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It was at a time, when a certain friend, whom I highly value, was my guest. We had been sitting together, entertaining ourselves with Shakespeare. Among many of his characters , we had looked into that of Wolsey. How soon, says my iriend, does the Cardinal iu disgrace abjure that Happiness which he was so lately fond of ? Scarcely out of office, but he begins to exclaim,
Vain pomp and glory of tne world ! I Late ye.
So true is it, that our sentiments ever vary with the season; and that in adversity we are of one mind, in prosperity of another. As for his mean opinion , said I, of human happiness , it is a truth, which small reflection might have taught him long before. There seems little need of distress to inform us of this. I rather commend the seeming wisdom of that eastern monarch, who, in the affluence of prosperity, when he was proving every pleasure, was yet so sensible of their emptiness, their insufficiency to make him happy, that he proclaimed a reward to the man, who should invent a new delight. The reward indeed was proclaimed , but the delight was not to be found. If by delight, said he , you mean some good; something conducing to real happiness; it might haye been found perhaps, and yet not hit the monarch's fancy. Is that, said I possible ? It is possible , replied he, though it had been the sovereign good itself. And indeed what wonder ? Is it probable thai such a mortal as an eastern monarch; such a pampered, flattered, idle mortal, should have attention , or capacity for a subject so delicate ? A subject, enough to exercise the subtlest and most accute?
What then is it you esteem , said I, the sovereign good to be ? It should seem, by your representation, to be something very uncommon. Ask me not the question, said he, you know not where it will carry us. Its general idea indeed is easy and plain j but the detail of particulars is perplexed and long; passions and opinions for ever thwart us; a paradox appears in almost every advance. Besides, did our enquiries succeed ever so happily, the very subject itself it always enough to give me pain. That replied I, seems a paradox indeed. It is not, said he from any prejudice, which I have conceived against it; for to man I esteem it the noblest in the world. Nor is it for being a subject, to which my genius does not lead me; for no subject at all times has more employed my attention. But the truth is, I can scarce ever think of it, but an unlucky story still occurs to my mind. « A certain star-gazer, with » bis telescope was once viewing the moon; » and describing her seas, her mountains , and » her territories. Says a clown to his compa— » nion, Let him spy what he pleases ; we are » as near to the moon as he and all his bre» thren ». So fares it, alas ! with these our moral speculations. Practice too often creeps , where theory can Soar. The philosopher proves as weak, as those whom he most contemns. A mortifying thought to such as well attend it. Too mortifying , replied I, to be long dwelt on. Give us rather your general idea of the sovereign good. This is easy from your owtt account, however intricate the detail.
Thus then, said he, since you are so urgent, it is thus that I conceive it. The Sovereign. Good is that, the possession of which "renders us happy. And how, said I, do we possess it? Is it sensual, or intellectual ? There you art. entering, said he, upon the detail. This is beyond your question. Not a small advance, said I, to indulge poor curiosity ? Will you raise me a thirst, and be so cruel not to allay it? It is not, replied he^ of my raising, but your, own. Besides I am not certain, should I attempt to proceed, whether you will admit such authorities as it is possible I may vouch. That, said I, must be determined by their weight and character. Suppose, said he, it should be mankind; the whole human race. Would you not think it something strange, to seek of those concerning Good, who pursue it a thousand ways, and many of them contradictory ? I confess, said I, it seems so. And yet continued he, were there a point, in which such dissentients ever agreed, this agreement would be no mean argument in favour of its truth and justness. But where, replied I, is this agreement to be found?
He answered me by asking, what if it should appear, that there were certain original characteristics and pre-conceptions of good, which were natural, uniform and common to all men j which all recognized in their various pursuits j and that the difference lay only in the apply— ing them to particulars ? This requires, said I, tp be illustrated. As if, continued he, a company of travellers , in some wide forest, were all intending lor one city, but each by a rout peculiar to himself. The roads indeed would he various, and many perhaps false ; but all who travelled, would have one end in view. It is evident, said I, they would. So fares it then, added he, with mankind in the pursuit of good. The ways indeed are many, but what they seek is one.
For instance ; Did you ever hear of any, who in pursuit of their good, were for living the life* of a bird, an insect, or a fish ? None. And why not? It would be inconsistent answered I, with their nature. You see then, said he, they all agree in this ; that what they pursue, ought to. be consistent, and agreeable to their proper nature. So ought it, said I r Mndoubtedly. If so, continued he , one preconception is discovered, which is common to good in general: It is, that all good is supposed something agreeable to nature. This indeed r replied I, seems to be agreed on all hands.
But again, said he, Is there a man scarcely to be found of a temper so truly mortified, as to acquiesce in the lowest, and shortest necessaries of life ? Who aims not, if he be able, at something farther, something better ? I replied scarcely one. Do not multitudes pursue t said he, infinite objects of desire, acknowledged, every one of them, to be in no respect necessaries ? Exquisite viands, delicious wines-, splendid apparel, curious gardens; magnificient apartments adorned with pictures and sculptures ; music and poetry, and the whole tribe cf elegant arts ? It is evident, said X. If it be so, continued he, it should seem that they all considered the Chief or Sovereign Good, not to be that, which conduces to bare existence or mere feeing ; for to this the necessaries alone are adequate. I replied they were. But if not this , it must be somewhat conducive to that, which is superior to mere being. It must. And what, continued he , can this be , but well-being , under the various shapes , in which different opinions paint it ? Or can you suggest any thing else ? I replied, I could not. Mark here, then, continued he, another pre-conception, hi which they all agree ; the Sovereign good is somewhat conducive , not to mere being, but to well-being. I replied , it had so appeared.
Again, continued he , What labour, what expence, to procure those rarities, which our own poor country is unable to afford us ! How is the world ransacked to its utmost verges, and luxury and arts imported from every quarter ! Nay more : How do we baffle nature herself; invert her order ; seek the vegetables of spring in the rigours of winter, and winter's ice during the heats of summer. I replied we did. And what disappointment, what remorse, when endeavours fail ? It is true. If this then be evident, said he, it would seem, that whatever we desire as onr Chief and Sovereign Good , is somethiug which, as far as possible, we would accommodate to all places and times. I answered , So it appeared. See then , said be , another of its characteristics, another pre-conception.
But farther still: What contests for wealth f
What scrambling for property ! What perils in*
the pursuit! What solicitude in the maintenance t
Aad why *M this ? To what purpose, to what e»£?