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historian, which would sound a little oddly in other nations and
The Scythians, according to Herodotus, after scalping their enemies, dressed the skin like leather, and used it as a towel ; and whoever had the most of those towels was most esteemed among them. So much had martial bravery, in that nation, as well as in many others, destroyed the sentiments of humanity; a virtue surely much more useful and engaging.
It is indeed observable, that, among all uncultivated nations, who have not, as yet, had full experience of the advantages attending beneficence, justice, and the social virtues, courage is the predominant excellence; what is most celebrated by poets, recommended by parents and instructors, and admired by the public in general. The ethics of Homer are, in this particular, very different from those of Fenelon, his elegant imitator, and such as were well suited to an age when one hero, as remarked by Thucydides,9 could ask another, without offence, whether he were a robber or not. Such also, very lately, was the system of ethics which prevailed in many barbarous parts of Ireland ; if we may credit Spenser, in his judicious account of the state of that kingdom.10
Of the same class of virtues with courage is that undisturbed philosophical tranquillity, superior to pain, sorrow, anxiety, and each assault of adverse fortune. Conscious of his own virtue, say the philosophers, the sage elevates himself above every accident of life; and securely placed in the temple of Wisdom, looks down on inferior mortals, engaged in pursuit of honours, riches, reputation, and every frivolous enjoyment. These pretensions, no doubt, when stretched to the utmost, are by far too magnificent for human nature. They carry, however, a grandeur with them which seizes the spectator, and strikes him with admiration. And the nearer we can approach in practice to this sublime tranquillity and indifference (for we must distinguish it from a stupid insensibility), the more secure enjoyment shall we attain within ourselves, and the more greatness of mind shall we discover to the world. The philosophical tranquillity may indeed be considered only as a branch of magnanimity.
Who admires not Socrates ; his perpetual serenity and contentment, amidst the greatest poverty and domestic vexations ; his resolute contempt of riches, and his magnanimous care of preserving liberty, while he refused all assistance from his friends and disciples, and avoided even the dependence of an obligation ? Epictetus had not so much as a door to his little house or hovel, and therefore soon lost his iron lamp, the only furniture which he had worth taking. But resolving to disappoint all robbers for the future, he supplied its place with an earthen lamp, of which he very peaceably kept possession ever after.
Among the ancients, the heroes in philosophy, as well as those in war and patriotism, have a grandeur and force of sentiment, which astonishes our narrow souls, and is rashly rejected as extravagant and supernatural. They, in their turn, I allow, would have had equal reason to consider as romantic and incredible, the degree of humanity, clemency, order, tranquillity, and other social virtues, to which, in the administration of government, we have attained in modern times, had any one been then able to have made a fair representation of them. Such is the compensation which Nature, or rather education, has made in the distribution of excellences and virtues in those different ages.
The merit of benevolence, arising from its utility, and its tendency to promote the good of mankind, has been already explained, and is, no doubt, the source of a considerable part of that esteem which is so universally paid to it. But it will also be allowed, that the very softness and tenderness of the sentiment, its engaging endearments, its fond expressions, its delicate attentions, and all that flow of mutual confidence and regard which enters into a warm attachment of love and friendship : it will be allowed, I say, that these feelings, being delightful in themselves, are necessarily communicated to the spectators, and melt them into the same fondness and delicacy. The tear naturally starts in our eye on the apprehension of a warm sentiment of this nature: our breast heaves, our heart is agitated, and every humane, tender principle of our frame is set in motion, and gives us the purest and most satisfactory enjoyment.
When poets form descriptions of Elysian fields, where the blessed inhabitants stand in no need of each other's assistance, they yet represent them as maintaining a constant intercourse of love and friendship, and soothe our fancy with the pleasing image of these soft and gentle passions. The idea of tender tranquillity in a pastoral Arcadia is agreeable from a like principle, as has been observed above.
Who would live amidst perpetual wrangling, and scolding, and mutual reproaches ? The roughness and harshness of these emotions disturb and displease us. We suffer by contagion and sympathy; nor can we remain indifferent spectators, even though certain that no pernicious consequences would ever follow from such angry passions.
As a certain proof that the whole merit of benevolence is not derived from its usefulness, we may observe, that, in a kind way
of blame, we say a person is “ too good,” when he exceeds his part in society, and carries his attention for others beyond the proper bounds. In like manner we say a man is “too high spirited, too intrepid, too indifferent about fortune;" reproaches which really at bottom imply more esteem than many panegyrics. Being accustomed to rate the merit and demerit of characters chiefly by their useful or pernicious tendencies, we cannot forbear applying the epithet of blame, when we discover a sentiment which rises to a degree that is hurtful. But it may happen, at the same time, that its noble elevation, or its engaging tenderness, so seizes the heart, as rather to increase our friendship and concern for the person.
The amours and attachments of Harry IV. of France, during the civil wars of the League, frequently hurt his interest and his cause; but all the young, at least, and amorous, who can sympathize with the tender passions, will allow that this very weakness (for they will readily call it such) chiefly endears that hero, and interests them in his fortunes.
The excessive bravery and resolute inflexibility of Charles XII. ruined his own country, and infested all his neighbours, but have such splendour and greatness in their appearance as strikes us with
admiration; and they might in some degree be even approved of, if they betrayed not sometimes too evident symptoms of madness and disorder.
The Athenians pretended to the first invention of agriculture and of laws, and always valued themselves extremely on the benefit thereby procured to the whole race of mankind. They also boasted, and with reason, of their warlike enterprises, particularly against those innumerable fleets and armies of Persians, which invaded Greece during the reigns of Darius and Xerxes. But though there be no comparison, in point of utility, between these peaceful and military honours, yet we find that the orators who have writ such elaborate panegyrics on that famous city, have chiefly triumphed in displaying the warlike achievements. Lysias, Thucydides, Plato, and Isocrates discover, all of them, the same partiality; which, though condemned by calm reason and reflection, appears so natural in the mind of man.
It is observable, that the great charm of poetry consists in lively pictures of the sublime passions, magnanimity, courage, disdain of fortune; or those of the tender affections, love and friendship, which warm the heart and diffuse over it similar sentiments and emotions : and though all kinds of passion, even the most disagreeable, such as grief and anger, are observed, when excited by poetry, to convey a satisfaction, from a mechanism of nature not easy to be explained, yet those more elevated or softer affections have a peculiar influence, and please from more than one cause or principle- not to mention that they alone interest us in the fortune of the persons represented, or communicate any esteem and affection for their character.
And can it possibly be doubted, that this talent itself of poets to move the passions, this pathetic and sublime of sentiment, is a very considerable merit; and being enhanced by its extreme rarity, may exalt the person possessed of it above every character of the age in which he lives? The prudence, address, steadiness and benign government of Augustus, adorned with all the splendour of his noble birth and imperial crown, render him but an unequal competitor for
fame with Virgil, who lays nothing into the opposite scale but the divine beauties of his poetical genius.
The very sensibility to these beauties, or a delicacy of taste, is itself a beauty in any character, as conveying the purest, the most durable, and most innocent of all enjoyments.
These are some instances of the several species of merit that are valued for the immediate pleasure which they communicate to the person possessed of them. No views of utility or of future beneficial consequences enter into this sentiment of approbation; yet is it of a kind similar to that other sentiment which arises from views of a public or private utility. The same social sympathy, we may observe, or fellow-feeling with human happiness or misery, gives rise to both; and this analogy, in all the parts of the present theory, may justly be regarded as a confirmation of it.