Слике страница
PDF
ePub

blesome to his neighbours, by the unpleasantness of his manners, by the indiscretion of his pretensions, by the presumption of his conversation."-Vol. i. p. 25.

There are cases in which egotism seizes on a whole society; such is that which marks the decay of communities, when private interest is the only motive of action. After egotism, avarice is, without dispute, the passion which partakes most of self. “ It is easy to trace the origin of avarice in our own organization; it is manifestly founded upon an excessive love of life.” When the avaricious man accumulates treasure he seeks pleasure less than a long life and a shelter from want. It is worthy of observation that avarice and parsimony, seem to belong also to some animals, because they seem to have, to a certain degree, the sentiment of property. The beaver and the field-mouse, collect and lay up much more provision than is necessary for their winter support; and there is certainly nothing mechanical in this care which they take to secure themselves from famine. Let us now endeavour to point out the difference between these two passions.

“ The first of these passions is based on an excessive love of life, and its comforts; the second, on an exaggerated fear of losing them. This is an abuse of that prudence which has been given to man, as well as to other animals for their preservation. The egotist thinks of nothing but the present, the miser troubles himself with nothing but the future. The first makes every thing subservient to his appetite, the other subjects himself without ceasing to privations of every kind. The egotist sleeps without trouble, the miser is haunted with constant wakefulness. The egotist is ingenious in providing new gratifications for himself, the other is coveting perplexities; the one prefers constantly himself to others, the other prefers everything to himself. There is one thing they hold in common, the contempt of men. They both break the social compact which hold society together.-Vol. i. p. 39.

It is related, we think, of Lord Bolingbroke, that complaining once of the embarrassment of his affairs, a miser present asked him “ why do you not live as I do? “ That,” replied his lordship, “I can do when I have nothing left !And this is the true character of the avaricious man; in the midst of wealth, he is the poorest of mankind.

The distinctions between pride and vanity are weil drawn. 6. Pride, which he considers a noble passion when not perverted, is that impulse within us which reacts and upholds is in the face of all those pretensions which would tend to debase us.” It is a consciousness of our own value, which constantly reacts

VOL. VI.-10. 11..

against the unjust humiliations, which others would subject us to. It values not either vain words nor pomp nor ostentation; these belong to vanity. Even whilst overwhelmed with misfortune, pride allies itself to courage and still sustains its independence. “When we say in common language that one is swelled with pride,' this expression is rigorouly true, both physically and morally, the nervous extremities swell and dilate themselves in some sort, so that they occupy a larger space.” “ There are but few minds," says the Abbe de la Mennais, 6 capable of elevating themselves to pride, almost all settle down at vanity.” Vanity cannot be confounded with pride, it is altogether a factitious passion. “On lui a donné l'épithète de miserable parce qu'elle suppose peu d'idées, parce qu'elle efface, pour ainsi dire, le caractére primitif de l'homme." Vanity is the pride of weak minds. It mounts itself, as it were, upon stilts, that it may reach the level of importance. Vanity conceals in the most profound secrecy the humiliations it encounters, the affronts which are heaped upon it, the chastisements it undergoes. On the contrary, if it meets with success, it soon becomes giddy and absurd.

But one of the most amusing parts of our author's work, is his chapter upon coxcombry (fatuité) and though we have frequently seen it discussed in moral works, we did not expect to see this frivolous depravity of our nature honoured with a separate chapter. M. Alibert has thought it deserving of such notice. In the vitiated society of Paris, it seems not a little to have attracted his observation. He has sketched its appropriate traits with great force and precision.

“Coxcombry should find a place in this book, since it is one of the degeneracies (dégénérescence) of human vanity; no other disease has received a denomination more just and more appropriate to its nature. It is, in effect, a sort of mental alienation as worthy of our contempt as our pity; it is the elevation of a weak mind totally void of ideas.

" This affection springs up in the bosom of large and populous cities: above all, of those, corrupted by an excess of civilization. It displays itself especially among young men absorbed in idleness, and fills the void in which their frivolous days are spent, totally lost to reason.

“ The coxcomb differs from the vain man in this; vanity troubles itself about the opinion of others, the coxcomb is satisfied with his own. He is always entertaining you with his tastes, his fancies, his accomplishments, &c. Solitude is a load to him; every day and every hour he must shew himself; he thrusts into every place his consequential personality. The fool sometimes makes dupes, because he often knows low to hold his tongue. But it is not so with the coxcomb. He makes all the world the contidant of his wanderings; you can easily distinguish him by his peremptory tone, and the want of connexion in his conver

sation—the inconsiderateness of his opinions—the levity of his judgment; the rashness of his censures—the indiscretion of his assertions—the bad taste of his jokes-the false tinsel of his sallies—in fine, by the pretensions of his manners—the familiarity of his address—the egotism of his countenance-above all, by the absurdity of his toilette, the ridiculous solemnity of his attitudes, and the air of constraint which seems to confine him in the narrow dimensions of his dress.

"It is impossible to sympathise with the coxcomb, he is as disagreeable as meddling, for he never scruples to shock either good sense or reason. The coxcomb admires but one thing and that is himself. Does he display any accomplishment ? He is a thousand times more satisfied with it, than he who compliments him upon it.

“ The proud man exalts himself. The vain man offers himself for admiration; but the coxcomb is only anxious to shew himself. His delight is to be a spectacle. He goes out that his carriage or his horses may be admired, that he may astonish beholders if it is only by the absurdity of his costume. He speaks to his betters with impertinent familiarity. He is delighted to be a hero, [the lion we would say] if it was only of a caricature.”—p. 56.

Our author considers coxcombry as a state of temporary mental alienation, and says, that there are many cases in which it has ended in incurable madness. Generally, marriage and the cares of the world restore the person to a sure state of mind, but not always. He recites one or two instances in which the “alienés” never recovered but ended their days in mad-houses. Yet, if we were to judge by the rule, that he is the happiest who thinks himself so, the coxcomb cannot be said to be unhappy, any more than the madman who believes himself an emperor. La Bruyere has admirably sketched this character in his definitions of the fool, the coxcomb, and the impertinent. 1—“The fool," he says, “is he who has not wit enough to be a coxcomb. 2-the coxcomb is he, whom fools take to be a man of merit. 3—The impertinent is a coxcomb outré. The coxcomb is between the fool and the impertinent, he is composed of both."

Our author, after tracing, physiologically, the different passions which appertain to this principle of self-preservation, introduces as a digression, a dialogue between Pythagoras and Epicurus, comparing their two systems of philosophy. We cannot say much for the taste with which it has been executed. Besides, we do not precisely see what business this digression has where it is placed. We never have been fond (in spite of the practice of the ancients,) of the dialogue as a method of reasoning; the constant alternation of opposing opinions leaves not so clear a conception of what is the sum of the reasonings

on either side of the question, as when the whole of these arguments are separately arranged. We think, therefore, that he has literally sacrificed to taste, at least to ancient taste, in this particular. As to the philosophy of Epicurus, which we believe has even now more advocates, practically than are aware of it, we will endeavour to give a few outlines of its doctrines and tendency. His doctrines, according to Lucretius, are these.

That nothing earthly is eternal, but the primordia rerum.

That these primordial atoms possess within themselves the inherent power of producing all the various forms of naturemountains, trees, animals, and man, &c.

That death is nothing but the dissolution of some form, so produced by the natural congregation of these atoms, according to this inherent impulse. The atoms themselves are, therefore, as capable as before of assuming some new mould of tree, man or beast, such as the nature of the atoms and their accidental location at the time may render most fit, according to his nature of things.

That the soul of man is nothing but a result proceeding from a particular form and manner into which these material atoms are congregated, according to an original law of their nature; the compound of these atoms so formed, constituting the thinking being, man. His mind is as much the result of this compound as his body, and can only exist as a quality of this human body, while the atoms, by their natural action, continue in that form. But when these atons separate by the same natural law, and tend to assume new forms of being, the mind, being only a result of this compound, of course perishes with the body.

Nam, quodquomque suis mutatum finibus exit,
Continuo hoc mors est illius, quod fuit ante.—lib. iii. v.518.
Quid dubitas, quin, ex imo penitusque coorta,

Emanarit, utei fumus, diffusa animæ vis.-581. That the gods, separated from all earthly concerns, enjoy themselves in calm and immortal peace, neither pleased with our merits, nor touched with anger. This doctrine, it will be perceived, is altogether atheistical. Because if the gods have no agency in the design apparent in nature, this being altogether a property in the atoms composing the world, and have no concern whatever in mortal things, what evidence can there be in nature that such gods exist? The whole system of nature would then prove nothing but the existence, from all eternity, of material atoms calculated to produce and dissipate successively the various forms of things. And those who will not

admit the system of nature as any evidence of a Creator, can scarcely be expected seriously to admit of a revelation.

It will be seen that our modern doctrines of phrenology, when they would resolve all mind into a result of the peculiar organization of the brain, instead of considering the brain as merely an instrument, by and through which the overruling mind manifests itself, savours strongly of this philosophy. In fact, we have been astonished to see how small a portion of these modern reasonings is original, and how completely we siill are, in spite of our boasted freedom of thought, the slaves of ancient opinion. We believe that this doctrine of atoms, as it appears in Lucretius, is borrowed more from Democritus of Abdera, than Epicurus. However, as we found it interwoven with the Epicurean philosophy, we have here given it a place.

Epicurus inculcates the necessity of temperance and sobriety, not because these or any other virtues are noble in themselves, but because enjoyment is the end of life, and a greater store of happiness is secured by their observance. Such is a brief outline of that philosophy which is said to have demoralized the republics of both Greece and Rome. By making pleasure, instead of duty, the object of life, they soon lost that high and heroic elevation of character, which had been fostered by the Stoic school. Yet many of the Epicurean sect were men of great virtue. Their founder himself appears not to have been aware of the pernicious tendency of his precepts.

Of the next primordial law of our nature, the "instinct of imitation,” it is to be observed, that it displays itself at a very early age in children, and is properly ranked inimediately after that of self-preservation. When we say that example is contagious, we mean nothing more than that imitation is irresistible, that it is a primitive law of our nature. Many animals possess it ; it forms national character and physiognomy. All the arts are founded on this instinct of our nature. Architecture, painting, sculpture. &c. are but imitations of natural objects. It gives rise to all of those combinations in which a multitude join for the accomplishment of some single purpose. It has been said to be adverse to intellectual improvement. But this habit of mind proceeds rather from indolence of thought, than the overweening prevalence of this instinct. Thought is labour; and to the idler it is the severest of all labour. To catch opinions from others, requires no exertion, and still less does it require to retail them afterwards.

The Chinese and Hindoos are said to be the most imitative people in the world. With regard to the first of these nations, we have long suspected that there must be more merit in her

« ПретходнаНастави »