« ПретходнаНастави »
makes justice a law to us; and the same character is applicable to propriety, though perhaps more faintly than to justice : but the difference is in degree only, not in kind; and we ought, without hesitation or reluctance, to submit equally to the government of both.
But I have more to urge upon that head. To the sense of propriety as well as of justice, are annexed the sanctions of rewards and punishments; which evidently prove the one to be a law as well as the other. The satisfaction a man hath in doing his duty, joined to the esteem and goodwill of others, is the reward that belongs to both equally. The punishments also, though not the same, are nearly allied; and differ in degree more than in quality. Disobedience to the law of justice is punished with remorse; disobedience to the law of propriety, with shame, which is remorse in a lower degree. Every transgression of the law of justice raises indignation in the beholder; and so doth every flagrant transgression of the law of propriety. Slighter improprieties receive a milder punishment : they are always rebuked with some degree of contempt, and frequently with derision. In general, it is true, that the rewards and punishments annexed to the sense of propriety are slighter in degree than those annexed to the sense of justice; which is .wisely ordered, because duty to others is still more essential to society than duty to our. selves : society, indeed, could not subsist a moment, were individuals not protected from the headstrong and turbulent passions of their neighbours.
The final cause now unfolded of the sense of propriety, must, to every discerning eye, appear delightful: and yet this is but a partial view; for that sense reaches another illustrious end, which is, in conjunction with the sense of justice, to enforce the performance of social duties. In fact, the sanctions visibly contrived to compel a man to be just to himself, are equally serviceable to compel him to be just to others; which will be evident from a single reflection, That an action, by being unjust, ceases not to be improper : an action never appears more eminently improper, than when it is unjust: it is obviously becoming, and suitable to human nature, that each man do his duty to others; and, accordingly, every transgression of duty to others, is at the same time a transgression of duty to one's self. This is a plain truth without exaggeration; and it opens a new and enchanting view in the moral landscape, the prospect being greatly
enriched by the multiplication of agreeable objects. * It appears now, that nothing is overlooked, nothing
left undone, that can possibly contribute to the enforcing social duty; for to all the sanctions that belong to it singly, are superadded the sanctions of self-duty. A familiar example. shall suffice for illustration. An act of ingratitude, considered in itself, is to the author disagreeable, as well as to every spectator ; considered by the author with re. lation to himself, it raises self-contempt : consider. ed by him with relation to the world, it makes him ashamed : considered by others, it raises their contempt and indignation against the author. These feelings, are all of them occasioned by the impropriety of the action. When the action is considered as unjust, it occasions another set of feelings : in the author it produces remorse, and a dread of me. rited punishment; and in others, the benefactor chiefly, indignation and hatred directed to the ungrateful person. Thus shame and remorse united in the ungrateful person, and indignation united with hatred in the hearts of others, are the punishments provided by nature for injustice. Stupid and insensible must he be, who, in a contrivance so exquisite, perceives not the benevolent hand of our Creator.
Dignity and Grace. THE terms dignity and meanness are applied to man in point of character, sentiment, and behaviour: we say, for example, of one man, that he hath natural dignity in his air and manner; of another, that he makes a mean figure: we perceive dignity in every action and sentiment of some persons ; meanness and vulgarity in the actions and senti. ments of others. With respect to the fine arts, some performances are said to be manly, and suitable to the dignity of human nature; others are termed low, mean, trivial. Such expressions are common, though they have not always a precise meaning. With respect to the art of criticism, it must be a real acquisition to ascertain what these terms truly import; which possibly may enable us to rank every performance in the fine arts according to its dignity
Inquiring first to what subjects the terms dignity and meanness are appropriated, we soon discover, that they are not applicable to any thing inanimate: the most magnificent palace that ever was built, may be lofty, may be grand, but it has no relation to
dignity: the most diminative shrub may be little, but it is not mean. These terms must belong to sensitive beings, probably to man only ; which will be evident when we advance in the inquiry.
Human actions appear in many different lights : in themselves they appear grand or little; with respect to the author, they appear proper or impro. per; with respect to those affected by them, just or unjust: and I now add, that they are also distinguished by dignity and meanness. If any one incline to think, that, with respect to human actions, dignity coincides with grandeur, and meanness with littleness, the difference will be evident upon reflecting, that an action may be grand without being virtuous, and little without being faulty ; but that we never attribute dignity to any action but what is virtuous, nor meanness to any but what is faulty. Every action of dignity creates respect and esteem for the author; and a mean action draws upon him contempt. A man is admired for a grand action, but frequently is neither loved nor esteemed for it: neither is a man always contemned for a low or little action. The action of Cæsar passing the Rubicon was grand; but there was no dignity in it, considering that his purpose was to enslave his country: Cæsar, in a march, taking opportunity of a rivulet to quench his thirst, did a low action, but the action was not mean.
As it appears to me, dignity and meanness are founded on a natural principle not hitherto mentioned. Man is endowed with a SENSE of the worth and excellence of his nature: he deems it more perfect than that of the other beings around him; and he perceives, that the perfection of his nature consists in virtue, particularly in virtues of the highest rank. To express that sense, the term dignity is appropriated. Further, to behave with dignity, and to refrain from all mean actions, is felt to be, not a virtue only, but a duty: it is a duty every man owes to himself. By acting in that manner, he attracts love and esteem : by acting meanly, or below himself, he is disapproved and contemned.
According to the description here given of dignity and meanness, they appear to be a species of propriety and impropriety. Many actions may be proper or improper, to which dignity or meanness cannot be applied : to eat when one is hungry, is proper, but there is no dignity in that action : revenge fairly taken, if against law, is improper, but not mean. But every action of dignity is also proper, and every mean action is also improper.
This sense of the dignity of human nature, reaches even our pleasures and amusements: if they en large the mind by raising grand or elevated emotions, or if they humanise the mind by exercising our sympathy, they are approved as suited to the dignity of our nature: if they contract the mind by fixing it on trivial objects, they are contemned as not suited to the dignity of our nature. Hence, in general, every occupation, whether of use or amusement, that corresponds to the dignity of man, is termed manly; and every occupation below his nature, is termed childish.
To those who study human nature, there is a point which has always appeared intricate : How comes it that generosity and courage are more esteemed, and bestow more dignity, than good nature, or even justice; though the latter contribute more than the former to private as well as to public happiness ? This question, bluntly proposed, might puzzle a cunning philosopher; but, by means of the foregoing observations, will easily be solved. Human virtues, like other objects, obtain a rank in