting to my posterity to know that I owe, under Providence, to this little artifice, the happiness which I have constantly enjoyed up to my seventy-ninth year, in which I write these lines. Should the rest of my life be disturbed by misfortunes, the recollection of the preceding period will enable me to support them with resignation."
While we perfectly agree with Mr Droz, in his estimate of the character of our illustrious townsman, and particularly in his approbation of the doctrine contained in the above extract from his Memoirs of his own life, we cannot but remark that it does not appear to confirm, so explicitly as our author supposes, his favorite notion of the great importance of making the direct pursuit of happiness the principal object. Dr Franklin assures us in this passage that by the use of certain means, which he describes, he had lived happily up to a very advanced age. But what were these means? Did they consist in making happiness the direct and principal object of pursuit? Quite the contrary, as appears from the showing of Mr Droz himself. I have often perused,' says our author as above quoted, 'the pages in which Franklin describes his plan for arriving at moral perfection.' Moral perfection, then, was the mark to which our philosopher directed his view. By aiming not immediately at happiness, but at moral perfection or virtue, he succeeded, it appears, in making himself, to a certain extent, both virtuous and happy. The conclusion is (as far as a single example can be depended on) that if a man would be happy he must endeavor to be virtuous, and that if he succeed tolerably well in this, happiness will come of itself. Mr Droz, on the contrary, advises that we should aim directly and immediately at happiness, leaving moral perfection (of which, indeed, he says but little) to come in by the way, as it may or can. Waving any inquiry into the respective merits of the two systems, we cannot but remark that the example and precepts of Franklin, instead of confirming, as
he appears to imagine, the theory of our author, are exactly opposed to it, and as far as they have weight, completely refute it in its foundation. Had Mr Droz examined more carefully, and followed out into its consequences the principle supposed in the single passage above quoted, he would probably, if he really feel the veneration which he professes, for the pride of the new world,' have spared himself the trouble of writing his book, at least in its present shape. In fact, his theory and that of Dr Franklin, instead of coïnciding, plainly exhibit the adverse colors of the two great rival schools of philosophy, into which the moral world has always been divided. Franklin wishes us to frequent
'The marble porch where wisdom wont to talk
while Mr Droz would conduct us, in preference, to certain pleasure gardens of somewhat doubtful fame, which were laid out in olden time in the neighborhood of the said porch, but were never much patronized by the good society of Athens. We regret, by the bye, to learn that our fair friend, Miss Frances Wright, lately consented to pass a few days in these same suspicious gardens; but venture to hope, that she has only been upon a tour of observation, and will not think of making them her habitual residence.*
By aiming at moral perfection, it appears that Dr Franklin not only partially attained his object, but succeeded besides in realizing a good measure of happiness. Whether a man, who, in compliance with the advice of Mr Droz, should regard happiness as his direct and immediate object, would in that way be likely to make any corresponding approaches towards the attainment of moral perfection, is perhaps uncertain. But waving this point, which does not belong to our present subject, there is room to fear that the method recommended by our author may not be so effectual, even for the acquisition of happiness itself, as he appears to imagine. There are some things which are come at by an indirect process, more easily than by a direct
*See her work, entitled A Few Days at Athens, which contains a very ingenious exposition and defence of the Epicurean philosophy, in the antique form of dialogues. Although we disapprove the doctrine, which is also decidedly at variance with the principles recommended in the Views of Society and Manners in America, by the same lady, we cannot but regard the literary execution of it as highly creditable to the learning and talents of the fair writer.
one; and many competent judges believe that happiness is one of the number. We strongly incline to this opinion, and suspect that the pretended art of being happy is very much like the art of making gold, which at one time occupied the attention of so many of the learned, but which has long been admitted to be almost the only process by which gold cannot be made. Make shoes, make coats, make hats, make houses, make almost anything you please (except perhaps books), and you in fact make gold, because the product of your labor, whatever it may be, converts itself naturally in your hands into that valuable metal. But once attempt to make gold by a direct process, and you not only fail in your object, but sustain a total loss of the time, labor, and capital employed in the operation. The case, we imagine, is nearly the same with studying directly the art of being happy. Study politics, study law, study commerce, study agriculture, study any of the fine or mechanical arts, and you in fact study happiness, because independently, of the immediate fruit of skill, in this or that department of knowledge and practice, which you derive from your studies, there is no more certain way of being happy, than to pursue with activity and diligence almost any honest employment. But no sooner does a man set about studying directly how he shall be happy, than he is pretty sure to become completely miserable. D’Alembert maintained, in conversation, that happiness was an exclusive privilege of those whom the world calls wretched. Qui est-ce qui est heureux? said he, and then replied to his own question, Quelque misérable; that is to say, 'Your poor devil is your only happy man.' And there is a good deal of truth, as well as much consolation, in this. The common blessings which Providence distributes abundantly to the prudent and virtuous of even the humblest classes, are no doubt quite as conducive to happiness as the imaginary and illusive advantages of the favorites of fortune. But if, reversing the question of D'Alembert, we ask, Qui est-ce qui est misérable? Who is the real poor devil?' we may perhaps reply with confidence, that it is the man who is always studying to be happy. The experience of the world in all ages and nations, from Seged, king of Ethiopia, down to the luckless schoolboy, groaning under the burden of a holiday, confirms this notion. And there appears to be a deep philosophical reason for the fact, at which we have already hinted. It is, that happiness was not intended by nature to be the direct result of an operation, performed with the immediate
purpose of attaining it; but on the contrary, the indirect result of an operation intended immediately and principally for the attainment of another object, which is (according to the theory of Franklin, no doubt the true one,) moral perfection or virtue.
The leading principle of Mr Droz, which makes happiness the direct and exclusive object of pursuit, is therefore, we think, erroneous, and his whole doctrine fails of course in its foundation, or, in the French phrase, pèche par sa base. Nevertheless, as our author professes to teach us the art of being happy, and as credit is generally allowed to every man in the art he professes, omni perito in suâ arte credendum est, it may be proper, before we condemn his theory, to survey it a little more in detail.
After establishing as a preliminary maxim, that the attainment of happiness is the proper object of life, our author proceeds to explain the means by which, in his opinion, it is to be effected. The first requisite is, that we should exempt ourselves entirely from the trammels of all the ordinary business of the world that is going on about us. It is only in this way, that we can be independent; and independence, according to Mr Droz, is essential to happiness.
The only true independence is that which we enjoy when we dispose of all our time at discretion, without being embarrassed with professional or other business. This sort of liberty is oppressive to the unoccupied (hommes inoccupés), but to others is a source of real happiness. How charming it is to say to one's self, upon awaking in the morning, "This day is wholly my own." The Epicurean passes a delightful hour, before he rises, in reflecting on the pleasures of independence.'
We may remark, en passant, that Mr Droz avows in this passage his adhesion to the school of philosophy with which we had identified him. Habeo confitentem reum; in the language of the great Roman orator. As respects the principle supposed, our author's Utopia bears a singular resemblance to that of Gonzalo in the Tempest. In order to be happy, we must have nothing to do, no professions, no trades, no business of any kind; 'no kind of traffic
Would I admit, no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; no use of service,
Of riches or of poverty; no contracts,
Successions; bound of land, tilth, vineyard none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
And women too, but innocent and pure;