« ForrigeFortsæt »
No, fear not, ye friends of Virtue, that the respect of your friend can be diminished among mankind, or her dominion contracted, by your enlargement of the kingdom of light. Truth and virtue are fisters, they are inseparably connected together; the true votaries of the one are also true votaries of the other; the prevalence of the latter is so much the more unrestrained, by how much the former is extended and advanced; their empire is one and the fame.
In enlightened times sixthly mankind are more fociable, are brought nearer together, connect themselves more intimately with each other, and by more various ties. Their manners are rendered milder, more agreeable; their conversation more entertain. ing; their intercourse more pleasant and affectionate; their desires and endeavours to ingratiate themselves with each other are greater. The higher and lower stations and classes of men are less dissevered, intermingle more, have more common pursuits and pleasures ; and thus the pride of the one is abated, and the decent confidence of the other encouraged. Social pleasures in enlightened times are multiplied, refined, heightened. They are, in part, derived from sources absolutely shut up to an unenlightened people. The history of nature and art, of the generations of men and the planting of nations, personal and foreign experiences and observations, in one case, furnith the richest and most ample materi. als for discourse, for a useful as well as agreeable exercise of the understanding, the fagacity, the dis.
cernment, the wit, the imagination, for the maintenance and support of rational cheerfulness and mirth. Every man is more earnest to present himself on the most favourable fide, to exchange information of one kind for information of another, and to impart as much satisfaction and delight, as to receive. And must not this be a covetable privilege above the condition of unenlightened men, whose manners are generally rude and ferocious, whose pleasures are altogether sensual, whose diversions are merely riotous and noisy, whose perceptions are to the last degree contracted, whose conversations are commonly frivolous, whose mental faculties are undeveloped and unexercised, and whose deportment is seldom agreeable, but much oftener info. lent and disgusting ? - And must not the advantages of the former be in perfect harmony with the intentions of religion and nature?. Is it not the aim of both to unite men progresively more, to inspire them with more and more love and esteem for each other, to render them continually more useful and agreeable to one another, uniformly more inclined to unfold their niutual capacities and powers by focial wants and propensities, by social businesses and pleasures, by all these means to improve the sum of their social happiness, and thus conitantly to approx. imate them to the true end of their existence, as one single closely compacted family of relatives, dwelling together and making each other happy ? Grant however that this greater sociableness, this refine
ment of manners, this intermixture of ranks, this extended action and activity, may have their unavoidable inconveniences and disadvantages. Grant that they often degenerate into vanity and frivolity; that they frequently are accompanied by dissimula. tion and falsehood; allow that they dissipate too much the attention and the faculties of many; allow that at times they infringe on the rules of strict propriety. Upon the whole, they always effect by far more good than harm, occasion far more happiness than misery; are always a step in advance towards the perfection of human nature, an alleviation and sweetener of the troubles of this terrestri. al life.
Enlightened times are productive of still more good. The situation and professions of man are more dignified; and therefore he has inducements to fill more worthily the former and better to profecute the latter. Indeed the first beams of stronger light often produce quite contrary effects. The youth who thinks he has acquired some knowledge and refined his taste, may easily be misled to despise the situation and profession of his forefathers, and to neglect the affairs of it, imagining himself capable of greater and more elevated concerns. But is this evil, which only obtains in particular initances, and for the most part is foon remedied by the punishment that follows it, or by maturer judgment, is this to be compared with the general and lasting evils which the defect of improvement in this respect
naturally brings on? How deplorable is the moral condition of a people, where no one sees farther than the contracted sphere of his art, his profession, his trade; where no one is interested about what happens otherwise than as it regards himself; no one thinks on the combination of the whole and on his influence upon it; no one acquires any knowledge but what he absolutely wants ; none ventures to tread out of the track which his fires and grandfires trod before him : where every one works and employs himself more by compulsion than inclination; where every one is actuated only by self-interest and guided by custom; and if he have any surplus of time or means from what his mechanical labours require, he knows not what to do with either, and how to employ them! But on the other hand, let light once have made confiderable progress amongst a people; let men of all classes and conditions have learnt to reflect more; let them have acquired greater knowledge of their appointment and that of their brethren ; be better acquainted with the wise æconomy of God upon earth, with the true value and coherence of things; be better informed in what real honour and dignity, in what perfection and happiness consist; let them set about whatever they undertake and do, less mechanically, with more rational consideration : how quickly will every man learn to prize his station, to understand the necessity and utility of it, to carry on the business it requires on more liberal principles and in a more
dignified manner, to enjoy the benefits it procures him more rationally and cheerfully, and to be in all respects more useful to the community! And how much more will he thus promote his fatisfaction and his mental perfection! How differently will he find himself repaid for his diligence and industry ! When can he be deficient in opportunities of useful employment, and in fources of manly recreation, even out of his peculiar circle ! How important, how agreeable must the labours and affairs of the countryman, the artist, the merchant, the artificer, by this means become, when he prosecutes them with a liberal mind, free from prejudices, with an understanding cultivated and accustomed to reflection, and feels the value of all he does! And how considerably would all thus be gainers! Indeed we are still very far short of that degree of culture. But if it be desirable, then must likewise the way that leads to it be good, though it be beset with many
obu structions. Even the best field is not entirely free from weeds; much less that which has so long lain fallow, which has scarcely been begun to be tilled, and which is sown with grain that can never be perfe@ly clean and unmixed.
More enlightened times are lastly preparative to that better state which awaits us after death; and this so surely, as in that state knowledge of truth and spiritual perfection compose the foundation of our superior felicity. I am sensible that at present we can form but very faint, indefinite ideas of our P 3