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conduct, even our most amiable propensities, under the control of right principle guided by reaeon; and of taking pains to understand the subject relating to each duty you are called on to perform. For there is perhaps no one quality that can produce a greater amount of mischief than may be done by thoughtless good-nature. For instance, if any one, out of tenderness of heart, and reluctance to punish or to discard the criminal and worthless, lets loose on society, or advances to important offices, mischievous characters, he will have conferred a doubtful benefit on a few, and done incalculable hurt to thousands. So, also, to take one of the commonest and most obvious cases, that of charity to the poor,— a man of great wealth, by freely relieving all idle vagabonds, might go far towards ruining the industry, and the morality, and the prosperity, of a whole nation. 'For there can be no doubt that careless, indiscriminate alms-giving does far more harm than good; since it encourages idleness and improvidence, and also imposture. If you give freely to ragged and filthy street-beggars, you are in fact hiring people to dress themselves in filthy rags, and go about begging with fictitious tales of distress. If, on the contrary, you carefully inquire for, and relieve, honest and industrious persons who have fallen into distress through unavoidable misfortune, you are not only doing good to those objects, but also holding out an encouragement, generally, to honest industry.
'You may, however, meet with persons who say, 'As long as it is my intention to relieve real distress, my charity is equally virtuous, though the tale told me may be a false one. The impostor alone is to be blamed who told it me; I acted on what he said; and if that is untrue, the fault is his, and not mine.'
'Now this is a fair plea, if any one is deceived after making careful inquiry; but if he has not taken the trouble to do this, regarding it as no concern of his, you might ask him how he would act and judge in a case where he is thoroughly in earnest —that is, where his own important interests are concerned. Suppose he employed a steward or other agent, to buy for him a house, or a horse, or any other article, and this agent paid an exorbitant price for what was really worth little or nothing, giving just the same kind of excuse for allowing his employer to be thus cheated; saying, 'I made no careful inquiries, but took the sellers word; and his being a liar and a cheat, is his fault, and not mine;' the employer would doubtless reply, 'The seller indeed is to be condemned for cheating; but so are you, for your carelessness of my interests. His being greatly in fault does not clear you; and your merely intending to do what was right, is no excuse for your not taking pains to gain right information.'
'Now on such a principle we ought to act in our charities: regarding ourselves as stewards of all that Providence has bestowed, and as bound to expend it in the best way possible, and not shelter our own faulty negligence under the misconduct of another.''
It is now generally acknowledged that relief afforded to want, as mere want, tends to increase that want; while the relief afforded to the sick, the infirm, and the disabled, has plainly no tendency to multiply its own objects. Now it is remarkable, that the Lord Jesus employed His miraculous power in healing the sick, continually, but in feeding the hungry, only twice; while the power of multiplying food which He then manifested, together with His directing the disciples to take care and gather up the fragments that remained that nothing might be lost, served to mark that the abstaining from any like procedure on other occasions was deliberate design. In this, our Lord had probably in view (besides other objects), to afford us some instruction, from His example, as to the mode of our charity. Certain it is, that the reasons for this distinction are now, and ever must be, the same as at that time.
Now to those engaged in that important and inexhaustible subject of inquiry, the internal evidences of Christianity, it will be interesting to observe here, one of the instances in which the superhuman wisdom of Jesus forestalled the discovery of an important principle, often overlooked not only by the generality of men, but by the most experienced statesmen and the ablest philosophers, even in these later ages of extended human knowledge, and development of mental power.
'See Introductory Lessons on Moralt, lesson xvi. p. 139.
'It is good to take knowledge of the errors of a habit so
As there are errors in its direction, so there are.mistakes concerning its nature. For instance, some persons have a certain nervous horror at the sight of bodily pain, or death, or blood, which they and others mistake for benevolence; which may or may not accompany it. Phrenologists have been derided for attributing large destructiveness (which, however, is not inconsistent with large benevolence, though more prominently remarkable when not so combined) to a person who had never killed anything but a flea, or to one who could not bear to crush a wasp or fly that was keeping him awake all night; as if they had meant 'the organ of killing.' And yet such a person would, according to their own accounts of their own system, bear out their sentence, if he was harsh in admonishing or rebuking, bitter in resentment, trampling without pity on the feelings and the claims of others, &c.
We should not confound physical delicacy of nerves, with extreme tenderness of heart, and benevolence, and gentleness of character. It is also important to guard against mistaking for good-nature, what is properly good-humoui—a cheerful flow of spirits, and easy temper not readily annoyed; which is compatible with great selfishness.
It is curious to observe how people who are always thinking of their own pleasure or interest, will often, if possessing considerable ability, make others give way to them, and obtain everything they seek, exce-pt happiness. For, like a spoiled child, who at length cries for the moon, they are always dissatisfied. And the benevolent, who are always thinking of others, and sacrificing their own personal gratifications, are usually the happiest of mankind. There is this great advantage also that the benevolent have over the selfish, as they grow old: the latter, seeking only their own advantage, cannot escape the painful feeling that any benefit they procure for themselves can lost but a short time; but one who has been always seeking the good of others, has his interest kept up to the last, because he of course wishes that good may befal them after he is gone.
'The Turks, a cruel people, nevertheless kind to beasts'
In the article formerly mentioned, in the North British Revieto (Aug. 1857), occurs a curious confirmation of Bacon's remark. And I will accordingly take the liberty of extracting the passage.
'The European cares nothing for brute life. He destroys the lower animals without scruple, whenever it suits his convenience, his pleasure, or his caprice. He shoots his favourite horee and his favourite dog, as soon as they become too old for service. The Mussulman preserves the lives of the lower animals solicitously. Though he considers the dog impure, and never makes a friend of him, he thinks it sinful to kill him, and allows the neighbourhood and even the streets of his towns to be infested by packs of masterless brutes, which you would get rid of in London in one day. The beggar does not venture to destroy his vermin: he puts them tenderly on the ground, to be swept up into the clothes of the next passer-by. There are hospitals in Cairo for superannuated cats, where they are fed at the public expense.
'But to human life he is utterly indifferent. He extinguishes it with much less scruple than that with which you shoot a horse past his work. Abbas, the late Viceroy, when a boy, had his pastry-cook bastinadoed to death. Mehemet Ali mildly reproved him for it, as you would correct a child for killing a butterfly. He explained to his little grandson that such things ought not to be done without a motive.'
Bacon slightly hints at a truth most important to be kept in mind, that a considerable endowment of natural benevolence is not incompatible with cruelty; and that, consequently, we must neither infer absence of all benevolence from such conduct as would be called ferocious, or ' ill-natured,' nor again calculate, from the existence of a certain amount of good-nature, on a man's never doing anything cruel.
When Thurtell, the murderer, was executed, there was a shout of derision raised against the phrenologists for saying that his organ of bejievolence was large. But they replied, that there was also large destructiveness, and a moral deficiency, which would account for a man goaded to rage (by having been cheated of almost all he had, by the man he killed) committing that act. It is a remarkable confirmation of their view, that a gentleman who visited the prison where Thurtell was confined (shortly after the execution) found the jailers, &c., full of pity and affection for him. They said he was a kind, good-hearted fellow, so obliging and friendly, that they had never had a prisoner whom they so much regretted. And such seems to hare been his general character, when not influenced at once by the desire of revenge and of gain.
Again, there shall be, perhaps, a man of considerable benevolence, but so fond of a joke that he will not be restrained by any tenderness for the feelings of others—
* Dum modo risum Excutiat sibi, non hie cuiquam parcit amioo.'1
And he may be, perhaps, also so sensitive himself as to be enraged at any censure of ridicule directed against himself; and also so envious as to be very spiteful against those whom he finds in any way advanced beyond him. Yet this same man may, perhaps, be very kind to his friends and his poor neighbours, as long as they are not rivals, and do not at all affront him, nor afford any food for his insatiable love of ridicule.
A benevolent disposition is, no doubt, a great help towards a course of uniform practical benevolence; but let no one trust to it, when there are other strong propensities, and no firm good principle.
1 'So ho can but have hia joke, ho will spare no friend.'